Alejandro Coto, 82 and one of El Salvador’s’ most famous personalities, received the National Tourism Award in September of 2009. The award , rarely given and presented by ex-President Duarte, was in honor of his many years of promoting art and tourism in El Salvador. From his home in the artists’ colony known as Suchitoto, Coto has a museum that is either a house or a house that doubles as a museum. Set at the edge of a promontory that overlooks a lagoon and Lake Suchitlan, the large U-shaped Spanish colonial home contains rooms of religious icons, walls covered with art collected over the years, and spaces filled with awards and medals from kings, presidents and prime ministers.
Alejandro, born in 1928, will slowly unlock each barred door and proudly point out the highlights of his collection and his many years of working in the Latin American film industry. Noted primarily for his cinematography, his interests spanned other art forms. In the corner of one end of the house is a small printing press, complete with boxes of lead characters and nearby are stacked decades of slowly molding publications. The interior walls of the covered halls are filled mementos of the past: faded sepia-colored movie posters and black and white studio head shots of bygone Latin movie stars. In more than one proudly framed photo, Alejandro bears a definite resemblance to a current Latin movie actor, Benito Del Toro. The same burning gaze, the pompadour and the devil-may-care attitude emanate clearly from the photographs. The rumpled air of a tired bulldog is all that now remains of one of El Salvador’s most famous sons.
If you find yourself in El Salvador, the village with the Spanish-style red-tiled roofs and dusty cobblestone streets known as Suchitoto is well worth the hour and half excursion from San Salvador, the capital city. This is an outlying oasis of culture, art and weekly festivals in a 400 year old setting.
Any good tour guide will know of Alejandro Coto and if he’s not having a siesta, he’ll give you a personal tour. Look for the rusty pistol said to have belonged to Sir Francis Drake and the medals from the King of Spain. This is a time capsule, waiting to be displayed proudly: you have but to ask. It’s hard not to mourn the passing of an age of elegance, amidst the vivid crimson and purple bougainvillea adorning the sturdy white adobe walls. The fountains still splash as they have for hundreds of years. Was that just a passing breeze or the ghost of the dark-eyed beauty who once graced the silver screens of Latin America?