Last Friday night we finally took advantage of an offer made to us more than three weeks earlier. As Julia mentioned at the end of her Passover post, an Argentine family invited us to their home two Friday's ago to join then for dinner, an opportunity we had to postpone til a few days ago due to Ted's return to Casa Cochabamba, the final stop on his farewell tour of our fair country. Thankfully, no surprise (yet much loved) guests impeded us from attending an authentic porteño Shabbat dinner this time.
That's not the colectivos did not attempt to sabotage our evening from the very beginning. We waited nearly thirty minutes for our bus arrive, the only silver lining being that it gave us enough time to slip into the nearby kiosco and grab a bottle of wine for dinner. The bus let us off just a few blocks from the synagogue, but by the time we walked into the sanctuary the service was well underway and our surrogate family was nowhere to be seen. We knew there was an upper-level of seating, so we did not panic and figured we would catch up with them after the service if they did not come in after us. Luckily, about two-thirds of the way through the service I caught someone waving at me out of the corner of my eye, and sure enough it was Sylvia, the mother of the family. She way by herself, which made me wonder whether or not we were supposed to go to services in the first place or just meet up with them afterward, but soon after I saw her retreat back to a seat by her husband, Fabian, so I knew we were in the right place at the right time -it turns out they just arrived even later than us. From then on, I could relax and pay attention to the service.
A little about the service itself. As other blog posts have described, we've only frequented one of the synagogues in Belgrano each time we've celebrated Shabbat, and we've had little to complain about - beautiful synagogue, beautiful service, just all around good. This service was not quite as good, even though it was more conventional in that there was more reading directly from the prayerbook, not just impossible to follow freestyling by the Rabbi. The head Rabbi, a genial man who we later learned also teaches a course at a Rabinnical School in New York, was accompanied by two women on the stage, or bima, and I was unsure of their official titles. They could have been any combination of assistant-Rabbi, Cantor, or vocal accompaniment. Both had beautiful voices, but one of them seemed better suited for Mariah Carey Night on American Idol. In addition, musical accompaniment included a piano, a flute, and a saxophone, so it sounded like a bad Kenny G concert (is there any other kind of Kenny G concert?) when they employed the latter. However, the real problem lay in the sound system that belonged at Quilmes Rock, not a synagogue. The sound was so incredibly loud and extremely close, and the Rabbi and vocal accompaniment, especially Mrs. Nick Cannon, sang even louder into their micorphones, when a more reserved performance may have mitigated the effects of speakers turned up too high. Our ears continued to ring well after we left - both of us noted that even as we were going to sleep, we could hear high-pitched reverberations of the Aleinu that were anything but soothing.
Fabian, Sylvia, and Julian, their spark-plug, motormouth of a thirteen-year-old son who had been sitting upstairs, were waiting for us in the foyer as we exited the sanctuary. Actually, Julia and I only remembered Julian's name for two reasons: first of all, we weren't sure we ever got the father's name, and simply forgot to look at the mother's business card before departure; and secondly, Julian is to thank for our invitation in the first place. He spent the majority of Passover dinner standing next to Julia practicing his well developed English, clearly enamored. Soon after he went back to his table, his father approached and informed us that Julian indicated they must invite us to Shabbat dinner, yada yada yada, we got into the back of their car and began to drive to a restaurant. They apologized for having not prepared a meal at home, but due to the national holiday that day, they could not purchase all the necessary ingredients for a proper Shabbat dinner. We settled on a Lebanese restaurant, which more than satisfied our occasional hunger for non-Argentine food. As they promised the food was delicious, especially the humus and tabbouleh we shared to start. And for having never met these people before, we had a really strong rapport and enjoyed a constant flow of conversation that bounced between English and Spanish. In fact, for the first time in a very long time, I talked about September 11 - not how I felt about the attack or their long term ramifications in the international realm, but where I physically was when I learned what happened. It was very interesting to hear their memories of shock, horror, outrage, and empathy recounted with such detail, except for Julian who was four-years-old when it took place but knows he was watching Sponge Bob Square Pants. We also learned that Fabian's parents owned a shop a short distance from the AMIA building in Buenos Aires that was also the victim of a terrorist attack by Islamic extremists in 1994. He said their windows were blown out by the blast, but that they were unharmed, an incredible feat given that the explosion killed upwards of 90 people and injured hundreds more.
Not all the conversation was so somber. Julian told us that he has a girlfriend and that they've been "going out" for five or six weeks now, Fabian and Sylvia told us of their near move to Washington, DC and how much they both love it (which scores major points in our book), and Julian shared various applications on his father's iPhone and the fact that Fabian was the first person in Belgrano to own one. They even came to his house and took a picture for the local paper. Unfortunately, after a few minutes of searching, I've given up on finding that picture on the internet. One of these applications may very well change they way I interact with the world around me: Truco for the iPhone. I love playing this card game with anyone who will challenge me (Santiago owes me two massages for the ass-whooping I laid on him), and now that I'm in possession of a hand-held version, I may abandon all non-necessary human contact and get completely sucked back into my iPhone. The best part? One game takes seven minutes, at the most, whereas a person-to-person game lasts up to thirty. You can't beat that kind of instant gratification, baby, I am a product of my society.
As if they could not have been any more generous, they drove us home after dinner. We offered our fine (fifteen pesos, we were not messing around) bottle of wine as a token of our appreciation, but they reminded us the next time we have dinner with them it will be at their home, so save it for that occasion. Granted, we've since drank the wine. But with the promise of another wonderful evening with our new favorite family in Buenos Aires, this time a home-cooked meal, we're ready and willing to buy another - not to mention sit through another deafening Shabbat service, as well.