Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ariving in San Salvador--August 30

This afternoon, I finally returned to San Salvador.

I came from Bogotá, via Panamá. The arrival in Panamá was a little nerve-wracking; our plan arrived on time, early in fact, but then spent nearly an hour waiting to get to a gate. The thing is that the great majority of people arriving on flights to Panamá are transferring to other flights—and now that Copa, which is building into a major airline, has arranged schedules in the airport so there are three periods in the day when flights arrive and leave very quickly, lots of us on the plane were getting nervous about making our connections—people started tapping on parts of the plane that would make noise, paging the flight attendants, chiflando (whistling)…and the flight attendants just ignored everyone. Anyway, what could they do? It was the airline passenger equivalent of drivers pitando en un trancón (blowing their horns in a traffic jam).

In fact, boarding was well under way when I got to my gate, but everything worked out.

The airport is the same as it was—with those funny features that incoming and outgoing international passengers cross paths, and that duty-free shops are open to arriving passengers as well. But the immigration and customs lines have been reorganized and are more ágil.

Edgar met me at the airport, and we had a nice reunion—very friendly, and we talked all the way into town about their project and a little bit about my work. A good start to this stay.

Then he took me to the hotel. If I have this right, the US embassy gave them money for my room, and they’re trying to get some more out of those folks. The hotel is what used to be the historic Sheraton of so much fame in the war days. Now it’s the Crowne Point Plaza. I said to Edgar that I wouldn’t stay in a place like this in the States, and he said, “No, I didn’t think so, but they (the people paying the bills) put people here, I think it’s mostly for security concerns.” There’s a lot of English spoken here, so that hasn’t changed in 16 years…

And another thing that hasn’t changed, and that really made me happy, was the zanatazo-the racket of the Great-tailed Grackles as they come in to roost around sunset. I saw one fledgling begging food from a parent (mother). And a terrific afternoon aguacero (rainstorm).

But the ride in from the airport showed a lot of changes—I have to admit that after 16 years, I was a little disoriented, and even have a little trouble with the map of the city—but I remember what the main drags looked like, and they weren’t filled with big stores and other commercial buildings. And the map is filled with shopping centers. The Torre de las Américas, a tall all-glass-walled building, which always seemed ridiculous to us when a strong wind would blow windows out, or when the guerrillas used it for target practice, is now the Citibank building.

And then there’s the hotel—it’s still a lot like what I remember the Sheraton was like, down to the cheesy paintings hanging in a sort of anteroom off the lobby. But…next to building, and connected to it by a walkway, is the World Trade Center (yes, named in English), a huge glass building. And you walk around the ground floor of that building to get to Plaza Futura—which is like a big, modern, affluent food court—it’s about 15 restaurants—mostly small places, but real restaurants and somewhat fancy, as well as a nice-looking bookstore, drugstore, etc. The restaurants have an international character—Spanish, Mexican, Middle Eastern, US, a salad place, etc. A “buttons” in the hotel told me there’s a restaurant that serves comida típica, too, but I didn’t find it.

What I did, in the end, was what I wanted to do all along—my first night in San Salvador, after all. Following the “buttons”’ directions, I found a little family place on the street where I had my pupusas, lots of curtido, and a nice cold Pilsener. For the congescenti, I have to tell you the label has changed, but they still have at least one ace on it—the ace of hearts. Delicious, and homey. While I was there a taxista pulled up to get some pupusas to go, and I saw two bicycles being pushed up the hill with those enormous flat baskets that, if memory serves, they deliver bread in.

So here’s a change—one we had heard about, but hadn’t actually experienced. When I asked how much I owed, the señora did some calculating, with the aid of her young adolescent daughter (that hasn’t changed), and told me it was “dos veinte.” Two-twenty. That is, two dollars and twenty cents—it was some time ago that El Salvador adopted the US dollar as their currency. Probably less than a fifth, or maybe a tenth, of what I would have paid in the Plaza Futura, and much more fun!

And then there’s the language—guanaco, the Salvadoran slang word for “Salvadoran”. In the car, Edgar punctuated important or expressive phrases, or agreeing with something, with “va”—something I sometimes find myself doing in Colombia, but it’s not part of the language there. And when you want to let someone go by, you say, “pase,” not “siga.” Trivia, but they are very nostalgic for me.

Tomorrow at 7:30 AM we have a breakfast meeting to get started in the work—no sense getting ahead of the game, right?

Meanwhile, Edgar and I have had one short political discussion, expressing the strong sense of decepción (disappointment) that has become such a dominant part of our political experience—in Funes in El Salvador and in Obama in the US…

And a little about a dominant theme here—the power and terrible effects of the pandillas (gangs) and narco-trafficking. One thing is clear—they represent not only an awful threat for the people who live here, but also a brake on economic development. In fact, Edgar raised the topic in response to my mentioning the number of shopping centers, which apparently are negatively affected by the gangs…

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