I happened to look up and noticed a tall fellow speaking to the maître d’ in the doorway of the restaurant. He had a long ponytail and carried a guitar case. It was New Year’s Eve, had wandered in unannounced to play for the patrons of Mascaras. Carefully, reverently he extracted from his case a rather beat up looking guitar. Then he began to play. By this time the patrons to a person had stopped eating, dumbfounded as people are when receiving a gift beyond expectation.
Back in the 80s and 90s, my husband and I spent a good deal of time in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Then a small fishing village, today it has morphed as many have along the Costa Maya into a mini-upscale Cancun. When we do go now, which isn’t that often, since Spain has become our second home, our mantra is always the same: “Remember when… the streets were dirt, you cooked fresh caught fish on an open beach fire, you bought tacos from Flaco Taco’s rickety street cart? Time has a way of changing all things. But the one thing it cannot alter is memories. “And thank God for that,” I’ve been thinking lately.
In those days, on a side street just across from the park, the restaurant Mascaras packed them in every night. The Margueritas were the acknowledged best in town; served au natural and lethal as hell in those thick stubby glasses with thumb prints. Man, those things could really sneak up on you. But I digress.
We spent many a holiday in Playa. One in particular stands out as if it were only yesterday. It was quite cold for early January. Happily, I had packed my thick woollen shawl. Everyone agreed Mascaras was the place to go on New Year’s Eve. Dinner, musical entertainment (Andean group or maybe a Mariachi band of course and as always) – for forty pesos you couldn’t beat it. So we booked our table, took a longer than usual siesta, and arrived at Mascaras at about nine. We hoped the young maître d’ wouldn’t notice our disappointment as we followed him to a table tucked too far back in the corner. As late reservations, we couldn’t be fussy.
The meal was great, the camaraderie cheery as always. A group of Brits at the next table spotted us alone and invited us to join them. Happy to be out of our cramped little corner, we accepted eagerly; our waiter “no problemo” jammed two more chairs into their circle and moved our settings as if he was supposed to. Just behind us an Andean group, pan flutes trilling, added a mystical touch to the atmosphere.
Halfway through the meal I happened to look up and noticed a tall fellow speaking to the maître d’ in the doorway. He had a long ponytail and carried a guitar case. The look on the maître d’s face was somewhat enigmatic. Was he happy, confused, surprised – something? Other patrons had also taken notice, and by now the room vibrated with the anticipatory buzz of a hundred agitated bees.
“Santa Madre!” The male half of a couple next to us whispered like a prayer. “Eso es Paco!”
Indeed, the man at the door was Paco de Lucia who, since it was New Year’s Eve, had wandered in unannounced to play for the patrons of Mascaras. Slowly, with the purpose of an avenging angel, he strode toward a small kind of shelf with chair used by guitarists hired to attract customers during the week. Carefully, reverently he extracted from his case a rather beat up looking instrument. After noodling a few short riffs, he began to play. By this time the patrons to a person had stopped eating, dumbfounded as people are when receiving a gift beyond expectation. This one had floated down from somewhere up the beach like a piece of extraordinary driftwood.
Paco de Lucia played for about an hour. No one spoke; no one dared. About eleven or so he thanked us for a gracious reception; then he stood up and left. He probably wanted to make it home by twelve to ring in the New Year with his beloved family, the same family with whom he was sharing a day at the beach this March when he suffered a heart attack and died.
I was lucky enough to see Paco de Lucia another time at the McCarter Theatre at Princeton University. At a gallery in Jerez a few years back I spoke with a photographer who had shot Paco in action. Large posters of The Master graced the walls. One directly behind us looked down upon our conversation as we spoke. The image on the wall seemed larger than life, but never larger than the man himself that miraculous impromptu New Year’s Eve in Playa. I own every CD Paco de Lucia ever recorded. Every day I play them for at least an hour to remind myself how lucky I am to have shared the presence of greatness.
Gracias, Paco. We will never forget you and your music lives on.
Saffron Flynn is a veteran of the publishing scene. She has worked as editor, senior copywriter and news and feature journalist for major dailies in the United States. She taught creative writing at Stroudsberg University, PA, and was a Spanish Language Film Acquisitions Coordinator for Films for the Humanities and Sciences, Princeton, NJ.
For her Ruins she was awarded a First Honorable Mention from Quincy Writers Guild.
Ms Flynn now divides her time between the art community of New Hope, Pennsylvania, and Jerez in Spain.
>Topmost, Paco de Lucia at the San Vito Jazz Festival, by Alberto Cabello, used here under the Creative Commons Attribtuion 2.0 license. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paco_de_Lucia_in_2010.jpg
>Playa del Carmen, by Elelicht, used under the Creative Commons Attribtuion Share Alike 3.0 license.
>Paco de Lucia in Malaga, 2007, by Antonio Montuno, used under the Creative Commons Attribtuion Share Alike 2.0 license https://www.flickr.com/people/53556902@N00
>De Lucia tombstone by Falconaumanni, used under the Creative Commons Attribution Share alike 3.0 license
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