A perfect little Colombian outing, I took a break from writing to meander down into town for some lunch, no plan, just looking for something simple to take care of my late afternoon hunger. I stop at a restaurant on the side of a dirt road that was offering, of course, a menu casero o menu del dia. This is so typical in Colombia and many countries in South America…you can order from the menu or you can just have “The menu”, which is a basic fixed price meal that often includes a sugary drink, a first course of soup (or perhaps ceviche if you’re in Peru), and a main course of your choice of meat, chicken, or fish accompanied by a side of rice, papas fritas, and maybe a few forkfuls of salad: iceberg lettuce, a tomato slice, maybe onion or carrots. A simple tradition and full stomach for about $4-5.
So I’m sitting there at a wooden table in front, shoeing some flies away, sweating in the intense sun. Not far away there’s a local man with his t-shirt rolled up and resting on his belly like a shelf, airing out in the sweltering heat, as is so common and yet so unattractive. It’s not quite evening, but he’s already sipping on aguardiente, the cheapest way to get drunk here. It is tastes like anis, is so potent that it almost seems to vaporize in your mouth before you swallow and is often shared around in tiny plastic shot glasses that resemble the cups used for cough syrup.
A rather large woman sits at a table nearby using her teeth to tear chicken from a bone that she’s picked out of her soup. She comments to my friend after trying 3 or 4 times to get his attention…
“I see your flip flops are broken. I can fix that for you with some glue for about 25 cents.”
Options are discussed for a while and he considers giving it a shot before buying a new pair. Now the guy on a stool next door decides to chime in and grabs her attention,
“Gordita!” (translating to something like little fat one or fatty)
It is to me a beautiful and funny little quirk in the culture in South America. First you have the “ito” or “ita” ending on a word, which takes an adjective and makes it little…so in this case gorda for fat turns into gordita, little fatty. You’ll often find that people are called by their most noticeable characteristic as a nickname…in any group of friends there almost always seems to be a gordo, a flaca (skinny), a negro or gringa if there is someone with particularly dark skin or light skin in the group. People call me Rubia, or blondy without thinking twice. She responds without flinching, not at all bothered by the endearing term Gordita. So they discuss the business of the flip flops and we keep eating.
Then a barefoot, shirtless guy walks up the street in a pair of torn basketball shorts carrying two fistfuls of freshly caught fish by their tails. What I really wanted was a picture, but what we got were 2 fish, dinner plans complete just like that. The second we start considering whether to make the purchase Gordita chimes in, letting us know they are indeed good fish, “muy rico”. We say we’ll buy two if he’ll clean them for us and Gordita tells him it will be best to go back to the beach to do that. So we watch his money and the other fish and off he goes. I can tell that Gordita will be involved in any and all affairs that happen in the restaurant while she is there. Not because she has any duty or even a power trip, just because she likes to chime in as many people seem to down here in this very social culture.
We spend some time trying to decide if we can construct our own grill, so that we can cook our new fish over fire instead of in the little frying pan that came with the furnished little villa, (villita? I don’t know if the -ita always works). I think that we can buy some hangers or something of the sort and create our own little parilla using some stones to balance it on.
It’s Friday and the volume of music booming from places is just a little bit louder already. We see a little shop that has some plastic tables and chairs out front where it’s common to grab a casual beer with friends. There’s a table of 4 local guys with significantly more beers on it and we grab a spot next to them for an early happy hour. As my friend buys us drinks, the guys nod approvingly at our fish. I tell them we want to construct a grill, knowing this will turn into a group discussion about the merits of cooking over fire and suggestions of how best to go about this. They don’t disappoint me and even start to extend invitations to themselves to join our bbq.
I tell them to bring some more fish and a grill and they are more than welcome. They burst out laughing, loving this exchange with the Rubia, and one of them decides to act on this. He takes off down the street over to his house about a block and a half away and reappears with a tiny grill. This will do just fine until we can build our own.
We ask if we can buy it and he tells us, “No, no, just take it for now. I live next to the yellow house, give it to me later.”
“Great, we’ll give it to you tomorrow.”
“No, no, tranquilo.” Who cares, take your time.
Day two in this new town I’ll be living in on the Caribbean coast and I’m borrowing a grill from our new friend Ronnie. A stop at a couple of ferreterías (hardware stores) in town lands us some broken bricks and a piece of scrap metal for the bottom of our makeshift grill and we’re good to go with these donations.
I didn’t think I could enjoy the sea view terrace of my new digs anymore, but I think I will tonight.