Tuesday, April 30, 2019
South American Diary #14: Quesos
I do not speak Spanish.
So when I went into this tiny shop in the small seaside town of Castro in Chile I did not know what the sign meant. I might not even have noticed it. I was looking for lapis lazuli jewelry, and scarves, and whatever other presents I might find to bring back home.
But as a professional journalist and generally quick on the uptake, I immediately figured out what sort of establishment I found myself in.
It was very small. And while I was taken with the display of inventory, and the calm of the proprietor, I am not the sort that I could just reach into my pocket, take out my phone and start snapping pictures. I was dealing with a human being. Dignity must be maintained.
Thank goodness the guide from the bus was there. I asked him to negotiate a deal. Two dollars worth of cheese, please. While the owner reached for brown paper, I asked if I might take a picture of the owner. I could. I asked his name. "Don Juan." Maybe so. Maybe a pseudonym, a nom de fromage.
The cheese, by the way, was excellent. Don Juan sliced it into convenient sticks, and I handed some to what shipmates were shopping nearby and ate the rest myself, one fresh, creamy slice after another. But I was particularly taken with the shop itself. Those quiet loaves of cheese on the shelves—like objects in a Joseph Cornell box. There seemed to be a lot of cheese here for a town so small. He must sell it all.
A person doesn't travel halfway across the world to go to a cheese shop. It would look silly on a schedule of adventure and exploration. But I can't communicate how glad I was to visit this place, how surprised and happy it made me. To meet these stolid cheeses and serene owner. To sample the cheese.
Heading out, I snapped a photo of the red storefront, with the sign I had overlooked going in: "Quesos."
Do I have to actually say it? For the record, I suppose, yes, I must indeed.
Spanish for "Cheeses."