This week started with some difficulty as I realized that I am already halfway done with my homestay in Mendoza and I have a looooong way to go before I can have a normal conversation in Spanish.
On Monday morning, my grammar class teacher handed me my new book for the week, and I opened it to find all sorts of gibberish that I didn’t understand. Apparently I had jumped ahead to a more advanced class (I think there was some sort of mix-up), and all of a sudden I was expected to know different tenses and verbs that I’d never heard of before. My mind was flooded with what to me seemed like meaningless words – except everyone else in my class understood what was going on.
It felt like I was a third grader who barely knows multiplication tables in a high school calculus class.
To make up for me being put in a class way above my level, my school gave me a private lesson to try to catch me up with the rest of the class. I was partly glad that I got to jump ahead from where I should be, but at the same time it was discouraging to realize that I am so far away from being a conversationalist Spanish speaker.
My weekday afternoons were spent napping (The afternoon siesta is a way of life for many Mendocinos. Plus, eating a huge dinner every night at 11pm makes getting up early for school really tough!) and studying the grammar lessons that I missed in my random grade skip.
It was a tiring week, mentally and bodily. But the weekend was not the time to give my brain a rest.
On Saturday afternoon, I joined Nora and some friends in the Mendocino countryside at a traditional Argentinian asado to eat some asado. (Asado is basically used the same way we use the word BBQ in the States. We go to an asado, and we eat asado at the asado.)
It was a fantastically hot day and the property we visited had a pool and was enclosed by olive fields. I soaked up the sun from the comfort of an air mattress in the pool, then lounged next to the refreshing water until the sun disappeared behind the cloudy horizon.
An evening of mate drinking and snacking on sweet breads brought a torrent of casual conversation that I couldn’t easily follow, so I contented myself with concentrating really hard to determine what was being said. The group was really nice and would include me in the conversation as much as they could, but I’m sure it must be frustrating to have to talk to a grown adult like she’s a child. It was fun to be able to participate in the simple conversation, even though it didn’t get more complicated than what foods I like, what San Francisco is like, and where I plan to go after Argentina.
As the sun went down, some logs were lit in the parilla. Once the fire was going strong, the logs were removed and a grill was placed over the smoldering coals. On the grill were placed thick slabs of carne, which slowly began to roast from the heat of the coals.
While the meat was grilling, we prepared the side dishes, a variety of salads made with tomatoes grown on the nearby fields, and sipped on liters of Los Andes beer, a Mendocino favorite. The designated asador kept an eye on the meat. There was no rushing it; the thick slabs slowly grilled for hours until the asador decided they were ready for eating.
Finally, we all sat down at a long table and the asador circled around, doling out meat to eat hungry guest. I devoured my full plate of meat, and another, and another. It was so perfectly tender, juicy, and flavorful, I couldn’t stop feasting.
Argentinians really know what they are doing when it comes to grilling meat.
That night, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. My brain was exhausted from concentrating so hard to keep track of the details of the conversation throughout the night. (My massive consumption of meat probably added to the sleepiness.)
But it was a satisfying and gratifying tiredness, like the feeling I get after finishing a tough workout. I am slowly training my brain to understand this new language. And someday soon, I hope, I will!