Part of Camp Gemstone is the telling and sharing of stories. I want to be better at telling these stories, so I took a creative writing course that ended recently. Here’s a fun little story that is almost entirely true. I will let you guess which part isn’t quite true.
It has less to do with the CG “ethos” than some of the things I post, but I think sharing parts of the process counts. I hope you agree.
When do you get to say you speak a language?
I am often asked, when it seems like I am following the conversation better than my blue eyes and blondish hair suggest I should, “¿Hablas español?”
And I answer in Spanish, “Yes, I speak it, but I don’t have the fluency that I want.” My practiced response. They’re usually impressed.
“Oh, you speak very well.” But then, I need the word for garlic.
“Amigo,” I say to a teen restocking lettuce, “I need your help. I am looking for something, but I don’t know the Spanish word.” I go for it. ”Garlic?”
“Em, no, señor.”
“Right, of course. It’s something like…anejo?” He smiles at the word. What did I just say, I wonder.
“Is it a plant? A vegetable?” he asks. It’s his job not to be annoyed by the foreigner, I suppose.
“Yes, a type of plant. It’s small, it has a very strong smell,” I try, struggling.
“Mint?” Oh dear, way off track. I’m loosening up a little, regardless. I get the sense I am playing a fun little game here in the mercado. My new friend is smiling, too. Perhaps he is having a bit of fun with the silly foreigner.
“No, no, look, it’s…white. And hard. Sometimes it’s in…” I forget the word for sauce (salsa, duh). “…pasta.” I am too flustered to get the genders of the nouns and adjectives to match at this point. He helpfully points to some leeks. “No, uh, look.” I point to some mushrooms. “It looks kind of like that? But…hard” I pause a moment. The comparison to mushrooms hasn’t helped. Then, a flash of inspiration. “In stories, they say vampires hate it?”
This, my genius clue, makes the stock boy all the more confused. “¿Que dices…?”
“¡Ajo!” exclaims a woman behind us. I hadn’t realized we had attracted an audience. “You want ajo.” Garlic. I was pretty close with anejo, after all. Which means something like “attached,” by the way.
“Here.” She grabs a package of wrapped garlic from the rack just behind me. “Ajo.”
Now everyone is laughing. I just starred in a little show, The Clueless American. Rave reviews. Look for it off Broadway next year.
The stock boy, in his long green apron, isn’t laughing. He casually but firmly takes hold of my elbow. What cultural norm had I just violated? I’ve been in Montevideo for less than twenty four hours at this point. A moment passes while he waits for the crowd to disperse. I consider his intentions. I wouldn’t put up with this from an American employee, but I am still unsteady in this place. “What do you know about the vampires?” he asks me, voice low.
I laugh. He’s joking, and I pull my arm free. “Vampires? All I know is that there aren’t any in Uruguay.”
He tilts his head at me, returning my consideration. He grabs another package of garlic off the shelf, presses it into my hands. “Of course. A joke. Watch yourself, friend.” And he returns to casually stocking the shelves.