Gifiti is Garifuna blend of rum, herbs, roots and spices

Angela of Livingston – Part 6

Gifiti is Garifuna blend of rum, herbs, roots and spices
Gifiti is Garifuna blend of rum, herbs, roots and spices

The Gifiti made in Livingston Guatemala is not alcohol in the normal sense of drinking.  It’s a potent inrush, setting a gong in the chest that resonates in places men think about most of the time anyway. It also makes women reconsider their centre of gravity. Or, as one local maker of the Garifuna blend of rum, herbs, roots and spices puts it, “It makes old men have babies.”

John, in his thirty-second year, having survived the Suicide Shower at the Hotel Leddie, is now sitting beside Veronica at the Brisas del Mar, a robins egg blue outdoor bar on the main street at the seaside end. Their maiden glass of local aphrodisiac has already been downed and they are watching pedestrians syncopate by.

After a typical Hades of a day, local families and couples are walking and swallowing clear cool evening air coming off the Caribbean. Ladino, Garifuna and Maya children caper or are carried in their fathers’ arms.  Drum rhythms are heard from up the street where a foursome busks traditional Garifuna music to tourists in the outdoor cafes.  Pounding on turtle shells, bongos and tin cans is a nightly occurrence.

In time, John and Veronica will come to consider this at-first-charming entertainment on a par with the relentless importunings of the local roosters.  Sometimes you can block it out, sometimes you can’t. You learn where to sit in town, locations where the insistent drumming and strident vocal accompaniment are filtered by distance.

But tonight, it’s new and the Gifiti is starting to do what it does. Small couple irritations arising from two-manning John’s sloop are dissolving. They’ve had dinner at the Hotel Leddie’s sister restaurant, the Cafe Rios. Here they enjoyed a fine example of Topado, a regional soup made of fish so fresh the protein punch immediately hit their brain pans with a wallop.

And now, they’ve really lucked out taking their first taste of Gifiti at this bar. Though many families have a highly guarded and singular recipe for Gifiti, Claudia of Brisas del Mar makes the best. She is careful with her secrets, but she will tell you that one of the leading ingredients is Dead Man, a root she imports from Honduras.  As she serves them their third glass, she explains that Dead Man and other ingredients are set to soak in rum for six weeks. The fixings inside the bottles can be reinvigorated with rum three times before they need replacing.

She asks them if they have children. Receiving an emphatic “no” from John and Veronica in unison, Claudia winks and says that one more glass might take care of that. Veronica decides she’s had enough for one night, at least.

John is just bringing the Gifiti to his lips when a sucker punch impact knocks the glass out of his hand. Cellini, over-refreshed from the celebrated trinity, Ganja, Gallo and Gifiti, has been trying to walk backwards up the street all the way from the shore. He dorsal collided with John and then executed a feat of impaired re-balancing, miraculously righting himself before falling onto four startled people at the next table.

“Dude, I’m like sho shorey, uh, sorry.” He sits down heavily, offers to pay for the broken glass and orders another round from Claudia. Veronica declines and Claudia only brings one glass for John. She scolds in rapid Spanish. “!Cada noche, camina como un loco!” She steams away shaking her head and carrying a pan of swept up broken glass.  Not for the first time, it seems Cellini has been cut off.

“That’s okay, I’ve like had enough, I guesh.”

John, sipping, “So what the hell was that about?”  Lorne Cellini tightens the bandana around his sausage-thick dreads, lays a hand across his high forehead and morosely begins, “I’m like so in love with Angela.” John gives a look that indicates Cellini is testing his clairvoyant abilities.

More explanation follows.  This nightly back walk ritual, he’s convinced, will spin magic to make Angela fall in love with him.  Tonight’s episode notwithstanding, he’s getting pretty good at it. And, even if it’s not working on Angela, well not yet, he’s enjoying the challenge he’s put before himself to master.

He goes on to explain he got the idea from Wanda, a local fortune teller, some say witch, who complements her soothsaying income by corn-rowing tourists’ hair in the cafes.  These are the same cafes where the drummers pound and bellow every night.  She’s put a hex on them, which hasn’t taken yet.  But she waits. She charged Cellini 50 Quetzales for the walking love remedy.

Cellini is normally a husky and bright presence, toting a sturdy build on a medium frame. Italian ancestry still plays on his affable face and he’s given to optimism and open-hearted generosity. He makes friends easily, is charming enough to an acceptable quota of girls, and, at 24, is not used to sitting in the fire of unrequited love. Pained though his heart is, he’s starting to wind down, holding his chin up in his ample palms, his arms braced on the table with diminishing success.

Veronica also starts to nod off.  John gently leads them back to the Hotel Leddie as if guiding tired children home.


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