1. Cure the mate: if your mate is a gourd you have to cure it first. Think of Louis Pasteur and Jonas Salk. This will make you feel vaguely scientific. Fill the mate with yerba and hot water. Make sure the water isn’t angry since boiling water makes the yerba taste bitter like people who cling to guns and religion. A half an hour later, fill the mate up to the metal ring again and leave it there for twenty-four hours. Then rinse with hot water (no soap), dry and enjoy. This is your countdown to addiction.
2. Buy a stainless steel thermos: this way you can drink mate anytime and anyplace in Buenos Aires. Mate will become you new magic trick. Snap your fingers and you’ll have the Holy Grail. You can refill your mate with hot water from the thermos you bought in front of the Subte station called Catedral though you’ve never seen a church around. After the woman on Florida Avenue charged you forty pesos you said you’d take it for twenty-five. This startled her. —My friend down there charges fifty pesos, she said. You grumbled and forked over the money. A week later you saw the same thermos inside a shop window for a hundred pesos. She wasn’t trying to rip you off after all. Clearly, the mate hadn’t changed you yet.
3. Beware of what happens when you hold your mate protectively in your hands: after you eat a white alfajor and split an orange that explodes color, a shirtless man walks up to you out of the blue with noticeable face stubble and a book of his guru in his hand. He points at your tattoos and then talks for twenty minutes without breathing. You won’t get a word in, which is odd for you. As you hold the mate in your hand and wait for him to stop talking, you decide to wait until he leaves before offering it to your girlfriend. She puts the metal straw to her lips and smiles.
4. Pick the right yerba: this is like choosing the right wine for dinner. Sometimes you want it vigorous and strong like a gladiator. La Merced’s De Monte is faithful and husky that way. Other times you want your mate smooth and earthy like a mouthful of sweet grass. The red label of Jesper soothes you. And there really are twigs in the yerba.
5. Carry it with you wherever you go: you don’t know it yet, but drinking mate is a lifestyle, not a drink. You can buy drinks at any bar or Kiosco. But a lifestyle is something you create, slowly assembling a habit that ends up defining you in a series of small decisions. Mate makes you oral and patient, thoughtful and social. Drinking mate becomes a ritual. You make your girlfriend promise that you’ll never stop taking time out of your life to drink mate together once you return to Chicago. She nods and reaches for the mate. You wonder if she’s heard a thing you’ve said.
6. Addiction: when you skip a day of drinking mate, your head becomes a Seattle Winter. But when you heat up water on the stove your spirit rises up like the smoke in animal sacrifice. Your face lights up, radiant and inedible like a giant lemon.
7. Drugged Time: There are plenty of parks in Buenos Aires. Unfortunately you won’t visit most of them because you like the shade when the air gets hot and omnivorous. You stick to Plaza de Palermo Viejo in Palermo SoHo. Parque de las Herras near Recoleta. Plaza San Martin in Microcentro. These are the places where time slows down like a clock injected with Quaaludes.
8. Swallow Nature: The good thing is that as you drink your yerba, you will inhale grass and leaves that come from missions all across the Argentine peninsula. Your yerba also has twigs in it. Actual pieces of wood, and they slowly expand each time you fill your mate with water from your thermos. This connects you to the campo. You flatter yourself into thinking that you are somehow closer to Argentina than your expatriate friends that flush through the Capital like merchants washing the sidewalk.
9. Ignite fellowships: the mate ritual is simple. Always offer your friends mate. It’s rude to keep that kind of pleasure to yourself. Each person drinks mate from the bombilla, sucking until the gourd is dry. You’ll meet your friends at Plaza de Holanda and melt in the sun together, passing your mate around in a circle like a it’s a joint. You’ll walk to Plaza de Palermo Viejo with your girlfriend and drink mate on a bench, eating granolas bars, chocolate cookies and Mandarin oranges while a woman lies in the grass in a thong.
10. Some day a man without a shirt and shadow on his face might walk right up to you and your girlfriend and talk for twenty minutes because he can sense your harmony. You notice him clinging to a book with his guru on the cover, and like people who use guns and religion after every sip of bitter yerba (which always comes from the angriest water), your grip on the mate gets tighter and tighter.
11. Mate is almost an aphrodisiac: at least, it makes you want to take your clothes off like a Porteña in a thong, to melt inside the sweet spot of the day at the exact place where the sun is warm and gooey like a pastry. You will do anything that makes your pores radiant like a new hook-up. The mate runs down your throat like a long hot kiss.
12. Redemption: there is nothing that mate cannot save. You spend almost all day inside the apartment doing absolutely nothing, only eating breakfast and checking your mail while the day passes by like a migration of birds. But, with one thermos of hot water, a mate full of smooth yerba (and a little brown sugar), you and your girlfriend salvage a day of complete lassitude by simply walking to your favorite park in Palermo where both of you share cookies, brownie bites and a granola bar. In two hours, your lethargy turns into a perfect moment. Happiness should always this simple.