Wednesday, September 9, 2009

San Bernardino: The Hamptons of Paraguay

Most middle to upper middle class Paraguayan families that live in Asunción have a summer home in San Bernardino, a small, lakeside town a relatively short 40 minute drive from the city. The town is tiny and hardly anyone lives there year round. Instead, San Bernardino serves as a summer getaway. When the heat and humidity becomes unbearable in January and February, families pack their bags, temporarily close their Asunción homes, pile in the car, and escape to their summer homes in San Bernardino. After two months of lounging around on the beach, sipping drinks poolside, late night parties, and relaxing the summer away, families pack their bags, temporarily close their San Bernardino homes, pile in the car, and return to the city for another 10 months of work or school.

A few Sundays ago Cat and I visited this vacation town. We were invited to spend the day there with one of my students, Mati, and her family. Naturally, an asado (Paraguayan barbeque) was the meal of choice. And, true to Paraguayan form, the family was incredibly welcoming, generous, and treated us as if we were long lost friends.

It started with Mati and her husband driving 25 minutes back into Asunción to pick us up after they had spent the entire morning at their youngest daughter’s golf tournament. On the way to San Bernardino, we stopped twice on the side of the road to buy strawberries and chipa just so we would have a snack while waiting for the asado. Once we arrived at the house the grandmother talked us up and down, asking questions, telling stories, sharing her ‘love’ for the military government that she grew up with, regaling us with her crazy protesting and subversive, anti-establishment days, explaining the joys of orgasms, and predicting when Cat and I were going to have children. She even predicted the exact day we would conceive (this September 21st). In other words, she was the crazy, old, loving, still young at heart grandmother that exists in all families. As she told us story after story, her husband just smiled and shook his head slightly. It was quiet acknowledgement that he’s heard it all before and, yes, his wife is crazy but he still loves her dearly.

After eating, Mati and her husband drove us all around town showing us the historic San Bernardino hotel (where Cat and I are supposed to conceive), the club on the lakefront, the downtown area, and the small ice cream stand where we stopped for a delicious strawberry smoothie-type creation. On the way back to Asunción we stopped at a mall to pick up yet more food. Cat and I mentioned that we never tried a quintessentially Paraguayan food, whose Guarani name escapes me at the moment. It was flat and thin, made of cheese and bread, and served hot. Despite being sufficiently full and not hungry at all from a day of non-stop eating, it was delicious. Of course Cat and I ate every last bite.

A day complete with wonderful company, tasty food, intriguing stories, and great memoires—what more could Cat and I ask for?

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