And at the Padua Hills Theater, onstage, were performers who played guitar and guitarons and sang rancheras in warbling sweet high voices. They always sang "Cielito Lindo" at one point or another, and I would try to remember the words and the tune. Which was difficult for me, as I did not speak Spanish too very well, although I was surrounded by the language down in town every single day where the Mexican kids and their parents lived (in the barrio, down by the tracks, where the old packing house stood, or occasionally if lucky in the manager's old home, which was an orchard house) and went to school with us all.
"Cielito Lindo" sounds like such a wonderful love song, carried originally from Spain to Mexico to Padua Hills, and everywhere in between, until you grow up and learn to study, and read something about the original lyrics. (In the article "¡Hasta que me cayó el veinte!" Mr. Ortega Morán discusses the origins of the first verse of this song. His research discovered that in the early 17th century, armed bandits would take refuge in the Sierra Morena mountains of Spain and that people feared for their lives when they had to travel through the region. The words of the first verse of "Cielito Lindo" were found in a song from that era, hinting at that fear. But with time the meaning of the verse changed as people began romanticizing it. "Your face is the Sierra Morena. Your eyes are thieves who live there." The verse had other melodies put to it and variations on the lyrics. Mr. Quirino Mendoza, the composer, adapted the verse to his own melody and gave us the song we know today.
But "Cielito Lindo" the phrase came down unchanged, and though nearly untranslatable and shifting between different circles of implied meaning, remains pretty much every bit the same.
And what I found strangely fascinating, is that the composer of the piece we received at Padua Hills that evening, (by we, I mean my sister, my parents, Frank, and I, and everyone in the room, and everyone elsewhere who had ever heard that version at any point in history or on into the future) had just died a mere few years prior (1957) to our splendid dinner party at Padua Hills (1959 maybe, 1960 or 1961 perhaps). And if I found out something like that, I would always mention such a thing to Frank as he was interested in music, you see, and all types of music.
(And when I tried picking it out on guitar, I was clumsy, and faltering, though I would not move my head to the beat like the fellow on the left ... so I had to practice a lot to gain any kind of technique with fingerpicking, especially back then, when I was just learning my way around the fretboard). I never really was very good on the guitar, as any of my friends of the time would tell you.)
They'd put on plays at Padua Hills, too, performed in Spanish. Later on, I ran into some people who were interested in hearing more about the plays as they were into theater and had an interest in such things. But I never went to one of the plays, though I saw some of the performance schedules for the play season in the local newspaper. The play season at Padua seemed to run only during the summer, and it was most expensive to get in (theater and a play, music, plus dinner), so that was another reason I never attended a play there.
(But the guy on the left playing the guitar was younger and more unfamiliar with the piece, and he would bob his head and point himself to the note where his part should exactly double with the upscale run of the other guitarist's, and I'd try to remind myself, "no head bobbin'" ... he'd bob his head every run on "Cielito Lindo" to remind himself where to fall in on the right key ...
da da DA da da da da DA da da da da DA
da da BOB da da da da BOB da da da da BOB)
(See what I mean? )