Comenzando la vida

29 Jan

“Wow.”

That’s the best example of broken Spanish, and it’s the only thing I had to say after taking a bite of steak grilled on a parrilla.

Since Thursday, when I arrived in Buenos Aires, my conversations have been simple sentences with a loss for words. For the first two days, all of the students traveling abroad eat and travel together, meaning our checks aren’t split and our English is on more often than it should be. I moved into a house yesterday and am now constantly practicing the language, with my hosting “madre” filling in blanks I have about vocabulary and verbs tenses.

Tamara (mi madre): “Vas a decir ‘Estoy pensado en Español, estoy soñado en Español.'”

This will be a challenge, but one that’s really going to help.

With full immersion, I’m realizing just what exactly I’m faltering the most at. Unfortunately, for me, food criticism has a short list of words I know how to use in Spanish. During my first asado, I was literally speechless. In other food-related situations, I’m also at a loss for words.

Circumlocution of Carolinian Cornmeal

When I met my host family, los Guzmans, I presented a two-pound bag of grits as a gift for them. When I tried explaining the ground-up cornmeal to my aunt and uncle, both Milwaukee natives, they looked at me like I had nine heads. As it turns out, grits are even more difficult to talk about in Spanish. My explanation turned into a bunch of sound effects to explain pulverizing the corn and then cooking it in water. I don’t know the word for “simmer” in Spanish, but I’m going to have to find out if me and my host family are to have any of the Southern treat.

Mi primera asada

The drive out to the estancias de Pilar, where friends of my host family live, was about a 20 minute drive, during which I saw the stadium for River de la Plata’s futbol team.

The house is an antique take on a ranch that ought to sit next to Germany’s Black Forest facades. There’s a ton of land around it, and the sight of cows and horses was a welcoming sight after feeling a little diminutive in the 9th largest city in the world. In “el campo,” the stars are clear, the air is fresh, and the people tell stories. And I couldn’t be luckier.

I met some former journalists during the asada, including Sofi, who spent five years writing for Reader’s Digest. There was also a writer for a botanical magazine and the son of a famous cartoonist during the 1920s. He and I talked about how crucial reading Harry Potter is in my career plans as a children’s publisher.

Around 9 o’clock, Henrique, a good friend of the Guzmans, entered the house and saw me.

“Tommy,” he cheerfully proclaimed, “Veneca!”

I went outside to stand at a parilla, a type of Argentinian grill. In fact, a parrilla is an entire structure and would be quite an undertaking. Alejandro, my host father, and Henrique started describing both the grill and the history of Argentina’s culture.

Asados consist of grilled meat and whatever kind of vegetables are available. The meat is prepared in a brick hood with indirect fire. The grill can be elevated. What you do is create a fire to the left of the grill top. The fire will circulated heat through the hood, and using coals underneath, the meat gets cooked. Sprinkle a cut of beef with a ton of salt, toss it onto the clean grill top, and wait. That’s it.

Granted, this should be completed at 9 o’clock, in order to ensure you’ll be eating around 10:30. The meat cooks while everyone else shreds carrots, chats, and plays games with the kids. Manu, a two-year old, kept offering me potato chips.

Bruce Springsteen described the beginning to “Like A Rolling Stone” as being like a “snare shot that sounded like somebody’d kicked open the door to your mind.” With that bite of carne asada, it was like being brought back from the dead.

My first asado didn’t really seem too different from any other barbecue in the United States, which was a comforting experience on my first complete day of conversation.

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3 Responses to “Comenzando la vida”

  1. gschrubbe January 30, 2012 at 10:16 pm #

    Que bueno que tu estas disfrutando tu viaje!!! Te extrano muchissimo y no puedo esperar para verte otra vez 🙂 XO

  2. lilyclare January 31, 2012 at 5:17 am #

    It sounds like you’re going to have a wonderful time! Already discovering the culinary delights of living abroad! Can’t wait to hear more! xx

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Cocinando Las Carolinas « Table Scraps - November 12, 2012

    […] in January, I mentioned how badly I wanted to bring grits to South America. Along with the outfits for south of the Equator and my favorite books, I had a two-pound bag of […]

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