By 7:30 we had soaked and cooked the lentils, blanched the grape leaves, collected sage for frying (mmm), pitted a bowl of olives, made mint simple syrup for the plum juice cocktail, and showered. We were just cleaning off the outdoor table when John and Lindsey arrived with their fruit salad and some Torrontés, the dry white wine for which Cafayate is famous. Maud was still gone.
When she returned laden with the rest of our ingredients, we all practiced folding the grape leaves into miniature burritos while munching fried sage leaves. I learned that the rice is actually stuffed into the leaves uncooked. While the little bundles steamed in water and Finca Utama wine, Lindsey filled our glasses and told us her story.
Lindsey and John viewed the doulmas with as much anticipation as we did. “I’m so excited to eat something light, I’ve been craving this kind of food” John said while we were rolling the doulmas.
“John’s getting a little tired of emapanadas,” Lindsey explained. I, on the other end of the spectrum, had been looking forward to a more substantial meal than potatoes, and was skeptical that grape leaves and olives would fill me. They did. A full plate of niños envueltos (I like the Spanish name for our dinner best) remained after we’d abandoned them in favor of the fruit salad and replaced the wine in our glasses with the plum juice, mint syrup, and aguardiente. The bright juice did almost too good a job blending with the strong clear grape liquor, and soon we had moved from the story of how Lindsey and John ended up in Cafayate to how Maud got here.
“I was very rebel,” she has told us more than once. And after art school in the 70s, Maud set off more or less backpacking through South America. “But I did not have a backpack” she explained, “because everyone had a backpack.”
She had met a fellow traveler in Bolivia, a German girl, and they had decided to rent a house or apartment together. All was going well until one day “the man who owned it he came and told us ‘tomorrow 125 men will sleep here’ and they were militars, so we said no no no, we must leave now.” They joined a third young woman, another German headed towards Brazil. I don’t know exactly why Maud split off, but she decided to go into Argentina. I think she still planned to meet the other two later though, and they kept in contact.
One night, the two German girls were on a train in Bolivia and it was stopped by the military. “They made everyone get off the train and they said ‘men, go there. Women, go there. You, extranjeras, go there.’” After a long wait in the dark, one girl, the “younger, less experienced” one, stepped away to see what was going on. She did not come back. Despite misgivings about disobeying soldiers with a reputation for brutality, the other went to investigate. She found her friend in a ditch, covered in blood and bruises with a broken leg. She screamed as much for help as for attention, so that people would know she was there and she might not suffer the same fate.
Somehow she made her way back to La Paz and got her friend accepted at the second or third hospital they tried. But it was too late. The Argentine dictatorship is called the Dirty War, but what war is not dirty? Maud said that the girl’s parents were diplomats of some sort, and that her death attracted a lot of publicity. As soon as she heard, she sent for the surviving friend. “Come here to heal” she told her. The friend stayed for a while, but eventually she went home, back to Germany, back to her home, back, I imagine, to a setting that felt a lifetime away from dictadores and militars.
But Maud stayed. She built a family, a house, a workshop. She planted gardens, grape vines, and plum trees. Under the puckering influence of aguardiente and pink juice, conversation floated into other stories about other victims who had healed at Maud’s dinner table, about crazy characters in town (of course Maud knew the man who sat outside John and Lindsey’s house every day, and of course she could tell us all his story), about the rich Americans who were hoping to retire to Cafayate to escape the apocalypse. The stories and the hours fluttered by. When I stood to say goodbye I had to grab my chair for a second. Maud laughed, “I thought it was just me,” she said. Everyone assured everyone that everyone was drunk on Torrontés and plums.