Be the dog in the red coat. Eyes open in Santiago’s Bio Bio flea market

This freezing Sunday, I felt inspired to go to Bio Bio, the largest flea market in Santiago. Perhaps because that’s where my cellphone, which was stolen, and I recovered on Wednesday night (good story, worth a click), would have ended up had I not retrieved it from my wayward pick pocketer. Maybe because it was bleak and awful out today, and I have spent many a bleak and awful day in Bio Bio, for reasons I cannot identify. It is not a terrifically friendly place at the moment, with street construction and piles of trash (ok, those are kind of always), but it’s a good place to take the pulse of another part of Santiago, the kind of place where you can get your phone unblocked, get a creative buzz cut under inadequate lighting, buy some furniture or some used books and otherwise get your wander on without anyone really asking or expecting anything of you.

I went with a friend, who had some hardware needs, but the first order of business was a greasy, noodly lunch at Franklin 610, at Lai Thai. It was what we needed for a day like today, and as a bonus, I got to be the cross-over point for passing the pizza between our aisle to the next one to a vendor who was waiting on her piping hot lunch. The food is adequate. You could make better at home if you were so inclined, but then you would not get to pass the pizza, and you would probably put less oil in it. Plus you cannot go hardware shopping at home.


Then we went shopping for bits and bobs, and my friend hit the jackpot at this hardware place, where, by the way, they have a box of something I was looking for when I first came to Chile, called an “espantacuco.” I had to circumlocute it, to the great entertainment of everyone at our main hardware and furnishings store. “It’s a thing, that you plug in in an outlet and leave it there at night, so you might illuminate the space without turning on the overhead light.” (in Spanish). Spoiler: nightlight. They’re the round item in the middle-most drawer piled on top of the other drawers. I no longer need one, so did not buy one.


For what its worth, I will never get used to the fact that you can buy surgical supplies at the flea market. I mean, the dental scrapers are weird enough, but things to do surgery? It just seems wrong. Also, an emesis basin in Spanish? “riñon” (kidney-shaped).


It was pretty late in the day by this point, and crowds were winding down, both because it was late, and because it was cold, and also, it’s school vacation and the city is a bit empty at this point. The “school books” booth (libros de colegio) was shuttered.



We were lucky enough to, just as we were both saying “we should get a cup of coffee,” find this place, a cute little café with a decent double espresso, a more than passable cinnamon roll, and very lovely staff who were tickled when I was really happy for them that business was going so well.

I was not expecting to find the café, because I didn’t know it was there. Nobody tells foreigners to come to Bio Bio because it’s mostly full of pretty eclectic finds, ponchy-ponchy music, a possibility of getting pick pocketed (they say), and because there’s “nothing interesting there.”


Which is why I choose these two dogs we saw on the long walk home, to finish this post. When you travel, you can look, or you can believe you’ve seen it all, already, or that just because the guidebook doesn’t send you, there’s nothing to see there. Here’s a gentle reminder to be red-coat dog sometimes, looking around to see what’s there (could be me!). And to go to Bio Bio on the weekends or a holiday if you want that cuppa joe. (The Weekend Cafe, Calle Victor Manuel 2292). Peruvian owned, brewing cafe Borbone, from Italy).



Martinez de Rozas feria report, with bonus injuries and apartment insults


There is so much more to this feria report than vegetables. Like the fact that this is the first time I’ve ridden to the feria on Martinez de Rozas (about a mile from my house) in more than two months. I have been going to the Vega, because it’s easier to get there by metro, and I got sidelined by a bruised (not broken) scaphoid bone, one of the 8 bones that comprise the wrist. Most common way this thing is injured? Extended arm fall, often from a bike. Mine? Yeah, that. Pedestrians in the bike lane, much to my slammed to the ground disgruntlement.

And the fact that there is something wrong with my wall, as you can see by the white plaster over the pretty teal colored paint. There is a long story about cultural differences in plumbing and being neighborly, but that will have to wait. In the meantime, I have been inconvenienced, and they took my kitchen apart for way too long, and there was vile greasy water spilling into my kitchen from upstairs, and it occurs to me that every kitchen should have a tiny dam at the threshold, to keep the water inside the kitchen. Just saying.

