Thursday, April 22, 2010
Is that what you really meant to say?
Mom's life had been fairly simple up to the move to Argentina. She married straight out of high school, had her first son soon after graduation from college, and moved to California before her youngest (me) was born. She had driven across old Route 66 multiple times, from Chicago to the Pacific Ocean and seen lots of the United States. She had moved from her own family and neighborhood to live near the family she had married into.
And when my parents were 34 years old, they decided to move overseas. First stop, Argentina.
Lifestyles in Argentina were incredibly different than those she had known in Ohio or California. Mom, Elise, decided the best way to know the country was to 'become' the country. To 'become' the country, one had to fit in, to live as the locals did.
One of the first things Elise found out was that wives need their husbands' permission to drive the family car. The permission slip was not only signed by the husband, but notarized by the local authority and it was carried in the auto at all times.
Elise didn't care for this at all. Permission to drive their car? No way. She would ride the bicycle or take the train, thank you. My one speed blue Schwinn served her fine for trips to the market, and the train was better than any car for the rare trips into Buenos Aires.
So, every couple days, Elise would pull my bike out of the shed, load up the basket with her 'bolsas' (net shopping bags), peg her pant legs with clothes pins, and pedal towards the local market place. Our town did not have a supermarket - I doubt any place in Argentina had 'Vons' or 'Luckys' supermarkets. Instead, we had marketplaces. Each store carried its one family of products. The carnecia carried meat. The panaderia had the breads. Fiamberia had the drug store type items, and the lecheria had milk products and eggs. The stores were all grouped at one 5-point corner in town, called Cinco Esquinas (Five Corners, duh).
Elise, now called Elsa by the locals, would make her market appearance every few days. Shopping was precise - you only bought what you needed for that day and the next. Elise never bought a dozen eggs (how excessive!), but maybe bought 4 eggs to bake a cake. She never bought a gallon of milk, but a litre or less. Bread wasn't sold in sliced packages but in whole hard crusted loaves.
Elise/Elsa would proudly use her pigeon spanish to greet the store owners. She quickly became the darling of many of them - an Argentine Yankee. Una yankee Argentina! She'd practice small talk with each shop owner before pulling out her shopping list and requesting 'un medio kilo de carne picada' or 'medio kilo de harina, por favor.'
Some products, like poultry and especially eggs, were seasonal. Not seasonal such as in weather, but as in chickens desire to lay eggs. So, before buying eggs, you were expected to ask if there were any eggs to buy.
For three years, mom asked in perfect spanish "Tienes huevos?"
And then one day, our Argentine neighbor Mirta overheard Elsa asking if the vendor had eggs. "Elsa, que dices?" Mom turned to Mirta - "I am hopeful I can get three eggs for a cake I am baking!"
Mirta slowly pulled Elsa aside. "Never ever ask a man 'tienes huevos'. Ask 'hay huevos', ok? HAY HUEVOS? As in, 'are there eggs'? Never ever say 'tienes huevos'. It means something else to a man."
Elsa looked at the vendor. He was blushing. For three years he had listened to her ask him if he had balls.
OH. Oh dear. Oh my. OH.
It can be hard re-inventing oneself. Sometimes it is easier to just fade into the crowd...