Bowling in Nicaragua: A Ball, a Beer, an Alley, and There's Peace
Film Review by Bud Whitney (aka Brian Gordon)
If you're like this reviewer, you've had enough of all those paint-by-number documentaries on Central America, especially the ones that feature the heroic revolutionaries of Nicaragua. Okay, before you get your liberal danders up, let me say that I am no rallying Reaganite, nor am I a frustrated, Falwellian, closet fundamentalist. I'm a sensitive, right-thinking, slightly insecure, liberated, white male who wants peace.
But to heck with those dippy documentaries where you know what's going to happen as soon as you hear the flute music. I've seen too many scenes of overweight Nicaraguan women running a commune or coop and talking about the coffee harvest vis-á-vis La Revolucion. Don't they want to lose weight? Do they have men or are they lesbians? And how about all those low angle shots of teenaged boys toting machine guns? Pretty cool, dude, but what a way to go when your number's up.
Also, any white person who pops up in these films is sure to be a jerk. The best example is from "Cafe Nica," which is actually fairly unpretentious. In the midst of a long take of some Nicaraguans jamming on guitars, a bearded gringo sticks his head into the lower right-hand corner of the frame, blows on a little, wooden flute, and whatever warmth and atmosphere has been generated goes the way of Somoza.
But enough of that. Finally, a documentary has been produced about a real guy bringing real peace to those poor people. "Chulas Boleras" (roughly translated, Sparkling Bowling Alleys, as in freshly oiled), is an incredibly moving film chronicling the strikes 'n' spares peace mission of top young bowler, Billy Golembiewski, Jr., of Erie, Pa.
Golembiewski, a recent Firestone Tournament of Champions winner and son of bowling great (and bowling instructional record star) Billy Sr., arrives in strife-torn Nicaragua to prove a couple of points: regular people want peace too, and bowlers can be compassionate, besides.
Golembiewski tours the country, giving lessons in bowling, making the peasants forget their hunger, and giving them something to smile about. Equipped with pins, a set of bowling balls of varying weights and finger placements, a foldable, specially-treated, plywood alley, and (of course) copies of his Dad's album (rerecorded in Spanish for the trip), Golembiewski shoots, strikes, and converts splits among farms, coops, churches, and baseball diamonds, bringing together local Sandinistas, clergymen, and Contra sympathizers, as all political biases are set aside.
The people, el pueblo, learn the joys of this great American leisure activity: an eight-year-old boy, missing half a foot from a recent Contra attack, still manages to knock down a few pins; a young Meskito girl misfires a shot that ends up in a pile of pig manure; campesinos get confused when they start calling the left-side pocket (referred to as the Brooklyn side in this country) the "el lado del revolucion" (i.e., the leftist side), and avoid the more ideal, though politically incorrect right pocketa strategy that results in lower scores. Golembiewski even finds time to engage in a little Polka dancing occasionally.
Several emotionally charged moments await Golembiewski when he makes his final stop of the tour in Managua. After three grueling weeks, and with a pretty sore thumb, Golembiewski checks in at Nicaragua's only remaining bowling alley and shoots a frame with President Daniel Ortega. Turns out that Ortega was once a pretty good bowler. In fact, it was in this alley's lounge that much of the groundwork for the revolucion was laid out.
It is very stirring to see the top Nicaraguan roll the ball down the alley and into the pocket but leave a solid ten pin. It seems so natural and peaceful, it could be your father. Though the second shot slips into the gutter at the last moment, leaving an open frame, there's no doubt that ol' Dan's still got some of the magic. (Another good bowler was Sandinista poet Omar Cabeza, who, legend has it, had a mean left hook and saw the possibility of the revolucion succeeding after finally converting the 2-4-5 'bucket' spare, which had given him trouble for quite some time.)
In the climax, Golembiewski presents Ortega with a bowling shirt, made at a class at Erie Community College, depicting the two countries' flags waving over a pair of alleys, with the inscription, "Un bol, una cerveza, una bolera, y hay paz." (A ball, a beer, an alley, and there's peace.)
No flutes, no hippies, no leftist diatribes. Just lots of sincere emotional feeling that may end up aiding the cause of peace. "Chulas Boleras" must be seen by everybody. Billy Golembiewski, Jr. can be truly proud to have done a great service for his country and for Nicaragua. Viva la revolucion! Viva boles de boleras!
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