domingo, 24 de junio de 2012

Food, family and parties

A loyal reader asked me to speak now of the things I will miss. With the visa stamped on my passport, telling me how obvious and definite is our departure; I think I have no other choice but to listen to this reader’ claims. Be warned, of how complicated it is for me (and I think for anyone who is about to leave home) to speak of this topic. Some things can be defined easily, will some others can’t be explained with words –even less, with English words -. Plus, all this entry will be nothing more than a supposition. I’m still here, in Caracas; and I can only imagine how much I will miss home. The real nostalgia will only come when I put my feet in a foreign land. With this warning being made, I’ll start.

Food. I will miss our food. They say that food on every place is unique. Lately, I have had the amazing opportunity of traveling a lot to United States; and then I went to Mexico for my Honey Moon (is my second time there, I made a long trip to Mexico while I was still at college, to be part of a United Nations Model). As much as I love Mexican food and as much as I love Cheesecake Factory and Starbucks, is not the same.

For start, I feel that breakfasts anywhere I’ve been but Venezuela are just plain boring. I have shared this crazy theory with many Venezuelan friends and they agree. Starting with the “perico” (scrambled eggs with tomato and onion), the “arepas” with their million fillings to choose from, same with “empanadas”, the “criollo breakfast”, the “andino” breakfast and the “oriental” breakfast; then you have to add all the options available at the Venezuelan-portuguese panaderías (Bakeries): “cachitos”, “pastelitos” of cream cheese and turkey jam, of “paisa” (white) cheese, plus all the sweets.

Then, all the juices. Anywhere else I’ve been, when you say juice you think on cranberry, orange, perhaps strawberry and apple juice. Nothing else. Anywhere you go in Venezuela you can be mad if you are not offered at least four or five kinds of natural juice made straight from fresh fruit in that moment: papaya, watermelon, melon, orange, peach, mango, pineapple, passion fruit… and then crazy mixes like orange with papaya and carrot – one of my personal favorites.

To finish, for breakfast, there’s our hot chocolate (which is a lot stronger than anywhere else) or coffee – all kinds and combinations of coffee with milk (I can count at least six mayor kinds: "negro, cortado, guayoyo, marrón, con leche, tetero" - there are variations of those and none corresponds with any Starbucks, by the way). I'm aware I bored you with my long explanation of what we have for breakfast. But during my HoneyMoon, my husband and I stayed in a great hotel and all we could have for breakfast was, besides the yummy Mexican breakfast: scrambled eggs, omelette, pancakes, oatmeal and waffles. And orange juice. Watermelon juice? What’s that?

Perhaps I’m mistaken, but given my limited traveling experience, I tend to believe there is great value in the Venezuelan cuisine, and our food should be better known abroad. I will try to keep the Venezuelan taste in my kitchen anywhere I go. I’m traveling with a few Venezuelan’ cooking books and my family’ recipes; carefully handwritten by my mom. But I have two problems: first, I don’t know how to cook beside the basics and second, I won’t find some key ingredients of many dishes (specially, white cheese). As much as I try, I’m sure there are flavors I will be unable to make, to taste while I’m abroad.

Of course, nothing will be more missed than to share those dishes with my family and friends. I will miss not only them but the dynamics we share: the endless family meetings on Sundays, the barbeques (different here than anywhere else), the domino tables, the noise, the long conversations on which everyone speaks at the same time on the same topics over and over again. I will miss the coffee tables and lunch times with my girlfriends, the long conversations I share with them and the endless laughs. I will miss many things I can’t find the proper words to tell you. I will miss many birthdays, weddings, graduation, football games, paellas. Perhaps I won’t be here when someone we love dies. I will miss being here in the hard times as well.

Last, but not least, I will miss the parties. I don’t party much – for not saying nothing at all. We are known – my husband and I- as the “old ones” because we are not into going to clubs and discos. We feel we have to spend a lot of money there just to dance uncomfortable in a small space with strangers. What we know as “party” is basically weddings and graduations (more weddings, given our age). We usually have one or two of those a month, there’s always a cousin or a friend or daughter of any of our parents’ friends who’s getting married and sent us an invite. And on those occasions, I’m truly happy. The food, again, unique, the people look amazing (otherwise I confess I spend a great time criticizing a horrible dress) and the music, is marvelous. I usually get tired of a "reggeton" set that lasts more than 5 minutes, but the first two minutes are funny, sexy, enjoyable. - Thank God that hardcore reggeton trend is finally over- I’m a terrible, terrible, dancer but I love to make turns and turns while a “merengue” or a “salsa” tune is playing. I love to sing along some “bachatas” and “vallenatos”…

I won’t go to any party abroad even similar to the ones we have in Venezuela. Of course, I will go to many parties, and I will have loads of fun and I am going to meet great and interesting people and taste new dishes but it will never be like home. My best friend spend a few weeks in London and told me about a Salsa Club she and her boyfriend went to – “It was so weird”- She said – “Everyone was in awe looking at us dancing” – That night, in that club, they were probably the only couple who danced salsa actually feeling the music, in a genuine way. A lot of people take dance lessons, and learn a lot of complicated salsa steps I will never know, and they dance beautifully and have a lot of fun. But that same people, can watch my friend and his boyfriend dancing, and although they don’t know a lot of steps, they admit there is something different about them.

