Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Fernando and Liliana (Ken)

I panic when the phone rings. Usually a “Hello?” in my very-best American accent is enough to elicit a quick hang-up on the other end. But occasionally someone actually wants to speak with me—in Spanish.

A few days ago, Adrianna called. She is the widowed Argentine daughter-in-law of my neighbors back in Frederick, Maryland. She was calling to invite us to an asado at the home of her friends’ on May 1st—el Dia de los Trabajadors (Labor Day). I go the date and time right, but I had to call her back to ask her how to spell the name of the street—Yatay (Zhja-Tie).

Helen has not been feeling well (it’s her turn to be ill), so I took the #10 colectivo to Plaza de Mayo and then the A Line Subte to the Rio de Janiero stop in Barrio Almagro. I buzzed at the gate of the three-story brick house and was met by Fernando and the family dog. I was welcomed inside where Adriana was waiting. I then met Fernando’s wife, Liliana. Guadalupe, Adrianna’s 18-year-old daughter was there as well. I then met Agustina, also 18, and Cecilia her younger sister who has just started secondary school.

I was ushered trough the house to the small enclosed jardin with a parrilla already started with vacio, asado, and chorizos. We all sat at the table with all eyes on me. Show time. As no one else spoke any English, the next four hours were completely in Castellano. Agustina has taken some English in school, but she would not speak it in front of me. She was useful in helping when I was reaching for a word—but that is all the English she offered.

The conversation was lively and varied: politics, education, economics, Argentina and Argentinos, North Americans, cars and drivers, food, customs, education, what I have been doing, what I still want to do, my family, my job, my dog, their dog.

We moved inside to eat, and I was surprised to see Liliana acting as asador. She is educated as an architect, but does not work outside the home. Sola una ama de casa. She is a very good cook; the meat was tender and done perfectly. We had tiramisu for desert that was really tasty.

After we ate, I was welcomed upstairs. This level is only for los asados and las fiestas, I was informed by Cecilia. Before going upstairs, Fernando showed me his double basses. He is a bassist for the opera orchestra at Teatro Colon. He let me try out his 18th Century bass that is as old as the United States of America. I have never touched—let alone played—any instrument that old. You can see where the wooden tuning peg holes were filled in when the modern brass tuning machines were installed. It is a remarkable instrument.

Upstairs the conversation continued. I learned that Fernando is the childhood friend of Adriana’s recently deceased husband (who was the son of my neighbors back in Maryland). Their daughters, Guadalupe and Agustina, were born a few weeks apart, and the girls grew up together with one family hosting the other for an asado each Sunday for the past two decades. The older girls took themselves up to Agustina’s room while Cecilia stayed and talked with the old folks. She is really cute. They have a family place en campo where she caught a sapo (toad) and brought it to school for show-and-tell. It now lives in their jardin. It rained while we were eating and, after it stopped, she called me to the window to see her toad as it was hopping around the yard. Although Cecilia said she has studied some English in school, when I asked her how to say a word (“Como se dice ‘elect,’” I said), she stood up and called, “Agustiiiiinaaaaa!!!” I guess she was not ready to show off her English skills.

Fernando’s father makes and sells replicas of aboriginal art here at the fair in Recoleta right near my apartment. I have been to his booth many times and planned to buy some pieces before I came home, now I will make a point of doing so.

With the girls needing to do some homework and studying—Agustina is studying biochemistry, Guadalupe studying literature, and Cecilia needing to complete a presentation on the history of timekeeping—we said our goodbyes and I headed back to the subway.

I have said it before, but it is worth repeating: these are our favorite times in Argentina when we spend time with the people in their homes. These are the memories I will keep.

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