Dominic Ambrose Blogblot

of words: narrative, film and non-fiction

Fiesta de los Uruguayos

July 20, 200

On a dark sidestreet near Place de la Nation, in the eleventh arrondissement, a group of us knocked on the door of a public school and waited. Was this the right entrance? We were finally assured when a young man in cut off sleeves and jeans opened the door and let us in. We passed through the hallway where handbills announcing social programs and human rights demonstrations adorned the bulletin boards and entered a room that had obviously served its time as a school cafeteria. But tonight, in one of those tiny miracles that happen everyday all over Paris, it had become a little world of its own. In this case, Uruguay in exile.

Just as naturally as the flag that flies over the city hall, or the grass that grows in the park, exile groups spring up and thrive in this world city, and here the Uruguayans that have found themselves forced out of their homeland by successive ways of oppression, have found a home. Every Friday night the Asociacion Donde Estan? throws a party, a banquet of delicious food and first-rate music to tell the world that it doesn’t matter how small a country is, how redundant its language in a world of giant superstates and multinational cultural imperialism, in one place at least, Uruguay is the center of the planet, and its traditions of social activism and struggle for justice the most important endeavor in that world.

We were welcomed without the slightest hesitation, a numerous group that, although speaking loudly in Spanish had not a drop of Uruguayan blood between us. We sat down to salads and chorizos and chimichuri sauce ( a mix of parsley, garlic and oils) and listened as drummers got the beat going for the evening. As at exile parties the world over, the room was full of people of all ages, of all economic levels and all stages of estrangement: the older men with their grey ponytails and fu Manchu moustaches and jeans mixing easily with the ladies in tailored suits and the young couples holding infants in their arms, all celebrating their weekend at home. The walls and lighting were institutional in the extreme and the little Uruguayan motif wall hangings, with their naïve drawings and strident messages decrying impunity and dictatorship, were depressing, but the convivial atmosphere made this all fade to the background, and the food made it disappear. The asados and chorascos, made from both Argentine and French beef were cooked to perfection, and we sawed into our chunks of steak with pleasure, as the music got warmer and warmer. The drummers left the stage, leaving us to read the large letters that decorated the wall behind them: The disappeared of Uruguay: Where are they? A guitarist got up and sang a Cuban folk song with the soul and the intonation of the Rio de la Plata. It was a song I had only known as a commercial flamenco rip off in the “Azucar Moreno” version, now it took on real meaning for the first time. A whole group was soon accompanying him: his guitar and the drums were Uruguay, but the flutes and call and response rhythms were Caribbean, this may be Uruguayan Friday, but it is Uruguay in the world, and everything blended beautifully.

The talking, laughter and animation accompany the music incessantly, but everyone had one ear tuned and the room swayed to the rhythms and soulful singing. When an interlude was called for, to call thanks to the asador, the chef, and to call everyone’s attention to the business at hand, calm was only just barely attained. A short update was given about the campaign to have the law of “caducidad” annulled in Uruguay, and a petition to that effect was making the rounds of the community. This law states that any crimes committed by the military and the police during the dictatorship that lasted from 1973 to 1985 enjoy total amnesty. The speaker exhorted the diners not to forget, but he didn’t belabor the point. He soon ceded the stage to the music, which returned even more forcefully, with the addition of saxophone and steel drums, and the tilt toward the Caribbean given full vent. Onward everyone drank, Argentine, Uruguayan and Chilean wines disappearing one after the other, and once again, as on every Friday night, Uruguay grew ever nearer, just out of reach, way into the night.

May 4, 2009 Posted by | restaurant | , , , | Leave a comment