Leche de burra! (she-donkey milk), Leche de burra! This is what one of my friends heard as a child as the local she-donkey milk salesman peddled his wares. Now I didn’t ask, but I’m pretty sure this happened while he was living in the small southern (hexagonally-shaped, OMG, what a navigational nightmare for me) city of Coyhaique (Co-YI-kay), and not here in Santiago. Though people often talk about how Santiago used to be much more homey and countrified and provincial, I don’t think anyone used to sell donkey milk on the street a short 30 years ago. Though you never know.
I happened to look up the weather for Coyhaique just yesterday, and the forecast was for rain, snow, and ice. ICE? Like it just falls from the sky? Sounds dangerous. And the temperatures were down to -7 (celsius), so I wonder if now the guy is walking around offering helado de burra. (donkey icecream, and what I really mean is donkeymilk icecream, not actual donkey-flavored icecream).
And all of this makes me think of an old friend of mine who is probably right at this moment up from a deep slumber supervising some baby goats that were born on the farm she lives on. I’m going to see this friend, these goats, this farm in a few months. I wonder if we can walk up and down the streets offering leche de cabra? This sounds infinitely more palatable than leche de burra to me, en todo caso (anyway). But I think the goatmilk is for their personal consumption on the farm. I will be sure to report back.
But when I heard about the leche de burra and how my friend (as a wee one) had no idea of what the vendor was saying, I thought about a time when I was in Cuernavaca, Mexico, the beginning of a very unplanned, trip to Mexico and Central America with a friend who would later build houses for Habitat for Humanity in all kinds of remote places and drink kavakava in Fiji until her face went numb. This was a long, long time ago, when the only Spanish I was in posession of was what I’d been delivered in high school, and the tiny bit of that that I remembered mixed up into a formless cloud that came out of my mouth in dribs and drabs, and only vaguely making sense, even to me. My friend and I lived in a cute neighborhood in Cuernavaca while studying Spanish and living with a host family in a very mysterious house that was bigger and more labaryntine every day, and seemed to have a changing cast of characters like they were doing it on purpose to see how crazy they could make us. Oh, and it had a whole giant one-and-a-half story (interior) wall dedicated to rooster “art.” Te gustan las gallinas? (you like chickens?) I managed to condense my thoughts one day well enough to say this. Son gallos (they’re roosters), I was told. Gulp. I wanted my mommy.
Anyway, in this neighborhood with the crazy house and the overgrown interior garden that looked like a novel should take place in it, there was a guy who sold …. ALES. (al-ays)…. ALES (al-ays). He walked around the street morning and afternoon shouting this. After about a week, and having gotten over the whole rooster/chicken thing, I asked my host mother, a woman who would scoop a spoonful of butter and a few grains of rice, and say “Que riiiiico el arroz! (what delicious rice) what it all meant. He’s selling tamales, she said. Oh, I said. Are they ricos? Don’t know, she said. I’ve never bought one.
And so it was with my friend with the she-donkey milk, which he never tried, and so it is with me, with my neighborhood guy who sells a mil a mil a mil las alcachofas. (Artichokes for 1,000, 1,000, 1,000). I like artichokes very much, I just don’t see how the logistics of that would work. When someone comes on the bus and sells something you just put up your hand to let them know you want some (water, soda, icecream, etc). In this case, would I crank open the giant windows to my sixth floor apartment and sing back to him? It took me years to figure out what to say when I was in the bathroom stall and someone else tried to open the door (Ocupado). But I still don’t know how to buy alcachofas from eighty feet up. Any ideas?
And let me just say for the record that I am totally a city kid (with delicate cityfeet that cannot even think about walking barefoot without wincing, and I do mean the feet), and she-donkey milk kind of makes me want to clamp my mouth shut and run away. I was vegan for a few years and am just now getting solidly back on the milk wagon. You know, cow’s milk. Darn cultural constructs.