But things are mostly back to normal and me dieron de alta (was freed from medical care) yesterday on the wrist, and so bike I did (though tentatively) down to the market. I did not buy any avocados, as the drought priced veggies are hard to stomach, and I didn’t really need avocado anyway. Though here is a very funny photo from a recent trip to the Vega. The sign means roughly, for the untamed classist snob, and ‘why you so angry?’ (sic). This is because everyone is all OMG over the price of the paltas haas, which are somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5 times as expensive as this time in previous years, and these people purchasing at the market often take it out on the people at the feria, whose fault it is not, they are just passing on the drought-inflated prices.


The mote is a cooked grain (wheat) that I bought as convenience food. It is normally eaten in a very sweet dessert/drink that I have talked about before, called mote con huesillo, but I also like it as sort of a pilaf, with fresh peas and scallions, which I am eating right now, as I type this. Convenience because I have it dry in my house, but it takes a while to cook, and I have plans in the immediate future, so this was easier. I assume that most people at home put it into mote con huesillo and don’t cook it again, but I actually have no idea. See what you learned? 1. I did not break my wrist 2. Plumbing problems abound 3. class issues are alive and well and affect avocado signs 4. I do things other than take pictures of fruits and vegetables.

So here’s the feria report: The dollar is at 635 CLP these days.

bunch cilantro= 300 CLP/$.47
almost a kilo of tomatoes= 770 CLP/$1.21
half kilo spinach= 600 CLP/$.94
2 kilos orange citrus (mandarins?)= 1000 CLP/$1.57
1 kilo gala apples= 500 CLP/$.79
1 bunch giant scallions=500 CLP/$.79
1 head lettuce= 500 CLP/$.79
2 eggplants= 500 CLP/$.79
1 butternut squash= 600 CLP/$.94
half kilo fresh peas = 500 CLP/$.79
3 onions= 600 CLP/$.94
1 kilo “seed” potatoes= 200 CLP/$.31
1 broccoli= 1200 CLP/$1.89
1/2 giant red cabbage= 800 CLP/$1.26
1/2 kilo cooked mote (like wheat berries)= 500 CLP/$.79
2 hot peppers= 100 CLP/$.16

Total= 9170 CLP/ $14.44


The Best Souvenir, part II, Madrid

It took me a long time to find it, the best souvenir of a trip to Madrid. I don’t eat ham, and I don’t believe it travels particularly well. I couldn’t possibly contain the energy and giganticness and overtouristed and hot and sweaty and perfect glass of gazpacho at any time of the day, and three food markets of varying quality and traditionalness and tired feet and so many espadrilles and a sun to rival any that has shone on me in all of my life.

But I could go to the Rastro, the sprawling, many blocks-long flea market where they sell clothes old and new, and telephones, and cookie tins and the occasional mannequin head, and all those other goodies that you find yourself pawing though while on vacation, even though you spend careful time making sure no trash comes into your house when you are at home.

Not me. I needed nothing, other than some underwear, which I am not posting here, and which I did not buy there. I was mainly in Madrid because I was giving myself a few day cushion in Spain on the way back from Portugal, so that if I missed a plane or boat, I would not find myself without a flight back to South America, where I’m generally supposed to be. I was happy to wander the streets at all hours of the day and night, go to the Reina Sofía, and not exactly remember having been there before, but then remembering that the first time I saw Guernica, I cried.

I studied in Spain in the summer of 1993, and my older sister came to visit me, and we showered in our pajamas before bed, in the shower I had in my room (but yet, no toilet), at my pensión near the metro stop Sol, because summer in Madrid is heinously hot. And I remembered going to the Rastro, and someone asked me where I was from (because this activity appears to be timeless), and when he found out, he said what sounded like “junkielandia,” and I responded that yes, we had a drug addiction problem, but it turns out he was saying “Yankeelandia,” which I only figured out later.

This time I was just another South American living in Spain, and everyone assumed I was from some other Spanish-speaking country. I heard “Argentina” and “Venezuela” and when all else failed “The Canary Islands,” which is just a way of saying, “you’re from somewhere, but it’s not here.” Spanish people seemed to take a double take if for some reason I revealed to them that I speak English, like when the woman in the tourist office was looking for a larger map for me, and she could only find one in English, and I told her it was okay, because I also speak English, and she kept on looking around and finally I said (in English), “No really, it’s ok, I speak English.”

