Saturday, October 11, 2008

Deutschland, Argentina

A friend of a friend´s friend lives in Buenos Aires. The orginal friend in this line-up is actually two friends--Nick & Brenna--a couple we met in our TEFL course. They are from Kalamazoo, Michigan, and they are the kind of people that you spend 12 hours with and wonder where the time went. But that is another story, to be expanded on at a later time. Going back to the connection with the Argentine part of the line-up. Nick´s good friend´s mother went to high school with an Argentine woman. The two women met when they were 16, roughly 40 years ago, but have kept in touch via emails, letters, and interspersed telephone calls. When Nick and Brenna arrived in Buenos Aires, they emailed the Argentine counterpart of this friendship, who then invited them over for a barbeque.

The barbeque turned out to be a gathering of German Argentines, as the woman is married to a German man. The day was spoken in a mixture of English, Spanish, and German, and through this tri-lingual web, Nick and Brenna found out about an upcoming Buenos Aires Oktoberfest. 70 pesos for all you can drink and all you can eat. When beer is 10 pesos a pop even without the accompanying German music and festive atmosphere, we were sold before they even mentioned the all you can eat part. That was just a huge added bonus.

A week later the four of us, and two other friends from our course, were seated on a commuter train headed to Vicente Lopez, a suburb just north of the city where the famed fest was taking place. From the train station we found our way to the German Cultural Center, not hard to miss with the attendees going to and from the building in laderhosen and felt, feathered caps. We walked into the Community Center and sized up the situation: we were definitely the youngest attendees, by about 30 years. But the Isenbeck was flowing from the taps, the laderhosen-clad band was in full swing, and goulash was being served aplenty by blond waitresses in traditional German dresses. There was no way we were leaving.

The six of us sat down at our assigned table and began on our first pitcher of Isenbeck. Soon two others joined us, an older couple we took to be German as they sang along to every Deutsch balad. Nick sparked up a conversation with them, from which he learned that they were in fact Belgian and had ended up in Buenos Aires together due to a round-about and unpredictable series of events. The husband laughed at Nick´s English, teasing him for sounding so American. Nick asked the man how he had learned English, and the man explained that he had fought with the Allies during World War II and learned American English, but when he moved to London after the War, he was mercilessly made fun of and quickly adopted a British accent. After working in London for a while, the textile industry moved him to Brazil, and later to Buenos Aires, where he met the woman who would become his wife. He and the woman discovered they were from the same town in Belgium, but had never known one another. The woman had moved to Buenos Aires with her first husband, who had passed away, but with whom she had had eight children. The couple has now been together for a quarter of a century, and together they sang these German tunes, enjoyed their beer and sausage, and paused in conversation from time to time to enjoy a dance together. It was beautiful to see how the husband looked at his wife still after so many years together--how he helped her put on her jacket, took her arm as they walked to the dance floor, and translated everything we said into French so that she could understand the table conversation. They were certainly people to take notes from.

The night saw many more pitchers consumed, sausages and sauerkraut devoured, and German chocolate pastries inhaled. We were all so full from beer and heavy German cuisine that by 1:00 am, although the fest was still in full swing, we could hardly keep our eyes open. We got up to go, and as I stopped in the ladies´ room en route to the exit, I slipped and fell, sliding hands-first into the bathroom. Although I tried to laugh it off, nobody else in the bathroom laughed, and instead looked at me in pity. I am not at all sure I can return to the German Cultural Center anytime soon. But despite the parting mortification, it was a night to never forget.

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