Thursday, 1 June 2017

We Are All One Family

We Are All One Family

It was one of those funky, loose, freewheeling early afternoons in Mexico, in Tequila Town in 1990. The air was dusty and hot inside my hungover remains, matching the weather of the day. We were looking for something and it found us.

“What are you doing?” came across to me from a Mexican in the street. I was wandering around  and a poster in the back of a car had caught my attention with the word, “Pacifico” on it.

I recoiled in my knee-jerk defense and answered that I was doing nothing and I turned away in would-be self- preservation. My assailant persevered and invited me to his discotheque close by.  The poster in the car was about his disco. Hungover, annoyed and still suspicious I gave in as Phil Bayly – yeah, that Phil Bayly – and two other friends and I went with our guide to see his place, his discotheque.

It turned out to be a large space with a dirt floor and a great deal of it was outside. I imagined that at night in the dark, with lots to drink the place could transform into something more than what I saw before me.

From there he invited us to his ‘local’ to drink, hang out and socialize. We walked across those stone streets, under the punishing sun to the cantina where he belonged. It was immediately clear that he was a central figure, a ching√≥n in the bar. He belonged there. Many years later I learned that the trophies decorating the place had been won by him.

Jose Luis, far right, at La Capilla Bar in 1990

What to drink in this cool place to escape the haunting hangover from the prior night’s excesses of carelessly made tequila? The drinks on offer were made with tequila and various soft drinks, refrescos. To stir the drinks the barman used the same great butcher knife he used to cut his limes. I have since over these years – returning to this refuge – seen, in the absence of a knife, a common table fork used to stir the drinks.

To escape the effects of the heat and the duress of the hangover we drank a lot. The day melted away until our new friend announced he had a football match to play. We made it across the village to the stadium, to the game. This was no ‘sand-lot’ pick-up game for casual fun. This was a proper match with uniforms and referees.

I passed out on the bench of the stadium and got lost and very frightened on my way back to the cantina, which – with the help of providence – I found. I truly believe I have led a charmed life.

I don’t know who won the match but we continued to drink, by now with abandon. How our guide and new friend ever succeeded in playing in that match remains a mystery to me to this day, to this moment. And at this moment I have lost seemingly forever the ability to ask him how he did this accomplishment; how he stepped foot, uniformed onto the pitch and played a full game having been under the influence of all the drinks we had consumed at La Capilla Cantina.

From left to right, Phil Bayly with camera, Tomas Estes, Don Javier, owner of 'La Capilla', Jannet Arellano, Jose Luis' girlfriend, Jose Luis

I have lost my ability to ask because I have lost the reference. I have lost Jose Luis Partida, the man who introduced us to the cantina which would eventually reach #16 in rankings of the 50 Best Bars in the world.  News of Jose Luis’ death reached me as an awakening I did not want, my form of denial.

He is one of those extraordinary, unsung heroes that touch those around them profoundly simply by who they are, by the way they live. He was irrepressible life itself.  He said to me numerous times that we are all one family. This I have parroted many times, taking refuge in its promise. When he came to London Bar Show to represent La Capilla Bar – because Don Javier could not make the trip – he told the crowded audience that they were all his family.

Jose Luis my brother – all of our brother – you have shown us by example the importance of believing that love is a better choice than fear. You are proof incarnate to me of my charmed life for having been blessed by knowing you.

Gracias hermano para todo.

Jose Luis making drinks at 'La Capilla', March 9, 2015


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  2. I had the chance to meet Jose Luis last year and spend some time and some Batanga's with him at La Capilla. I was happy to know having another friend in Tequila and to meet him again this June. Unfortunately sometimes things don't go the way we expect or hope they will be.
    I will have to drink his glass as well this time.

  3. Beautiful words Tom, as always.
    Thank you for these.
    Was a hard moment to assist his last trip last week, Tequila feels empry without his usual smile and contagious laugh. But as you said, we are family and a family is eternal:-)
    Salud to our big & beautiful family,
    Sophie Decobecq