When families (or at least the one that I’m a part of) get together in Spain, it’s no small, casual affair. It’s not a fire-up-the-grill-and-throw-some-(veggie) burgers-on-top type of gathering. Instead, it’s a bring-out-the-25-person-paella-pan-and-do-it-the-right-way kind of event.
For weeks, there had been talk of a family luncheon. It would be held at Al Cante, David’s dad’s restaurant and in attendance would be Sylvie (David’s step-mom), Ramon (David’s dad), Melodie (David’s sister visiting from Paris), 3 of her friends, Luisa (David’s mom), Isabelle and Antonio (David’s hard working aunt and uncle who sell fruits and vegetables in the markets), their three daughters and one son, and all their respective significant others. We would be 20 in all, and it promised to be a grand affair.
Remembering how sorely under dressed I was for the Moros y Cristianos festivities, I decided that, this time, now that I knew the family and their tendencies, I would come dressed for the occasion – in a nice tank top and black skirt. I was proud of my good forethought and was happy that I wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb this time.
We were among the first to arrive and greeted Isabelle who was in the kitchen and would have already started on the paella except somehow they had come equipped with all the paella fixtures and ingredients but had forgotten the four rabbits sacrificed for the occasion. Who cares, I thought?! Leave the rabbits in peace and let’s all be vegetarians for the day. Wouldn’t the world be a better place? But before I even had the thought, Antonio had gone out in search of more rabbits.
As the cousins started trickling in, I noticed that, despite all my efforts to come prepared, I once again stuck out. This time, my scooter attire would have been more than appropriate. Somehow, I never received the memo that the event would be casual attire.
Nearly the whole family was there by the time Anna, Isabelle and Antonio’s eldest daughter, arrived. I had not seen her since 2002 but before I even had a chance to say hello, she was making an announcement. What could she be announcing? The last news I had heard about her was that she was supposed to be getting married this month, and although she was still with her fiancee, they had canceled the event, to everyone’s dismay. She wasn’t announcing that the wedding was on once more, she wasn’t announcing a new job or a new house. No, she was announcing the last thing that Luisa needed to hear. She was announcing that she was two months pregnant. This grand news meant that Isabelle and Antonio would soon be grandparents and, as the news rippled through the crowd, the tears sprang forth. As for me, I went in to disaster mode and plugged Luisa’s ears.
Meanwhile, I couldn’t believe my own. Did we really need more baby news? Hadn’t we had enough already? It was as if a switch had been turned on and babies were being mass produced. To make matters worse, Luisa feels very close to Isabelle and the news that she would be a grandmother surely would only make her impatience even greater. Sure enough, in between the tears of joy came the looks of dismay. Anna’s news made both Luisa and Ramon look at me as if to say “Don’t you see? Others aren’t waiting. Why don’t you just get on with it already?” But I didn’t need the looks to understand the significance of the announcement. Anna’s news meant that the epidemic was hitting close to home. My brother and Johanna live in Arizona, David’s brother in Paris, but Anna lives just next door and now that the cousins in Spain were starting families, our countless excuses and reasons for waiting would hold even less meaning. To divert the attention back to where it should be, I ran to get the camera. I might not be contributing to the size of the family, but I could contribute by capturing those special kodak moments.
Soon, everyone had arrived, the can’t-do-without prawns had taken their honorary spots on the appetizer plates, and the paella was ready in all its splendor (I tried to admire the pan and not focus too much on its contents). Lunch had begun! As for me, I happily ate a salad that David had made for me and a vegetarian paella that the cook at David’s dad’s restaurant had prepared just for me. Making a 25-person paella after a physically exhausting week of selling fruits and vegetables in the markets had been effortless for Isabelle but somehow making one vegetarian dish for one vegetarian person had thrown her for a loop. We finished the meal off with melons from Isabelle and Antonio’s supply.
Smack in the middle of it all, I was happy to be part of it all. I like how family is honored here and how everyone – despite busy market schedules – takes the time and make the effort to get together regularly. I’m in awe at how Isabelle knows how to cook so well even though she was never officially taught, and it makes me think of my own mom who raised us on delicious enchiladas, vegetarian pizzas and baked potatoes with chili. I like Antonio for the gentleness that can be seen in his eyes that makes me think of my own dad. I admire the two of them for the solid family structure that they have built, the hard work that they put into everything that they do. It makes me think of my own family, and I like being surrounded by it.
Everyone expected that the lunch would be grand but little did anyone know that the gathering that started out as a 20 person affair would grow by one that day. In April, the get-togethers will surely have a different tone to it when a newborn is amongst us. And by then, I better have a better plan in place to keep Luisa at bay.
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