A Night Out in Barra

One afternoon in Barra, ripe for novelty and a respite from dish washing, we went out for dinner to a beach-side restaurant. It was perfect – just before sunset, we looked out upon the sea, a November aquarelle washed with wondrous breadth. The face of the hotel was wreathed in luminescence, and the pool in front of us reflected a tranquil sky, and the jagged edges of bright pumpkin orange filled the firmament. I wondered, as I sat there, if I could render the translucent orange of the sunset with justice were I to paint the sky and the great rocks lying out to sea; the ocean was right in front of the diners where you could sense its expanse, sparkling and flat, but with something of a pearly sheen when it began to get dark. The pool for the hotel guests looked like an oddly shaped mirror now, lying on the ground, and the diffuse light and its muted range of colours reflected mostly silver and grey from the sky as the light deepened into the murky sapphire that marks the early winter dusk.

But real life is more interesting than art. A waitress approached, a menu in her hand and a twinkle in her eye. Her look was amiable, and a waiter appeared in matching outfit just behind her, close to the bar. They both looked professional. There was another couple there too, both Mexican, maybe man and wife. She was pretty; her princess-like gown was long and very low on her lean shoulders as she’d placed herself in her chair, settled into a tall attitude, and looked distinguished. Her bosom and neckline crossed with jewels in elegant partnership. I had a hard time not looking at her jewels as they were of ┬ávegetable proportions. Her well-fed husband, if that’s who he was, sat down too, and a sense of strangeness seemed to descend upon the place. The view, and the appearance of people, formed the setting but like a curtain which could be drawn up at the request of a capital performance. I resolved that, being this close to the ocean and surrounded by such beauty, it was as near as art could come. I would not have been more pleased if I’d stood before an original Diego Rivera mural so intriguing was the scene before us.

We ordered pizza. Two pizzas, one for each of us. I ordered in both languages, but the waitress showed her preference for English. She asked us twice if we were sure.

” Two pizzas?” she questioned with a hint of alarm on her face. I expressed the fact that we ate a lot and that my husband was slim; she, the waitress, looked him up and down and nodded in agreement. The twinkle in her eye came back, and off she went to the other couple. The waiter, wiping wine goblets, looked cheerfully at sea.

The other table ordered pizza too.

“Just wait”, said my husband, laughing. “We’ll both end up with two pizzas each.”

“Maybe”, I replied, thinking we’d buy them and have fewer dishes at home.

The gentleman next to us rose from his chair, and the attitude in which he stood reminded me of the way court painters represented kings in centuries past, lofty, imperious, stiff. He was getting restless. The woman he was with, tall and straight, kept her position at the table but he began to wander around. The pizza was taking a long time. The waitress returned to our table to confirm that we wished two pizzas, and the waiter polished glasses. It was as if he were playing a minor role on the stage. There arose for the first time many indistinguishable voices from the kitchen as the issue of how many pizzas to make resounded through the concrete building. The waiter, evidently feeling badly about the time it was taking to produce the pizzas, and embarrassed about the noise from the kitchen, rested his pleasant eyes on me with the question: “Would you like some chips and salsa while you wait?”

Just then the waitress emerged from the kitchen with two Hawaiian pizzas, one piece falling away from the rest of the pieces, its thick cheese hanging heavily, but she deftly picked it up and put it in its place within the wheel-like arrangement on her breadboard. We hadn’t ordered Hawaiian pizza but the nearby table took one.

“Plenty of time”, I told myself. “This is Mexico.”

The pizza finally came and by this time we didn’t care what type it was. We polished it all off quickly.

More important to me than food is the people. We often relate to each other around here as characters in a play – “teachers teach”, “musicians play”, “painters paint.” But the average Mexican is delightfully complex with layers and layers of meaning. He appears warm and friendly, funny and creative, but I think impossible to organize.

And maybe there’s nothing strange about that.