ARG2020 Ch 1: Argentine Routine & Cuisine, in the calm before the storm.
It’s been a introspective time for me, questioning where to dedicate my creative energies this year, so I deeply appreciate your feedback and reaching out after the first mail. Social media to me was always a way to share my goings-on in my travels with those I cared with and had connected with. Since that golden era passed long ago I have been searching for a way to find purpose in sharing myself again outside of the toxic environment that I find those venues to be. You actually reading what I write means more than you know.
Let’s dive right back in. There are no photos or videos in this installment, since nothing in life had felt worth capturing in visuals at the time (woe is me eh?)–but the upcoming chapter will have some video of our time in labor.
Cordoba, Argentina - January 2020
It’s hot and muggy when we touch down in Argentina. Summer is in full force and, coming from the relatively chilly winter in southern California, it’s not fun. Lau is almost 7 months pregnant and we stay with her aunt, uncle and two cousins, who have graciously invited us to get settled for a few weeks while we wait for our response from the US Embassy saying they are ready to schedule Lau’s visa appointment. It is supposed to be any day now. Once we have the appointment we can start making a plan for returning back to California where I had left most of my more critical belongings such as winter clothes, my camera, and hard drives full of un-edited video footage.
My Spanish is a bit rusty after the months in the States so instead of congregating around the kitchen TV with the family, I find myself sticking to my private space a bit more than I normally would (which is still quite a bit, but hey). They speak a lot faster than Lau speaks to me so I begin to realize that she’d been babying me with the language and my confidence in my proficiency may have been artificial.
I don’t have much to do outside of processing my bitterness towards leaving my friends and family after such a blissful holiday season and coming to what is one of my least preferred locations I’ve ever visited during its hottest month. This particular sector of central Argentina doesn’t exactly offer much outside of a few shopping malls and wannabe epic Spanish cathedrals unless you hop in the car for a few hours to hit the countryside, a task which my aching back is currently resisting with all its might. It is all but a total shithole in my consciously ungrateful opinion, and its slowly-degrading economy doesn’t help that fact.
Writing and Reflections
My “work” projects are at a standstill and I have little else to do to stay positive, so I start writing an autobiography about my life. A friend at our celebration had suggested it as a way to ensure that our baby boy would still have a chance to get to know me should something go horribly wrong. I’m not normally one to take action out of imagination and fear (well, imagination maybe) but it’s been years since I’ve sat proper to write about my life so it’s actually an inspiring new endeavor when I consider it.
In my nomadic travel heyday, ages 21-25, it was important to stop and reflect and write every few months. That process eventually became something of an ambitious project for me titled The Post-Bohemian Chronicles (Volume I - Bangkok: Flesh is available on Amazon, in case you’re interested). Before that chaotic attempt to brand myself as someone with anecdotes for sale, science fiction had been the sole channel of my creative ambition: escaping the shortcomings and corruption of this world by creating my own worlds. Seeing where the characters go wrong as their beliefs, intentions, and environments all collide was some sort of therapy that made me feel better about the world I was getting to know as an independent human person.
But as fiction morphed into memoir my eyes were opened to the reality of here and now. I soon stopped spending my days writing and instead opted for social entrepreneurship for the remainder of my twenties. Maybe I could use my global budget vagabonding to bring value to the world in a more direct way, plus starting a charity could transform into a suitable “career” for me at a later time. I ask myself now if that ironically brought me closer in touch with my own story arc’s ups and downs, if perhaps felt I needed recognition for doing something great, or maybe I really had a great idea for the world that I believed in.
Or maybe both. Either way, as my efforts began to reveal to me more facets of myself, I asked: is it me wanting to spend my energy attempting to serve society, or is it dollar signs and recognition tempting me to try? Was my era as a writer actually a stronger contribution to the human collective, serving the creative human spirit at its core, which inevitably manifests gratitude, love, and the bliss of simple satisfaction?
It is something I feel the need to figure out, and fast. I have a baby coming in two months and I still have no steady income to speak of.
The questions blow in and I ponder them, content for now to sit and write at Lau’s cousin’s desk each morning before it gets too hot. I pull back mate after mate while skipping breakfast with the family because I find the customary pleasantries taxing beyond just the language barrier. Exercising and getting creative has always been a much healthier use of my time in the morning than being friendly in front of the TV while eating heavy carbohydrates. Maybe that’s a North American thing, or maybe that’s just me.
Juxtaposed by the disaster of the poorly-planned urban sprawl I see and hear outside the window, it is refreshing to explore myself from the vantage point of my childhood, skipping along a fresh California suburb as a ten year old in an era pre-dating smart devices and corporate everything. The act of writing is also helping me find gratitude in the shithole that I will be in for however long this visa thing takes. It may be horrendous but Lau’s extended family is actually a lot of fun.
I get to about twelve years old in the memoir—just after the yo-yo’s and Pokemon cards but still in the middle of the skateboard jams—before real life pulls me away into things like ultrasounds and long-term Airbnb searches. I never back up the file and would sadly lose it all in a few months time when my laptop’s login password would seemingly encrypt itself without any action on my part.
