I had had a bad day. I had gone back to work after being sick for three days with the flu. People who were supposed to pay didn’t. My appointment this morning didn’t work out as well as I could have hoped and I felt just all around crappy. But every cloud has its lining and today is Friday.
Every Friday I get a reprieve from cooking and, when Jaime and I are both in Guadalajara, we normally catch a movie and some dinner before coming home, a well-earned reward for having made it through another week.
Tonight I wanted tamales.
Jaime has repeatedly told me about a little stand that sells HUGE tamales like the ones they make in Oaxaca, filled with your choice of meat or mole. They’re supposed to be wonderful and I’ve never tried them. So I suggest that for tonight. Jaime tells me they don’t even open up their little stand until about 10:00 pm but assures me that tamales can be found elsewhere in the city (just not the big giant ones like they make in Oaxaca).
Driving through the city of Guadalajara always brings back a flood of memories. We drive past the building that was my office for three years when my brother and I did electronic pre-press and worked until all hours of the morning trying to get the jobs out. A few blocks to the north is the Templo of Santa Teresita which gives this particular barrio its name. It is an older barrio filled with all sorts of really neat little shops and working class folks, people who work all day and then come home and sit out under the street lights at night and chat about their day. I eye the tiendita where the employees and I used to go to buy sodas and chips, (the one my friend Hilda used to run before she got pregnant again and her husband made her stop working), and spy a few lights on at Florencio’s place across the street. Florencio sells lonches in downtown at night and was always running across to our shop to fill orders for hamburgers and hot dogs.
A few more blocks to the east, heading further toward the historical center of Guadalajara, is the Capilla de Jesus and, across the street, our destination. The tamale shop is called, oddly enough, La Capilla, and offers pozole, tacos dorados and sopes as well as tamales.
I tell Jaime that David doesn’t like tamales because the ones he had were soggy, heavy and bland. David has obviously not eaten them at the right place. The masa, or dough, of the La Capilla tamales is light and fluffy and moist, like a Betty Crocker cake, with wonderful fillings of pork in red or green chile sauce, picadillo, poblano pepper strips ( rajas) with wonderfully creamy Panela cheese, chicken tamales in which they place not strips of chicken but whole pieces, and of course sweet tamales made with strawberry or pineapple.
I was amazed at the quantity of people and tamales that moved through this place in the time we were there. Jaime reminded me that the day of the Virgen de la Candelaria, a day on which tamales are traditionally served, was just around the corner. This explained the people coming in and picking up orders of 100 or more tamales. I also learned that it is considered one of the city’s best tamale shops, somewhat of a consolation considering I couldn’t try the big fat ones from Oaxaca that night. I was, however, very pleasantly satisfied with the ones from La Capilla and have recommended them to several friends since.
As we were entering the restaurant I noticed they had a small Ferris wheel and an equally small carrousel at the end of the block but thought nothing of it. As we were finishing dinner, though, we began to hear foot stomping and gypsy music. On our way out we saw people filling the Capilla’s courtyard and went over to check it out.
As we approached I perceived, not for the first time, the beautiful cantera stone of which the Capilla is built with its beiges and browns and wonder how long its been here. As I peered through the wrought iron I saw a plywood platform. In less than a minute it came to life with a beautiful flamenco dancer stomping out a rhythm while proudly strutting around the stage in a flurry of colorful skirts and skilled and graceful hand movements. This was followed by several other flamenco dances performed by a variety of young girls. Professionals? Definitely not, but they put on a marvelous show.
The audience inside the courtyard was a mixture of young and old with the adults seated in folding chairs and the children trying to find the best vantage point atop the cantera walls and in the garden boxes.
After the first couple of numbers I noticed that Jaime and I weren’t the only on-lookers, quite a crowd had gathered on the street to add to the people who had been in the courtyard since the beginning of the show, all of us clapping loudly after each performance, all of us dazzled by the whirling skirts in greens and royal blues and reds, the tassels of color which hung from their rebozos, the pounding rhythm which came from their heels and castanets, the grace and beauty, some of the men by their tight bodices and the quick flashes of legs and lingerie.
The performance lasted for about 45 minutes during which cars and busses passed, drowning out the music but leaving the dancers undaunted. Afterward I found out that it had been in honor of the 183rd anniversary of the Capilla and that they had had a variety of performers throughout the week and that the next evening would find the courtyard filled with female mariachis. It would also signal the end of the festival.
As we were walking to the car I reflected back on my other life in Los Angeles and how different these two cities are. Here I was more worried about one of the children in front of me falling off the fence, there I would have been afraid of being mugged. Los Angeles didn’t offer itself to the kind of spontaneity I find here in Guadalajara and it certainly didn’t seem to hold the same surprises.
I am on a committee whose main goal is to find ways of attracting more tourism to Guadalajara. I’ve heard all sorts of different ideas, BIG ideas, but none seem so compelling to me as the beauty and simplicity of what I experienced tonight – just a little party to honor the 183rd anniversary of the Capilla de Jesus. It could have been Santa Teresita or the Santuario or Zapopan. It could even have been a mime show in the Plaza de la Liberación downtown complete with audience participation, or any one of the hundreds of things that happen each day in this, the city of roses.
When you decide to visit, take the time to find and enjoy these unexpected treasures, like Jaime and I do, on Friday nights.
A capilla is a chapel and, since the writing of this article, I have tried some of those big fat tamales from Oaxaca. Boy were they good!!!