Sunday, June 02, 2013
The time of firsts
Continuing the long look back we visit Salinas where I spent two or three early years at the end of the Second World War. It was in Salinas that my first memories were etched including my first movie, my first best friend, my first crush and first food memory. I remember that my first film was one starring Esther Williams, my first crush, and featuring a young Latin heartthrob, Ricardo Montalban. It was either Montalban or the other handsome Latino actor of the forties, Fernando Lamas. According to Ms. Williams’ filmography the movie must have been Fiesta which was released in 1947. In an unlikely turn of events Montalban did the voice-overs on television commercials for a Mexican restaurant chain that I operated in the late seventies. I didn't make that connection until this moment. Esther Williams is 91 and lives with her third husband in Beverly Hills.
Both downtown theaters still exist as live music venues and since I have no clue which one ran Fiesta here are both.
My best friend was Ramon Gutierrez who lived with his mother Sally and his grandmother is a little court where my mother and I rented a bungalow. Big Ramon was a prisoner of war in Japan who, because he was a gardener by trade and used in that capacity by his captors, came back home relatively whole since he could steal food. Others were not so fortunate.
I have already told the story of my first food epiphany but it bears repeating since I was apparently born to eat. On brisk winter afternoons after playing in the slough behind the house Ramon’s grandmother would make flour tortillas and roll them around melting butter. Nothing has ever tasted better or been more soul warming. I’m convinced that my love affair with food sprung from that seminal experience with the lowly tortilla and I could probably weave my life’s story through the tastes that have punctuated it.