The piercing diode traffic lights wash a red glow over the waiting throng, that changes to flickering green of the Walking man. The countdown numbers that are intended to encourage pedestrian confidence, are but in reality, the count down for the next formula taxi race. Three collectivos ignore all instructions and jump the gun, it's not surprising. They want to be ahead of the next impending traffic hazard. Marching bands and incessant lyricless 'earverms'.
On the tenth of November 1810, the Spanish Crown was temporarily removed from Potosi, but in common with much of Spanish colonial history, they had a reconquista. That initial displacement set in train a trend that ulltimatly led to independence. The central plaza is named for this day and it's around this square and many of the surrounding streets that the processions parade.
Banda de Musica, are the first to come over the hill and down the steep street. An all girl band, in their tight black skirts and stiletto heels, white gloves and battle honour flags.The honeycombed broken paviors might be to blame for their demeanor as there's not a smile. This is a serious business. So unlike the exuberance of the Aymara parade we stumbled upon in La Paz. They make their way past the empty viewing stand.....the President's down at the arena for a concert - and move slowly down a side street. Their brass and drum rolls recede slowly, and then the tune returns. The exact same tune, only it comes out of another airt, from another band. It's the turn of an all male troop. Double the number of their sisters' contingent, and consequently treble the impact. Their name rendered formless on the big bass drums by the thumped vibration. It's the machismo thing.
There's a standard format. First the advance guard, a rank of banners and baton hurlers. Behind them the vanguard. A timpani of snare drummers, bass drummers, big bass drummers. This, backed up by the brass section of cymbals and trumpets, and finally the lightweight tinkling xylophones. But the real meat of a band lies in that heavyweight midsection. It's they that give a band its signature . A bombard of physical proportions, a reverberation that bounces off the acoustic walls of the narrow streets, and vibrates straight into my stomach. As an aid to digestion, it can stand alongside a select liqueur or a double expresso. As an aid to tinnitus it would have a British HSE officer reaching for an injunction and his ear defenders. The hypnotic beat stops in perfect synchronisation and a sepulchral silence settles, into which the cathedral bell pathetically chimes the hour. The band strikes up once more, and it is now that they sow their ear worm. A four line stanza for which we can't, as yet get a handle on the words. To add insult to injury they revert to the original tune, just when we might have got an answer. We follow the band, only they move at a foxtrot, we are restrained by the crowd, the narrow pavement and are left waltzing in their wake. They fade away down a side street, the base boom receding last, leaving Elvis at a CD stall, announcing a party at the county jail. We return to the plaza to await the next manifestation. We don't have to stand long. The same nagging rhyme, with it's accompanying drum roll comes around the corner.
And the band plays on; only the traffic remains stationary. Diesel fumes and dust motes thicken the air. A car alarm wails plaintively. Eventually, we head back to our abode for the night. As I put out the light, I hear one lost band making their way back, coming right down our narrow, car clogged street. Now the only rhythm in their repertoire is that short idiotic refrain.
In the middle of the night and I come too. That 'earverm' has been working overtime on the subconscious, and I've got hold of the first thread......"the runaway train......."
It will take two days of long climbs and Sr. Google to unravel the knot.
"The runaway train came down the line and she blew.....
The runaway train came down the track and she blew....
The runaway train came down the track , her whistle wide, and throttle back....
And she blew blew blew blew......"
You get the idea, there's a lot of vented steam, to set along side the nihilistic predictions from the engineer, the fireman and the porter. Then there's the donkey that disappears leaving it's bray behind,and the conductor who felt a chill up his neck.The end result? "The last we heard she's going still" . Still going blew blew blew.