El Mate de la Bienvenida — The Welcome Mate & Obama Drinks It
“Un mate es como un punto y aparte. Uno lo toma y después se puede empezar un nuevo párrafo.”
Julio Cortázar — Rayuela
“A mate is like a paragraph break. One drinks it and after you can begin a new paragraph.”
Julio Cortázar, Hopscotch
Today Monday and extraordinary event happened. I picked up my 19 year-old granddaughter downtown and brought her home for lunch. We had a vegetarian Mexican rice and barbecued Poblano chillies on the barbecue. We had freshly made Concord grape juice and for dessert we had Manila mangoes.
After our pleasant lunch on our sunny deck Rosemary asked, “Are you going to offer Rebecca some of your coffee?” At this point Rebecca looked at me and said, “Why don’t we have mate?”
My heart burst on fire and with it I scampered to the kitchen to put the kettle (the water must be hot, close to boiling but should never boil). I brought out the sugar as Rebecca likes her mate slightly sweet.
There is one undeniable fact that I can state here. Rebecca is the only person in Vancouver I can share a mate. A mate unshared is an aberration. A mate is a social endeavour.
Of this Argentine novelist, essayist and short story writer Julio Cortázar (August 26, 1914 — February 12, 1984) wrote in his most famous novel Rayuela (Hopscotch, 1963):
“Tomar mate es más que beber un líquido a través de una bombilla, es una sensación, un sentimiento, una tradición, una compañía.”
To drink mate is more than to sip it through a silver metal straw, it is a sensation, a feeling, a tradition, company.”
While some would understand that the mate, the gourd and its bombilla or metal straw is good company I would argue that Cortázar meant that the pleasure of mate was the pleasure of human company to share it with.
As I watched Rebecca sip on her mate (I had previously poured warm water in the gourd,the mate,in the kitchen and spat out the very bitter contents. This is the ritual or a good host simply sips that first terrible one) I thought of something I had never thought before.
In 1950 before Cortázar emigrated to France he used to come and visit my father in our home on Melián Street in Coghlan, a Buenos Aires barrio. I never did ask my father (I was 8) and I forgot to ask him in my early 20s before he died why he and Cortázar were friends. But the fact is that Cortázar came often and I was usually dispatched to the corner store to buy Arizona cigarettes which Cortázar chained smoked. The two drank Nescafe or they sipped mate.
It is today that it dawned on me that Cortázar sipped mate from my father’s mate gourd (el mate)! This was and is the very utensil that Rebecca and I shared today. For anybody not Argentine I would find it hard for them to understand what a bolt of lightning that was to me.
Furthermore in my searches I found that President Obama likes mate. There is this marvellous video.
A translation of what he said about this experience which I found here is:
En su discurso en la Casa Rosada, previo a la conferencia de prensa que brindó junto a Mauricio Macri, Barack Obama destacó sus lecturas de Jorge Luis Borges y Julio Cortázar, dos escritores fundamentales en la literatura argentina. “Siempre he sido un aficionado de la cultura argentina, cuando estaba en la universidad leí mucha literatura argentina. Me enorgullece decirles que probé mate por primera vez en mi vida, cuando estaba en la universidad leía a (Jorge Luis) Borges y (Julio) Cortázar y hablaban de mate y me dije, tengo que llegar a Buenos Aires y probar el mate. Me gustó bastante. Yo creo que me llevaré un poco a Estados Unidos. No sé qué controles de importación o exportación estaré infringiendo pero cuando estoy en el avión Force One, por lo general, me lo permiten” , bromeó el presidente de los Estados Unidos.
There is a traditional Argentine belief that anybody who drinks mate in Argentina (as a foreigner) or as a foreigner abroad, will eventually make it back to Buenos Aires.
Of the mate I have written many times in this blog. Here they are
Perhaps buried in one of them is the story of my experience with mate cocido or boiled mate. My friend Nora Patrich makes mate cocido in a French press. In my years in the Argentine Navy breakfast was galleta a hard unleavened bread and tin mugs of mate cocido. In large pots milk, water and mate were boiled for hours. The concoction looked like swamp water and you had the idea that any moment a nasty crocodile would peek on the surface. The mate came sweetened (sickly so).
Anybody who knows about mate knows that it is a hunger suppressant. The folks at the Marina de Guerra Argentina obviously knew this.
But getting back to sharing a mate with Rebecca was and will be the high point of the week. I believe that my Rebecca will eventually be the Rebecca I used to know. We obviously have one very important bond between us. My father and Cortázar would understand.
And so would my good friend Argentine painter Juan Manuel Sánchez who is not well this moment in a Buenos Aires hospital. I often visited him and his wife Nora Patrich to converse and to drink mate. The mate that Rebecca is drinking as a young girl was at Juan and Nora’s and that was Juan’s parakeet Perica.
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.