Sunday, November 27, 2011

Antisocial and Thanksgiving in Peru

November 27, 2011 – Antisocial and Thanksgiving in Peru

Joaquin and I review the material for his upcoming English exam. We’re matching prefixes with their definition on a worksheet his teacher had given the class. It’s hard stuff. I hardly know what the actual meanings for Dis-, Co-, Mis-, Tele-, De- and Ex- are. And English is supposed to be my specialty. I’m trying to give him words that have Spanish equivalents so he can imprint the meaning in his mind. At least that’s what I tell myself because it makes me feel teachery and just a tad bit smarter than I fear I am. The only Co- word I can come up with on the spot is Cohabitation and I don’t feel up to explaining what that means. So I skip my methodology and just give him the answer.

“Co- means together,” I tell him. I repeat it. “Now look for that meaning on your worksheet.”

“Do we have to do this?” he asks, after he’s put the corresponding letter on the blank line next to Co-.
I’m inclined to say no. But I want him to do well on his test and I want to earn the money his mom has paid me. “It’s hard, I know it. We’ll do a couple more.” I look for a few easy ones. Hex-, Quad-, Cent-, no problem. Anti- is high up there on the list. I scan my memory for words with that prefix and quickly reject antidisestablishmentarianism. Antisocial jumps to mind and I go with it.

“Social is when you like to go to parties and be with people, right? So anti- means the opposite. Antisocial is when you like to be alone,” I explain.
“You’re antisocial?” he asks me astonished.

“No, yes, sometimes,” I stutter. This isn’t about me.
But yeah, sometimes I am.

Case in point:
A few weeks ago, while I’m eating quinoa for breakfast and staring out the window at the blanket-white sky and wondering if summer will really ever come, Katrina stops on her way into the kitchen. “I want to make Thanksgiving dinner and have a bunch of people over,” she says. “But I’m having a hard time with the guest list.”

“Oh?” I ask.
“I’ve got over forty people on it and that’s not even all my friends.”

I manage to keep my mouth from dropping open or myself from falling out of the chair. Forty people? I get biblical in my head and think,” Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” In this instance Judea is the apartment and those who are in it is me and the mountains are someplace I need to find posthaste.
I’m not anti-party, I’m certainly not anti-Katrina, I’m not anti-guests and I’m not anti-Thanksgiving. But I do tend to sink the balance more towards the intro- rather than extrovert side of the scale when I take the time to measure myself. Also I’m a vegetarian.
Katrina loves to entertain. She loves to throw parties decorated to match the occasion. She loves to fix elaborate meals and celebrate the holidays in true style. I admire this. It impresses me. But sometimes, as my grandmother would say, “It makes me want to put a cold rag on my head and lie down.”

I’m still recovering from Halloween. And now it’s Thanksgiving time? Whatever shall I do?

After I express my demophobic dismay to Rodney, he offers up his house as the proverbial mountains. He understands my introvertism, being afflicted with similar sentiments much of the time himself. “If you wanted to work you could bring over your laptop and it’d be quiet,” he says. “We could even have a little vegetarian dinner.”
“I could bring over Pisco Sour fixings so I can practice making them,” I say. I’ve been here nearly six months and it just seems like I should know how to make Peru’s national drink by now. As Willy Wonka says, “There’s no better time to learn.”

Feeling secretive and traitorous I tell Katrina, “It’s nothing personal, but I’m going away on your party day.”

She doesn’t spit in my face or call me rude. Instead she invites me to watch the great turkey opening. “Last year when I opened up the turkey to get it ready to cook I was so shocked to find the turkey’s head stuck inside.” She looks at me. “Oh, will that gross you out?”

Poor dead turkey, I think. “Poor dead turkey,” I say. “No, I’d be interested in seeing it. I’ll probably even want to take pictures.”
Later that day, the great turkey opening moment arrives. Katrina comes and gets me from my study. Poor dead turkey, I still think as I snap the pictures I knew I’d take. “I’m sorry,” I tell the turkey when I lean down to take a close-up shot. Katrina washes it and eventually sticks it in the oven to bake. When I pass through the kitchen to forage for food or fill up on water she asks, “Do you want to see it?”

She’s especially proud of the turkey.
I make encouraging noises when she opens the oven to show me the browning skin, and then I shuffle back to my study.

A meal this elaborate (she has three or four pages of recipes and notes stuck on the fridge) makes the complete overtaking of the kitchen a necessity. Earlier in the day I’d washed some cauliflower and tried to eat a hearty lunch so I wouldn’t have to get in her way. She has taken the kitchen over and there’s hardly counter space for anything else. It’s a veritable feast in the making.
About dinner time my stomach complains that it’s been sadly neglected. Quit complaining, I tell it. You’ve eaten once today, for crying out loud. But I go get my bowl of cauliflower and sit munching it while I pretend to edit my novel.

Katrina knocks on the door. “Can I borrow your camera to take a picture of the turkey in the oven?” she asks. She sees the bowl in my lap. “Ew. Are you eating that raw?”
With more than a touch of irony I think, You just pulled a dead turkey’s head out of its concavity and you think eating raw cauliflower is gross?

