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."



  1. Love cheese and a this would certainly be hard to find up here, even in a gourmet shop.

  2. I do speak Spanish...sort of. But the first thing I thought of after seeing the photo of the outside of the store, which was after i'd read the whole blog, was that there should be a question mark after the "quesos." And I'm very well aware that queso is pronounced kay-sew, not kwe-suh. It seems my facility in English, such as it is, interferes with my ability to master Spanish.


  3. Thanks...now I finally know what "quesadillas" means. I didn't until now.

    And that's rather pathetic, considering I had mandatory Spanish classes in both seventh and eighth grade, followed by two more years of high school Spanish, and a year of Spanish in college, which was mostly a repeat of what I learned in high school.

    All that, and I don't remember much. I know what individual words mean, but I doubt if I could speak Spanish in coherent sentences, or write them, or read a Spanish-language publication. On my travels, I would have to carry around a pocket dictionary or a Spanish-English dictionary or a "useful phrase" book...and even then I probably wouldn't have remembered what "Quesos" meant, either. I might have thought it was the owner's name. Cheese? Jeeze.

    We learned all that Spanish because it was supposedly "the language of tomorrow"...there was going to be a lot of trade and travel in South America, and Castro had just taken over Cuba, and JFK was in office. I'd have been better off learning German...then I could have conversed with my mother in Yiddish, which was her only language until she began school at the age of five. I've kicked myself many times for not taking that road.

    But I was told that Deutsch was "harder" to learn, and all those long words like "unterseeboot" and "fliegerabwehrkanone" scared me off. Spanish was supposedly "easier"...and I had already tackled the mysteries of Hebrew during my grammar school days. At fourteen, one "hard" language was enough...or so I thought. Silly me.

  4. I love Mexican food and so am very familiar with “queso”. The word appears in a majority of Mexican restaurant menu descriptions.


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