A night at the ballet

George and I were wandering around with his cousin when i suggested we walk past the national theatre to see if anything was playing that night. Sure enough, there was a long line for the ballet that evening! I don’t think Honduras actually has a national ballet company, but this was probably the closest thing to it, which was a dance school, and this seemed to be some sort of year-end showcase for them.

First, the theatre itself – built in 1915 and modeled after some venue in Paris, it’s one of those awful horse-shoe opera houses that Merce (and anyone in their right mind) abhors, since they were designed for those in the boxes to see and be seen, sightlines be damned. The ultimate perversion of aristocratic society, corrupting the entire reason for going to the theatre in the first place by turning it into a narcissistic royal court. Ahem. This theatre has a rich history – it’s been used twice as temporary headquarters for the congress, their national anthem was performed for the first time on that stage, and a coup was even orchestrated within that proscenium.

The show started out as a story ballet, with the emphasis on story.. there was very little dancing in the first half. What dancing there was was pretty bad. I mean, I could lift my leg higher than some of those girls! Honestly, I haven’t seen such a bad production since college. The kids can be forgiven to a certain extent – they were giving it their all, and having fun with it. It’s the teachers that should be condemned.

Although ballet was not their strong suit, there was a variety of other styles in the second half, some of which was not bad. They did everything under the sun – a huge belly dancing number, a laughingly bad jazz duet that later included a jester (!), a classic Nutcracker number, a gaggle of tap dancers, an ethnic folkloric number. As you would expect, this one was pretty good… traditional clothes, dancing with baskets on their heads, the whole nine. Hansel and Gretl made an appearance, as did about 40 five-year old bunny rabbits. It was truly the kitchen sink.

Now, let’s talk about the production values, or lack thereof. The rest of this post is more suited to my esteemed colleagues in the biz, so the rest of you dear readers may want to skip to the next entry.
This is the National Theatre, right? OK, so there’s not a full fly loft, the performing area is only about 40 x 30, but still, it looks like they’ve got decent equipment and all the makings for good art. Unfortunately, they are seriously lacking in the skills and training department. Which would be a fun project for me to take on in one of these cities.. getting one of these places ship-shape and training the technicians. Who are professionals, right? But one wonders..

Let’s just start with this: Green Footlights. The mere mention of such a thing sends shockwaves through you, doesn’t it? First of all, foots in general are very tricky. God knows I love them, but they should be used judiciously, when going for a certain effect – vaudeville, scary, or some wacky post-modern thing. But NOT in a classical ballet number, and certainly not gelled GREEN! Think of these poor bun-head’s skin tones! OK, you think, let’s give the LD the benefit of the doubt – he doesn’t know. He doesn’t have the benefit of university training (neither did I) nor real-world experience with other professionals in the field. But c’mon, you watch and learn! Early in my career, I tried green downlights to simulate a grassy field for a baseball scene. Thank god we were still in tech and I could change my mind after seeing it on the actor’s faces.

Moving on.. still on lighting. They had booms – excellent – but no idea how to focus them. There were sharp lanes cut across the stage, rather haphazardly at that. It’s like they had just hung them and turned them on without focusing them. And there were big gaps between these lanes, such that as a dancer moved up to downstage, they would flash repeatedly – now they’re dark, now they’re screaming hot. Or rather, their legs would flash, since all the booms were focused on the floor, rather than on the bodies. Huh? It’s a cool look if you’re Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, but she choreographs entire dances for the floor, not on pointe!

The screamingly distracting booms were often “balanced” with super saturated FOH washes. In random, rock n’ roll colors – hot pink, lime green, combinations of the two for absolutely no reason.
Speaking of washes, they could have used a lesson in how to make one. The dinner scenes, for example – the tablecloth was screaming hot while everyone around the table, who should have been the focus of the scene, were in the dark. But boy, that table looked great. Couldn’t hear a thing they were saying since I couldn’t see their faces (rule #1!), but I sure remember the place settings.

