Calling me thin as a rail would have been an understatement. I looked more like a toothpick with an olive on top, and being underweight was my most salient trait as a child, at least in my family’s eyes. I liked food, some of it anyhow, but I didn’t eat much, to the consternation of a group of people for whom eating well, and by “well” they meant both quantity and quality, was not merely a matter of ingesting nutrients but an activity with metaphysical implications—and one of the very few points of agreement between the two sides of the family. Two of my father’s sisters, Adela and Charo, and one of his brothers, Luis, were modestly plump, as was my mother’s sister Cristina, and that was that. My father was thin, very, and my mother and the rest of the uncles and aunts seemed firmly anchored in some middle range that enjoyed total immunity to the amount of food they ate. And eat they did.
Lunch and dinner were both large meals, the major differences between them being that lunch was eaten quickly and not everyone was necessarily present, and the whole family would show up for dinner and linger at leisure over the dishes and lace food with conversation, and often conversation with food. Bread, rice and salad enjoyed entrenched permanency at both lunch and dinner; neither meal would be presentable without these staples. Soup, light or heavy depending on the time of the year, would come first, and if the soup was light, the beans would come as a side dish to be eaten with the rice, but they would be part of the soup if this was heavy; and the rice was always judged by how separate the grains were, with any degree of pastiness making it unacceptable; and the main course would usually be chicken, or pork, or beef, or occasionally fish, which did not have many followers. The food was consumed in this order, with the exception of the salad, which everyone