• Carolyn

Three sneak peeks - An Argentine in my Kitchen

Updated: Jul 22, 2019

Here's how the main characters, Catherine and Pedro, met:

It was autumn in Sydney, the sky a dome of blue, the leaves of the eucalypts motionless, the sun’s warmth radiating through the crisp air. We soaked up the warmth on our balcony as we gazed at the harbour. Spinnakers flashed by like rainbows against the blue water.

Pedro offered me a glass of Malbec. The wine was from Mendoza, a region in Argentina, and was designed to impress. He proposed a toast, and surprised me by reminding me that we’d been married for three years. ‘Those yacht races always remind me of how we met,’ he said, ‘at the dinghy sailing lessons in Rushcutters Bay.’

I nodded, smiling, remembering. I’d impulsively joined the sailing class as an antidote to the stress at work. I loved the motion of the waves, the cawing of the gulls, the sea air in my lungs, the wind in my hair.

During the third lesson, I sailed a dinghy on my own. The other four students watched from the beach. The instructor shadowed my moves from another dinghy. I had hardly set off across the waves when the wind direction changed unexpectedly. I forgot to loosen the sheet, the sail filled, and the dinghy capsized. I swallowed a mouthful of salt water before I surfaced, coughing and sputtering.

I held on to the hull of the boat, and took a few deep breaths to calm myself. The instructor appeared alongside to check I was okay, and I told him I’d swim to shore, whereupon he nodded and secured the boat.

Turning toward the beach, I now saw only three students by the water’s edge. The other one was swimming toward me – it was the cute Argentine guy with the Antonio Banderas accent. My heart skipped a beat.

. . . from Chapter 1 of An Argentine in my Kitchen.

And this is how Catherine found Buenos Aires, and Spanish, having visited - briefly - three times before:

. . . Buenos Aires was nothing like my memories of it. The city was a maze. Every major intersection looked identical, with its corner cafés and multi-storey buildings. We’d spent two days travelling on public transport, visiting relatives. Whenever I assumed we were nearly ‘home’ – in other words, at the in-laws – Pedro told me that we were many blocks away. We always stepped off at a different bus stop, or surfaced from the subway at a different exit. I simply couldn’t get my bearings.

And I could hardly understand what people were saying. Clara’s Spanish was clear when she talked to me directly, but when she spoke on the phone, it was indecipherable. All the Spanish-language films I’d watched, and the Argentine novellas I’d attempted more recently, lost their utility. I drifted into a daydream, wishing I could magically improve my Spanish. I didn’t want to slow down conversations, or risk being disregarded entirely, by constantly referring to a translation device or a dictionary.

It wasn’t only Clara. Last night at dinner, Pedro’s mother had turned to me and said, ‘Mi xxx xxx y xxx xxx fuimos xxxx xxxx xxx después xxx xxxxxx xxx xxxx casa xx xxxxx hijos xxxx Australia xxx xxx xxx pero xxx xxx veintiuno?’ I’d smiled, she’d smiled, and the conversation had sped on without me. Later, unraveling the sentence in my head, and guessing the meaning of some words, I figured out how I should have answered.

It was easier to listen rather than to speak, because the in-laws carried on conversations at the speed of a bullet train. Pedro and his mother tended to talk to each other simultaneously, with barely any pauses. This appeared to be effective and to save time. Whenever I asked for the meaning of an expression, Pedro’s stepfather stopped, looked at me kindly, and explained it to me in one-syllable words. After that he jumped back into the conversation.

During one dinner, I heard Pedro’s mother ask her husband, ‘Can you understand what Catherine is saying?’ His stepfather answered, ‘No, only a couple of words.’ Because they couldn’t understand me, they assumed I couldn’t understand them, and they talked about me as though I were absent.

Pedro tried to correct the situation, saying, ‘You do know that Catherine understood what you said, don’t you?’ But they saw nothing wrong with it, and I knew they didn’t mean to offend. It was an odd sort of loneliness, in a warm and welcoming house surrounded by well-meaning people.

. . . from Chapter 2 of An Argentine in my Kitchen.

And here is why the kitchen features in the story:

I hadn’t understood how important the kitchen was to Pedro. But I should have known. He had coped with our minuscule galley kitchen for over three years. Because he loved cooking so much, and because he cooked so often in order to de-stress, he’d rapidly become the executive chef in our household. I was the sous-chef, table setter, and of course, the voracious devourer of his meals.

Pedro spent more time in the kitchen than anyone I’d ever known. It was normal for him to make a mouth-watering dish such as pan-cooked chicken in orange and chardonnay, and then on an impulse, to turn the cooking liquid into a reduction with honey while I served the vegetables. Or he’d whip up a dessert such as caramelised figs cooked in butter with some sugar and a dash of cognac or brandy, served with a dollop of mascarpone and crushed pistachio nuts, while I cleared the main course.

I learned early on that it was no use trying to help with the cooking itself, because that hindered the creative process.

. . . from Chapter 2 of An Argentine in my Kitchen


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