So this is it: What I will miss once I leave Venezuela for a few years? Food, family and friends; and parties. You might expected my answer to be deeper, to talk about certain “cultural” things about Venezuela, or perhaps you expected me to speak about special places, some tourist destinations. But those are secondary next of what I already mentioned. Venezuela is not only a place to me, obviously. It is a part of myself I do not always like, a part I do not accept entirely, but determines who I am. Determines the character I’ll carry with me wherever I’ll go, despite of what I leave behind.

viernes, 8 de junio de 2012

Two things I won't miss

I just came back from my Honey Moon – that, and my Wedding can count as the best moments of my life but of that, we’ll talk later. We ask my mother in law about a cousin we couldn’t see at the wedding. She tell us she was kidnapped with her husband two days before our wedding, to be released the same night. She was too upset to get out, thus she couldn’t made it. The phone rings, and the person at the other side tell us about another cousin who was robbed inside his own house the night before. The robbers entered the house pretending they were delivering a gift. Next, they tie up everyone and took everything they could: TV’s, computers and the family’ car. 

A couple of days later after hearing such stories, I met my girlfriends for lunch. They haven’t see me since the wedding and the table is filled with funny anecdotes about one of the girls who got drunk, how cute my dress was and every single detail I could tell them about my Honeymoon. When we laugh remembering the part when we were singing Shakira' old hits, one girl – lets call her Adela – interrupts – “Well, I was gone by then” – “That’s right!” – Another friend adds – “I wonder why you left the party so early…” – “Well, you know my mom” – Adela explains – “Just a day before, a man was shoot to death right under my mother’ eyes. So she’s more paranoid than ever” – We all nodded in sign of approval. I tell them that as selfish as it might sound, I don’t want to keep talking about it, I want to keep the happy atmosphere we had before.

Cristina, another friend, agrees-  “There are two conversation topics I can’t stand: insecurity and emigration” – She says. I clear my throat “Well Cristina… I’m sorry” – “Yeah, yeah… I know” – She answers, resigned. My husband got into grad school and I’m going abroad with him. For at least two years we won’t be in Venezuela. It is not a permanent thing, but is relevant enough. Many things can change in two years, things here change so fast, for better and for worse. And after two years living somewhere else, somewhere entirely different, I know that we will return as two completely different individuals than what we are now. You can say that people never change, even less adults. But I have already said good bye to enough friends to know that once they put their feet and their routines in a foreign land, even if they don’t want to, they change. Same will happen to us now.

After lunch, we return to my old office – Side note: once my husband was admitted, I quit my job: every day now is filled with calls and paperwork related to our departure, we have to focus on that now. The accountant asks one of us to go with her to the supermarket. By some miracle, today there is milk available. She wants to buy some for her but also some for her daughter in law. Every person is only allowed to buy one or two packages of milk. Cristina goes with her. I save all the wedding photos my friends brought me in my hard-drive and say good bye.

Lately, as understandable, I have had all kinds of opposite emotions at the same time. I’m happy and excited for the fabulous moments I have lived lately, and for those I’m about to live. At the same time, comes all the nostalgia for leaving my home, and parents. I lived with them for 27 years, it is not easy to leave them behind. And it is a little bit harder when this includes, also, to move to a place so far away, available only through a couple of planes. I’m trilled about this moving and proud of my husband’ achievements. But this includes to start from scratch in a new land.

When I look at my country, I don’t know where to look. What to take and what to keep. People talk a lot about politics and economics and all those big and complicated things people like to talk to think about themselves as smart people. They talk about Venezuela’ situation, Venezuela’ crisis. They make rough analysis about Capriles’ chances to win or Chavez unknown’ disease. But as you have seen, in our daily life, the Venezuelan “crisis” can roughly be only about two major issues: insecurity and shortages.

Those are two things my country including everyone around me is suffering. Two things not even my wedding could overpass. Two things that worry me daily. Out of the million things I will miss – perhaps I’ll talk about it next – those are two things I surely won’t.