27 January 2013


In the mid-1980's, it was my honor (seriously, it was an honor) to call south Florida, specifically Miami, home. I never anticipated that I'd live in Florida, which in the immortal words of Jack Donaghy is "America's Australia; it's a criminal population." For two years, Miami, the post-Marielito influx/"Miami Vice"/drug-trade fueled Miami, was my home. Why, you ask? Like so many other 19 year old (well, now you can be 18) young men who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I answered a call from a prophet to serve. I served a two-year mission there and it was amazing.

Miami, besides being completely insane, was and still is, the crossroads of Latin America and in my service there, I was able to get to know the cultures that make up Latin America. Each culture was unique - their dialects, their foods, their experiences - but there were a few things that seemed to unify them: futbol (or soccer) and novelas. No, I don't mean novellas, or short-form novels, nor do I mean novenas, but novelas.

At its simplest, the novela or telenovela is a soap opera. Rather than slogging along for years and years like their American cousins, the Spanish novela ran for just a matter of months from beginning to end. The stories, from what I could tell, were all the same: beautiful poor girl, either orphaned or stricken with some disease or other impediment, is in love with a handsome wealthy boy. There was always a wise priest and a dour nun to guide the girl. She always faced the harsh judgement and overly-arched eyebrows of her potential mother-in-law but in the end, love always conquered. The acting was overwrought to the point of awful, with a lot of women weeping copiously and a lot of steely looks from the men.

As quickly as one novela debuted, it would end and another would begin. And they captivated everyone with whom we came into contact. As a missionary you quickly learned that you would get no work done between 7PM and 8PM Monday through Friday. There was no more sacred hour, let me tell you.

In my first week in the mission field, I'll never forget what happened at 7PM. Since everyone kept their windows open, as it was south Florida and central A/C was mostly a suggestion, you could hear pretty much everything that was going on.  At 6:59PM as the screams of "Viejo! Ven aca! Ya comienza ________ (insert novela name here)!" died down, there was the proverbial quiet before the storm and then it happened.  The air was filled with the strains of the theme song from the same novela coming from every single house on the block. It was surreal. And for the next hour, that's all you heard, block after block, and we got nothing done. From time to time, we would be invited to dinner at someone's house during the sacred hour and we'd get a peek at the novela du jour.  The two I remember most were these two, Cristal and Topacio:
Topacio - and she's bllind if you can't tell by the superior acting
These were both Venezuelan productions, which we were told back then, were of the highest quality. By that I mean the sets appeared to be soundly constructed, unlike the Mexican ones that looked like the entire set would collapse every time an actor closed a door and that things were not all done in one take. Ahem.

I was trolling around YouTube the other day when I happened upon the theme song from "Topacio" and it brought back a flood of memories and was the genesis of this post. Lest you think we spent every night in front of a TV for two years as a missionary, I can assure we did not. This was just one of those funny things that makes you smile when you think back on those incredible days of service and growth.

So let me close by giving you what I heard every night, five days a week for months in 1985. It's the theme to "Topacio."  Que lo disfrute!

1 comment:

mormonmovieguy said...

Hahaha! That's awesome. I served a mission in Chile and at 7:00 p.m. everyone everywhere was gathered around their TV watching Betty La Fea (remade here as Ugly Betty). NO ONE wanted to talk while that novela was on.