Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

Broken dishes and overthrown dictators

on May 2, 2014

I did eventually come to greatly admire the spirit of Catholicism, if not its apparent rituals. It certainly had nothing to do with my classmates’ failed attempts at converting us. It was the behavior and character of our nuns that impressed me. One Saturday, Saadia and I raised our fingers and volunteered to stay behind and help clean up after lunch when the sister on duty asked. After cleaning the tables, we were assigned the job of drying stacks of hot wet dishes fresh out of the huge dishwashers.  Our tabliers had large deep pockets sewn on both sides, that had grown saggy with the constant weight of all kinds of little treasures as well as that of our hands when we had nothing to do with them. As I turned to place a dried plate away, my pocket caught the sharp stainless steel corner of the counter. I shook myself to free the pocket, but instead, shook the entire counter. A stack of plates as high as my nose trembled with the quake and flew off, crashing onto the floor in a formidable clanging cacophony. I stood there frozen. My friends later told me my face had turned pale.

Had this been at home, Mama’s hand or knuckles would long have come down on my back or head, accompanied by an explosive string of remarks on my lack of sense of responsibility, and the current cost of porcelain. But the sister with the black-rimmed glasses hurried over, lifting her robe for longer strides. She took one look at me, and kindly patted my shoulder. “It’s all right, no matter. Don’t worry. Think about it, had you not offered to help out, you wouldn’t have broken the dishes.”

“That’s right,” I thought, “I only broke them because I was helping dry the dishes…” I could not believe it. Not a single word of reproach passed her lips, even though there must have been well over two dozen plates in shards on the floor. By the time I recovered from the shock of her kindness, she had finished sweeping up the mess.

tall stack of plates

My obsession with history led me to ask once Maria-Marta to tell us about the history of Argentina. I was stunned. It wasn’t very long, only a couple of hundred of years long. And it consisted — at least that is what it sounded like — of a series of coups d’etat, one person overthrowing another till he himself got overthrown by a newcomer. I thought she must be joking. But she was dead serious. That was my introduction to the history of the New World. No dynasties lasting a few hundred years, no galant knights or damsels in distress, no historical legends shrouded in the mists of time, no valiant general turning into exiled emperor pining for his blond cherub son on a lonely rock in the vast Atlantic Ocean. Just plain sparring sessions, king of the hill for grown-ups. My interest in South American history took a nose dive. It was not until years later, after watching the musical Evita in London, that I started becoming interested in it again.

history of argentina


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