Last week, I started taking a French class.
I’ve always wanted to learn French. A thousand years ago, I went to college in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I transferred there as a sophomore and didn’t have the option of preregistering for classes beforehand.
During the normal registration period, I signed up for the classes I needed. If one was unavailable, I had to start over and rebuild my schedule from scratch, trying to fit the classes together like a Tetris puzzle. I’d already done this twice, which meant running around the entire campus, from department to department, getting approval for admittance.
This week, my “Chilean daughter” turned 21.
It seems like only yesterday that I walked into her 8th grade classroom for the first time, but that was back in 2009. Francisca would have been 14 then. A quiet teenager, she came to the front of the classroom when I played Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be the Day.”
I wrote about it in A Million Sticky Kisses:
Right, it’s been a month since Phillip passed away. Four short weeks that feel like a lifetime. I’ve had lots of sympathy, condolences, notes, calls, offers of food, help, or companionship.
My friends, both Chilean and gringo, have rallied around, watched over me, and listened to my long-winded stories about Phillip, family, and everything in between. Mostly, I’ve just needed to talk about it. Whatever, “it” is. I am so grateful for their willing ears.
It’s been a strange time. I’ve had almost no energy. It’s slowly coming back, but very slowly. In a country where the party begins at 10pm, I’ve often been in bed, and asleep, by 9pm. I can’t make myself care about what I might be missing.
I’ve had to change peluqueros again. This must be the fifth or sixth one I’ve tried here. I’ve lost count.
After an incident with one in El Centro back in 2012, I’d been trekking out to Barrio Yungay to Marcos* who did a consistent job of maintaining my hair style.
The problem? It was two-fold. Over time, I’d noticed that all the magazines in the salon had disappeared and were replaced by religious pamphlets. Along with my haircut, I could expect an evangelical lecture.
Then, there arose the scenario of their son and his learning English. This year, he was accepted into a “prestigious” Chilean school. He had not learned much English before and, now, he is struggling at the new school.
On my last visit to the salon, I’d had the foresight to take my Kindle and was reading the latest trashy novel, in plain view of their religious propaganda, when I heard a little voice say, “Hello, Tía.”
I looked up to find Juanito* peeking into the salon. Since they live upstairs, this didn’t surprise me, but this time, his mother frog-marched him in, one hand on each shoulder, and plunked him down in a chair opposite me. In his 12-year old hands was his English textbook.
“Please, he needs help with his homework. He doesn’t understand it,” pleaded his mother.
This wasn’t the first time that they had asked for my help. I’d given mini-English lessons on previous salon visits and, last year, his mother had emailed me a homework assignment, along with a note begging me to do it for him. The task had been to translate a report which he would then have to read in class.
Put between the rock and being forced to find a new hairdresser, I’d reluctantly done the translation and sent it back with a stern note, reminding her that Juanito would learn nothing this way. They calmed down for awhile, but this year at his new school, he seems completely lost.
I looked at Juanito, seated across from me, and started asking him questions in English. “Does your teacher speak to the class in English?” I already suspected the answer to this, and he confirmed it with the blank stare.
I asked him again, in Spanish, and he shook his head. “Can he speak English at all?”
“Oh, yes. He can.”
“Then, why doesn’t he?”
“The first day of school, he asked who could understand him in English. When no one raised his hand, he gave up and started speaking to us in Spanish.”
Uh-huh. If the kids can’t understand the English teacher, isn’t it his job to actually make sure that they learn how? I suggested that Juanito’s parents go to the school and speak with the teacher, ask him why the kids aren’t being taught in English. If the teacher wasn’t receptive, my advice would be to complain to the administration.
“But how could we do that?” What?! “Why don’t you come and do some workshops?”
I explained that I would soon be leaving Chile for this year, that I was not available to begin workshops. I thought that they had understood me.
They ignored my recommendation that they speak with the teacher, but they went to the administration alright…to ask if I could come to the school to teach remedial workshops to Juanito’s class.
Next thing I knew, I had received an email from an “inspector” at the school, inviting me to send in a proposal, along with lesson plans, so that they could approve it before I arrived to do the free workshops.