Or maybe they thought something else entirely. I was only there for three days, and didn’t dig very deep. Except in a large box of postcards, where I limited myself to just one, though there were many good ones. Above is the photo side of the one I picked, sent in 1956 from Madrid to Oviedo, and later found in a box on the ground in the Rastro in Madrid, purchased by me, brought back to where it was shot, where I tried to make a composite, and imagine a time when round-topped busses rolled down the streets. But the traffic was heavy and I had to stand in the middle of the street to take the photo, and it was hot and sunny, and after a while I wandered off to go look at something else.

Depicted on the front is the Puerta del Sol, a major metro transit point, a huge confluence of pedestrian-friendly shopping, and long a central point of tourist and local Madrid, and where I lived for part of that 1993 summer. On the back of the postcard is a note from Loli, dated October 6, 1956, telling her little brothers that the next day they’ll be leaving for Colmenar, later to Salamanca and that she will stay in Colmenar. Predictably, it had been hot the day before, though this particular day was “very cold.” I can’t find statistics on weather from 1956, but I’m guessing “very cold” meant in the 50s.


One thing I really like about this postcard is that it’s been sent away, but somehow came back. Usually when I find a postcard that is “of” the place where I found it, it has not been written on, or sent. It’s only a 4.5 hour drive these from Madrid to Oviedo these days, but I imagine it was quite a trip at the time. For another composite into a scene (this one of a photo), here’s one I did in Arequipa, Peru, a few years ago.

Pleased as punch with this souvenir. Hope you enjoyed it, too.




Hiking in a dreamed-of place on the Azores

Always. That’s how long I’ve wanted to go to the Azores for. Well, for as long as I can remember. What brought you here is a common enough question whenever you go someplace slightly off the beaten path, but go to the Azores if you never get tired of that question. Also, be warned that if you speak even a smattering of Portuguese, everyone will think that you are either a) of Portuguese ancestry (if you, as apparently I do, look vaguely Portuguese), or are Spanish or Italian because, as one waitress explained to me, “Portuguese is hard, and they’re the only ones who bother to try.”

And try I did.

I tried many things in the Azores, including this hike, which is called Serreta-Lagoinha, in that it goes from Serreta to Lagoinha. It’s on the island of Terceira, and though it claims to be a loop, I failed to find the second half of the hike, and ended up walking back the much longer way on secondary roads, ever thankful for the presence of the enormous blue ocean to indicate the direction in which I should be heading.

I chose this hike for a couple of reasons, one of them being that I could actually get (closeish) to the starting point by bus. Public transportation in the Azores is almost completely limited to Sao Miguel and Terceira, as in they are the only places that have buses throughout the day, and not just in the morning and evening to get people to and from school and work. Even so, careful planning is necessary, and you should know that when a hike is rumored to take 2.5 hours, especially when you take the longcut down, and also have to walk 20 minutes to get to the actual start, you will miss the bus you were planning on taking, but if you are lucky, you will take the next bus to an intermediary town, where you will have a tour of a wine museum, but, having not really eaten any lunch (more bad planning), you will not drink any of their wine. Later you will end up on the same bus back to Praia Vitoria, with the sneaker-wearing Russians you saw earlier, who you had hoped would go on the same hike with you, so someone would know if you fell and died, which you did not, though you are beginning to have the sneaking suspicion that in the bike crash you had before you left for Portugal, you actually broke a bone in your hand, and that’s enough of an injury to last you for a while, thanks very much.

Oh, but maybe you want to see photos of the day.

In the morning, I had planned to head out to a different town, but saw that there was a bus leaving to Angra, where I’d been the day before in bleak weather, so I went back for a two-hour run around, including here to one of the highest points. Not sad to have done this, though the later realization that I failed to eat lunch did nothing for my energy on the hike.


please consider previous day’s photo for reference, complete with blowing raindrops on lens.


But you want to know about the hike. All of the hikes on the Azores have these placards at the trailheads. You can find out about the trails on the website, or when you go to the various tourism offices at the airport or tourism kiosks. You should know that they will bury you in an ungodly amount of pamphlets and handouts, one for each hike. Probably better to peruse the website and decide where you want to go, and take the pamphlet for those only, though the tourism offices tend to be great, with a shout out to Jennifer at the Ribeira Grande tourism office on Sao Miguel, and Rui at the Terceira airport one. But back to the hike. There was a sign.


