Monday, June 25, 2012

In Mayaguez/ Carmen/ Santero/ Chimes/ Christmas in the Mountains

The next five songs are not on the Capeman soundtrack album. They introduce some characters, and they fill in some information about young Sal's formative years and what life was like was in Puerto Rico for Esmerelda, our hero's mother. I will also highlight some of the particularly poetic passages.

"In Mayaguez" starts with a decent, from some Puerto Rican mountains to "the asylum for the poor." It is run by nuns who perhaps mean well but have never taken any parenting classes. On the way down, the wind rustles the sugarcane, which "whispered its prayers/ and laid them on the sea." No mention is made, so far, of a father.

Salvador, narrating, explains that his mother "worked in the [poorhouse] kitchen as a maid," while he "played games with the crazy ones." This may mean that the shelter was not only for the poor, but an "asylum" in the other sense as well. 

The nuns despair of young Sal. They tease him that his name means "Savior," yet "you cry, you wet your bed." Rather than soothe him, they beat and belittle him, and the children learn that its acceptable to tease him. When his mother discovers the situation, she is outraged, calling the nuns "animals." They protest that they did their best and after all, didn't they provide for them both? Esmerelda, unmoved, takes her turn to compare her son to Jesus, in that he was crucified by their vindictiveness. 

The song ends with the mother ans son taking their leave of the asylum. Salvador notes that he was seven at the time, and musing, "a dirt road leads to Heaven."

Next, we meet Carmen, in the song that bears her name. She has some nursing skill, and her first reaction is to notice that Sal has bruises. The mother dryly explains, "The Sisters of Charity punished him." Carmen acknowledges, "They call them mothers/ but they have no children."

Now, we also learn that Sal has a sister, Aurea. Carmen prepares an aloe for Sal's wounds, punning, "Salve for little Salvi." But for Esmerelda, no mere ointment will suffice. "I feel like everything that happened was my fault/ These [children] are my wealth/ Where is the money?" she moans.

Carmen urges her to visit the santero, a fortune-teller: "All he asks is that you trust him/ And the shells he will throw."

Esmerelda, with no other options, takes her advice in the next song, aptly titled "Santero." She introduces herself to the seer and admits: "I almost used a knife today/ I could have killed someone/ Will this cast a shadow on my son?" We assume the knife was wielded in the scene in which she discovered the nuns' abuse.

The santero casts his shells. He eerily foretells of a "hot night" in New York, a "playground filled with cries"; a "quarter moon like a dagger" lighting the scene. "Elegua, king of the crossroads/ His colors red and black/ Sees a blade leap in the moonlight/ But he does not hold it back./ So say the shells," he demures.

Esmerelda dismisses the prophecy. It is not characteristic for her son to be "wicked," she says, And as she does not even believe in the ability to foretell the future, she cannot imagine it cements her son's destiny. 

Nevertheless, there is one more throw of shells she has paid for... "I see him staggering through the desert/ But he must not break his chain/ Until St. Lazarus in his mercy/Turns his thirsty soul to rain." Then Lazarus joins the santero: "So this, then, is the future/ From which no one can escape/ The cape and the umbrella/ The umbrella and the cape."

Esmerelda leaves the santero even more upset. She sings the song "Chimes" to her son and herself. She cannot return to the poorhouse, even though now she has even less money. She scolds herself for wasting it on such nonsense: "How could I trust a man who... rolls the stars like dice/ And turns a simple woman's savings/ Into a gambler's pack of lies?" The prophecy wasn't even soothing, she mutters. And now she hears the dinnertime bells at the poorhouse, where she cannot any longer set foot, while he cannot feed her own children.

Still, she promises Sal that she will do anything to prevent the prophecy: "I'd wash all the laundry of the ocean... to stop the moon in motion." She is baffled that the santero could look into his eyes and see a "murderer." Esmerelda concludes, "He read the fate of someone else/ The prophecy is wrong."

Evidently, these events occur just before Christmas, because the next song has three wandering musicians telling us so. Also, the song is called "Christmas in the Mountains." They act as a Greek chorus for the moment, and tell that their hymn is called the "Aguinaldo."

Carmen, whom Esmerelda explained to the santero she had met in a garden (the poorhouse garden?), asks how it went. Esmerelda rolls her eyes and tells her. So Carmen changes the subject: "What now, Esmerelda?/ What's in store for you?". She cryptically replies, "I don't shop in any store/ That makes a crazy woman out of you," The implication seems to be that she is done planning for and peeking into the future for now.

But Carmen has a surprise-- a package from New York. It contains a scarf-- red and black-- and a ticket from a Reverend Gonzales there: "He wants me for his wife," Esmerelda reads in the enclosed note. She recalls that she confided in him after her husband, Gumersindo, left. The reverend "was going back to America/ Said he'd send for us, soon." (This is the man Salvador mentioned earlier, his "stepfather in black" who "preached the fire of the Pentacostal Church.")

Carmen is torn. She says, "you cannot live your life in fear," yet admits she dreads the santero's prediction, which is to take place in New York. Esmerelda replies: "I am not a woman of stone/ A hawk in the sky is crying/ You were not meant to live alone." She is resolved to go, and we end this cycle expecting an ascent-- an airplane's take-off. And so ends the chapter of the musical that takes place in Puerto Rico, as Esmerelda and her children head north. 

Will the prophecy materialize? If so, is it due to the nun's abuse of young Sal, the violent reaction (or long-time inaction) of his mother, his own hidden nature, a simple matter of fate... or something that has yet to happen in New York? And is there any one answer... or any way to know?

Next Song: Satin Summer Nights


  1. Also, the teasing the kids do in the song En Mayaguez is "él meó él meó se mojó el pantalon" which is spanish for he peed, he peed he wet his pants.

  2. Thanks, Nicholas. This jibes with the English version of the taunt.

  3. One small correction. It is not "el meo" as in "he wet the bed" but "El meon" as in a nickname meaning "the bed wetter"

  4. Here is a rezo, or prayer, to Eleguá, sung with or without drums:
    Barasuayo omo ni Alaguana mama kenya irawo e
    Barasuayo omo ni Alaguana mama kenya irawo e
    O bara wayo, eke, Echu odara
    Omo oni Alaguana mama kenya irawo e
    Vital force that through length and breadth appears, child who separates fissures and
    divides our pathway, do not cut the flow of kindness from me.
    "He(Ellegua) is the owner of the crossroads, thresholds and opportunities, the trickster who teaches lessons. " That fist very well with the narrative of Sal learning a hard lesson.

  5. Nicholas-- Wow. That's very elaborate and powerful. Thanks for appreciating how definitive I am trying to make this, as a resource.