Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Mate: the good, the bad, and the ugly

The other day at work, I learned how to make mate from my coworker, Luciana. This is how you do it:

1. Heat (but not boil) water in a kettle
2. Put yerba (herb) in the mate pot thingy
3. Put bombilla (metal straw) into the yerba
4. Add a bit of sugar near the base of the bombilla if you don’t like your mate bitter
5. Add water, pouring near the straw (thus leaving some of the yerba on the top dry)
6. Enyoy.

Notes: Add more hot water from thermos when level gets low. You know the mate is bad when the yerba starts to float.

Once I found out how to make it, I quickly devolved into a mate fiend, and learned that mate has the added bonus of being loaded with caffeine so it keeps one chipper/wired at work. Awesome.

As I was sipping away at my mate on Friday, another coworker, Gerrardo, explained to me that in Argentina, mate is a social thing – the fun of it is in sharing with your friends. I smiled at him blankly and took another sip. In retrospect, I wonder if he wanted some. Whatever. My mate, my rules. Maybe I’d fit in better in Uruguay, because there, according to Gerrardo, mate is more of an individual thing, where people carry around their own thermoses and sip at their bombillas all day long, non-stop. Today on the subte, incidentally, I saw a guy with a thermos, refilling his mate and drinking it while sending text messages on his phone. Damn Uruguayans.

Note that the title of this entry references the “ugly” part of mate. Leave it to me to find an ugly side of a beautiful cultural ritual, right? Okay, by way of background, I have to tell you: I have this weird metal allergy where I get rashes from necklaces, earrings, rings, even the rivets on my jeans. That’s right, I’m allergic to my own jeans. If you think that stops me from wearing them, you’re wrong -- you gotta suffer for beauty. Anyway, apparently I am allergic to metal straws, too. I learned this the hard way today when, after my second mate, one of my coworkers gave me a strange look and said, “tenés la boca negra.” Slightly concerned that I might have contracted the plague, I went to the mirror to check out my mouth, and sure enough, my lips were blackish-greenish. Um, ew? I had a weird allergic reaction to the bombilla, apparently, and my lips turned black where it had touched them.

I guess this means I need to cut back my consumption of mate. But maybe not. Black lips can be cool. Just ask the Goths.

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