Last night (Tues Sept 20) I had a chance to observe the haute bourgeoisie of Santa Cruz del Quiche -- not that I even knew that such people existed. I mean, it's logical that there is a local elite, but I hadn't realized how elite they were, not had I seen any of them in action.
My friend Jennifer, who had worked with Ixmukané until a few weeks ago, and I had been planning to get together at Café Blintz and have coffee. We'd been talking about this for some time and had never gotten around to doing it, and we got in touch a few days ago and made plans to meet tonight after I finished up at the radio station. Yeanet, my colleague from the radio station, decided to meet us, so off we set. I usually go to the café in the morning or afternoon when it is sparsely populated. I've seen a couple of other foreigners there; student-types, usually. Not many.
When we drove down the street, I saw that the small parking lot of the Centro Commercial de los Arcos (The Arches Shopping Center) was crowded with large SUVs. That was unusual. There was no space in the lot and I had to park on the street. The shopping center is tiny; it occupies a corner on the main street entering town from the east. There only seem to be about 3 businesses that are open -- of about 6 storefronts. So it was unusual to see the parking lot overflowing (there was actually a second row of cars crowding the entrance/exit). As we walked in, I was surprised to see several men standing around on the sidewalk. The shopping center is L-shaped, and at the joint of the L, some men were clustered. I wasn't quite sure who they were or what they were doing, but I found out later. We walked in and saw that there wasn't really space inside: there was one long table in the center and about 6 or 8 well-dressed and well-coiffed non-indigenous women sitting there. They appeared to be "ladies who lunch" types. We decided to sit outside; there was some space inside but it was one small table and we would have been cramped.
I should say that although the women who work behind the counter -- other than the owner and her daughter -- are undoubtedly indigenous (although they wear uniforms and not traje), I have rarely seen women in traje inside as customers, although nearly all my friends in Santa Cruz know about the café, and a few had said they'd been there.
Having secured our table, we ordered (I opted for wine, as it was extremely inexpensive, Q12 for a copa, which is cheaper than any place I've seen, even though it is a small copa) and settled back on our comfortable armchairs on the veranda. Jenny and Yeanet leaned in and told me that the women inside were people with a lot of money, and they pointed to the men we had passed. "Look, those are their bodyguards." Now it made sense that the men were standing around in the shadows. I asked if they knew who the women were. They said they were from the Batres family -- Farmacias Batres is a national chain of pharmacies, and the current patriarch of the family (and heir to the company his father founded), Arturo Batres, was a candidate for congress on the Partido Patriota line.
We watched as the women started to leave. All were wearing expensive and stylish clothes, and a lot of jewelry; all were made up and their hair bore signs of a stylist's touch. Their shoes were notably: precariously thin stiletto heels, pointed toes, one or two women wore thick platform shoes. Not the best thing for walking on cobblestones. But as the women moved, so did the bodyguards. It seemed that only 2 or 3 of them had body guards; the others got into their own cars and drove off.
I said that I was surprised that they felt they needed so much security, as Santa Cruz is not known for high crime. I asked where the Batres family lived; they said near the plaza, in the building that houses the main branch of the pharmacy. It's not that I didn't think there were wealthy people around, but I just hadn't really seen any up close (I'd seen Arturo at a Partido Patriota event, and at a forum for candidates, and I guess he had some body guards floating around).
We turned our attention back to our food. Yeanet and I were sharing a salad, and the restaurant had brought out small cruets of vinegar and olive oil (with a rosemary branch inside, a nice touch). Jennifer, who is very interested in natural beauty treatments, picked up the olive oil and said, "This is good for your hair " and poured a small amount out on her hands and rubbed it into her hair. We all giggled a bit, and then she rubbed some more into her hands. We talked about the benefits of olive oil and rosemary for the skin and hair. I decided to do the same, looking around to make sure that the waitresses or owner were not watching us. Then I said that my feet were very dry, and so we put some on our feet. I said that I would have to make sure when I came back the next time that they didn't look at me strangely, and then we all started to laugh, joking about how they might not let us back in again because we used the olive oil. It turned into one of those laughing sessions between where the original reason for laughing disappears and the physical process just takes over and you can't quite stop. Luckily there were only a few other patrons outside and neither they nor anyone else paid us any mind.