Today the Winds Came

By Madeline Blasberg

I believe in my heart of hearts that my mother is trying to protect me.  I believe her concern comes from love.  I also believe that if I were to heed her every warning I would never leave the house without at least a three-day supply of fruit and water, a first aid kid, an array of sweaters and a rain coat- for the rain that is always on its way, but strangely never seems to arrive.

I suppose it’s not quite as dramatic as another host mom who reminds her student on a daily basis that the apocalypse is imminent, but I imagine both our madres are riding the same vigilant wavelength.  A wavelength which intensified thanks to an annual Mendocinan phenomenon.

Today the winds came.

El Viento Zonda, rakes across the eastern slopes of the Andes, hurling snow flurries around in the mountains, and dry dusty heat in the desert below.  Every year at about this time, when the leaves turn crispy and golden, the Zonda disrupts the tranquil daily routines of Mendoza with winds of 25 to 50 mph.  It signals the end of summer, and the beginning of mad grab for winter parkas and wool socks. Legend has it the Zonda also causes psychological disturbances, ranging from aggression to depression to excessive siesta-ing.   But mostly the disturbance is physical. No shaky tree limb, loose-fitting hat, small child or poorly secured toupee is safe.

Buckle down and hold on.

Official weather warnings were issued, schools and universities locked their doors, the fruit vendor I pass every morning abandoned his post and moved his peaches to safer ground, and streets remained eerily empty.  That is, except for a few brave souls, a little headstrong and eager to be outside, who dared to venture out.  What I didn’t know, was that an additional Zonda side effect is that it also blows Argentinean host mothers into a flurry of panic.

“Maddie, Mendoza has a lot of old, big trees so you have to be extremely careful.  If a strong gust comes along, just do this,” my host mother said, plastering herself up against the wall of the foyer, “that way it wont hit you.”

Dear Lord, I thought, dodging tree limbs as they soar through the air was not exactly what I had envisioned for my morning trek into the city, but a good gringa is a flexible gringa.  I’m just bummed to have realized I failed to pack yet another crucial item: a bike helmet.  That’s minus 2 points.

Smiling at my mother and insuring her that I would proceed with the utmost caution, I grabbed my Tupperware of leftover empanadas and crossed the threshold, into a tornado.

Mendocinos take great pride in sidewalk cleanliness: constantly sweeping leaves and mopping away piles of bird and dog droppings.  Pristine maintenance is an understatement.  But today, there was no chance of tidy leaf piles.  Everything from scraps of mail, plastic bags, dried leaves and someone’s army green hat were thrown from one side of the street to the other.  Turns out, my mother was right.

And as I walked the several blocks out of my neighborhood and in the direction of the nearest trolley stop, I heard the pinging and thudding of falling limbs.  I even stepped over a fallen birds nest that had met an untimely end when it came crashing down on the tiled sidewalk.  And really, the only thing on my mind — other than the additional loss of packing points — was what an unfortunate way this would be to die.

The Andes daily periodical would surely mutilate my headline, and I’d have to be scraped off the pavement with leaves and bark embedded in my wind-blown hair.  But that was a silly thought, surely I would not die.  Correction, I surely will die some day, but I thought it unlikely that it would be today, and even more unlikely that it would be the result of a kamikaze tree limb.

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