You can’t consider text and image without including fiction. To be sure, there are images, but they appear in your mind.
Just published my novel, Bienvenido a Miami, on Barnes and Nobel. Here’s a clip of the scene where two ladies–one Latina and one Jewish decide to combine a bar-mitzvah with a quinceanera. Imagine the images as you read…
Quinceanera and the Bar Mitzvah
A few years later, Gabriela began to follow Dominique everywhere, perhaps because Dominique was beginning to bloom into a beautiful flower each pubescent petal curvy and flowing and each needing protection from boys. Boys like me.
While most Latinas count down to the big day, Dominique counted down to the day after the party, the day it was over.
One year before her 15th birthday, the Quinceanera fiesta, Dominique constantly complained about having to do it.
“It’s not worth it,” she’d say. “Spend all that money and time on a birthday party. I’d rather go to Disney World or Paris.”
“Yeah, that’s a groovy idea, take all of your friends to Disney World!” I’d responded.
Six months before the party, her aunt had explained to Dominique that it was important to commemorate the change from being a girl to a woman. “It’s a tradicion,” she’d say in Spanglish whenever that subject or any other having to do with life in Cuba came up. Six months before the fiesta her aunt showed us the to-do list:
• Determine your party theme or style and budget
• Book caterer, photographer, florist, bakery, transportation, ceremony and reception music
• Begin shopping for your dress and accessories
• Choose and order damas’ dresses and accessories
• Book rental services
• Meet with ceremony officiant
• Choose escort’s and chambelanes’ formal wear
• Begin guest list.
• Draft ceremony and reception outlines
• Begin practicing the waltz
• Choose decorations and music for both ceremony and reception
• Select and order invitations and stationery
• Reserve hotel rooms for out-of-town guests
• Arrange first fittings and alterations for dresses
• Finalize guest list
• Meet with hairstylist
• Start addressing invitations
• Order tuxedos for escort
• Mail invitations
• Start preparing your speech to thank your family
• Final fittings and alterations for dresses
• Choose and prepare programs (optional) and favors
• Schedule hairstylist appointment for party day
• Confirm guest total with caterer
• Prepare reception seating chart and/or placecards
• Confirm arrangements with bakery, decorator, officiants, florist, photographer, transportation, ceremony and reception music
• Have dress pressed
• Practice your thank-you speech
• Pick up tuxedos
• Decorate ceremony and reception sites
Reading it was exhausting. I was just about to turn thirteen, so that both of us were facing major life changes, yet mine seemed so much simpler.
Eleanor had decided that it was too much work for me to have a Bar Mitzvah and instead, she would just have a thirteenth birthday party. My mother’s lack of faith in religion came in part with an effort to steer us toward an individualist attitude about everything. Some would call it secular humanism. I called it having a party without doing the work.
“Go it alone. You’re an individual,” was her mantra.
Every time I had a problem—with school, with friends, with my father—her answer would be, “You figure it out. You’re a smart boy.”
Eleanor, too, didn’t have much patience for the input or advice from others. After all, she was a medium and fortuneteller put on this planet to direct what others should do with special God-given psychic gifts. She practiced what she preached, and so went my Bar Mitzvah and my Judaism and my joining any type of group, especially ones where there were other Jews, like at the neighborhood synagogue, Beth El.
Every afternoon Tita would come over to the house for coffee, at exactly four o’clock
It didn’t matter if it was pouring rain outside, Gabriela still traipsed in. She was dressed in whites ready for her evening shift at Catholic Medical Center, and her night wouldn’t have been complete without a chat with my mother.
“Lenora, it’s raining so hard,” she said closing her umbrella and coming into the house.
“Hi Tita,” I said from the dining room table just inside from the front door.
“Marin, hola, como estas?”
“Bien!” I said, producing a slow grimace tossing my homework papers around in an effort to show her how much work I had. “Mucho tarea!”
“I see,” she said. “Good boy!”
I smiled at the language her whole body conveyed in genuine concern for my overwhelming workload.