Meanwhile, I am experiencing my first true Argentine family vibe. Not to say that all Argentines or Argentine culture is the same, far from it, but it’s sure not what I have been accustomed to at any point previous for an extended period of time. What is natural and comfortable for Lau is an environment curious and at times restricting for me. But despite it all, I am learning boatloads.
The best and simplest way for me to communicate about routine home life is with eating. Argentina is very traditional, to put it neutrally. They enjoy a certain repertoire of foods that is tinted by an individual family’s ancestral backgrounds, they eat routinely at pretty fixed intervals, and they generally don’t have a taste for new or exotic flavors. Very historically European (primarily Italian and Spanish but with quite a few elements of Polish, German, and Turkish scattered around), Argentines love bread and pastries and have their own unique names for certain varieties, such as la media luna, which is not a reference to the waxing moon but rather a miniature croissant which is normally coated with a pasty sugar but can also be available salty depending on the bakery. They prefer espresso over drip, love pizza and pasta, and can’t handle spicy beyond black pepper with a little oregano. Bakeries line neighborhood boulevards to the point where we gluten-sensitive eaters even have special gluten-free bakeries boasting all the traditional bready products that celiacs like Lau have have missed for years, like criollitos (little bread cubes), tortas (cakes), and lemon boudin.
Argentina’s ceremonious routines are something else I’ve not seen outside Europe. I personally may not enjoy taking breakfast with everyone but I do admire the consistency in setting and food. Argentines often share their yerba mate together, passing it around in a circle, sipping one bitter strawful at a time, and not really stopping throughout the day. It’s a bizarre caffeine addiction, as it doesn’t quite give the same high as coffee but it also doesn’t have an intense crash like a coffee buzz. It is often the beverage of choice at the merienda, the “afternoon” snack at around 5 or 6pm. It’s not a meal because that would spoil dinner; it’s bread or crackers, cheese and salami, pastry or something else from the local bakery that fills the stomach but doesn’t quite satisfy.
When all is said and done, Argentines take a lot of pride in their cuisine. Most dishes you would order in a regular restaurant have been created by a prideful chef who makes that pride clear on the plate that arrives at your table. This pride in cuisine, though potentially controversial when discussing the primary function of food and nourishment, is something I do admire and have not found very common outside of Europe and Australia. While it’s a complicated topic dipping into social class and economic segregation, which I will do at a later time, Argentina for its middle class is far more European than Latin or even American in this regard. For that, no doubt owing to my age-old Francophilia, I appreciate Argentina.
This side of Lau’s family carries its Italian heritage more strongly than its counterparts. The dining table would be occupied by not just [gluten-free] pasta and soda water (they actually have a sodero who comes around weekly to refill your sparkling water bottles), but I was introduced to dishes comprised entirely of garlic, cream and salt, crispy cheese-stuffed crepes, and other meals or snacks that I would never have known were of true Italian descent.
But the buck doesn’t stop there. A crucial part of all Argentine’s cuisine curiously stems back to its indigenous population, and that’s the asado. I haven’t been eating meat, dairy, or animal products beyond honey or eggs when we arrived in those early days but resistance is clearly futile after a few weeks. I begin taking part in the family’s weekly, if not bi- or tri-weekly barbecues and Lau’s family is excited to start teaching me the different cuts of meat and how they can be most enjoyed.
Argentina’s relationship with dead animal is something fascinating to me. The average teen could tell you what type of cut a slab of meat might be, and often those teens are sent by their parents a few blocks to the nearest carnicero to tell the butcher which cuts to buy for the afternoon’s asado. Pre-cut, packaged meats are only available in big supermarkets and generally a last resort in case the local butcher doesn’t have a family’s favorite cut, which is likely entraña, close enough to a skirt steak, costillas, a long slab of ribs cut short and fat, or vacio, which I still haven’t been able to translate. Any kind of salsa on a steak is a no-no, especially while it’s cooking. Maybe some Argentines marinate their meat beforehand, but no one I come in contact with ever considered doing such a blasphemous thing.
The calm before the storm.
And that’s how January passes, slow and simple. Lau’s belly grows as does my own pleasure derived from the simpler things in life. First the meat, and soon the drink. Argentina loves their red wine. I haven’t been touching any alcohol for almost 3 years, but I start to drink a little at dinner, sometimes a bottle as we watch the Sopranos, and sometimes gluten-free piss beer out on the hammock as I read my stories of dragon kingdoms and lost swords. In the absence of cannabis or other plant tools to kick me back into myself, these vices long ago renounced return with a healthy degree of moderation and control.
I’m not complaining. It’s nice not giving a damn about much, for maybe the last time ever. I am starting to recognize how I can’t always control every single variable of my life. If I’m going to be stuck in a shithole for a period of time, I may as well make the best of it.
Oh boy, if I only knew.
The ultrasounds all show a healthy baby inside, Lau and I are meeting with one of those pregnancy doctors (what do you call them?) every few weeks, and we’ve located a cute little loft in a neighborhood nearby known for its fancy cafes and mature nightlife. Things are flowing smoothly as we pack up our bags, again, to move into our new spot for February.
It is the calm before the storm.