After stewing for a couple of weeks, I wrote the inspector a polite note, explaining that I’m not going to be here long enough to begin workshops this year. He wrote back to say that I should inform Juanito’s parents.
Since I’d already tried to inform them and they’d chosen not to hear me, I didn’t bother to attempt it again. This, of course, all means that I’ve had to find yet another peluquería.
I’ve managed to locate a salon downtown where I was able to relax and thumb through the latest issue of Vanidades while waiting, and best of all, the Linda Hunt doppelgänger stylist doesn’t seem the least bit interested in learning English.
Frequently, I am contacted by folks who read this blog and are planning a visit to Chile. They ask me where to stay, what to do, how to get from A to B. I enjoy playing virtual tour guide and I offer advice when I can.
Many people want to be in the heart of it all. They choose to stay in Barrio Bellas Artes or Barrio LaStarria where you can hop onto the Metro or a bus, and it’s easy to walk to restaurants and bars.
When I first moved here, back in 2011, it was almost impossible to find a restaurant open between the hours of 5pm and 7pm. They firmly shut their doors after lunch and didn’t reopen until Chilean dinner hour. Now, with a huge influx of tourists, more and more places are staying open all the way through, from lunch until closing.
Walking through LaStarria, you see signs announcing “Happy Hour.” Though most Chileans don’t arrive to get “happy” until around 9pm, the Happy Hours usually start after lunch, which means around 5pm.
A recent article in The Guardian said that Santiago is “out to surprise” and listed the Top 10 Bars in Santiago. I might disagree about some on the list, but I have visited most of them. Six of them are within a five minute walk from my apartment…and you wondered why I post so many photos of cocktails.
On Saturday evening, after Chile’s historic win of the Copa America soccer tournament, there was jubilation in Santiago.
Chile had never before won this tournament, and we watched, mesmerized, as Alexis Sanchez kicked the winning penalty goal. Thousands took to the streets to celebrate the victory. Plaza Italia, the designated gathering place for celebrations, as well as protests, was overrun with ecstatic fans.
Everything started off well, with honking horns and vuvuzelas. People, shouting in the streets, “Chi, Chi, Chi,” and others responding, “le, le, le,” but before the night had ended, there were three deaths, plus looting and vandalism.
Now that the initial thrill is winding down, it’s back to the real world where Chile’s got a few issues to resolve. As my musician friend, Polo* commented on Facebook, “YA ES NUESTRA LA COPA AMERICA. ¡QUE FELICIDAD! AHORA A GANAR LA COPA EN EDUCACION, SALUD, CULTURA, RESPETO, JUSTICIA.” The Copa America is ours. What joy! Now, to win the Copa in education, healthcare, culture, respect, and justice.
I couldn’t agree more, Polo. ¡Que se puede!
*a little jazz for your listening pleasure, brought to you by Polo.
There is a brass band playing outside. Enthusiastically, if slightly off-key. They are celebrating Día del Patrimonio Cultural de Chile, a nation-wide festival which lasts, not just one day, but all weekend to honor the different dimensions of cultural heritage in Chile.
In my neighborhood, the brass band is here in conjunction with the bomberos, the fire department. They play a song or two. Then, the bomberos release a stream of water from an antique steam-powered water canon, shooting it high into the air to entertain the cheering crowds.
I spoke with one of the bomberos, wearing his official company uniform which was festooned with medals. He explained to me that this engine was one of the first “fire trucks” in Santiago. It has been lovingly preserved and is used only for celebrations like this one.
When I first moved here, four years ago, a bombero approached me on the street. He had a clipboard and asked me to sign up to give a monthly donation to the fire department. In Chile, firemen are not paid. They are all volunteers.
I didn’t know this at the time, and I was a little leery of signing up. “Let me think about it,” I told him.
“If we get an alarm for your apartment, we’re not going to think about it before we come to rescue you.”
I signed up as a donor that day. Living only a block or two from the fire station, I hear the alarm at least once a day. Luckily, it’s never rung for me.
People often ask me, “Why Chile?” If you’ve read this blog for awhile, you may already have a clue to the answer. If you haven’t, I’ll give you a hint: volunteer teaching.
If you’d like to know the story of my original visits to Chile to be a volunteer teacher, it’s all in my book, A Million Sticky Kisses. Now available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.
