Friday, November 26, 2010

Butterball just doesn't translate directly

I feel sorry for the young woman in the butcher shop.  Not because she pulls the guts out of animals, wraps skinned rabbits in plastic film or because she has to smell pig bones being boiled.  I am sorry for the longhaired employee of Carne Bien because she has to deal with me, the naïve American ordering her first turkey for some holiday this pueblo's never heard of.  And yesterday the butcher-ess learned all the English expletives at once when she heaved my turkey onto the scale:  9 kilos.  Twenty two pounds.
A big turkey, I could’ve dealt with that.  It was the bumpy scaly legs, the gnarled claws, and the course white feathers still sticking from the wings that caused me to curse repetitively.  The panic of having to clean, carry and cook the Doberman sized bird set in as my eyes tried to take it all in. “Y la cabeza?”, she nonchalantly asks, barehandedly hauling it to the other side of the counter. The white and wrinkly limp neck swings around and exposes the club on the end, eyes and beak right where they should be. 


This is one of those ‘cultural differences’ moments I tell myself. The other Spaniards in the shop roll their eyes as I make a scene, describing an American turkey to my Spanish audience, “little bird, comes on ice, no head, no legs, very nice.”  I guess Butterball doesn’t translated directly.
My roommates’ and my panic-painted shock and obvious ignorance helped our case.  The butcher gave us half of a turkey instead, which came in from the less intimidating corner at a calming ten pounds.  We invited the entire staff of the carnecería to our Thanksgiving meal and hurried home to start cooking, a bloody turkey bone protruding from our plastic bag as we walked down main street. 
The humor of the experience carried us through the next couple of hours until basting time.  After ninety minutes in the tried and true oven, Daisy (christened by my roommate) was just barely warm.  Thanksgiving panic resumed!  This time with an American, Canadian, English, and four Spanish friends eating appetizers in our living room.  I quickly recalled the method I’ve seen my mother’s cooking group use when ovens fail:  knock to the neighbors.   
Carmen and Antonio, in all their seventy something years of glory, came to the rescue and cooked the hell out of our Daisy bird.  Bruschetta from my Italian friend from Jersey, mashed potatoes by Irish Rebecca, and the group’s reviewing of Spanish and English cuss words kept us all content until we cheers-ed over a dry but beautiful turkey at 11 o’clock. 

Happy Thanksgiving
I introduced my family tradition of going around the table saying what we are thankful for.  I was so thankful to share my favorite holiday with new cultures (our table had more Thanksgiving virgins than vets).  I think Rachel from New York said it best:  “I am so thankful to feel so at home, so far away from home.”  Laughter, good company, and the sharing of traditions at the expat Thanksgiving in Baza assuaged my holiday homesickness.  I am so thankful for the people I have met.  And for those I have yet to meet.  I am so thankful for the family support.  I’m thankful for this magical time in my life. 

And thankful to you!  for reading my blog, because it keeps me writing, which keeps me sane. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

A bit more of Baza

Yesterday’s fierce winds and cold rain are followed by a jump in temperature and a warm blueskysun kind of day today.  Just like Reno.  Last week I craved soup and movies, to stay in my apartment all the dreary day, and today I am thinking about an afternoon picnic. 

Baza has a bit of a strange personality.  Besides the bus station and Plaza Mayor, the town is made up of either curtain stores or baby buggy stores.  It is quite amusing to see really how many shops with strollers, cribs, baby clothes, and blankets create the corners of the town.  Before and after siesta, families are out walking, strolling, pushing their children in the latest brand’s top high tech baby transporters, some buggies on four wheels, some on three, some with waterproof covers, some with baby surround sound (okay, now I’m exaggerating). 

The second most entertaining spectacle of my town, after the infant parades, is the opposite end of the age spectrum—los viejos. The elderly Spaniards, with their coats and canes, gather about Plaza Mayor, for their daily outing. Some sit, some smoke, some talk, some don’t.  They are scruffy in the face and they are all wear hats—just the kind you’d imagine an old Italian or Spanish abuelo to wear.  Thick mumbles fall from their mouths as they watch townspeople pass.  An Antonio and a Paco play cards, and upon his turn, each smacks the card down on the bench with fuerza.  When I pass it seems they do not even register me as existing, as if I am too far outside anything their 85-year-old eyes have seen.  It has taken me a couple times of watching this daily routine of nothing-much-but-must-be-done to understand what is going on. Apart from the sun, the fresh air, the social aspect and the shuffling of hands and feet, they are getting away from their wives!  

To my dismay, Baza seems to be under perpetual construction.  Dismay also coming from the fact my bedroom window looks upon Calle Jose de Mora’s complete resurfacing which begins promptly at seven each morning.  The labyrinth of construction, however, makes for great adventures and discoveries.  On my way home from the movie store last night we happened upon the cathedral, and pushed the large wooden doors open with a loud creak.  The wonderful thing about being an extranjera (foreigner) is the amount of things you can get away with provided you play dumb and curious.  After a few “Oh I’m so sorry, this church is so beautiful, we are Christian, not Catholic, are we allowed to be inside? We just moved here. Wow, this church is older than my country!”, Amador was giving us a private tour of the cathedral, pointing out the saints, summarizing their stories and introducing us to the priest.  Castles and cathedrals are the telling factors in Europe’s age over America’s.  Even in little Baza, the church is over the top beautiful, ornate, and still so powerful.  Dark and ominous, the Catholic cathedrals instill fear and the feeling of insignificance in their turgid silence.

Dulce de Membrillo

Last week Ricardo, the school’s site and facilities coordinator, brought me a kilo of membrillos from his family’s huerto.  They are a bright yellow fruit that give off a sweet flowery smell.  Many people in the south use them as air fresheners and they are also said to ward off evil spirits. The translations of membrillo is quince, a fruit I’ve never heard of, but can be likened to a tarter, rounder pear.  When they saw me with the bag of membrillos, a couple teachers passionately insisted I make Dulce de Membrillo, a sort of sugary marmalade spread. Half way through my accepted mission that evening, I asked my very old and small neighbor, Carmen, for a batidora (a hand blender) and before I could say muchas gracias Carmen and our other elderly neighbor Antonia had taken over my kitchen, shuffling about in their house shoes, directing Rebecca and I, stirring the pot, heating the water, adding sugar.   Although the recipe is simple (add a mountain of sugar to the boiled fruit) the women took their role in all seriousness, not leaving until they could be sure we had the dessert under control.  Rebecca and I understood nothing the old ladies said, but repeated our best “si, si, entiendo”s while trying not to laugh.  The Dulce de Membrillo turned out nice, much like a sweeter version of applesauce and I was proud my first Spanish cooking conquest involved some crazy Spanish abuelas.