In search of our next well cooked morsel of cow muscle, I ran into an expected South American challenge. Funnily enough, this time it wasn’t a problem of language, but a problem of negociation.
I searched the web and found a celebrated parrilla called El Mangrullo. Being the type with a perhaps Asbergerian focus once I have a set goal, I meticulously drew out a small map with un sendero that would wind its way to the restaurant through the busy pedestrian avenue Florida – where street vendors ostensibly sell brand name clothing and hand crafted mate cups – through the historic plaza de Mayo, and would finish with a flourish of San Telmo cobblestone where scruffy, shirtless men cat-call elegant women from their crowded stoops.
Our newest cotraveller, Elissa, had just arrived from Quebec. We had dragged her out of bed to join us for dinner. As we approached the restaurant, she was still looking a bit groggy and started to grow mutinous as we rounded corner after corner. “It’s just around the next corner,” I would repeat time and time again with decreasing certitude.
Finally we arrived at the 700 block where the resto was meant to be located. It was nowhere to be seen. For a moment, just for a moment, I let up my stride and let a shade of doubt enter my expression. My head bobbed with uncertainty as I looked searching from the street numbers to my map and back again. It was enough for him to pounce.
“Que buscas?” a voice projected from across the interestion. Before I realized what was happening, a burly man accoutered in tight jeans, unbuttoned plaid shirt, and a dirty gorro, approached my slyly. “Que buscas?” he repeated as he pulled an ipod earbud out of his ear. I noticed his belt was arrayed with multiple mobile communication devices.
I tried to muster a tone of certainty, unsure of his intentions, “Um, Yo busco el restaurant ‘El Mangrullo’, pienso esta en ese calle…” before I could finish we was already half way done persuading me to try another restaurant. His restaurant.
We stood outside an eating establishment as fancy as it was empty. Common sensically, I took that as a bad sign. As the last 10 years of economic prosperity have shown (minus a couple of months that proved the opposite), its best to follow the herd. We had passed several restaurants on the way that needed nothing more that the clanging and bustle of animated young portenos to be alluring.
But in my innocence I thought I’d give him a chance to say his piece. “Debemos tratar ese restaurante. Es el mismo de El Mangrulla.” He was urging us to enter the nearby restaurant, acting as a persuasive version of the North American ‘man with sign’.
I was confused by his language. He seemed to be saying that his restaurant was actually El Mangrullo. I thought perhaps the name had changed, but I was also growing wary. So I asked him if it was exactamente the same (mismo) restaurant. Very directly.
He allowed his first, albeit the slightest, twinge of honesty. Instead of saying they were the same restaurant, he roped in his word choice to ‘bien parecido’. Now he was claiming that they were very much the same.
I rolled my eyes with impatience, but by this time, the girls – who were too hungry (and perhaps too wise) to care about the masculine import of my negociation and had bellies too impatient to wait out the epic Guerra between con-man and turista – were already edging towards the door.
In short, I gave in. Despite recognizing the ploy and even calling him on it, Canadian niceness and the war of attrition that hunger launches against the will did us in. Not to mention the weakness inherent in the female sex…
We ended up paying too much for impatient service in an empty restaurant. But hunger sauce made the food, which was tasty enough, and the cuenta (bill), easy enough to swallow.
The score is Buenos Aires 1, Adrian 0. But I think I’m learning quickly. I hope I’m learning quickly. Tanto por mi orgulloso como por mi cartela. As much for my pride, as for my wallet.