It would be a misnomer to say that last night I attended a “dinner party” because the gathering was so much more than that. Ever since I first began this tour of Mexico I’ve been looking forward to meeting two phenomenal storytellers, Victor Árjona and Ángel del Pilar. They are cornerstones of the Storytelling Movement here in Mexico and represent my aspirations as a cultural artist really well. The fact that they offered their home as an oasis in the evening made my respect for them grow exponentially.
We arrived, a few other storytellers and I, around 7:40 pm or so. The electricity was out in the building and we had to ascend about five flights of steps. As an aside… it seems to me that there exist an incalculable number of steps in this country, from the ancient Pyramids of Teotihuacan to ones inside of the mountains and mountains of contemporary buildings that dissect Mexico City.
The Angel was gracious enough to come down and meet us at the entrance of their flat. Yes… her name is Angel and not “The Angel” but I prefer to follow my first impressions. My imagination runs rampant and I find stories, poetry, humor and symbols in almost everything. I loved the fact that we were ascending a dark stairway being guided by a woman named Angel who was the only one who possessed light. I’m smiling to myself right now.
Once The Angel got us safely to the entrance of their home, we were greeted by a snowy white cat with more personality and vigor than any cat I’ve come across to date. He ran around, excitedly in circles and darted into a little box on the floor. He would disappear and reappear at the most odd moments, reminiscent of an “Alice in Wonderland” Cheshire cat manner. It was an entertaining sight to behold.
From around the corner of the kitchen Victor appeared. The first thing you notice about Victor are his eyes. Victor has the most honest eyes of any man I’ve ever met. They are both childlike and mature at the same time. A smile graced his face that made me feel as if I were at home. The scent of something cooking, something unfamiliar, permeated the house. It was both a pleasant and curiosity inducing smell.
Their home is an artist haven, it has art everywhere and an atmosphere of both creativity and well managed business. There seemed to have achieved a purpose filled balance in their home.
While Victor was busy preparing the evening’s meal, The Angel seated us and conversed with our little group.
I had had a moment a few days before, while traveling to the City of Mixquic. My cab driver was passing a mountain called “The Sleeping Woman.” It is actually a dormant volcano. The driver shared with me the legend of a young warrior and woman who were in love. The story possesses an enormous dose of pure enchantment and I thoroughly enjoyed it when the driver related it to me.
As synchronistic as my life tends to be, it was not surprising when Victor and The Angel shared a bit of the same tale, but with a twist. They had actually created, with the help of family and friends, a Kamishibai version of the ancient Mexican Tale. Kamishibai is an ancient Japanese form of storytelling where a box houses a rolling scroll of images that the storyteller rotates while telling the tale. They had beautifully decorated Kamishibai boxes with images of the themes of their stories and illustrations which slid into the back of the box. Most traditional Kamishibai boxes are plain, rather simple but these had a Mexican cultural spin put on them with lots of bright colors and images.
I was excited because my friend in Poland, Michael, has been working with Kamishibai for some time now and encouraging me to do the same.
They had several decorative Kamishiai boxes and well planned out tales to tell with them. I was impressed. These two are definitely storytellers heart and soul.
A couple of other local storytellers arrived and we all gathered around a circular dining room table. A circle. Yes… really, a circular table. For some of you that won’t mean much but for others it will have metaphysical and cultural significance. I was delighted to be seated at “The Round Table” with this gathering of other storytellers.
Initially I was going to say that Victor is a wonderful cook but, after having tasted the caramelized onion he prepared for us to start the meal with, I have to retract and declare that he is an authentic chef with tantalizing culinary skills.
I had some hesitation in biting into an onion that had been oven baked for a few hours but I quickly overcame in favor of desiring the experience. I was not disappointed. I wanted so badly to savor every single bite of that onion but I would have held up the evening. Seriously, I think I could have taken an hour to slowly and purposefully eat that caramelized onion. The textures, the flavors, the meat of the vegetable that melted in your mouth… oh my God! Ok, obviously it was good. To let you know how detail oriented Victor can be, our main dish was comprised of chopped vegetables whose colors mirrored the many colors you find all over Mexico and in Mexican Art. I was in a scene from “Como Agua para Chocolate” and loving every second of it.
The conversation flowed around the table easily. No one competed with anyone else to be heard. One of the tellers, Andy from New Zealand, and his son, performed a soul stirring Haka for everyone. If you’ve never watched a Rugby match or seen a Tongan Haka performed then go to YouTube and put the work in and be prepared to have an experience. I thought the walls and floors were going to come tumbling down. It was one of the highlights of the night, besides Victor’s culinary delights of course.
It was part dinner party, part ritual and part gathering of kindred spirits. There were laughs, tears and a ton of sharing. I found myself so at ease with the members of this gathering that it reminded me of the rites and rituals I’ve been blessed to be a part of over the decades.
I left late in the evening with a deep desire for all of our paths to cross once again. It was an evening of being fed both physically and spiritually that I will not soon forget.