There are few things I enjoy doing more than going out with friends to have a beer and listen to live music. Bars, restaurants — even cafes in second-rate malls where they just happen to have given permission to some dude with a guitar to set up shop for half an hour — I love them all, and given the option, I will always show up.
My one exception (at least for the time being) are nightclubs: while I very much enjoy drinking and dancing, I do not enjoy not being able to hear anyone talk, predatory men, or getting to bed after 11:30 p.m. Also, where are you supposed to put your purse while you dance? It’s just a very impractical set-up.
Xalapa’s world-class orchestra is an especially fantastic treat, and as a bonus, I can get all dressed up for it, forgoing my usual uniform of sandals or boots — depending on the weather — for some sexy heels. Tickets aren’t too expensive, and you can hear some really excellent performances; I’ve been moved to tears more than once from the sheer beauty of the music.
I also love seeing pretty much any kind of dance performance as well as plays, though those are usually a toss-up in terms of how well I’ll be able to understand (sometimes the cultural interpretation needed is just as daunting as the linguistic).
I used to take my daughter to Son Jarocho classes every Friday night where she’d learn to zapatear (dance with elaborate foot movements) while she resisted holding a jarana or any other kind of instrument (she’s a bit shy with those things, but I’m sitting back and giving it time — it will happen).
Afterwards we’d stay for the fandango where 20+ artists would fill the air with whimsical music and the weirdly-stiff and loud stomping movements of the kind of dancing that goes along with it. It was often the highlight of my week, especially once I made friends with the other parents and regulars.
All of those outings now seem like they happened in another world. Performances are still happening, but no matter how beautiful they are, they bleed sorrowful longing: apart from each other physically, joined only by split screens in two dimensions. Then of course there’s the economic suffering of those businesses that rely on people showing up not just to eat and drink, but to occupy hotels, get their cars parked somewhere, grab a snack on the street — the list goes on.
What is performance without an audience? We’re hearing about more and more artistic as well as sporting events going on without anyone actually seeing them in real time and space, and it’s hard not to get depressed about it. One striking example from here in Mexico is the exclusively-online status of the Cervantino this year in Guanajuato. Mexicans are especially enthusiastic festival-goers, and the idea of “reveling” alone in our individual houses certainly sounds less than appealing.
People and organizations are getting as creative as they can to the extent they can under the circumstances. I’ll admit there’s something very touching to me about the sudden humility of professional artists suddenly performing in front of a camera lens: purer, distilled versions of their art.
Larger organizations have done their best to keep up as well. The Ayuda Mutua group scheduled an online art event, for example, and the San Miguel film festival is betting on old fashioned drive-in theaters to keep the events going.
Still, it’s hard for me to feel enthusiastic about an online “party,” no matter how good the marketing is for it. Much of what I love about all of these experiences as they’re normally held is enjoying them with other people. It doesn’t matter that most of my fellow audience members are strangers. We’re just a bunch of people sharing an experience, and it’s nice.
One art form whose delivery hasn’t changed as a result of the pandemic is writing, as both creating and consuming was already a relatively solitary activity. This has meant, for the most part, that my various writing gigs have been safe. But it’s a solidly introverted activity while I myself am an extrovert.
Before the pandemic, I’d get around this by frequently setting up shop in some cafe just to be physically around other people while I worked, or I might go to a friend’s house and work there. That said, the silence hasn’t been all bad as it’s allowed me to expand into other areas that I likely would not have done otherwise: I’m very excited, for example, to have been published for the first time in Spanish in a local literary magazine (check out Aria for some fantastic, original writing!)
Independence Day will be here soon, and then Day of the Dead, and then Christmas, not to mention my birthday next month (and I am not one of those people who “doesn’t even notice or tell anyone” — I always want a good party with all my friends!). This year, I fear, is a wash for them all.
I know that there are plenty of things that are more important than artistic events happening or not happening, or having an audience or not having an audience. I just miss you guys, and I’d taken for granted the degree to which enjoying things that humans do literally just for the fun of it made me feel human, too.
Sarah DeVries writes from her home in Xalapa, Veracruz.