Navidad en El Fortin

Spending Easter with Baboush and her family in Mar del Plata was so much fun. Baboush and I got a lot of work done for the book – and scanned so many photos that neither of us want to even look at a scanner for weeks to come – but we also got to have fun, too. Micaela, my cousin who is only a few years older than me who I met for the first time there, took me out to dinner with her friends and down to the beach, too (Mar del Plata is the beach city closest to Buenos Aires, where all the Portenos go for holidays). We went horseback riding, since it is something that Baboush and Micaela love to do as much as I do. In fact, Baboush was the one who took my mom and her older brother out horseback riding every morning the summer that they spent on El Fortin. The man who rented us the horses let us ride around in the neighborhood without him, so we meandered down the dirt roads and galloped across pastures diagonally. Two of the horses were tall and beautiful, and although you really had to yank on the reins to get them to stop, to slow down, or to steer, they would gallop or trot with the slightest kick and galloped beautifully and smoothly. We took lots of pictures, too. For Easter, we went to Alejo’s house (Baboush’s eldest son), and I ate more meat than I think I have ever eaten in my life. Chorizo, morcilla (which is something along the lines of sausage made out of coagulated blood… I’m not kidding you!), raw ham, lamb, and steak… all which Alejo, el asador, cooked very nicely. With that and with the carrot cake I made for dessert, I filled myself up so much that two days have passed and I think I have only eaten one meal since the asado. Now, for the first time since then, and probably only since I ran, I’m starting to get hungry!

I have three family stories for you today. Two short, one longer.

The first is one that makes me crack up every time I think about it (and sorry, Jaja, if you are reading this). Once, Mus and Baboush and some of the other aunts were driving to Trevelin or Esquel from El Fortin. This was the summer that my mom and her family visited, when she was about seven years old. My mom’s younger brother – my uncle John – was about 4, then. Out of the blue, John starts rubbing the palm of Mus’s hand, and says, ‘Guess what I’m rolling on your hand?’ Each of the aunts can do a great impression of this 4-year-old, nasal, mischevious voice. John had killed a mosquito without them noticing, in the car, and now had chosen to roll it around on Mus’ hand! Gross! And even more dramatically so, for them, because Mus and Baboush were teenage girls at that point.

Number two. At El Fortin, each morning, Mamtschi would heat up milk in a big pot to put in coffee or tea. If you have done this before, you know that an odd wrinkly layer of milk goo sits on top of the milk after it has been heated. Well, Mamtschi would take a spoon, skim off this layer, and stick it right in her coffee to drink… which is something else that the girls found disgusting!

Part of my project is to ask each of the aunts to write about a more meaningful story from El Fortin… something that shows how it continues to affect their lives today, or something that they especially loved. As opposed to the funny anecdotes and daily descriptions that come out of the interview, this part of the book will be something more sentimental and thought out. Monica wrote a beautiful story about Mamtschi passing away and her funeral, and Fabiola wrote about how they felt like they reigned over El Fortin as kids. Baboush added a description of Christmas on El Fortin, which her family celebrated there each summer. I’ll try to paraphrase what she wrote, in English.

In the days leading up to Christmas, the entire house would fill with the aromas of different Swiss, German, and Argentinean Christmas cookies that Mamtschi and Lilian would make. There were the Cliffords, made with ginger, the Gefullte Pfeffer Kuchen (or something like that!) that consisted of two layers of almond cookies with wild cherry filling, and above all, the Chocolate Hearts, dusted with powdered sugar. The entire kitchen would smell of cinnamon, ginger, nuts, chocolate, honey, and other Christmas delights. Mamtschi and Lilian, and later the girls themselves when they got older, would stick cypress branches into a pole with holes into it to create a sort of a Christmas tree and bring it inside to decorate. They filled it with silver balls and other ornaments, and even real candles… and in case of fire, which is pretty likely when you have burning candles sitting on dry pine branches, they always had a bucket of water behind the tree. While the mothers cooked and decorated, the girls looked at the wispy Patagonian clouds outside and imagined that they were trails that Santa had left flying through the sky. After dinner, with the girls all wearing their best dresses, Lilian would ring the bell from the living room as she and Mamtschi sang Christmas songs in Swiss or English to invite the girls in to see the tree. Under the beautiful cypress branches, peppered with color and with lit candles, each girl had a pile of little gifts to open that night, on Christmas Eve. And the beautiful Christmas odors stayed in the house until days after Christmas.

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2 Responses to Navidad en El Fortin

  1. Carmen says:

    Again, thank you, my sisters and all the nieces for the nice recuerdos and speaking of cookies, what about the honey leckerlis and the stollen, though I don’t know if the latter was a Fortin tradition, you might ask.

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