Friday, November 27, 2009

Minus the Turkey: Thanksgiving a la Porteña

I guess I would best describe it as May. Though it would be May in New York, not in Boston, because anyone who is from either city can tell you that a spring in Massachusetts is quite different from a spring in New York, and no two springs are alike. Every year it seems as though May is a wash out in New England, yet people are always surprised. It’s supposed to be nice, but of course it’s not. That’s exactly what I’m experiencing now in Buenos Aires. But the only difference is that it’s late November.

After going through your entire life with an expectation that the weather will be a certain way during a certain month, it’s hard to accept what your eyes see and your senses feel. I am sweating in this humidity, but the date on the calendar says November 27th. An error message is popping up in my brain, telling me to reboot. Yesterday was Thanksgiving, giving a totally different perspective on the holiday.

All I can think of in terms of this day is the crisp air outside a boiling hot apartment in Brooklyn, the golden-brown-red leaves dangling from trees like a child’s teeth as their body pushes them out to make way for the new guys. The deep blue sky of impending winter and the looming storm front that inevitably comes, just in time for some cocoa, a fireplace, and a football game that puts you to sleep after stuffing your face with, well stuffing. Turkey, cranberry sauce, pie, more turkey, coffee, more pie, and finally a late night shwarma and beer if you have nothing else to do and just need to get out of that stinking hot apartment with no cable. This is the Thanksgiving I grew up with, yet in the humid spring of Buenos Aires, it was another world and another age.

I was pretty sure I was going to spend the holiday alone, frying up a steak and looking through pictures while listening to music—a standard night. But in the morning my new friend Tami said she was going to take care of everything. She called up a few friends and invited me over to her house for a Thanksgiving dinner, a la porteña, at 9 pm. A little late by most accounts, but since it wasn’t a holiday here, we all had to work a full day anyway.

Traditionally Argentinian, I showed up a bit late and found that the table was filled for a feast, though there were only five of us; Tami, her sister, and two other friends joined me in an American holiday. This would be their first Thanksgiving, and I explained a bit of what we normally do, such as eat, talk, watch football, and pass out. This was more than I could have hoped for, and I am still in a bit of shock that someone could be so friendly and throw together a feast like that out of no where. I just met her last week, after all.

Everything you could want was there. Minus the turkey. That was all that was missing, and though it’s the main ingredient in a Thanksgiving feast, the most important thing is just having people to share it with. The girls had prepared potatoes, Spanish rice, eggs that no one even touched, and to make it truly Argentinian, milanesa de carne, which is like a breaded meat. Somehow they even found cranberries, and though it wasn’t in sauce form, it went perfectly with the milanesa. We wound up not even eating half of the food, there was so much.

In continuing with the Argentinianization of the holiday, the conversation went late into the night, passing beyond 12:30 am. I kept thinking at some point someone would say it’s time to go home, but eventually Tami saw me yawning continuously and told me this could go on for hours. So she called up a taxi and I said my goodbyes. I don’t know when, if ever, porteños sleep, but they’ve found a way to function without it. I, on the other hand, still love my minimum 7-8 hours a night.

So passed my Thanksgiving in Argentina, but I don’t think it was just for my benefit. It was their first Thanksgiving too, and if anything it helped to spread a little bit of understanding between two cultures. We aren’t so different, but there are always things that will be unknown until they are introduced into the marketplace of conversation and experience. That’s what I love the most about traveling—the sharing and mixing of cultures and traditions. It’s something you have to witness and take part in to really understand.

My high school 5 year reunion is tonight, and instead of catching up with old friends who I haven’t seen in years, I am on another continent on the other side of the world. But I’m thankful that I’ve been able to make some new friends here. I’ll take that and call it a day.

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