I am so proud of my growing bilingual abilities. I started learning to speak Spanish in my 50’s, taking classes, working with a tutor here and there, and spending time each year immersing myself in the language and culture of Buenos Aires. I was reminded of how my Spanish skills have grown when I visited with my friend Maria Teresa back in January ’11, and we ate lunch in her apartment.
When I was introduced to her in August, 2002, I understood less than ten percent of what she said. She speaks quickly, has a very thick Argentinian accent, and uses lots of colloquial phrases that even other non-Porteños like me may not know either. Despite my almost non-existent Castellano (how Spanish is referred to here) Maria Teresa reached out to me. We spent an afternoon going to a museum and for a coffee in a well-known, very old Buenos Aires cafe, El Gato Negro. We both struggled to understand what each other was saying, and we both persevered.
Over the past nine years we’ve been to a wonderful Rep exhibit at MALBA, the Museum of Latin American Art in Buenos Aires, to a sculpture exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Arts, to countless lunches and dinners together at Leda’s and both of our apartments. We’ve made pizzas together–she’s an excellent cook!–and traded recipes, her pizza dough with my mother’s sage stuffing for turkey. I cooked her first-ever North American thanksgiving dinner, my Christmas Eve menu of calamari and spaghetti and shrimp cocktail. We saw performances of tango musicians and of a classic tango singer in some of the Cafes and Bares Notables (government-sponsored cafes and bars that are more than 100 years old), drinking a beer or a coffee or glass of vino tinto (red wine) and eating cheese and olives.
Maria Teresa has been my “go-to” person when I wanted information on how to get some place in the city. She gave me her personally-guided tour taking me beyond El Caminito and into the streets of La Boca where the locals live, and where she worked as a social worker many years ago. She explained the conventillos, apartment-style buildings formerly situated in this barrio. Just yesterday she told me about the Parque de la Memoria, a sculpture park created in 1998 to honor the more than 30,000 killed during the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina during what is called “The Dirty War” from 1976-1983. I want to see this place, with its monument to the victims of state terrorism–the desaparecidos–including the statue of Pablo Miguez, the14-year-old boy thought to be the youngest of them, which stands in the river itself, the Rio de la Plata, a common dumping place for the bodies of the junta’s victims.
We also talked about her recently deceased mother, about the current mayor and his policies and projects, about food (okay we both enjoy food, cooking and eating it), about the weather, the well-being of our common friends, about what buses I could take and where to board them to return to my apartment. We confirmed our plan to see a new sculptural exhibition when the Kosice Museum reopens in two weeks. We laughed. We talked. For two and a half hours. In Castellano.