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Jewish World Review March 13, 2001/ 18 Adar, 5761

Suzanne Fields

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Consumer Reports

"We are asking the Creator for clemency" -- SAN VICENTE, El Salvador | The woman looked up from behind the cash register of the Super(market) Monte Carlo and burst into tears when two Americans asked her about the earthquake in her town.

"For you it's an adventure,'' she said. "For us it's reality.'' She said it without bitterness or accusation, but with the resignation that dominates Salvadoran conversations about the tragedy.

"We can withstand what G-d sends, but we are asking G-d for clemency.''

Angela Munos de Ayala, age 69, owns and runs the small store with her husband. They have visas to the United States, where they want to visit with family in Virginia, "but not now when they need us here more.''

Some soaps, chips and dry cereal fell off the shelves during the second earthquake, but Angela considers herself extremely lucky. In this town of San Vicente, and all around the Super Monte Carlo in the center of the city, hundreds of houses and shops are but memories, shrines of piles of rough brown stones where an occasional door frame stands sculpted like a doorway to hell.

Only 30 miles east of San Salvador, San Vicente (population 72,000) was one of the cities hit hardest by the second Salvadoran earthquake in a month. The city rests below the slopes of Chichontepec Volcano, noted for its double cone silhouette and a summit tourists climb to scan the panorama of fields and rivers of the Jiboa Valley. The town escaped the ravages of the January earthquake, but today even the volcano has a huge gash cut deep into its side testifying to the thundering knifelike power of the second one.

San Vicente was described as having "colonial gentility,'' with graceful architecture fronting quiet streets. But that was before the noisy din of workmen and heavy trucks that carried away debris, filling the city with the dissonant cacophony of the wake of disaster.

Young men in army uniforms and camouflage caps, many wearing masks to shield the nose and mouth from the thick dust of destruction, help the displaced townspeople repair and rebuild walls and restore rooftops while policemen with guns watch for looters tempted to steal from the vulnerable. In the central square, an ornamental clock tower of painted white cement tilts to one side and the hands of the clock are frozen at 8:20, the time the earthquake struck on the morning of Feb. 13. Time stands still on the face of the clock but not on the faces of the people below who struggle for an existence. Not easy to do.

A thin old woman stops to talk. She is both dignified and needy and says she's going to the market to see if she can get some food. She does not beg, but she doesn't turn away from a gift of 20 colones (about $2.40). Asked whether her house was destroyed, she says "no,'' adding, "only two rooms.''

One man with a cell phone is served a hot lunch with his wife and two teen-agers on a small square in front of the Iglesia El Pilar, a lovely old church built in 1762. The church has survived many earthquakes, but each one has chipped away at its picturesque facade. The family bows heads in a prayer before eating the meager meal. They look to be among the prosperous. The father tells a visitor that he's from the town of Jerusalem, a few miles away. His home was destroyed and several died in his town.

On a park ground above the city, tiny triangular tents house the homeless. Tattered sheets of blue plastic serve as roof covers on makeshift hovels to protect the inhabitants from a hot orange sun. The rainy season is only two months away.

In a mild aftershock, the earth begins to rumble under a visitor's feet as she admires a parrot at market. The queasy fear that dominates for a lengthy 30 seconds passes. Did I merely imagine the earth's rumbling? Business goes on as usual. The sellers and customers sense the visitor's unease, and tell her not to worry, there are lots of aftershocks as the earth "adjusts'' to the quake.

Only an adolescent girl, who looks to be mentally retarded, is upset. She shrieks long after the rumbling subsides, expressing a fear and trembling. Her mother holds her close, wipes away her tears, speaking softly, telling her the earthquake has passed, but she is inconsolable. It's as though her wailing, a solo dirge of despair, encompasses the pain everyone feels, but dares not speak.

A short walk away, down a main street, next to a destroyed building stands a sign, firmly planted on a building open for business: FUNERALES LA RESURRECCION -- Al Servicio del Pueblo. A few doors away a handmade sign hangs on a crumbling wall announcing a quake-torn house for sale. The juxtaposition of tragedy and the grotesque is without irony in San Vicente.


03/08/01: Saving El Salvador with dollars and sense
02/27/01: The last cowboys of their craft
02/23/01: When Bubba graduates to Bobo
02/16/01: Clarence Thomas addresses an imperfect world
02/12/01: Ariel Sharon, not by Steven Spielberg
02/07/01: Profaning the sacred with the political
02/05/01: What's the Creator got to do with it?
02/01/01: Live like the snopses, leave like the snopses
01/29/01: It's education, stupid
01/25/01: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows"
01/22/01: Poetry and religion in the Bush administration
01/18/01: Ashcroft can't dance (don't ask him)
01/15/01: Clothes make the First Lady
01/11/01: Pity Jerusalem in the 'peace' process
01/08/01: Laying the political race card
01/04/01: 'What women want' in the new millennium
01/02/01: This year, looking ahead is sure sweeter than looking back
12/21/00: Black power with a Republican face
12/21/00: First impressions of two First Ladies
12/18/00: Challenge for the 'better angels of our nature'
12/14/00: What we've lost sight of
12/13/00: Hillary in the lion's den
12/08/00: Return of the 'second sex' on campus
12/04/00: Politics as entertainment today
11/30/00: Winner vs. whiner
11/27/00: Measuring against history
11/23/00: Memories of Thanksgiving past
11/17/00: In defense of the Electoral College
11/16/00: More than one way to win an election
11/13/00: Sexual politics squared
11/09/00: A Middle East legacy
11/06/00: Filling in the dots at campaign's end
11/02/00: His own man in full
10/30/00: The Oval Office, through a glass brightly
10/23/00: There'll always be an England. Maybe.
10/19/00: The celebrity candidate
10/16/00: 'Ladies night' at the second debate
10/12/00: Gore vs. Bush: Volvo vs. Maserati
10/10/00: We weep for Rami for he is dead
10/05/00: Looking at Lieberman from inside the 'ghetto'
10/02/00: Campaigns, candidates, and kissy-face
09/28/00: Laughing and crying over Joe Lieberman
09/21/00: Targeting teenagers for money
09/21/00: Sexual politics in New York
09/18/00: Surviving the stereotypes and debates
09/14/00: Gloria Steinem runs cheerfully into captivity
09/12/00: Sex in the eye of the partisan
09/07/00: 'Sex and death' on the college campus
09/05/00: Joe Lieberman as a 'Menorah Man'
08/31/00: Rising suns of the conventions
08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
08/14/00: The Creator returns to the public square
08/10/00: Bursting with pride, but caution too
08/07/00: Brains, beauty and beastly politics
08/03/00: A candidate with a superego
07/31/00: The sizzling Lynne Cheney
07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
07/20/00 Conservatives gone fishin'
07/17/00: Snoop Doggy Dogg was a founding father, wasn't he?
07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate