Cocktails For Three & Bananas At The Dinner TableThursday, April 16, 2009
Inesita O’Reilly Kuker is 85. She is my first cousin and also my godmother. The reason she is my godmother is that her mother Ines (my father’s oldest sister) who wanted to be my godmother was not a Roman Catholic. To have such a person as a godmother was frowned upon by the conservative Roman Catholic society of Argentina in 1942 (the year of my birth). Ines’ daughter Ines (Inesita) became my de-facto godmother. She had married Jorge O’Reilly that same year and had converted to her husband’s Catholicism in order to have a church wedding. I never found out if I had a godfather. My mother told me often that I had been given my middle name of Alejandro because of Ines’ second husband Alejandro Ariosa.
In my late 40s and early 50s garden birthday parties, Inesita (very beautiful) would appear with her then three children (she subsequently had another). The eldest, Georgito was a holy terror who bullied my friends. He had this crazy grin on his face that usually indicated he was about to sock you.
In 1965 I showed up at Inesita’s palatial home in Belgrano in my new Argentine Navy conscript uniform. Inesita had been a young widow when her eldest Georgito had been 14 in 1957. Georgito was given a special dispensation by the Argentine schoolboard to abandon school and to work as a messenger boy. By 1965 she had married a wonderful widower (with four daughters) called Dolfi Kuker who was of German extraction and was mayor of Buenos Aires for a short period of time.
When I rang the bell I instantly felt the presence of spying eyes. I was shown in and everybody stared. I had last seen them at my last birthday party, one in August of 1954. I was shown to the dining room where I saw the longest dining room table I have ever seen in my life. If you count Inesita and her husband, his sister Lala, his four daughters, her four children (three boys and one girl) and then accommodated for the girl friends and boyfriends you can understand the size of the table. My lovely red-haired first cousin, Elizabeth Blew was there, too. I faintly remember that my place setting had silverware in the double digits. When we began to eat I noticed that nobody did anything. They were all staring at me wondering what uncouth table manners the relative from far away Mexico was going to reveal.
I must have passed muster as soon, everybody was happily eating. Inesita with her Queen’s English ( I argue that it is the other way around as Inesita is older than Elizabeth II) asked me, “Alexander, what have you been up to? ” I was so startled by it all and by the presence of my beautiful first cousin Elizabeth that I don’t remember a thing. I have even forgotten that Elizabeth was there until recently she told me, “Alexander, I was there as I dined there every Tuesday and it was a Tuesday.” After a few dinners in Belgrano I was comfortable enough to notice the details. I watched one of Dolfi’s daughters Heidi peal an orange on her plate with a fork and knife. I watched her do the same with a banana.
Through all these years I have had an increasing affection for my godmother. I admire her beauty, her intelligence, her sense of humour and her ability to remember the names of her 14 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren.
In 2004 I traveled with Rosemary and Rebecca and re-connected with Inesita. Rebecca was impressed by her English and her perfect high-tea table that she offered us one day. I had brought Inesita books in English. Books in English are expensive and hard to get in Buenos Aires. Currently a pocket book will cost $30. Inesita appreciated the books.
The problem now is that Inesita’s eyes are failing her because of a recent fall that resulted in a blood clot in one of her eyes. I know how she misses reading in English. Like many members of my family (my mother would have called them “gente fina como nosotros” or people with good taste like us) Inesita doesn’t read just any book. She likes authors like Susan Howatch and P.D. James.
I may have found a solution yesterday where I noticed a promotion at Chapters. You could buy two audio books for $10 (complete and not abridged) by such good authors as Philip Roth and Umberto Eco.
The hitch is mailing anything to Argentina. My package can be pilfered or stolen. The solution, I believe is what I ended up doing. I copied the four CD's of Madeleine Wickham's Cocktail for Three and sent them in an innocuous envelope marked family photo CDs, no commercial value. I think it will get delivered. If it isn't I can try again. My friend Mark Budgen always suggests DHL Couriers. "The reason they are more expensive than Fedex," he says, " is that the price includes the bribe."
I Skyped Inesita today and told her I had mailed her book. She is all excited. I have no way of knowing how long it will take. I took the opportunity to get a few more facts like the exact number of her grandchildren. And then on a lark I told her how astounded I had been to see Heidi peeling a banana with a fork and knife. Inesita's answer made my day, "You don't eat bananas at the table like monkeys."
I must not have ever eaten a banana at the dinner table in her Belgrano mansion. Had I, I would have certainly known.