I have a new guitar! I bought it yesterday at La Ciudadela, a craft market in downtown Mexico City. After visiting stall after stall, pulling down guitars and trying them out, I wasn’t particularly drawn to any of them. It didn’t help that the shopkeepers were hovering over me, eager to make a deal with the gringa tourist who was making quite a spectacle of herself by trying to hammer out the chords to Cielito Lindo. So when I eventually came upon these guys, hard at work carving and brushing sawdust off of a pair of guitars, I was intrigued.
I was also in a hurry, which is not a good thing when shopping for musical instruments – I had to get a guitar before my mariachi class that afternoon. So I did what I would do if I were, say, buying a last-minute melon before a party. I picked up guitars. I squeezed. I shook. I smelled. I strummed (I don’t usually do that with melons, but you get the idea). I found one I liked, at 850 pesos, or $85. I bargained lightly with the luthier, and felt satisfied when I got him to throw in a guitar bag for 50 pesos, or five bucks.
He drilled a hole into the side of the guitar and screwed on a peg, so I could put a strap on it. “Being able to stand, sing, and strum is a requirement in any mariachi ensemble,” I told him, repeating the words of my mariachi maestro. The luthier smiled approvingly. While he worked, I looked at his heaps of guitar bodies, fretboards, nests of discarded strings, and cans filled with tuning pegs. The place smelled wonderful, like a cedar chest, and I’m glad to say my guitar still smells that way here in my apartment across town.