Then there were the specials. What’s lighting design 101? MOTIVATION. The girl protagonist is tiptoeing through the woods at dusk, and sharp bright specials keep popping up on her at different points. HUH? Why is there a circular down spot in the middle of the woods at dusk? Is this a not-so-subtle way of emphasizing a soliloquy she’s about to do? No, she’s just walking. Through random specials for absolutely no reason other than to distract us from the stiff acting.
Fortunately, the LD ran out of ideas about halfway through the show and simply left us in a bright general (spotty) look for the rest of the night. Thank god there were no follow spots in the show, they would have been a hot mess for sure.

OK, on to other departments. The scenography was provided by a carousel slide projector (remember those?) shot from the house right box boom position. Of course, the lights in the box boom illuminated the parent operating said projector, replete with a manilla folder for a dowser. Bless. The images (generic ones probably downloaded from the net or shot from a book) were projected (with heavy keystoning, as you would expect from such an oblique angle) onto an upstage cyc, which I think was a real cyc, only it looked like a goddamned bed sheet because no one bothered to pull it taut. Come on people, have some standards! It didn’t matter much anyway, because as soon as the lights came up on a scene, the slides would get washed out anyway.

The sound was not bad. All the music was canned, and sounded alright. For vocal reinforcement, they had a number of mics hanging about 5′ over their heads, which wasn’t distracting in the least. And didn’t cause any shadows, yeah right. OK, so you don’t have the budget for body mics, at least get some PCC’s, or even some crappy old PZM’s up in there.

The costumes were the highlight, and I’m not being snide. They had clearly spent all year building these, and there were a zillion of them. Every scene had I’d say an average of 15-20 performers, and there were maybe 20 scenes. So you do the math, that makes my brain hurt. I was sitting pretty far back, so it was hard to judge craftsmanship (who am I kidding? I wouldn’t be able to tell at 2′), but they sure looked good. Rich fabrics, lots of details, period costumes.

Now, maybe, just maybe, this was a rental. I’ve certainly worked in theatres that had high production values, and along comes a rental that brings in all their own people, they do a shitty production, and we get blamed. But I don’t think that was the case here.

It certainly was a fun night on the town, though – some of the most fun I’ve had in a while!

Written by in: Honduras | Tags: , ,


Although the guidebooks kind of put down Tegucigalpa saying there is not much of interest (and that it’s dangerous), I really like it here. Maybe it’s the big city I was craving after all that time in the bush. Just a few of the civilized things to be found here are an art museum (gasp! I haven’t see any modern art since leaving NYC.. and I’m feeling it), an outdoor pedestrian mall just like you would find in any town in Europe (ok, maybe Eastern Europe, that level of shops), diversity of shops and people, and all kinds of choices for food.
The art museum was ok. Not terribly large for being the national (possibly only) art museum of the country. There were a dozen galleries, ranging from pre-historic rock carvings to pre-Columbian ceramics to colonial, and even contemporary Honduran art. The modern stuff was pretty good, actually.

I wandered into the mother of all hardware stores. Down here, they don’t make a distinction between “pro” gear and consumer gear like they do in the States. Also, every store sells every brand, unlike in the States. You’ll have 5-ton chain blocks and hard hats next to gardening equipment and Elmer’s glue. Every kind of adhesive, lubricant, metalworking, power tool you can imagine. I was in heaven just wandering the aisles looking at all the fun gear.

The geography is pretty. There is a river running through town, and lots of hills which make for great views. The dry mountains rise from right beyond the city. Picture Missoula, Montana on a larger scale.
It’s a real city so people stare at me less here, a nice relief. The traffic is really bad, and the drivers love those horns. I’ve never understood the point of everyone leaning on their horn for 30 seconds at a stretch. Gridlock is gridlock, it’s not going to be solved by being an asshole and waking up the neighborhood. This society seems to not have invented the muffler or the catalytic converter yet.. the noise and smog get old fast.
But walking around, I keep discovering new things. I knew I had arrived when I passed one bookshop with Noam Chomsky in the window, and another with Susan Sontag, two of my favorite social theorists.

