From the 2015 Jan./Feb. issue of Sporting Classics.
I was dreaming of Argentina when the telephone rang. Dreaming of the peso taking a beating, dreaming of ten-dollar T-bones cut from the best beef on earth, ditto the two-dollar wine, the bread, and salad. Dreaming of the street-corner tango dancers, the girls with eyes and legs and rumps to make a deacon come out the church. The shopgirls at quitting time, all up in second skin Levi’s making 40-inch strides, high-heel boots clicking and clacking along flagstone sidewalks of Boca, the old town, their long woolen scarves flapping in their wake.
Young women cannot show cleavage in Argentina, so they compensate. They catch the gringo eye and you catch theirs and that dark fire flashes and you know they saw you even if they won’t let it show a second time. You might like to follow but you dassan’t.
You remember my buddy the governor, who got Appalachian Trail mixed up with Argentinian tail and slipped his security detail in South Carolina and flew to Buenos Aires? Lots of folks gave him particular hell, but none of them had ever been to Argentina, so far as I could tell. As Twain once noted, “Some men can avoid temptation if the woman lacks in attractiveness.” Can’t say if the electorate read Twain either, but once the dust settled, they elected him to Congress, where he serves with distinction, a living terror to his colleagues who have managed to keep their sundry indiscretions out of the press, mostly. But I digress.
Don’t cry for me Argentina, I will cry for you. The long drives to the dove fields, the gauchos hooked over coffee outside the daybreak cantinas, saddles tied and bundled waiting for a ride to the next batch of steers, and where the baños in the truckstops say Donas or Caballeros (Ladies or Horsemen). The short hops on Areolinas, the national airline, where they mostly fly on time. The money spent, the powder burned, the great clouds of palomas, the shotguns too hot to touch. Brush and snarl-wood and kindling vines kicked together and fired for a field lunch of suckling goat, dove breasts, and flatbread, the white-linen-topped table in the shade and yes, it is perfectly kosher to drink local Chablis and still shoot, but you may not shoot quite so well.
Cheaper than a south Georgia quail shoot but I gotta get there first. Too stove for a sardine seat, and lawdy . . . business class to Izieza will eat you alive. But maybe I could swing it if I shook the money bush hard. Real hard.
I was dreaming of Argentina when the telephone rang.
It was Wick, sometimes boss, always friend, fresh back from a hunt for driven partridge in Spain.
“The shooting was mighty good,” he drawled, “but if I’da known what they were fixing to charge me per bird, I wouldn’t have shot so many.” He told me the number, which I won’t disclose, but will say it would have bought a barrel of very good whiskey.
“I got this sunflower field and we got birds coming in every evening. Can’t say for sure if it will be worthwhile, but we gonna try it on Saturday. You welcome to come.”
“Where’s that field?”
“Down at Pinckney Colony.”
Pinckney Colony was where a lot of my kin hid out after the Yankees shelled and burnt Charleston. There were shrimp and oysters, fish, turkeys, and deer, so at least they could eat.
“Pinckney Colony? How can I possibly say no?”
“I reckon you can’t. You welcome to bring the boy.”
The boy, Number Two of three. Number one was off and running and Two was just coming to the gun. He rifled a wild hog in Texas, knocked over a fat doe with buckshot in Carolina, and now it was time to break him in on birds, and a dove shoot is a perfect way to do it. Give him a jug of water, a box of low-brass eights, and a double gun. Make him carry his gun open coming and going. Make him open it whenever approached by another hunter. Set him way off by himself along a treeline, far enough so he can’t shoot nobody but not so far where you can’t beller instructions. When the birds start falling, credit him with an extra bird or two.
But the boy began blasting away like an Iraqi air defense colonel. If he saw it, he shot at it. Wick wryly watched the proceedings. “You put a stretcher on that boy’s shotgun?”
“Hey Boy, quit that sky-busting!”
He did but it wasn’t long before he came trudging the furrows, gun open like I told him, out of shells.
“Necesita mas cartouches?” I asked.
“Sorry son, I was back in Argentina.”
“They tried to teach me Spanish in school,” he massaged his gun shoulder, “but I just couldn’t pick it up.”
“Mas cartouches, mi hijo.” I tore open another box of low brass, rattled half of them into his vest.
“Well, you buck up and do better. You know that little Mexican girl just down the road?”
He blushed. “Yessir.”
“I’m fixing to hire her to come over and give you private lessons.”
I could see the panic rise. All of a sudden he knew that I knew. She was a little looker, alright, about his age, just a little more than half grown.
“Oh no sir, you won’t have to do all that!”
“Get on back there and slide your butt into the brush a bit. Not so far you can’t see but just enough to break your outline.” Then I sprung the same line on him that my daddy sprung on me. “And remember the T.”
“The T. We are trying to shoot, not shoo.”
The limit was 16 birds. I wasn’t sure if a junior hunter’s bag counted as mine, so we stopped early. Back at the shack, I laid the birds on an outside table.
“Dime una paloma,” I said.
Wasn’t any way to confuse that, so he passed me a bird.
“Mira,” I said.
“Watch.” I plucked the breast clean of feathers, ran my knife close alongside the breastbone, cut till I hit the wingbone, then peeled away the meat. Each side would have filled the bowl of a good-sized serving spoon. “
He grunted, took the knife. I went to the kitchen and fetched up a mess of sweet banana peppers. While the boy whittled on the doves, I split the peppers, shucked out the seeds. Half a dove breast filled half a pepper perfectly. I wrapped each in bacon, pinned with a toothpick, baptized with a splash of soy, and dusted with powdered garlic.
“Lo haremos parilla estos.”
“How come you been speaking Spanish all afternoon?”
“Practicing up,” I said.
“You going back to Argentina?”
“We are going to Argentina.”
He looked at me like a spaniel. “You gonna take me to Argentina?”
“Well boy, I am gonna try. It’s a longshot but I will promise you this. If I go, you will go too. And I won’t have you stumbling around with dumb looks when you are hungry, thirsty, or need to pee. You sure you don’t want me to call up that little Mexican girl?”
“Oh no, sir, I’ll do better, I promise!”
“I am going to hold you to it. Now go fire the grill while I start the rice.”
“Yessir! Parilla, that’s grill right?”
“So how do I ask for more shells?”
I told him and he grinned from one ear clean to the other. “We having these birds for supper?”
“Not unless you quit all this jawing and get after that grill.”
“Parilla,” he said. +++
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