I wait, listening to the ticking tock of the clock with a feeling of nervousness about what will be. After several weeks of preparation, I hope this will be a smooth and festive moment.
But at the first strike of the hour, the clock seems to signal the impending doom of solitude. I’m greatly disturbed. But then, I have to give time for the “grand entrance” that people enjoy so much, especially here in Mexico (which is perhaps why the term “Mexican time” exists). The first fear is that no one will come. But, after about twenty minutes, people do start to arrive—more than have been invited, in fact. That’s great to me; the more the merrier. What hadn’t occurred to me, however, were the other dreadful questions I neglected to consider and be prepared for.
One of these was brought to my attention by my husband, Will, who is the family chef. He was preparing a meal we call Tacos Durados, named by a gringo friend when we were new here. Since that time, we have learned that Tacos Durados are usually made with a potato mash deep fried in a corn tortilla until crispy. Given that our version was very different, Will was nervous that our Mexican friends would hate it and be disappointed by the name. His version is made with black beans boiled overnight, then blended with salt, rolled into a fresh corn tortilla with the string-type local Mexican cheese, and then deep fried until light brown and crispy. After that, it’s topped with a red sauce made from Roma-type tomatoes, onions, peppers, bell peppers, garlic and salt, then roasted and blended before pouring on. Sounds delicious, right? It is, and it’s my favorite, but very different from what our friends are probably used to.
The other issue gave me the “what do I do’s” for the better part of the party. I had never considered it, but as I watched it happening, I wondered at my own naivety. After I greeted the newest guest and served some beverages, I looked around, pleased at the turnout, and was smacked in the face with a realization: everyone had segregated. My guests didn’t all know each other. They sat in little separate colonies of munchers, talking among their own family members. This simply would not do. How could this be fun for them? They could have stayed home for this. Now the question was what to do about it.
My first idea was to bond over food and see if Will’s feast was a hit or not. Surely, people will interact when food is in the picture. So, we pulled the durados out of the oven and served them up hot and fresh like the sign from Krispee Kreme in the states. Everyone was excited to try Will’s delicacy, which went over so well, no one said a word the entire time they were eating because it was too good to stop. Most went back for seconds and thirds. It was so well liked, and yet different, that it has been renamed “Will’s Durados” now, and is a tradition at our parties.
Since my guests were still not communicating, though, I had to come up with something else. I looked around at the kids sitting bored by their parents’ sides. Then I went into my room and pulled out some color sheets from my school author-visit days and all the crayons and colored pencils I could find. I went back out and placed them on a table, and before long, all the kids were talking and coloring together, as old friends instead of new. How, I wondered, can I break the barrier between the adults? I decided it was time for dessert. I thought, surely, some chocolate cake would bring everyone together. A little chocolate cake goes a long way. However, just as before, the treat was so yummy, only silence ensued. I had to come up with something else again.
I got another idea: the ever-happy comedian, clown, and savior, the piñata. I had two of them. Two grown men came over to help. Apparently, they both had a reputation for being hard to beat as directors of the piñata maneuvers. Of course, the kids came running. But, I was surprised to see that the adults were also very excited. They came ready to either swing the bat at the beautifully decorated star or to collect candies, some even holding their kids back in fun to beat them to the goodies. The piñatas did the trick. By the time the second piñata spit candy out to the pavement, everyone was laughing and having a good time.
After the party’s end, I could take a deep breath and remember the lessons I learned, which we now call our “list for an exceptional extravaganza.” 1) Don’t watch the clock, or expect anyone before 15 minutes after the party’s start time. 2) Always have crayons and color sheets (which, by the end of the night, even some of the adults enjoy, as well). 3) Make sure Will has durados in the oven. 4) Always, always have a couple of piñatas on hand. We have had several parties now, and the list seems to work wonders. But after going to a few more parties of Mexican families, I know what my next trick will be if the party is slipping by in silence: karaoke.