April 23, 2012
“We’re making tortas fritas out front! You want a fresh one??” Anne hollered up to my loft above the kitchen, where I was attempting to meditate. Though yes, I did want a fresh torta frita (fried bread, kind of like a savory donut), I declined in order to continue my meditation. “Ella no sabe lo que está perdiendo!” Jorge shouted. She doesn’t know what she’s missing! But then I heard Ginny whistle from her bedroom, and Anne was already back outside, so I climbed down my ladder to help Ginny into her wheelchair and we rolled to the fire outside. Anne and Jorge were flattening balls of dough and tossing them into a pot of hot frying oil over the fire, and Emilio was serving maté to everyone. It was chilly out, the tips of my fingers numb, but the hot tortas fritas and maté helped enliven them. I ran back inside to get some local honey to put on the tortas, which taste like fried biscuits, and we sat around the fire, chatting in broken Castellano (Spanish) and English and laughing.
A bit later Anne, Ginny and I climbed into the truck, throwing Ginny’s wheelchair in the truckbed next to the canisters of diesel fuel – there’s no gas station in town, and often the gas station the next town over doesn’t have any gas to sell. We were going to the one year anniversary party of the Bomberos Voluntarios de El Huecú – The Volunteer Firefighters of El Huecú. We went to the main plaza of town, a grassy square with pine trees. In the middle townspeople and Bomberos were taking photos, milling about, and there was music blasting over the speakers. We kissed a bunch of people on the cheeks – Como anda? Bien! – until it was time to head to the cheif volunteer firefighter’s house for an asado. Ginny had donated a goat for the BBQ, along with a few other estancias. There were about 50 or 60 people there, and many goats flayed open and strung up like Jesus on the cross to cook over the open fire. There were also fresh-fried empanadas, potato salad, cabbage and tomato salad, chimichurri sauce.
I noticed a man with a plastic container pouring something onto his beef and egg empanada before he took each bite. “What is that guy pouring on his empanada?” Anne: “I think it’s chimichurri sauce… Oh no, wait. Oh no. Oh God. It’s sugar.” We burst out laughing. An hour earlier we’d been making fun of how everything in Argentina has sugar in it. EVERYTHING. The coffee grounds come with sugar in them. When someone’s talking about juice here, what they mean is Tang. Workers don’t want water; they want Fanta. If it’s not sugar, it’s salt. I took a bite of one of the salads at the asado – super salty. Too salty for a second bite.
Finally, the moment we’d eagerly been waiting for – the goats were done BBQing. Women came around with big trays of goat meat, goat ribs, goat fat. I got a piece of meat attached to a vertebrae. The skin was crunchy, the meat delicious – like beef but juicier, fattier. Anne grabbed for her favorite, a rib. “Wait… is this a rib? What is this? It’s got a joint.” She examined it, puzzled, and flexed it, showing it to a large local woman sitting across from us. “Cola.” Tail. It was a goat tail. “Oh… hmm. Um.. It tastes very… goat-y.”
The three of us cut out before the cake painted with flames was served – Ginny needs her siesta! – and walked/rolled across the dirt street, where someone had a padrillo – stallion – for sale that Ginny wanted to check out. The man disappeared into a small wooden stable, from which the noises of a monster emitted. After a few more minutes of ominous sounds coming from the stable, a big muscular horse shot out, white with grey dapples and a black Gladiator mohawk.
We had some close calls at being trampled or kicked by this horse on steroids, and he even bucked a few times for us, but I was too busy trying stay out of the way to get a good picture of that. I thought he was beautiful, but Ginny didn’t get that “have to have him” feeling, so we loaded her back into the truck and drove slowly home alongside the wide, dry riverbed.