Someone invites you to a summertime lunch. But not just you, several families. They’ve all known each other for years–people do that here: it’s a big city, but no one is going anyplace, most of the time. Families stay put, and the person you went to high school with is probably still living in his old neighborhood. They know each other, but they make you known, too–if you’re invited, you’re treated as someone who will surely become a friend.
Everyone arrives. The kids tumble out of the car and fling themselves into play; the adults greet each person with a kiss on one cheek. If you don’t know each other you say your name as you’re kissing them. Then, everyone introduced, you sit down with a bit of beer or Coke, and someone starts lighting a fire on the grill (which is a huge brick structure, not a Coleman from Walmart). Maybe they’re making something elaborate, in which case lean back and eat a few peanuts or chips–or maybe something simple, like hamburgers and chorizo with bread (here called choripan). You talk, catch up, the hamburgers cook. Finally, everyone gathers around the table and digs in–passing ketchup or drinks as needed.
After lunch, the table is cleared, but no one leaves but the kids. You lean back and talk some more: politics, maybe, or work, or school–the conversation flows in that desultory way it does when everyone has all the time in the world, and is willing to go past the surface of things. Maybe a few people get in the pool–it’s hot now, the sun right overhead–but still people talk, the groups coming and going in twos or threes, or sometimes everyone all at once.
It’s time for dessert. Maybe someone went to a panadería and got something flaky filled with dulce de leche–or someone made cake. Everyone helps themselves to a slice, or two, and then someone prepares a mate. It’s a gourd hollowed out and dried to feel like wood. The person in charge of the mate, the cebador, places the metal straw, a bombilla, inside, fills it up nearly to the brim with the grass-smelling yerba and adds hot water. She takes the first mate-full of hot water–usually that one is the most bitter–and then refills it with hot water. She hands it to you.
Image courtesy Beatrice Murch
You drink. The bombilla has a filter on one end that keeps out the bits of yerba–but the tea is strong. When you drink it, the taste of it goes right to the base of your neck. Drain the cup, and hand it back–each person in turn takes it and drinks, the cebadero filling it back each time. After a few rounds, you’ll feel your muscles tighten with the caffeine.
Now maybe there’s coffee, and more friends arriving, or maybe another dessert. The sun starts dropping over the trees. You have a chance to talk to everyone, really–no one is going anywhere. No one talks about needing to be anyplace or what time they need to be home. You just sit, and are present, one with another, for the day. To talk of deadlines or appointments would somehow break the spell.
Finally, the children start complaining of hunger. Sometimes, a dinner is prepared (if so, you will be there until the wee hours of the morning), or maybe the party is over. Almost without anyone announcing it, people start gathering their things, getting the children to take off their swimsuits. Everyone works to clear the table, do dishes, put the toys back where they belong.
And then kisses and hugs all around–everyone walking out the door to say goodbye. It’s dark. The moon is half-full overhead. And you know that the day was about as full togetherness as is possible this side of heaven.