Extraños en la Noche [x-STRAH-nyohs in lah KNOW-chay] is Strangers in the Night in Spanish. Go ahead, try it… couple of extra syllables, but works pretty well. It’s one of the songs The Vargas Brothers, er, Los Hermanos Vargas performed Friday night at J.R. Ribs. That was a fun night!!! Extraño, muy extraño… but fun.
Last week, just before Christmas, I saw an ad in a Costa Rica online forum. Seems a band was looking for a female country singer. That would be me. I’ll sing anything, but country, bluegrass? Now that’s real music.
So I called the guy, Peter. (Guess what? He’s a geezer.) We decide I’ll come to his house and sing a few bars. Last Friday morning, I did, we hit it off. He tells me Blue Desert – that’s the band’s name – has a gig that night at J.R.’s. So I put on eye-makeup, big earrings and show up, not really knowing what to expect.
It was an unusual night… altered-state unusual. First off, Peter is Dutch. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. His last name is van Zijll de Jong. I can’t even say it. Thank goodness he emailed it to me or I could never have spelled it. Try sounding that out. The other main guy is Fred who is also Dutch. I don’t know Fred’s last name, but I won’t be able to say it so what difference does it make?
We get to J.R.s and there are about 10 people there, but it’s only 7pm on a Friday. Turns out all 10 are with Peter and Fred. They are all Dutch, too. Half of them are Fred’s family, visiting him and his wife, Aunk (it’s pronounced just like you think), for the holidays; the other half live in Costa Rica. The half that lives here speaks fluent Spanish. Everyone speaks fluent English. What happened to U.S. schooling that we only learn one language (barely) and are so completely uppity about it?
And does this crowd speak English when they get together? Of course not. They speak Dutch. And they are just going on and on. Have you ever heard Dutch? It’s foreign. Like German only way more musical, thank goodness. I have no idea what they are talking about, but I don’t feel left out. It is fascinating and everyone is just lovely.
Turns out, Blue Desert is sharing the gig with Los Hermanos Vargas who specialize in, of all things, 60s music! Strangers (maybe technically it is 60s…) is translated into Spanish as are a couple of other songs. But mostly they sing in English: Wooly Bully, Twist ‘n Shout, I Started A Joke… and I Saw Her Standing There, one of my all-time Beatles’ faves:
They do a set, we do a set. I’ve never heard Fred’s and Peter’s arrangements but it doesn’t matter… we muddle through, it’s fun. They are happy with me, I’m happy with them. They are really good musicians, lively, musical – and they sing tons of Willie Nelson – even with a Dutch accent, it sounds great. I may have an authentic twang, but they have authentic sound. I’m very happy with the whole thing!
By the time we get to the second Vargas set, the place is about half full, about 60 people. Half of them are ticos, half are Dutch. A group of 18 Dutch people came in for dinner to hear the Dutch country group sing. (See? Altered state.) It dawns on me I’m the only gringo in the place, gringo being someone whose native language is English. I’m it. Her. That’s rare… even here.
So I’m singing for the first time with a country band made up of Dutch guys and a tico drummer in a tico restaurant downtown San José on a Friday night with a half tico half Dutch audience, me the only gringa, sitting at a table where 90% of the conversation is in Dutch, 5% Spanish and 5% English. And that 5% is only for my benefit. It was really strange. And fun. I can’t wait to do it again.