I woke up late my first morning in Pinamar. Ten, eleven, eleven thirty...I had slept in a black-hole kind of coma, heavy and warm and with molasses blood. The day before had been a complete twelve hours without other English speakers, and I had crammed words into my head at an incredible rate -- an unsifted, unsorted, string of sounds. Like ants running over my eardrums. Birds chatting in the branches. Like the way I was brought into consciousness that morning -- by pájaros in the pine trees.
Norma arrived by bicycle with a flower and a pastry. In Pinamar the streets are sand, and she told me in Spanish after a good rain they are much more compact, easier to navigate. Unlike some ideas, which can take a long time to communicate without fluency, this one was pretty straightforward. She slapped her hands together a couple of times and pointed at the ground. She wiggled the handlebars of the bicycle and twinkled her fingers for the rain. She smiled a beautiful, warm, welcoming smile and invited me to share her pastry, which turned out to be filled with guava fruit.
Norma. Her oldest son greets her with a hug, a kiss, and the lovely drawn out sound of her name. "Noooormaaa." he says, as he rotates a little, left, right, and then left again in the embrace. Opening his eyes, he winks, a confirmation that he knows his treasure.
(If I ever my doubts about the advantage of living in community, they have been obliterated from my memory, pushed out by the portrait of this family.
They don't own a car. At times they are as many as seven in this quaint, whitewashed house with wooden windows and bunk beds. Someone is usually sweeping the floor on account of the relentless sand.
Norma always whispers when one of her children is asleep, even if it is mid-day and the household is electric with activity. Often she whispers when no-one sleeps, out of habit. And it does not matter that they are all grown into tall, beautiful adults--at any given moment she could tell you exactly where each one is located.
There is only one bath, where the water smells of sulfur, and you can wash yourself with the open, unclothed window inviting in the yips of neighborhood dogs and the drone of transistor radios. There are no rooms in this house that you would feel afraid to enter. And no mirrors.)
We sat down outside on the patio table to eat some chips and sandwiches which Susi, the oldest daughter, prepared. Like most meals here, it commenced with some rowdy applause for the cook. Then everyone was talking very fast and I was completely lost. A caricature of myself, I have concluded that it's important to smile at all times.
The words babbled over my head, just an inch above my understanding. I was underwater, looking at the light distorting through the surface, hearing only muffled, indistinct sounds. Every now and then a few significances shot through to my senses. Oh, to imagine what might be taking place between the three unrelated words "fork," "tax" and "cloud!"
When someone turned to me and asked something simple, like: "would you like more Tea?" I felt a rush of satisfaction for having understood what had been asked, and momentarily splashed up through the surface, the youngest baby being born into a very large family.
(Every night I feel I've grown some, pried open my mind with a crowbar! Now I'm a toddler collecting a library of Spanish fairy tales, which I read seriously while sipping tea in the mornings. I go nowhere without my little libro for writing words, which I review religiously before sleeping. Soon I'll be an obnoxious teenager saying offensive things, thinking I'm hilarious. And one day, years from now, I'll become an adult again.)
One by one the family members finished and excused themselves from the table. But Norma and I aren't in a hurry. For her, there are no surprises in life, nothing to run toward. As for me, I could spend weeks in this very seat, reinventing the world. When everything is strange, nothing is.
She talks at me constantly. It doesn't matter if I can understand her or not. We just sit for a long while together, her talking, me listening. When she finally does rise, she stands slowly and grips her spine with one hand.
"You need a massage!" I say. "No," she corrects me, "I need a new Norma!"
Fortunately for us both her incessant laughter suggests otherwise.