“This coming from someone who just pulled out the head and feet from a dead turkey,” I say with a smile and a laugh. It’s all about perspective, right?
Saturday morning (since Thanksgiving is not a South American holiday Katrina is having her big dinner on the weekend so that her friends can be sure to come) when I wake up the apartment is filled with a mixture of smells. Home cooked, holiday smells. My last night’s cauliflower dinner has ceased to satisfy my belly’s longings and I head into the kitchen to grab some breakfast.

“It smells really good,” I tell Katrina when we pass each other in the hallway both of us with coffee cups in hand. And it does.
Later when I’m bustling around getting set to leave the house I overhear Katrina tell Oswaldo, “Even  Amanda said it smells good.”

Even me.
But, it’s like the old saying, “Food, food everywhere and not a bite to eat.” So I shoulder my bag, collect some books, make sure I have some money on me and then go out to catch my old bus friend the Molinero 49.

Rodney has gotten most of his planned work done for the day and although I’ve brought stuff to work on I haven’t made any specific writing goals. We put off writerly productivity (er, at least I do) and talk the afternoon away. We chat about writing and life and travel and dreams and publishing and critiques and friends and movies and vampires. When his roommate Steve rises from his crypt and comes in to cheek kiss me hello Rodney tells him, “We’ve talked all day.”
And we have. I feel almost like I’m out of words. I look over at Rodney sprawled comfortably on his couch and think he looks a little talked out too. I’ve heard it said before that most men only speak about 2000 words a day and that woman usually speak something like 7000. After my classes with Joaquin sometimes I’m not convinced I even know seven thousand words especially prefixed ones, and except in those rare moments when I chatter someone’s ear off, I usually feel I stay more in the 2000 man-talk range for daily talk rates. I prefer to gush in written words. Even so, this post is only just at 2078 words which still leaves me near that lower limit.

Steve glides away.
In the air I sense a need for some silence so I go to the kitchen and start the Daring Pisco Sour Making Adventure. Katrina had given me some Pisco Sour recipes from a snooty Pisco magazine she’d translated and I have them with me. Suddenly, standing over the boiling sugar water, I have this dread that my drink skills will end up in a joke. “A gringa walks into a bar…”
I melt down the sugar, I wash the eggs (one had broken on the bus ride over), I fresh squeeze some limes. Meanwhile, Rodney delves through his cabinets looking for shot glass measuring equivalents and for a mixing glass for us to use in place of a shaker or blender.  

I figure it’ll take me several attempts to get a dry Pisco. I prefer a dry Pisco Sour rather than a sweet one. But I’d like to know how to do both styles. I rub my hands together and crack my knuckles.
Rodney looks over the recipe I’d copied down. “You’re going to want to use about half this amount of Pisco. Four ounces of Pisco is four shots. You won’t be able to tell if it’s dry or sweet with that much Pisco in there. Have you ever had a straight shot of Pisco?”

“Yes,” I say. “Yes, I have.” I remember it as the Fabulous Thunderbirds so aptly say, as “Powerful Stuff.” And I adjust the level of Pisco per his suggestion.
We brilliantly figure out how to mathematically convert convoluted and complicated measurements from gills to cups to pints to gallons to barrels and then down to ounces. With all those numbers running like programing code through my brain I pour the various liquids into the glass.

Rodney blends it up and I dump the resulting mixture into two glasses.
“It looks like a Pisco Sour,” he says, holding the glass up to the light.

I take a deep breath as we toast and say, “Salud.” Rodney bravely sips.
“It’s perfect,” he says. “It’s a little on the dry side,” he prefers his Sours a little sweeter, “but it’s good. I can’t believe it, you got it perfect the first time.”

“I’ll have to open my own Gringa Bar now,” I say, tentatively tasting mine, already having forgotten I’d been worried about being the butt of a good bar joke. It’s not bad. It’s just about the way I like them. “I’ll probably never be able to recreate this. I’d better write down exactly what I did.” Heeding my own advice I do. Just that quick the Daring Pisco Sour Making Adventure is over. Nothing is broken except for two egg shells, neither of us is drunk and Peru hasn’t convulsed in horror at the travesty of a foreigner dabbling with their elixir. So all is well with the world.
I clean up the dishes and then we return to the living room and talk some more. By this time I think I’ve used up most of my next week’s words. I imagine myself--for days on end--sitting in my study in a monk-like vow of silence kind of silence. That doesn’t actually sound bad at all. In this wordy moment, however, we’re discussing movies and neither of us can remember an actor’s name. “I’d probably know him if I saw him,” I say. “I’m terrible with names and stuff.” When Steve comes out to make some dinner (or perhaps breakfast for him, since he’s only recently woken up) Rodney calls in to him, “Hey, Steve, what’s the name of the actor who plays in the movie The Green Lantern?”

Steve whips around the corner and exclaims, “We’re going to see a movie?”
“We could,” Rodney says. He looks over at me with the question in his eyes.

I shrug. “Yeah, sure.”
So we do.
I'd tell you about it now but I'm out of words for today and feeling gently antisocial. Never fear, the tale will store well enough in the fridge next to Katrina's Thanksgiving Meal leftovers and be fresh for another time. Until then, cuidate and chau.

[n.b. The actor who played The Green Lantern and whose name kept eluding us is Ryan Reynolds.]

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