Thursday, April 5, 2007

Black Hats and Coca Leaves

Jabad Soho had a passover seder and I sang Dayenu with the cutest Argentine boy I've met so far. Tomer is 5 and he reads Spanish at about the same pace as I do. His mother is Argentine and his father is Israeli and "Where is the adult version of him?" I asked his mom. She said the BsAs jewish community is hard to penetrate and recommended I go to the Macabi club. That sounds suspiciously like LA's JCC and I explained that the Macabi club may not be overflowing with the kind of folks I'd like to meet.


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On Monday, I got a taste of the orthodox scene here in Buenos Aires - not my favorite flavor of yiddle, but at least there was spanish involved. I had a really good time listening to the rabbi in spanish as I mediated between Tomer's Israeli father and a young kosher at the table who was trying to lead us but couldn't really communicate with the family. The father gave me his spiel about how the orthodox in Israel don't support the country but they're glad to live there and benefit. The kosher went on about how Israel shouldn't exist until the Messiah comes. I tried to get them to talk to each other since the topics were so tired for me. The family couldn't understand kosher's yiddish accent in English and he couldn't speak Spanish. My friend Madi and I thought he was really strange - even for a black hat. I guessed closet and she was a bit horrified at the thought of a frum homosexual - with all the challenges implied. She wasn't aware that sexually repressed religious peeps support a whole industry of trannie pornography. Now she is. But when Dovid (that's how he said it so that's how I'm writing it) mentioned he's 17 years old, we understood why he's so awkward.
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Dovid is a lonely teenager who studies torah from 7am to 9pm daily in a foreign country. He misses his eight syblings back in Detroit. He likes his lifestyle because he's never bored, he knows when he has to wake up in the morning and what to do all day - it gives him structure. I figure the most common alternative at his age in the US is video games and weed so who am I to question the military appeal of studying talmud? Tamer's mother called the koshers "insects." I disagree. There are plenty of ignorant people out there in the world - at least these ones aren't destroying the planet at the rate we consumers are. And I have a lot of trouble waking up at a decent hour myself - go Moshiach.

Madi got antsy about three and a half hours in. I'd told her it was a five hour thing minimum. She hadn't believed me and now she'd started texting her Argentine boyfriend under the table to see what the plan was for later. It was 11pm and we weren't even on gefilte fish. Her boyfriend Ernesto is a Peruvian chef and was cooking at a dinner party for friends. We were invited and I had to decide whether to be polite and eschew guilt and stay alone or to leave with Madi who was leaving anyway. I let the food decide for me - Peruvian dinner party or kosher mushpile? I convinced her to stay until the sermons were over when the food was served. The gefilte fish didn't come with horseradish which made it totally pointless - but this country is not big on spice, so no surprise. When they started bringing out flavorless looking brisket, Madi told the waiter not to include us in the count for the main course. Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
The rabbi came over and spent a few English paragraphs chastising us for leaving. He loves speaking English so it was win situation - I was glad I wasn't sneaking out. He told Young Black Hat he needed to get me through three pages of prayer and two glasses of wine. When the rabbi saw my pour he made me fill the glass and pound it. Madi was amused. I like the fake-spanish Hassid rabbi. Earlier, he spent like fifteen minutes on the mitzvah of eating matzah - in spanish. He reminded me of my mother and I liked it. Their first language is always Yiddish - the rest is just a vehicle to prosletize to other jews. In their hearts, these dudes are still in their peasant villages in Eastern Europe. Young Hat told me he can't even read or write decently in English, that's why learning Spanish from books isn't happening for him - he doesn't know English grammar. But he remembered plenty of 16th century rabbinical stories to interject throughout our strange seder at our multi-cult table. I was the only one listening - I thought it was dope to learn that the tribe of Levy (forefathers of the man who brought denim to the masses) was converted to Judaism - or whatever he was talking about in his mumbling, yiddish-inflected monotone. Young Hat was not going to lead me through anything - I actually pulled out some old orthodox hebrew school training and raced through the after dinner prayer my own self. I said goodbye to the cutest Porteno I'd flirted with yet, Tomer, and we got in a cab.
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Out on the street we ran into our friend Shannon, another girl from the Barracas house. That was something extra - she happened to be walking by so she came with us to meet the dinner party. We called Jeanie, their other friend and planned to meet up at a nearby bar after. It was midnight - dinner time in BsAs.

Are coca leaves kosher for passover? We got to the party to learn we'd just missed the whole dinner but we were in time for dessert. Our host, Pedro, had made a recent trip to his native Peru and brought back a $5 bag of hojas de coca - a big bag. Pedro is not the most Peruvian-looking guy. From the looks of his apartment and from a tantrum he'd thrown last week at sushi, my guess was french. Si! Ernesto said, his family is french, originally. The apartment was all velvet and gold lame, oriental rugs and nothing cozy - his grandparents' apartment a la Versailles. There were about ten people there in deep philosophical discussion munching on coca leaves. A guy came over with the bag and instructed Shannon and I how to enjoy the hojas. I felt like the pitcher at a baseball game - cheek full of chew, bitter taste, wanting to spit. I'd taken six or seven small, dry leaves and put them between my right molars. Then I had to take a bite out of a green hard ball of powdered yuck. At first the effect was suspiciously medicinal - like a dental visit. Five or ten minutes later I was enjoying a calm kind of lift. I was quiet and comfortable - if you know me, you know the quiet part really meant there was some kind of drug influence going on. I just sat there with my chew and a smile - it was a good passover.


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Shannon, Madi, Ernesto and I said bye and thanks and walked to an irish pub to meet up with Jeanie and two porteno boys. Jeanie and Madi went to school at the University of Virginia and apparently there were a lot of Argentinian exchange students there. My dad went there so it's a funny coincidence to meet all these Argentines who went to my dad's southern university. One of the guys with Jeanie went there - they were having a sort of reunion. The guy with him was good-looking and about to celebrate his 23rd birthday. Ernesto and his friends are my age but a bit too fond of the hojas de coca and its cousin that they sell in small bags. Jeanie and Madi are fresh out of college. Where is the adult Tomer? We ordered a round - I opted for a 1/2 pint of Guiness. After drinking my baby Guiness I said goodnight to the youth and Ernesto and hopped in a $2 cab home. I'd survived black hats and a Peruvian adventure and I decided I should leave the party early - I used my ever present head cold as an excuse. It was 3:30am.


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Marcela has this great apartment I get to share with her, Lobo and Lichi in Palermo Soho.