Your soul is worth more than all the treasures of the world.
So concludes Pastor Orlando Loredo’s “God’s Plan for Salvation” brochure, which he handed to me upon dropping me off in front of La Cantina de David for lunch.
Pastor Loredo, who drives a cab four days a week, moved back to Argentina in 2004 after twenty years of Baptist missionary work in the Brazilian Amazon.
“The [2001 economic] crisis called us back to Argentina,” he explained, “People were lost, disoriented, in need. But really it was the crisis in values that made us come back.”
Was it difficult for him to return to his homeland after so much time away?
“Bueno, si. The church here is very small. That’s why I have to supplement my income with the taxi. But we’re growing.”
Pastor Loredo drives during the day, he explained, so he can minister to his parishioners at night. Far from resenting his double life, he uses his moonlighting as an opportunity to put his faith into action.
Case in point: his response to my request to go somewhere good to eat was unlike any other taxista’s I’ve encountered so far. Patient and amused, his first words were: “Let me see if I can help.”
After which he pulled over to the curb and began brainstorming with me, leaving the meter off for a good five minutes.
“I don’t go out much,” he said, “But about a year and a half ago, I went to this Spanish place on Cordoba and Jorge Newbery that I liked. They have good seafood, pastas…I can’t remember the name of the place, though.”
His suggestion accepted, he turned on the meter and merged carefully into the oncoming swarm of cars on Avenida Cabildo. We wove through Belgrano R and finally into Colegiales.
“That’s it,” he pointed to a corner restaurant with Italian provincial flags hanging from the windows, “Oh, I guess it’s Italian, not Spanish. Oh, well, here you are.”
Wishing Pastor Loredo luck, I tucked his brochure into my purse, exited the sacred, and entered La Cantina de David.
Cloth panels muffled the voices of senior citizens spread throughout a vast dining room where the 1960s never went out of style. Brass, brass everywhere. Orange silk flowers. Navy blue and gold curtains that fought back the afternoon sun. Gold-rimmed light fixtures that would fit perfectly in the Jetsons’ living room.
Traveling from Italy to Argentina to Spain (no wonder Pastor Loredo remembered it as a Spanish restaurant!), the menu mirrored the immensity of the dining room. I struggled to keep an open mind when a vested and bow-tied waiter arrived at my table with a string of snot hanging from his nose.
Oblivious to the bat in his cave, he informed me that all of the house-made pastas were fantásticos. I fixed my eyes on his and ordered: gnocchi with tomato/garlic/parsley sauce and chambotta a la napolitana (roasted vegetables marinated in herbs and olive oil).
The chambotta arrived minutes later (its bearer having blown his nose) and defied all my expectations. The combo of eggplant, zapallo (sweet green squash), and fresh tomatoes bathed in fruity olive oil – and replete with oregano – turned out to be a gorgeous antipasto.
The gnocchi that followed hadn’t been prepared with the same care. Heavy and under-seasoned, they soaked in a sauce that was short on garlic and long on sugar. I worked my way through a good bit of it and decided to save room for dessert.
I ordered the tiramisu, eavesdropping on the heated diatribe of the sweater vest at the table next door (From “The price of meat in this country is breaking my balls!” to “The journalists must be beside themselves about about the violence between Colombia and Ecuador” and “Inflation is going to make in impossible to survive in this city pretty soon.”).
My dessert unfortunately matched the grim commentary that accompanied it. After the first bite of tiramisu, my meal, like the peso, went into a decidedly downward slide. The “mascarpone” my waiter had assured me about was in fact whipped cream, and the bizcochuelo [cake] was drowning in what tasted like Hershey’s syrup.
Admittedly, Pastor Orlando had not given me the keys to BA’s culinary kingdom, but his patience, his presence, and his remarkable sense of purpose will linger in my memory far longer than that mediocre tiramisu – and hopefully longer than the haunting observations from the sweater vest…