September 16th, 2010



Back in high school I went on a very memorable trip to Spain for the summer between tenth and eleventh grades. I was just sixteen and feeling quite grown up going to a foreign country all by myself. My high school Spanish teacher was also on the trip and kept an eye on all of us under 18, but it was still quite exciting.

For the majority of the adventure, I lived with a host family in Segovia. I had a roommate, another girl from my class, and I sort of got the impression that the host family was in it for the money rather than the rich cultural experience of having two 16 year olds living under their roof for a summer. I don't really remember interacting much with the family. There were two kids and a couple in the household, and I sort of got the impression that we were to stay out of the husband's hair. They didn't speak much English, but our Spanish was good enough to get by. Most of what I remember from that household was spending lots of time with Amy, my roommate, in our bedroom.

Part of the deal, though, was they were supposed to feed us. By and large, the food was good. Sometimes it was what I consider traditional Spanish food, sometimes just food. Pasta, salad, fried ham or chicken. Nothing particularly spectacular. Nothing particularly memorable on either good or bad, though I'm vaguely recalling a nice paella.

Except once. I'm pretty sure it was a weekend. It seemed that the sun was still up pretty high when we sat down. It started with this salad. It seemed that it was entirely made of mayonnaise, but not particularly good mayonnaise. Just blobs on our plates, with peas interjected every now and then. Amy and I knew that our host mother would be insulted or worried or horrified if we didn't eat what was put in front of us. I think she was concerned that we'd report her to some authority and we (and the money we brought in) would be re-homed. She hovered at every meal, asking us all the time if we liked something. So we knew better than to not eat what was put in front of us. And we figured that whatever came after the salad would make up for it.

But no. I don't remember if there were any side dishes or not. I just remember that slab of liver sitting in front of me.

I pause to explain how much I hate liver. Loathe it. Can't stand the smell or look of it. Pass quickly when I see it in the grocery store. My dad, of course, loves the stuff, and as a child, there were several attempts to bring me on board which failed drastically. I stayed firm in my hatred and revulsion, not even looking at it when it showed up on his plate every time we went somewhere it's served. (He can be found some Fridays at lunch at DeMarco's feasting on the liver of some poor cow. I always make sure to sit on the other side of the table when he invites me along.)

Etiquette and the horror of my host mom made it impossible to refuse or develop a quick allergy or otherwise turn it down. Amy's feelings on liver must have been the same as mine, because she just turned green and stared at the meat for a few seconds before looking up. The host mom hovered.

I cut into the meat.

Oh god.

I opened my mouth and took a bite.

It was as bad as I thought it would be.

I smiled at the host mom, who was hovering even more than usual.

And so the agony began. Amy and I weren't really talking about it, but we knew we were soldiers fighting side by side in the same foxhole. We knew we had to eat a certain amount--maybe half of the portions we were given--before politeness could allow us to announce our satiation. So we settled in and ate.

Bite. Chew. Swallow. Grimace. Bite. Chew. Swallow. Grimace.

At some point during this, Amy started drinking with every bite. It wasn't a bad idea. I don't remember if it was milk or coke or water, but anything to mask the taste. I, on the other hand, started bypassing the "chew" step, opting instead to swallow the meat whole in an attempt to get it out of my mouth faster. I had to cut smaller pieces, but it seemed to work. A little.

Our host mother relaxed at some point. Amy and I had to very carefully balance our appreciation that we were fed with any hint of enthusiasm for this particular meal, lest it be decided our favorite and show up on the menu again.

When we declared our selves finished, having done every trick in the book to make a plate look like more has been eaten than actually was, we got more questions than usual. I think it was because we didn't eat as much as we usually did. We had to reassure her several times that, no, no, there was nothing wrong, we're just full.

And then we made our escape.

Fortunately, Amy and I had food of some sort in our room, and we were able to rid ourselves of the taste of liver.

Ever eaten something that you couldn't stand for the sake of politeness?