For one night only, I opened the best Cuban restaurant in International Falls. Located in the Pavleck’s kitchen, it featured a limited menu of my abuela’s arroz con pollo, a family style ambiance, and an exclusive guest list.
Emma wandered the grocery store aisles with me in search of the right ingredients, pointing me toward garlic when I couldn’t find it, and saying hello to half the town before we left the produce section. Emma’s mom, Patty, entrusted me with her nicest pot and sharpest knives, then showed me how to work the stove. Emma’s father, Todd, and brother, Logan, looked at maps to figure out how I could get around the rapids at the entrance to Rainy Lake, where I could get out of the water, and where I could get back in. I cooked and restrained myself from playing Los Van Van or Pupy and forcing Cuban dance lessons on all of them.
“It helps flavor the food,” I would have argued.
Then we sat and ate and I felt like part of their family and I hope they felt like part of mine.
There’s a lot of adventure out on the water. There are waves that can topple me, wind that pushes me backwards, storms that roll across the land. There are portages used by French voyageurs, rivers to paddle like Huck Finn, and islands to take over for a night like Robinson Crusoe, but there are also tables with an extra chair for a half-Cuban from Tallahassee, Florida, to sit with four Minnesotans, swap stories, laugh about our accents, and see the world from a different angle.
The last voyageur died 200 years ago. Huck Finn and Robinson Crusoe are just ink and imagination. The Pavleck’s table is real.
Trust me. I’ve been there. I’ve seen it.