Mate and smiling always go together

A Thousand Worlds of Yerba Mate

Version en Español

The heat of Asunción

To the first, I said yes, out of curiosity, but the second time they offered me a drink of tereré, a disparaging glance escaped me, leaving my opinion more than clear. The heat of Asunción put his hands down the throats of each one of us, squeezing and shaking ferociously in continuous attempts to make us faint. The suffocation of the wet and heavy summer made it evident that the freshness of the beverage was a matter of survival rather than exotic innovation, but in my Argentinian heart I couldn’t help the feeling that mixing in the herbs and throwing juice in the mate was unforgivable sacrilege.

It wasn’t long before I could fill the thermos and sate the urge to sip a hot mate, bitter and frothy, without delaying too much to understand that taking short drinks of a liquid that is around eighty degrees centigrade under the hot sun of Paraguay demanded tremendous physical and mental resistance. A Frenchman next to me in that intercontinental entourage was interested in tasting the drink of the Argentinean wet pampas, and asked me to make him one. His face wrinkled like a paper bun when the juice touched his tongue and he returned the mate, even with liquid still floating on the surface, exclaiming, “very strong, very strong.”

When all is crazy around you, Mate will keep you balanced
When all is crazy around you, Mate will keep you balanced

I was alone in my traditionalist defense but still believed that the taste of the old and well-known bitter mate was worth it. Looking up at the stage where I had been dropped, the beverage alone began a silent conversation about its origin, its family, and its customs. Contemplating the countrymen coming and going while they loaded the equipment under their arms, passing the tererés among them, graceful and fresh, I was assaulted by the memory that the word mate comes from the Guaraní, mati, and that Paraguay, along with Brazil, was the land where the indigenous people were largely settled. I then realized that this region was probably closer to the original version than it was in my own land. Although I didn’t want to accept it, probably what they formerly ingested back then was more similar to the tropical version they these people were drinking in front of me now, instead of the hot and bitter version with which I desperately promoted on my own.

The veil of custom

In any culture, it is a common phenomenon to grow convinced that the way you do it in your land is the best, and that the others are limited, until one day the veil falls to the ground and bare a truth that reveals the naivety with which some customs are preached.

As a child, it was unthinkable to even consider the idea of taking a drink of those green herbs, on which bubbled doubtful-looking foam; watching with disgust as the adults swallowed wildly all that venomous juice. As childhood closed its cycle, mate was incorporated into my life accompanying university studies, meetings with friends and even, with some romanticism, walks in the park with a girl who was shooting my heart. The body felt the change and the thirst became accustomed to being sated by swallowing that which once disgusted me; now becoming the elixir that crowned with its flavor and fragrance all the moments in which the fullness was realized.

Mate and smiling always go together
Mate and smiling always go together

A thousand worlds of Yerba Mate

I smiled at the rush of memories. It didn’t matter if the original version was this or that, or whether the quality of taste was a matter of perspective. It was an object that was inert, but, without noticing, it was also a symbol of my life, the history of my country, the history of my neighbors and that of my ancestors. Their preparations, their tastes and their presence meant something immeasurable, a company that even, at that very moment, was participating in the construction of an unforgettable memory that would decorate the memory of all of us, crowning the laughter and friendship with the final noise made by the suck of whoever wanted to squeeze every last drop of juice.

Elías Rompani


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