George, the guy I met on the bus, invited me to meet his cousin’s family that he was staying with. An awkward situation.. the father, who is a cab driver, is alcoholic. I guess he kept things together for a long time, but a few weeks ago it got so bad that now he just sits home and drinks. His poor family are trying to keep things together. They don’t want him leaving the house for fear he’ll be robbed or worse, so they keep him in, which means they’re forced to feed his addiction, as much as they try not to. In order to keep some money coming in, one of the daughters rides in the taxi giving directions (since she knows the city, but can’t drive) to a friend who actually drives the cab. Meanwhile, mom keeps their tidy home while her husband looks (and smells) like a bum. He kept showing me photos and various mementos. I couldn’t understand a word he said, but I’ve gotten good enough at picking up the cues and gestures in order to nod and say “buen” and “claro” in all the right places.

After meeting the family, we took the cab for a drive around town. We ended up at a fancy mall just like you’d find in any rich suburb in the States. Funny thing about public Christmas trees – down here, they’re all sponsored by the beer companies. So the large Christmas tree in the central park is basically an enormous beer advertisement. The same thing was true in Guat City. Speaking of beer sponsorship, another night we wound up at a karaoke bar. Packed with families sucking down beers and meat, I couldn’t believe how much these people could drink. The custom here is to leave all the empty bottles on the table until you settle up, so it’s easy to see at a glance how much people have consumed. Anyway, there was a “Salva Vida” girl walking around. That’s the main beer in Honduras. She’s paid to walk around and flirt with people, I guess. I wish I had a photo of her – tight halter top (no bra) with their logo blazoned across the front, tight low-cut leggings with the logo blazoned across the ass (no panties, and believe me it was hard not to notice) and heels. Yowsa.

Yesterday I hiked up to the Christ statue overlooking the town. If you’ve ever been to Rio (or Antigua), you know what I mean. The guidebooks say you have to take a complicated bus or an expensive taxi, but it’s right there, screw it, I’m walking. Glad I did, too – saw some interesting things. Like the rest of Central America, Tegus is full of disparity. On the way up, I went through shantytowns that had still not recovered from Hurricane Mitch 10 years ago. Entire villages were washed down the hillside, due to all the deforestation. I took the main road on the way back down and went through the opposite kind of neighborhoods – huge mansions, many belonging diplomats.

One does grow tired of all the security guards. Every chain store, jewelry shop, electronics store, even the friggin’ fast food joints (basically, anyone who can afford it) has at least one security guard standing by the door, wielding a large menacing shotgun. I suppose it’s meant to make me feel safer, but it only serves to do the opposite. I fully realize it’s a dangerous country, but is fear-mongering and fighting fire with fire really the solution?

Get this.. the supermarkets have DJ’s in them! I guess to help you get your groove on while picking out bread and butter. One simply cannot find real juice here. I don’t even mean fresh, I just want regular juice from concentrate. All the juices in even the largest groceries are water, sugar, fake flavoring, and maybe 10% actual juice. Don’t they grow oranges here?! I guess economics wins again.

Speaking of fast food, several of them have table service. Weird, huh. It’s like, what’s the point? I suppose to give people jobs. Like you find in ex-communist countries, that’s common here too – way too many employees in a given store. They follow you around and stare, it’s very disconcerting.
It turns out that fast food here is for the rich, the opposite as it is in the States. The food is expensive compared to eating in a regular local restaurant. It seems to go against economics, but I suppose there is the cachet of a chain store brand. A fresh donut at the local bakery cost me 3 Lemps, and that same donut at Dunkin’ Donuts (which are everywhere here) cost 24 Lemps. Guess which was the better donut?

One of these days that I’m bored (read: avoiding cracking those language books), I think I will follow someone around. You know, to learn about an average life here. One time we were on tour in London I think it was, and Holley did just that. She followed a couple around for hours, even into the show they were seeing that evening! I always thought that was a creative way to see a city.

Written by in: Honduras | Tags: , ,

Lago Yojoa to Tegucigalpa

D&D Brewery / Hostel was a bust. Partly because the Oregonian proprieter was away with his family in the States, so there was scant local information to be had. Reading past reports, it seems he is the life of that place, so without him there, it was pretty dead. It was cool seeing how he built a brewery into a shipping container in the States and shipped it down here. The beers were good, as were the blueberry pancakes, but the place is really in the middle of nowhere.

I took a long walk trying to get to the lake, but was constantly stymied by washed-out pathways. I wandered into a large archaeological site that is slowly being excavated and developed for tourism, but at this point is really just a large park with mounds that presumably contain temples under all the growth.

