Thursday, July 27, 2006



What do salmon sushi, Elian Gonzalez, and the Hungarian flag have in common?



Under The Tuscan Sun had just arrived at the theaters. Already knowing I’d love it, I headed toward Sunset Place, parked, and looked around for a place to eat.
I hadn’t eaten all day. As I love sushi, I went to the Sushi Maki across the street. Alas, about an hour earlier, the entire block had lost its electricity.
The young waiter must have thought I was one of those personal injury lawyers who advertise on television, for I proceeded to grill him relentlessly about the sushi: could it possibly still be fresh? It was on ice, he said. “Are you sure?” I asked him again.
I had good reason to be concerned. In April of 2000, while I was still living in my parents’ Miami Lakes house, I had made sushi out of a salmon fish head. Tired of eating out, I had decided to try to prepare a fish soup on my mother’s one good remaining burner. I cut a few slices of salmon off the head, and proceeded to consume them, sushi-style. Plopping the rest of the fish head in a pot, I covered it with water, sprinkled paprika over the concoction, and simmered it for a while. When I deemed it to be ready, I sat down to savor my creation. Delicious! It was eight p.m.
By midnight, I realized that something was wrong. I began to get horrible cramps. What happened next was… well, pretty bad. Let’s just say that I began to shrink before my very eyes. I began to see red. Needless to say, I couldn’t sleep. By five-thirty in the morning, I knew I needed help. Dragging myself to my car, I drove myself to the Palmetto General Hospital.
The Emergency Room was quite crowded. Although I had been granted a stay of execution during the drive, the ink wasn’t yet dry. I had to run to the bathroom several times before I managed to stagger to the admitting desk.
Babies always have priority in an ER: there were a few. Older people, too. For some reason, everyone was paying very close attention to the television set mounted above the waiting room seats.
A little boy was leaving a house in the arms of a woman. He was crying. There were reporters all around the house. He was whisked into a car, and driven away. Pandemonium ensued.
Everyone in the waiting room was stunned. Everyone was speaking Spanish. The unthinkable had happened: Elian Gonzalez had been forcibly removed from his family’s home in Little Havana. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
More and more enfeebled with each passing minute, I decided to take matters into my own hands. After all, my father had worked in this hospital. I went through the swinging doors that led to the triage area, and plopped myself down on a gurney.
“Nepotism be damned!” I told myself. A nurse approached me. She was Cuban. I knew what I had to do: I told her about my father. Within minutes, I had a Demerol IV in my arm. I woke up many hours later, was discharged, and went home.
Bacterial diarrhea doesn’t go away overnight. The worst was yet to come. I was like a sieve. Weaker and weaker, I thought of one of my mother’s favorite medical expressions: I could almost hear her saying, “electrolyte imbalance,” in that inimitable Hungarian accent of hers. I finally had to take action again.
In my pajamas, I wandered outside. It was Easter Sunday. I tried knocking on several of my neighbors’ doors. Perhaps everyone was at church, I wondered? All but collapsing, I returned home.
I had no choice. I called 911. The EMT team arrived within minutes. They took my vitals. Everything was within normal limits. My neighbors must have returned home by then, because several of them came over. They seemed to be very concerned. I told them I had tried to find them earlier, but that no one had appeared to be home.
It was the young mother of two next door who came to my rescue. She told the ambulance crew that she’d provide me with Pedialyte. She knew it well. She was – as we say in Spanish – muy bondadosa. Very kind. Interestingly enough, we share last names, although we’re not related. It took me about ten days to fully recuperate. I could not have done it without that Pedialyte… and without that young woman.
Back at the Sushi Maki, I was discovering that the young waiter was not annoyed with me. On the contrary, he was being helpful… and concerned. I had told him about the fish head. We agreed on the sashimi ume. First he brought me a green salad, with the ginger miso dressing on the side.
I was beginning to devour the salad, when he reappeared to inform me that the chefs did not deem the fish fresh enough to serve to customers. I had an hour left before the movie. I hadn’t eaten all day. I desperately needed a solid meal in my belly.
Regretfully, I put my fork down, and told the young man I had to leave. I offered to pay for the salad. He said, “No, just please come back to visit us again.” We firmly – and warmly – clasped hands.
I was just beginning to cross the street when I heard my mother’s native tongue. Hungarian. A couple standing next to me was speaking “the language of the moon,” as I have referred to it all my life. I always get excited and ask the parties involved if they are, indeed, speaking in Hungarian. I’m not always right, but this time I was.
This little dialogue always progresses the same way: I say that my mother was Hungarian, but that she didn’t teach it to me because she felt I’d have no one with whom to speak it. In thickly accented English, the husband caught me by surprise with his response: “She didn’t expect you’d be running into us.”
We continued to cross the street. I kept chattering about how difficult Hungarian is to learn. As we were preparing to go our separate ways, I made a little bow in their direction, and said, “Servus.” A direct descendant of the Latin word, servus (servant), it roughly translates to: “I serve at your pleasure.”
The man chattered back in our “lunar” language. At some level, I understood. The last thing I heard him say was, “it’s a curse.” Or something like that. I understood that, too. We exchanged one final knowing glance, and said our silent goodbyes.
The Johnny Rockets at the mall awaited me. The turkey burger hit the spot.

Copyright, 2003 by Georgina Marrero 1111 words All rights reserved

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