Tag Archives: beignets

Far from home

Cuban spread

WE PASSED 15 years of matrimony last month and had planned on spending a few days on the Pacific sands to mark the happy event, but it never happened.

My dental work intervened, not just the visits to the dentist but the cost too, which took a good chunk out of the checkbook. Sure, we could still go to the beach, but the moment has passed, plus it’s hot as hell there right now.

We decided to just “celebrate” with a nice meal at a Cuban restaurant in the state capital. The restaurant offers a “Cuban banquet,” and we ordered that … for two.

That was last weekend. The banquet is quite good. The only beef I have with it is they plop everything on your table at the same time. It should come in stages, especially the warm dessert.

We’ve also eaten Cuban food in Cuba, of course, and it was good, but I wouldn’t recommend visiting Cuba. It’s depressing.

Lying in bed this morning before dawn, I was thinking about the United States where I was born and where I have not set foot in eight years. I likely will never set foot there again.

Years of separation, living in a very different society, affects your mind, your viewpoint, your perspective and so on. I’m sure that a visit now would be jarring.

The Germanic efficiency, the rules, the regulations, the cops who actually pay attention to your speed, the need to watch your mouth, be “sensitive.” Indeed, the entire humorless, asexual, multicultural mess that exists up there.

Don’t think I’d care for any of it.

I would enjoy a New Orleans snow cone and beignets on the banks of the Mississippi. But I would reel at prices that would seem stunning due to the exchange rate of the last few years and my no longer having access to dollars.

But mostly it would be a thump to my psyche.

Most Americans who live down here appear to flee back over the border on a regular basis, avoiding that thump.

I have no plans to return, ever.

Not to America. Not to Cuba either.

The first ride

beach
On the Gulf Coast beach at Biloxi, Mississippi.

MY WIFE’S INITIAL visit to the United States was very surprising to her. “How clean,” she remarked as we walked through downtown San Antonio on our first night, having just driven up from Laredo. I think she meant “how orderly” because Mexico is clean, but sometimes it’s not too orderly, part of its romantic, chaotic charm.

It’s not that she was some provincial bumpkin who’d never been anywhere. She spent six months in the mid-1990s in Spain doing postgraduate studies in civil engineering in Madrid. She took advantage of that opportunity to travel all over Europe in her spare time.

But she had never been above the Rio Bravo until we drove up there in 2004 a year after our wedding. Before the trip, she was fond of saying that she had little interest in visiting. Hadn’t lost anything up there, she repeated with a smirk. There was a strain of anti-Americanism in her family.

All that changed immediately when she saw Texas … and Louisiana … and Mississippi … and Alabama … and Georgia. We drove in our little Chevy Pop, which is something like a Geo Metro. No AC, no stereo, no power steering or power brakes or power windows, no power anything. It was the first car I purchased in Mexico.

We spent a couple of nights in San Antonio, strolling the Riverwalk. There was a side trip to Bandera where we ate barbecue on the main drag. It was followed down the street by root beer floats. There’s no root beer in Mexico.

We drove on to Houston, my old home town, for a few more nights. We visited with a few of my previous coworkers who were still wage-slaving on the Houston Chronicle. Then on to New Orleans for rides in the streetcar on St. Charles Avenue and beignets at Café du Monde abutting the river in the French Quarter.

We hired a carriage, horse and driver for a romantic ride. Though she has seen Paris, New Orleans made a big impression on her. We walked the sidewalks of the Garden District. We ate oyster po’ boys.

The stretch from New Orleans to Atlanta is a long, mostly boring haul. We spread it over two days, spending the night in a Holiday Inn somewhere in the sticks of Central Alabama. The best thing about that night was a fried-catfish plate at a nearby restaurant. Alabama knows how to fry catfish.

She’d never had fried catfish. She’d never had oyster po’ boys. She’d never had a beignet. She’d never had a root beer float. She was happy. And her opinion of the United States changed forever. She was in love with the food, the shopping (Target in particular) and even the people, especially Southerners.

Southern people are genuinely friendly, unlike the famous (feigned) friendliness of Mexicans who grin and hug you to death if they know you and cast you a stone-faced glare if they do not.

A Mexican’s face is a mask, and so is his smile. — Octavio Paz.

We made it to Atlanta where we stayed about a week, visiting my mother, doing more shopping, more eating, and then we headed south, mostly repeating the route north but with briefer layovers.

The trip had begun the first week in March, so the car’s lack of air-conditioning was not a problem. But we almost got nailed on the return drive in mid-March, just one day, the leg between Houston and the border at Laredo. We sweated a bit. Ironically, on entering Mexico, things cooled off. There are mountains.

My wife returned a changed woman. Before she loved only one Gringo. Now she loves them all. She wants to rent a home and stay in the United States for months at a time. She wants to eat po’ boys and barbecue and beignets and catfish every day. She wants to roam the aisles of Target with a debit card and a smile.

Other trips followed, but it’s been six years now since we’ve been above the Rio Bravo, and she’s unhappy about that. Maybe we’ll return some distant day, but only the Goddess knows when … or if.

We haven’t lost anything up there.