After recovering somewhat from the food poisoning, I moved on. I didn’t really know where to go that day. I wanted to go to Gracias (the great name comes from when it was founded – the settlers had been searching for weeks for a flat plane to build a town on, but the region is so mountainous. At last when they found this spot, they all said “Gracias!”) It’s meant to be a pretty village up in the hinterlands, worth seeing. Yet I couldn’t figure out any way of getting there that didn’t involve multiple chicken buses on rough tracks, and it wasn’t clear I would be able to do it in one day. Mind you, as the crow flies, it’s only about 50km away!

One thing that’s very different about Honduras compared to Guatemala is the lack of tourist infrastructure, which has it’s pros and cons. On the positive side, it’s nice to be treated as a human being instead of as a walking dollar sign. I’m often charged the local rate for things, which is shocking. Now, I don’t mind paying 2x – 3x the local rate, because after all, I am rich compared to the locals – it’s when they get greedy and really price gouge that it bugs me. [I still believe that rampant, unchecked capitalism is the death knell of society… but that’s another topic.]

It’s also nice not seeing mobs of other tourists and all the tackiness that goes along with that. The downside is that it’s much more difficult to get around in Honduras compared to Guatemala. In Guatemala, there are organized shuttles running anywhere you want to go, and people to tell you how to do it. Here, it’s a lot trickier, and you have to figure it out yourself.

After a couple of chicken buses out to the main national highway, I still wasn’t sure where I was going that day. A great feeling indeed! Standing by the side of the road, warm sunny day, it’s still early, the possibilities are endless. Finally I decide to take the first 2nd class (not chicken bus, can’t handle those for more than a couple of hours at a stretch. too cramped) bus that came along, to wherever it was going. There were only a few choices, and I ended up with Tegucigalpa, the capital. Which meant skipping seeing more of the highlands, but frankly, I was tired of being wet and cold, and I didn’t think it would be that different than similar terrain I had already seen in Guatemala.

Transportation is incredibly cheap here. The 2nd class bus that went about 150km that day cost 90 Lempiras, or $4.75. The chicken buses I had taken that morning cost 60 cents each!
I like the enterprising entrepreneurs who swarm the bus whenever it’s stopped, offering all manner of food, drink, potions, remedies. And it’s all pretty healthy, homemade food, much better than McDonald’s crap. [As long as one chooses wisely! No more water/milk based foods for Yosh..] My favorite are the plantain chips.

Food in the stores is a mixed bag. Things that are grown here (corn, beans, bananas, etc) are quite cheap. I bought 3 bananas by the side of the road for 1 Lempira (5 cents). But things that are cheap back home are really expensive here. Apples, which are imported from Washington State if you can believe it, are about 50 cents each. Peanuts, which I would have thought came from somewhere down here, are also pricey. It’s rare to see other nuts which is too bad, since they’re one of my staples.

Another fun thing about the buses are the assistants. Every bus, whether it’s a microbus, chicken bus, or 1st class bus have the driver, who only drives, and an assistant, who does everything else. They lean out the door while passing through towns yelling out the name of their destination, trying to solicit rides. They put your bag up on the roof, tell people to move their children and chickens so more passengers can be packed on, and collect the money. Invariably colorful characters. On the 1st class buses, they organize the passports, give you blankets and pillows and drinks.

Honduras seems to be quite U.S.-friendly. You see the occassional U.S. flag, meet people who have family in the States (or who have lived there themselves), stuff like that.
The people of Honduras are quite different than their Guatemalan neighbors. I talked before how they’re much lighter skinned. The women wear “Western” (an odd phrase, but I mean to say North American/European) revealing clothing, makeup, and jewelry. The men continue to impress me – no matter how poor they are, they always look sharp in slacks, decent shoes, and nearly always a button-down shirt, or at least a nice polo. Even the laborers.

The road we took descended from the cloud forest to reveal a much drier climate. Think of the American Southwest. This I was happy to see after all the rain! Some of my clothes haven’t been dry for weeks.
On the bus I met a guy (George) who grew up here, but has lived in the States for the past 10+ years. He’s back visiting family and stuff. I’ll write about what we got up to in the next posting…

Written by in: Honduras | Tags: , ,

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