“Gabriela. Gabriela. Are you there?” Eleanor screamed from the kitchen next door as she was setting down the large coffee mugs.
Tita sat down and pulled a frayed piece of paper out of her pocketbook.”
Eleanor sat down, took the tattered scrap emblazoned with Courier type, a list all of the tasks that needed to be completed for Dominique’s Quienciera party, and pondered at its detail. She read it aloud. “Determine your party theme or style and budget, book caterer, photographer, florist, bakery, transportation, ceremony and reception music…”
“Oh my God!” she said. “Why are you being bothered with all of that?”
“Well, Tita, if it’s just tradition who’s going to scold you if you don’t do it.”
Gabriela thought for a moment, setting her hand over her forehead. “Yeah, that’s right and Dominique isn’t all that trilled about having such a formal celebration. But, Lenora, I want it!”
“I understand, Gabriela,” Eleanor said. Let me pull your chart out and the ephemeris and see what’s going on.
Eleanor shuffled her books and papers the many that were stacked on the kitchen table.
“Here, she said this is the one,” She pulled out a red book, then Gabrilea’s astrological chart.
Look Gabriela, I did your chart. Your Uranus is in a great place for doing new things, for breaking tradition.
Gabriela shook her head slowly, showing some understanding of the placement of the planets on the chart.
“These here,” she said, pointing at the planet Uranus’ placement on her chart.
After listening to all this talk about Uranus, I chuckled to myself your anus, trying to concentrate on the Algebra problem on which I was so academically involved (yeah, sure).
I looked outside the screen door at the entrance to our house. I saw Dominique peeking in. We had begun a little study group. She needed help with math, the one subject in which I shined.
“Dominique, come here,” I whispered.
Dominique quietly opened the door and sat next to me. She listened a little.
We started to giggle.
“Uranus,” I huffed the word separating it into two. “Ur anus,” I said again pointing at Dominique’s rear.
“She slapped me lightly in the face as we both chuckled about our meaning of the word.”
Dominique sat down, opened her backpack and pulled out her algebra book. I showed her how to find the square root of seventeen, but the conversation in the other room had us losing interest in such mundane things.
Eleanor was teaching Gabriela about astrology. This traditional Cuban woman had been in the process of letting go of her commitment to Catholicism, wooed by the awe of mysticism from a Jewish woman. Her voice picked up its pace and tone, sharp and direct. “The planets,” she chimed, “are the central pillar of astrology. It’s the positions of the planets in the signs of the zodiac as well as the aspects, the important angles, that the planets make to each other.”
Dominique began singing.
When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius
The Age of Aquarius
I choked to keep from laughing, but her voice, as sweet as any I heard singing on the Partridge Family, sounded professional.
“You should be a singer,” I said.
We put our pencils down, and took in more of the two ladies conversation, as it grew surreal.
“See the Uranus’ glyph,” Eleanor said. “It combines the cross, which represents matter, over the circle, which represents the spirit. The two semi-circles on the sides represent receptivity. Its placement in the sky when you were born is very important. Both you and I, Gabriela, have our Uranus in the fifth house.”
“Yes, Lonera,” Gabriela said.
“Yes Lonera,” I mimicked as Dominique shifted a little closer to me so that I could see her contorted facial expressions, an joint effort on both our parts to make as much fun of the cosmic serenade as we could.
“Remember that a house is a section of the sky,” Eleanor chanted.
“That’s right, I remember,” Gabriela replied. There are twelve on the chart with the sun in the middle.”
“Okay, so, back to Uranus in our fifth house,” Eleanor dictated. “It’s a liberator–it wants us to break free from structure and limitation. Its purpose is evolution, experimentation, and growth. It motivates us to think and act outside of the box.”
Tita shook her head. “I see, Lonera. I see!”
Tita took the list and threw it away.
“Oh, I feel so much better,” she said.
She waved both hands–“We’ll have the party together, Lonera!”
“That’s what I was just thinking!”
Pick up a copy of the ebook, Bienvenido a Miami, at Barnes and Noble.
Check out another chapter of Bienvenido a Miamiby