Visit to Las Mercedesand more

Alexi, the encargado at Las Mercedes, is illiterate. He grew up on farms, knows the work very well, and has demonstrated that he can do the job. Alexi came to Luis's farm just a year ago.

The encargado is more "boss" than "farm manager."  He does not need to read in order to know how to move cattle, build fences, and give direction to several other workers. Alexi came to the farm on good recommendation, and did well in his first assignment, to install a fence line. He then requested and received increased responsibility.


Yesterday, Luis and I drove to the farm, Las Mercedes, to deliver a bottle of kitchen gas and various other items. About an hour from town, on farm roads, it is easily accessible in this dry time but tough going in the rainy season. In his research, Luis reports that as much as 70% of the surface area in the state of Arauca is inundado, flooded, for several months of the year.

The trip to Las Mercedes came after a busy morning. We discovered that Adolfo's harp, neglected for several years, needed some repairs. Already scheduled for 3 PM was a harp lesson with "Peachy" Ramirez. We recruited him in the morning to negotiate the needed repairs, which are to be delivered tomorrow (Saturday 1/27/2018). After the lesson came the unscheduled trip to Las Mercedes, then at about 6:30 PM we went to Pequinsan a traditional music school under the direction of Pedro Quintero Sanchez. Here we saw about a dozen students of all ages practicing on harp, guitar, cuatro, bandola, and maracas.

I negotiated the use of a harp from 7 to 8 PM while Luis went elsewhere. I had not asked for his instruction, but he showed interest in what I was doing. In the end, he gave me a great lesson, teaching me to play Alma Llanera.

The traditional teaching of music is entirely by ear. Perhaps I could write a book about that, but what would be the point? Well, maybe just a quick observation: the method involves careful repetition of short phrases, with a very strict insistence on exact fingering and phrasing. There are a great many tunes that constitute a distinct genre, musica llanera, music of the plains of Venezuela and Colombia. It is not enough to capture the melody; there must be acceptable variations, what I am calling conventional "licks."

There's more to be told, about education, culture, bureaucracy, philosophy, through the eyes of my friend Luis. At some point I'll tell his story about the ear-tag controversy.

Now I want to play my harp.