It’s snowing here. Ever so lightly, but snowing. The sun’s trying to peek through, but the clouds are winning. I’m watching the fat flakes fall as I eat lentil soup, bought at the deli over on Nostrand. I will miss being able to walk a couple of blocks to the deli. And the grocery, the bagel place, the bank, the health food shop, the nail salon, the hipster coffee shop.
Next week, I’m going back to the Land of Enchantment, where it’s sunny 280+ days per year and you have to drive everywhere. I might call it a trade-off…if I were a sun-lover.
Tomorrow, I will have been back in Albuquerque for four weeks. Seems like yesterday. Seems like a hundred years.
I want to write, but darned if I know what to write about. Do you want to hear about my comparison of bread and cookies? Would you rather hear about how everywhere I turn here something reminds me of Phillip? Can I whine about how miserably hot it is? If I did, would you sympathize with me or tell me to suck it up? ¡Aguanta no mas!
Dare I mention the crazy political climate that makes my stomach churn and leaves me feeling choice-less, voiceless, hopeless, and helpless?
I popped into church today. Just stopped in, as I’ve often done over the past five years. I’m not catholic, but I like to sit and look at the statue of the Virgin Mary at the Basilica de la Merced in downtown Santiago.
It’s cool and peaceful inside, painted to resemble pink marble. There’s a center aisle and the pews are lined up on either side, in two sections. before and after the hanging pulpit.
Behind the altar, a statue of the Virgin Mary is set into a niche with a royal blue background. She’s wearing a flowing, white cape and a silver crown.
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.
In my quest to find viable volunteer opportunities for teaching English, I recently attended a meeting of a new organizaton called Ojos Abiertos.
“To empower children to grow as individuals and valuable community members through initiatives designed to nurture empathy, support learning, and promote respect and self-autonomy” reads its mission statement.
The founder of the group is a dedicated young woman named Helen who has put together an international team of volunteers to spearhead the program. Their first project will be at a municipal school in Conchalí, on the north side of Santiago.
Last year, I had met with the director of this school. He is serious about improving the lives of his students and is determined to give them more opportunities for success in life. Ojos Abiertos is proposing English and art workshops at this school.
When I visited, I did a brief English encounter in a 7th grade classroom. Like at most Chilean schools, the kids were timid, but curious. By the end of the presentation, most of them had warmed up enough to participate.
Afterward, as I was leaving, one of the girls from the class ran up, leaned into me, and blurted out, “I think you are a very good person.”
I put my arm around her shoulders, looked into her shining eyes, and told her, “I think you are a very good person, too.”
She gave me a big hug, and an even bigger grin, before running back to join her circle of giggling classmates.
If you have ever considered volunteering, think about contacting Helen at Ojos Abiertos. You will probably receive much more than you can give.
How many of these have I visited? Not as many as the bars, but considering that I only drink decaf, which is almost impossible to find here, and that I drink it at home in the mornings, I’m surprised that I’ve actually visited three out of these nine.
Two of them are in my neighborhood and, if I’m honest, I didn’t drink coffee there. At Colmado, I’ve had lunch and at Bon Bon Oriental, they serve delicious, gooey Turkish delicacies.
The other one I’ve investigated is in Barrio Italia. I went to Xoco Por Ti, which is not a café but a chocolate bar. I was also in Rende Bú, not the one on the list, but their location in Barrio Italia, which was known as the “cat café” during the month of June because it operated as a cat adoption center. At both places, I drank hot chocolate.
My own neighborhood is teeming with cafes. Many of them have buenda onda, a nice vibe, but I cannot vouch for their coffee. Now a caffeine teetotaler, I’m still buzzed from 1983.
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.
I’m not getting any work done. All I want to do is sit and stare at the Cordillera.
We had just enough rain over the weekend that I can clearly see those majestic Andes Mountains for the first time in almost three months. I could be doing other things, but I only want to sit quietly and soak in this view.
Earlier, I went to an expat meeting. I didn’t know anyone at the meeting and the inevitable getting-to-know-you questions were asked.
“So, what do you do here in Chile?” I get asked this question a lot, usually by well-meaning people. It’s a normal question.
Since I’m not here for a job, if I’m feeling cantankerous, sometimes I reply, “Nothing.” That’s usually a conversation stopper, so instead I often say, “I’m retired,” which doesn’t fare much better.
This frequently earns me a skeptical once-over. “Really?” as if they can’t believe it. “What do you do all day?”
“Well, let’s see…” I laugh because explaining my schedule is complicated. Should I tell them that I’m an excellent time-waster? Or that every day is different? I usually launch into a spiel about classes and workshops, which satisfies their curiosity.
“Oh, so you’re a teacher?” Not really, not at the moment. I haven’t quite learned how to admit the truth, that I’m a writer.
Except on days like today when it’s far too tempting to sit and watch the sun light up the snow-capped Cordillera. Today, I’m definitely a flojera, a lazy mountain watcher. Can you blame me?
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.
When thinking about what to post today, I reviewed some options. Should I rant about Santiago’s eternal smog? Yawn, cough-cough. Or voice my opinion of Chile’s soccer team’s Gonzalo Jara’s “disappearing finger”? If you don’t already know, you don’t want to know.
No, I’m feeling lazy and a bit resfriada, a little under the weather. I think the smog has finally gotten to me, so I will show you a lovely little video, made by a vacationing woman from Slovenia.
Rahela Jagric, an international filmmaker, and her boyfriend spent a month traversing Chile by bus. Here is her video, “Exploring Chile.”
As she quotes Gustave Flaubert, “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”