Saturday, November 22, 2008

Do You Prefer: Jalapa? or Xalapa?

How many towns do you know that allow two different spellings of its name? This one does. The version with a "J" is the one you're most familiar the case of "JalapeƱo peppers." Yep, Jalapa is where those hot little chilis originated from. The other spelling, with an "X" is the more common one in government use. It's a bit confusing. I've looked in bus schedules, for example, looking under 'J' service to Jalapa, darn! Oops, then I looked under 'X'....ahh! there it is! The confusion all comes from the sound of the Spanish consonants X and J. They both sounds like "H" in English. So, when we see the name MEXICO, in English is has the X Spanish it has the H sound and is pronounced ME-hee-CO. And, indeed, old texts sometimes spelled it MeJico, also.

I took the ADO brand bus from Puebla to Xalapa. It's one of the premier bus lines in the country. First class all the way. Once again, these are executive coaches, so you sit up high and have a panoramic view of the countryside passing by. It was a nonstop, three-hour trip. Onboard, the drop-down TV screens showed "Pirates of the Caribbean." For all of $12, it's a hell of a way to travel. I actually prefer it to flying. You can get up and stretch your legs. The buses are never full, so you usually get the seat beside you for putting your jacket, magazines, or snack.

More language funnies
: The bus had a bathroom onboard. All the necessary stuff in there. And the TP dispenser was labeled in Spanish and in English. Only the English translation was: "Toiled Paper." I guess when you think about it, if it does its job properly, TP has toiled.

The journey from Puebla to Xalapa is up and over a major volcanic mountain range. The scenery changed abruptly to GREEN, as though someone had pulled a sheet of green cellophane across the bus windows. The scenery is quite Alpine--pine forests, open pastures with well fed cows, some corn fields. Every little town had shops selling cheese and milk. Clearly dairy country. Think northern Wisconsin.

Coming back down the other side of the mountain, on the way to Veracruz and the Gulf of Mexico, you find Xalapa. The outskirts are like those of any Mexico town--seriously ugly. The word that's used in Mexico for these suburban areas is "las orillas" which also translates as "the shores." A good translation, I think, since it looks like whatever washed up on "the shores" of the city's outer edge, just landed there and stayed there. Zoning laws? Unheard of. Junk yards, and concrete block buildings, hand-painted signs advertising ad hoc front yard shops. Tumble-down homes and commerce just grew up around the city, unfettered, like the black mold that grows on the sides of buildings.

Xalapa is a university town, home to the University of Veracruz. By chance, I arrived on Friday afternoon. Each Friday night during the season, the Symphony Orchestra of Xalapa performs in their own concert hall on campus. I went. The ticket was $5.50, surely the least I've ever paid for a professional orchestra concert. This orchestra is the oldest in Mexico, founded in 1929. They've performed all over Mexico and internationally, as well. The program included works by French composer Jules Massenet and by Mexican and Spanish composers. The highlight of the evening was a classical guitar soloist. The audience, comprised of all kinds of people--upper class, working class, young and old--erupted in applause for this guy. I turned to ask the fellow next to me if the guitarist was well know. He said, "Yes, he is the head of the guitar program at the University of Veracruz School of Music, and he is my teacher!" A group of 10 or 12 of his guitar students were sitting all around me. Their cheering was more like what you'd see American kids doing at a football or baseball game. I doubt if you'd even find American youth at a classical music concert.

It was interesting reading the concert program. Lots of non-Mexican sounding names among the orchestra's members: William Love, Miroslaw Szklarczyk, Mikhail Medvid, Eric Fritz, Jakub Dedina. Clearly a number of eastern Europeans and English or Americans among the group. It proves the point that music is an international language. I thought how challenging the rehearsals must be trying to make sense of it all in 6 or 7 different languages.

Today, I head over to the small town of Coatepec, where there are a number of Americans residing. Walking as much as I have been is difficult. My knees are giving me trouble. Xalapa is all ups and downs, lots of hills. And like most Mexican towns, uneven stone sidewalks and streets. I went and bought a knee brace this morning. The joys of getting older. I'm not 20 any more.