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I Miss La Rondalla like I’d Miss a Woman

07 Feb Posted by in Jewelle Gomez | Comments Off on I Miss La Rondalla like I’d Miss a Woman
I Miss La Rondalla like I’d Miss a Woman

I know it was just a restaurant but I miss La Rondalla like I’d miss a woman.  Voluptuous, gritty, innocent and knowing.  Plastic flowers in her hair.  Dressed up in gossamer Christmas lights along side photographs of men with guns and small game trophies.  Diane and I used to go regularly—I was pork and chicken tamales and she any new beef dish going.

The place moved to the rhythm of a cleaver chopping meat on the butcher block counter with the precision of a knife that knows its job.  I’d never noticed that sound before I moved to San Francisco in 1993.  It mesmerized with its syncopation at least until the sound was submerged beneath the Mariachi musicians who entered at dinner time.

The taut strings of the big guittarons perfectly complimented the clear, clean tenors, as they wandered the ramshackle rooms.  They’d each carefully pieced together the black charro suits sparkling with glints of silver.  The Zapata sombrero of the lead singer rose like a moon over the room; a spotlight on his romantic songs.

I miss the waitresses.  They reminded me of the women I knew as a kid when I waited tables in Boston—earthy and sharp edged. The miles of walking showed in their faces—they knew their menu and their customers.  They too had a rhythm which kept them moving around each other in tight quarters across uneven floors, around the steam rising from patrons and plates piled high.

The waitresses, some in sensible shoes, some not, didn’t smile unnecessarily.  Arched eyebrows, lips painted bright and hair gleaming black (no matter the age) were their protection.  Generations of brown women did ‘dosey-does’ with each other and the young men bussing dishes.

When young professionals started seeping into La Mission locals worried about the unique character of their working class neighborhood. A character emerging from blue collar workers of many ethnicities all overlaid with the rhythm, color and tastes that had migrated from the Americas closer to the equator.  Each Latin community is a theatre of its own complimenting the performance venues, galleries, bars and dance halls that keep the neighborhood jumping.

La Rondalla was certainly not the only Mexican restaurant in the Mission; we now have every version of Mexican food there is from upper class cuisine to vegetarian to lesbian to burritos from a truck.  But La Rondalla was our place.  We’d order a pitcher then drink margueritas from old fashioned champagne glasses maybe beside the guy who’d shot those animals in the pictures that were now on our plates.

We celebrated along side the life long waitress who marked her 65th birthday one night.  We tried new dishes sitting near students from the now defunct New College who had no idea what they were eating.

There’s an active movement to help La Mission hold onto not just its character but to housing for its working class and working poor residents so that clever furniture stores don’t become the character. La Mission is still the go to place for burritos, the sex toy shop, second hand stores, funky hats, acupuncture, greasy breakfast, old movies and down to earth theatre.  But I do miss La Rondalla.

Turns out Rondalla means two things in Spanish: minstrels—which are certainly what the mariachi players were—wandering minstrels who serenaded with as much care and precision as the waitress or the chef chopping.  La Rondalla can also mean a fable.  That is what the owners had created—an enchanted fable where—despite poverty or gang shootings–people from La Mission came together to do what all families are supposed to do—eat, sing and tell stories together.

Now when I go by the shuttered windows I always peak in wondering where they’ve all gone.  I keep thinking maybe they’ll magically reappear like Brigadoon emerging from its Scottish mist once a year.

Have they taken their magic, their fable to a new place?  Who knows?  Vaya con dios.

Jewelle Gomez is the author of 7 books including the lesbian vampire classic novel, The Gilda Stories.  Her new play about James Baldwin will be produced in September 2011. Follow her on Twitter: VampyreVamp.  Or her website:

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