Back in Chile a little more than a month and I am just now settling into a regular routine again.
I suppose it didn’t help that I arrived here exhausted, only stayed a few days, then set off for a week in Chiloé. In reality, I’ve only been back in Santiago for three weeks, but one thing is apparent. I’m not in Kansas any more, Dorothy.
I instantly jumped from spring into autumn. Skipping summer altogether, I returned to my tiny downtown Santiago apartment where my sedate existence was upturned. Like in Jerry Seinfeld’s Bizarro World, everything is opposite.
Contrary to the quiet of the past six months, from 1 to 2pm, a lone saxophonist stands near the corner of Merced and Miraflores. I can hear him from my apartment if I am in my kitchen. In the evening, a band of buskers paints their faces and marches through the neighborhood like clockwork, an itinerant flute and drum corp. Late nights, I can hear another musician on a different corner. I’d feel like I’m living in the circus, except that I like this music and it’s far enough away to sound soulful or lively, rather than ear-splitting.
My internal clock is now shoved forward a few hours. Instead of going to bed at 10pm like in the US, I’m sometimes finishing dinner at 10pm. Time slows down here, yet fast forwards to late night party and dinner invitations whose start time is more a suggestion than an expectation. Depending on where I am, I’m either in bed with the chickens or up until the cows come home. A slight exaggeration, but welcome to Bizarro World.
Last Friday came and went, and of course, I heard nothing from Movistar about the complaint I had made a week ago Monday. Remember? The one that they were going to fix “within days.”
Once again, no pasa nada.
Today, I went again to the Movistar office, this time determined to reduce my service to only wifi. Just like before, when I told the representative what I wanted, he immediately starting playing Twenty Questions with me. Why did I want to reduce my service? If they offered me a discount, would I continue my service?
I kept repeating, “I just want to reduce my service to wifi only. Wifi only.” Was I going to contract with another cable company? “That’s none of your business. Wifi only.”
He excused himself and left me standing there, cooling my heels, for over ten minutes. During this time, I got to eavesdrop on the conversation at the counter next to me. Some poor guy was getting the same treatment that I was, but from a high-heeled supervisor.
When he returned, he tried another tactic. Anger. “If the service didn’t work, why did you continue it after your first complaint?” He scowled at me.
“Um, because I was out of the country for six months and you folks refused to allow my friend to reduce the service on my behalf. We tried, but you claimed I had to do it in person or have a notarized letter with my carnet, etc. I’m here now, asking you to reduce my service to wifi only. Wifi only!”
He had no answer for that and was running out of ammunition. I was marveling at how well trained in psychological warfare these employees were.
Finally, I changed tacks, too. I batted my baby blues at him and asked, “What would you do if you were me? Would you keep paying for services that you weren’t receiving?” I could see him weakening, so I pressed on. “Can you put yourself in my shoes? What would you do?”
“¿Está segura?” Are you sure?
“Sí, solamente wifi.” I nodded at him.
At long last, he printed up a paper with the information on it. I read it carefully to make sure that there wasn’t any letra chica, fine print, that could be misinterpreted, before signing it.
I walked out of there with my copy which states that Movistar will discontinue my cable and landline telephone service as of this Thursday. I felt extraordinarily happy, as if I had accomplished Mission Impossible.
All my Chilean friends think that it is impossible, that Movistar will never actually allow me to reduce my service. “Ha, ha,” I thought. “Hide and watch.”
But they might still be right. This evening, I received a call. Not from a tech, trying to solve my problems, but from some Movistar “executive.” He wasn’t wasn’t calling to offer apologies or discounts. He was giving it one more go at trying to prevent me from reducing my service to wifi only.
He talked so fast that he was like a jackrabbit on speed. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch his name, but he started with the same Twenty Questions that I’d heard earlier today from his colleague, Francisco.
I couldn’t tell you what all I said to him. Sadly, after being so proud of myself earlier, I was reduced to yelling at him in Spanish, “¡Solamente wifi, solamente wifi! ¡No me molestes mas!” before hanging up on him mid-sentence.
I only hope I didn’t end up agreeing verbally to anything.