The waiter had brought Bea and me a glass each of sauvignon blanc, and after responding to my question about his name, he stepped back a bit and welcomed us to Buenos Aires. He was a celebratory man, holding his arms out for a moment as he looked out the window onto calle Salta. With a moustache and a jowly smile and large hands, he had a kind of priestly authority, although really he more resembled an American football player, perhaps an Hispanic Dick Butkus. The de rigueur clothing for Buenos Aires waiters is a long-sleeved white shirt, a black bow tie, black slacks and, occasionally, a long apron either white or black. Manolo's was black with pin-striped gold thread, a formal look that was also very jaunty. He was about thirty years old.
We had just made it through the front door of the Restaurante El Hispano before a tempest had broken open, the beginning of a massive storm of rain and hail. Outside, the street was silvery with the ricochet of so much water in so many different forms, and there was little foot traffic: a woman under a slender umbrella trying desperately to run from the storm; a taxi driver hurrying from a doorway to his parked taxi. Otherwise, an empty street in the dark, its buildings from the early twentieth century, two- and three-story apartment buildings whose persiana wood shutters were closed against the storm.
The street had a film noir feeling, lit as it was in our view by just a single street lamp. The way the rain took advantage of the light made it appear like wayward sparkling glass as it fell to the street. Shattered lightning. The parked cars were animals hunkering down against the dank wind. Once the taxi had driven away, there was no foot traffic of any kind, and no moving automobiles. The storm took over, fiercely so, a rage of water and wind.
The Restaurante El Hispano, at Salta 20, is in the middle of an old gallego neighborhood in Buenos Aires, "gallego" being the descriptive term for all people of Spanish Iberian heritage in this city. It's not altogether a flattering word here, sometimes used to express an opinion about someone's slowness of perception, someone's stupidity. Luckily there are such words for every ethnic group in Buenos Aires, a city where political correctness has not reached that level of bland grayness that makes all humorous personal kidding somehow unacceptable, as has taken place in the United States. Here you can still call someone a name and have it be simply an insulting, humorous part of the discourse. I would fully expect to be called a mick here, except that I don't believe that that particular word exists in Spanish at all. I'm sure the citizens of Buenos Aires, though, have such words of their own for the occasional feckless Irishman, since there are so many of them in this country.