Taking a brief respite from Latin American life and heading back to the states for a spell, I’ve begun to think about little things that I will miss the most. Although it’s tough to narrow it down, four things I know I will feel slightly bereft without is the ubiquitous buen provecho, Spanish terms of endearment, eating/making patacones and perhaps the most obvious, speaking Spanish on the daily.
Buen provecho is a term centered around food. Everyone says it in every country I have been in Central America before you start to eat. It is as common as rice and beans. There is no translation for it in English. More or less it means something to the effect of may this meal be of health benefits to you. In the United States, there is the perfunctory, “enjoy your meal,” that a server says as they place your ordered entrée in front of you. Buen provecho means so much more than this and it is said everywhere, not just at restaurants. People say buen provecho when they are simply walking by you and you are eating something. It doesn’t matter if you are the oldest of friends or if you’ve never seen the issuer of said phrase in your life before the moment you’re about to put a forkful of food into your open mouth. I have been sitting on a park bench eating ice cream when someone walked by and said this. In the hostel I most recently lived at, always when a native Latin American walked by the table they would say it. I just love it. The phrase lingers in the air with good energy like a wonderful young man doting on his first true love.
The use of terms of endearment are much more commonplace in Spanish, so many people use them and again, it doesn’t matter who you are. Cab drivers, bartenders, store owners, my host family in Costa Rica, strangers, anyone. The most common I’ve heard are “mi amor” and “corazón.” These little nuances in Spanish are very touching for me. It breaks an invisible barrier, it immediately makes me feel a bit more comfortable with whomever I’m speaking to. Three nights before I left, when I was in Panama City dining out, my very handsome server walked up to me and said, “Dime, mi amor.” “Dime” means, “tell me,” and in Spanish this is a very common phrase but again, the way they use it in Spanish we wouldn’t use it this way in English. Even though I knew the server wasn’t flirting with me, I couldn’t help but smile coquettishly as I ordered a scrumptious meal of pulled pork on corn tortillas.
Patacones. I taught myself how to make these and then honed in on the skill with a Panamanian who was staying at the hostel in Boquete one evening. They are fried plantains, not bananas. Savory and salted, they are unlike anything I’ve ever eaten before. What I love most though, is their omnipresence- they grow everywhere, in everyone’s yards. Someone always had extras to give away. They are easy to make and fun too. You slice them so they are about an inch in width, fry them, remove them and bang them with a mallet to flatten them and then re-fry them. And they are versatile too. Sometimes I ate them plain (well, who am I kidding, they were doused in salt), other times I dipped them in black beans and then other times, for that salty sweet combo, I’d dip them in homemade mermelada de tomate de arbol. There were times when I went overboard with patacones and ate them too many days in a row thus feeling that sluggish, lack of energy one feels when they eat too much fried food. As delectable as they are, I’m sure a hiatus from them for a few months will only do my digestive system good.
The most obvious thing I will miss is speaking Spanish daily. I fear a regression in my efforts to advance in this lovely, intricate language. Simply put, it’s just a more poetic sounding language than English. I had this realization when I was trying to describe a house to my friend, Reyna. I was telling her that the way the furniture was set up in the house, there was no flow. It was as if the owner of the house sneezed and out came willy-nilly tables, chairs and couches with no forethought of how to make the room come together. She told me in Spanish you could say, “todo esta mal puesto.” Everything is ill placed. We then had a discussion on how much more poetic sounding Spanish is than English. I would never describe a room by saying that sentence but that would be the norm in Spanish. And isn’t it just so nice to hear? Everything is ill placed. I think of Spanish as taking room temperature butter and spreading it evenly on a slice of freshly baked bread. I think of English as taking refrigerated butter and massacring chunks of it on freshly baked bread in an effort to evenly spread it. I’m not dissing English, hell I love teaching it and I’m a nerd for grammar. I just think Spanish sounds nicer, more poetic, more exotic, but the obvious reason could be because it’s not my first language. Also, if you’ve ever read any Pablo Neruda then perhaps you feel me on this one.
There is so much more to miss while I’m back in Rochester, this tiny list is just a smattering. However, mi amor, change is good and it sure is nice to be home, despite the chunks of refrigerated butter.
Below are some photos from my stay in Casco Viejo in Panama City. Check out this neighborhood if you are ever in Panama City. It’s wonderful!