Of la despedida

La despedida is a particularly porteño phenomenon. These are all-night bacchanalia of sorts, send offs for anyone departing the city. I attended a fine and merry despedida this Friday for one John “cara de pollo” Thompson. Normally I would change the name to protect his anonymity but he has, excluding the little known “chicken face” middle, so common a name as to make a pseudonym unnecessary.

This was my second official despedida since my arrival here. It was held in Casa Pasco. Crowds of people hung around, laughing on the terrace, smoking cigarettes. They swapped stories around the coffee table or huddled by a kitchen counter-top and picked through bottles of fernet, coke, beer and malbec. Occasionally (this is a habit that seems typical to all peoples of the world when they drink in groups) they would break into song–either on their own or to accompany the music playing.

The guests do a lot of hugging and petting and kissing of the person in whose honor the party is held. Some tears are shed. Friday night’s gathering for our very much loved Johnny boy was no exception.

These tend to be wonderful parties, if my limited experience gives me any sort of expertise on the matter. And, lovelier still, they last all night.

I myself couldn’t manage to make it to the dawn on Friday. Around 3 a.m. I offered my own tearful farewell and headed home. (A small group of young men looking for a bar outside my apartment building commented that I must be getting old if I was off to bed at such an early hour.) The rest of the party, though, went from the house to a bar in another part of town. And on and on, I assume, went the singing, the smoking and chatting, the drinking and (a little) weeping. And now, dear readers, John is somewhere else, wandering away in the world and forward in his life.

You sort of wonder if these parties are more about the people who have to stay than the guests of honor. They mitigate for those who remain the truth that something is being lost. “Things fall apart,” after all. “The center cannot hold. Mere anarchy is unleashed upon the world.”

Yeats might have hated that I’m using his poem to talk about all-night send-off parties in Buenos Aires. But hey, what’s he gonna do about it? He’s dead. And while he may have been thinking about war and God when he wrote those lines, he must have too, at least a little bit, considered the often painful fact of the ephemerality of human communities, human connections.

Luck or geography or family or sheer coincidence brings us together, for a time, and then something else tears us apart. It may be the only true thing about us. Everything, always, changes. The order-less universe just works that way. When you wake up the day after la despedida the world is not the one you knew the night before. Sooner or later, your own despedida even arrives and poof, you’re off to someplace else entirely, you’re off to be someone else entirely.  The center, as it turns out, never really did hold.

I am not a woman who is unusually averse to change. I love a melancholic goodbye as much as the next gal. Maybe more. But I do think that la despedida is a fabulous phenomenon precisely because it asks the change to wait just a little bit longer, just until the dawn. It admits that history marches forward but none-the-less playfully resists this very fact. ‘Onward, time, if you must,’ it says, ‘but tonight you won’t yet scatter us. Tonight we drink and laugh and dance in the streets. Tonight we are friends, together in this city, and filled with an impossible love for each other. So there.’

We forget again, after the hangover fades, that more still will be lost (if also gained) as we move toward that big fat final despedida mandated for us all. It’s nice, though, that these small and futile ways to rebel are still allotted us foolish creatures. And that sooner or later we will again remember and make good use of them. Anarchy be damned.


One Comment on “Of la despedida”

  1. […] treat of an invitation to a Chilean despedida. I have written of the phenomena of despedidas before, of course, but it was a pleasure to be able to partake in Santiago’s version of the ritual. […]


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