Buenos Aires – It’s my own fault. I admit it. Back before I left New York, in conversations with friends, I said things like “I miss how friends used to drop by my place back home to do things. We didn’t spend hours arranging hanging out, via SMS or e-mail or telephone.” Of course, we didn’t have SMS or e-mail, and we didn’t have cellphones, and the regular phone didn’t have an answering machine. We just called and either reached each other or not, and oftentimes, just dropped in on each other, unannounced. Casual visitors were entertained or not, depending on the whim and other activities of the host, and the recipient of guests didn’t feel put upon, nor did the visitor feel put out if said host didn’t have time for them.
The twist here is three-stranded. First, the folk stopping by are for the most part Henry’s friends and family (that’s another whole twist, family visits were always “arranged”), and second, they’re often coming not from just across campus, or across town, but often travelling several hours to get here. Third, and for me the part that doesn’t fit that past prosaic time of unnanounced visits, visitors here expect to be taken care of. Regardless of what you may or may not have planned for your own life. Now, this is not a “poor me” sort of post, it’s more observational in coming to grips with a different culture – though I admit the first few times this happened I wasn’t at all happy. Gradually, I’ve established a balance between “visiting” and my need to get work done.
The latter is the heart of the problem. Bluntly, in this culture the idea that there is a need to get work done seems to mystify one and all. Eventually you will get it done, deadlines and schedules are irrelevant. No wonder I constantly read and hear about the problems of doing business here and getting projects accomplished. It isn’t the old mañana thing that we joke about back in the States, it’s really just that things like family and friends are considered more important by both employee and employer (I imagine many employers secretly are a bit more put out than they let on, but it’s probably bad form to express it, or maybe that’s just my North American sensibilities intruding).
So back to visitation and my lack of accomplishing anything this past week or so… About two weeks ago now, two friends of Henry from Azul, a small town a few hours southwest of here, called and asked if they might come by last Saturday (January 28th) and use our place as a sort of base from which to go out clubbing that night, and then come back and sleep Sunday morning until heading back home. Work Monday and all that. I give them credit for calling and asking. They arrived at 8:30 in the morning on Friday. They clubbed, if that is the appropriate past tense, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. They left around 7:30 in the evening on Monday. They simply took Friday and Monday off of work “to visit friends in Buenos Aires” and extend their visit with us. It was apparently a non-issue for both their employers, if it was a surprise for us.
Tuesday morning dawned with a phone call from Henry’s sister letting us know that his 14 year old niece and 10 year old nephew had just been put on the train from La Plata to visit with their two uncles and were due in around 10:30 a.m., could we pick them up at the station (a very good idea, Constitution station is no place for two kids to be hanging out alone), and spend the day dress shopping for the niece’s 15th birthday celebration. They left Wednesday evening. I did manage to get out to dinner with friends on Tuesday, though it meant cancelling a backyard cookout with them, and also that Henry couldn’t join us.
Thursday, two friends, one from La Plata and one local, dropped in around lunchtime – expecting to be fed – which I left in Henry’s hands. I visited for a half hour or so and then headed out to do one of my walks. They were still there when I got back and left around 10 p.m., possibly when it became clear that I wasn’t cooking dinner to go along with the film we’d rented to watch. Friday we had planned on a day out doing things for ourselves. It arrived, however, in a reversal of the above pattern, with a Chilean friend of Henry’s calling to say that he was home alone and wanted company. Henry spent the day there, returning sometime late in the evening.
Saturday seemed to be clear on all coasts, and stayed that way through most of the day, when at about 7:00 in the evening the phone rang, and a friend of ours from La Plata announced he was getting on the train, would be here for dinner (preferably out) around 9:30, and wanted to go out to a gay club in Buenos Aires, something he’d never done before… Which, turned out to be among several things that he’d never done before. Another amazement for me in the cultural world – this friend is a 51 year old gay man from Peru, who’s been living in La Plata for the past 11 years. Among the things that turned out to be the highlights of the evening, because he’d never done them before: going to a gay club, seeing a drag show (bad outfits, worse lipsynching, caustic remarks to audience members – let’s just say the highlight was a reasonably good attempt at Barbra’s Memories), having a meal in a restaurant that cost 20 pesos (he was horrified), riding on an escalator (which we had to do several times he was so delighted with the concept), and talking to a hustler (i.e., a boy of the night, on the street, who wasn’t at all interested in long-winded conversation, surprise, surprise).
Sunday arrived with friend still present, it having been too late Saturday to return to La Plata. It also arrived with a phone call from Thursday’s duo to announce that they would be arriving at noon. Now, I really did remember that we’d talked about having an asado, or backyard barbecue, yesterday. I had it all planned out in my mind, I’d even told some friends I couldn’t join them for dinner last night as I’d be cooking. Noon was not in my plans. Off to the supermarket to grab some things to cook, they were here by the time I returned. They did bring dessert. They did the honors of lighting our grill for the first time. And, I think they liked my food. I was surprised, once again, that all three guests had never tried provoleta before – I guess that first off it’s a very Buenos Aires concept, not Argentine in general, and second, it’s more of a restaurant thing than a home thing. I’m not sure.
I think I prepped enough food for the six of us – the “meat tray” has a full rack of ribs (dry rubbed in coarse salt, black pepper, and thyme), ears of corn (in the foil), a dozen chorizos, a stack of provoletas, and half a dozen rocoto peppers; the chicken I prepped more or less in Peruvian style – it got in an hour or so of marinating in a mix of soy sauce, olive oil, garlic, thyme, and dried ají panca (hot peppers). Oh, the sixth person? A phone call from the Chilean friend of Friday to say he was dropping by shortly. He arrived at 8:00 p.m., fifteen minutes after the others had finally left. He and Henry ate leftovers together (I nibbled on a salad – I’d eaten too much earlier).
Five of us managed half a dozen chorizos, half a dozen provoletas, five grilled rocotos, five ears of corn (they were very dry, though tasty – just not good quality corn), eight shortribs, half a dozen chicken legs, most of a huge bowl of salad (1 head of lettuce, 4 large tomatoes, 2 carrots, and 4 beets which I boiled up while everything else was marinating), a bottle of wine (Rodas Colección 12 Petite Verdot 2005 – fantastically good with grilled meats!), and a small ice cream cake. Henry and his friend finished off the remaining four ribs, a couple of chicken legs, and a few chorizos, in the evening. Then they went out to a club and to wander. Needless to say, this has all put a crimp in our “personal” lives – something that, well, we made up for this morning.
By the way, I’d still love to have friends drop by. But please, there’s no reason we can’t maintain some of our cultural style here – we’ll hang out, we may go out for a walk or out to dinner or lunch, we’ll chat, we’ll pop a bottle of wine. I go to bed around midnight, and unless Henry wants to entertain you until the wee hours, you’re going home.