…at 2 am in the morning.  Last night I was shocked into wakefulness by a trumpet right outside the bedroom window.  Although they were just out of sight around the corner of the house, a group of musicians five yards from our open window began crooning love ballads to someone in the neighboring house, accompanied by trumpet, accordion, and guitar.  After a few slow, romantic melodies there was a conversation about some keys being passed through a window, a short chorus of neighborhood dogs, chickens, roosters, and cats who thought they could pick up the melody with some practice, and then the dark night was silent again.

As a whole I am a “latin lover” cynic.  Latin men (and let me generalize here, because there is not other way to address this topic) are often crude and aggressive.  Their flirting tactics often come across to me as belittling and sexist, whistling and cat-calling at women in the streets, demanding hard work from women in the house – hand washing, cooking with giant pots, carrying children around – but then making a big show in a public setting of lifting a chair to place it where a woman should come and sit down.  And the double-faced flirting of holding their girlfriends hand while looking the other way to flirt or call at another woman is standard practice.  The pressure for men to be constantly proving their masculinity by attracting women is exhausting.  Their have been times here in a work situation (and working with financing and farming here means working with 97% men) where I have felt truly disappointed that the only way a man here learns to interact with a woman is through flirting and sexual comments.  What I’ve learned  is that really the game has very little to do with the women.  It’s the men needing to prove themselves to their company.  So I can choose to be complimented by an invitation to flirt if I want to, or I can brush off the comment easily knowing that it doesn’t actually come from an honest attraction.

But somewhere in this sea of unwanted sexual attention there are some truly romantic traditions.  Just as in American popular music you can sift through the songs of sexist portrayals of women and vulgarities and find true romantic gems, the most romantic Spanish songs surface from time to time on the radio, or with the mariachi bands who circle restaurants looking for families celebrating anniversaries and birthdays, or maybe at 2 o’clock in the morning on the street in a residential neighborhood.

Publicly announcing your love is bold but respectable thing to do.  In this world of double and triple playing (I once heard a story of a cousin of a friend who couldn’t attend his own uncle’s funeral because all five of his girlfriends showed up!!), waking the entire neighborhood up by serenading one woman is about as public here as announcing your engagement on television.  At the least, if he’s got another woman she is probably in a different city.

My neighbor was probably serenading his girlfriend to make up for an argument or maybe even for having an affair.  But the music was truly beautiful, and of all the things in this neighborhood that can make noise at ungodly hours, I’d welcome a crooning trumpet any night.

Live music is an important part of Nicaraguan culture. Brass instruments especially are found in Catholic processions (like the easter week parade pictured above), mariachi, funerals, and school bands.

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