There was foxglove (I think).


and basalt chips, because all nine of the Azores are volcanic.


and mossy, fairy forests everywhere. These are tiny, smaller than the first two joints of your pinky.


And then bigger versions you can walk through. But nary a fairy!


And tall Japanese cedar forests, to which I said (to no one, as on the whole hike, the only evidence I saw of anyone else was a single not-mine boot print): “You are kidding me how beautiful this is.”


And then this which also made me say “you are kidding me,” but in a totally different way, as this creek is the actual trail. If it looks vertical, that’s because it is. the total width between vegetation is max about three feet.


And I don’t even know how they decide what to tell you to look at in the Azores, because everything is so damn gorgeous all the time, like this view from the top (though the goal was actually a lagoon, which on ocean-heavy Terceira is probably very exciting because it’s fresh water and attracts birds, but look at this view facing the opposite way.


Here, by the way, is where I turned around, and hiked back down the creek, probable broken hand be darned, supporting myself on the hand=ouch, and out to the turn off I’d taken to get up to the lagoon. I tried to follow the instructions on one of my many pamphlets and the yellow and red equal sign trail markings that mean “keep going straight”, but quickly realized I was not on the trail. But then I was on this road, with the giant ocean unfolded before me, and I knew eventually I’d hit civilization, and more importantly, a bus shelter, where someone would pick me up and deposit me somewhere else.


It should be noted, that many times while on this hike, particularly on the way up, I thought to myself, “why am I here?” and “I do not like hiking” and “what was I thinking?” as well as “two and a half hours my ass, and this, after much time running and such at the gym.” But I also saw many things that made me breathe deeply, as though I could inhale them, as well as see them, to more fully understand them, or remember them better. Particularly the cedars and the fairy forests. I also had a religious-like connection to the tangerines I had brought, never so sweet, never so perfect a food, I thought. And then I remembered, that is what I like about hiking. That childlike appreciation of every. damn. thing. Except the creek.

After a toenail bashing walk back down on a variety of dirt roads, dirt finally turned to gravel, and then asphalt, and I did a little hop skip and jump of glee, thinking to myself, “I have made many decisions on this trip, and they have all turned out just fine.” I tasked myself with thinking this, as I got closer to the main road/coast, because in life I dither too much over choices, “what-if” myself out of being decisive, and that is a waste of time. And then I thought, “no, that is what hiking is good for, to listen to the spontaneity-driven thoughts inside, the ones that said, ‘take a different bus,’ and ‘grab some tangerines’ and ‘this is the hike for you’ and ‘there is the bus shelter, and the bus comes in 20 minutes, and that is plenty of time for a private dance party in the shelter to Niki Minaj’s Starship, mindful to ‘hands up and touch the sky’ when the time was right.” Smart voice that one.

From the bus, shelter, mid-dance, I waved to the original bus driver who had dropped me off, as he drove by in the opposite direction, and when it came, flagged down the bus I was waiting for to the end of the line, to wait for the next bus back to Praia, at which point I bought the best thick-cut potato chips of my life, and ate them with dirty hands on the curb, and it was the best curb I had ever sat on. Then the Russian couple arrived, shoes still clean, as they had not been hiking in ankle-deep mud with me throughout the day but rather had sensibly spent the day in a town called “biscuits” (Biscoitos, so named for lava formation, not actual biscuits/cookies), enjoying the view. And together we got on the last bus, the one that left at 7 PM from Biscoitos, to take us to Praia, though we may have arrived a bit late, as there was some traffic on the way.


And that is what happens on one of just fifteen days, when I go someplace I’ve wanted to go to for as long as I can remember, and then remembered to breathe deeply and appreciate the gorgeousness of where I was, and the gorgeousness of being able to appreciate all the sweet and salty, shiny and mossy things. And the sound of cowbells.



A non-ode to sopaipillas pasadas, tales of failed expat experimentation in Chilean food


Every rainy day in winter, Chileans coo, “que rico,” and head to the closest supermarket, casino (cafeteria) or grandmother’s house to get their sopaipillas pasadas on. Sopaipillas, which you might know from other Latin American cuisines, are round disks of dough, deep fried. In Chile, sometimes they are enriched with squash, though not always. They are a teen and college-aged treat late at night on street corners, eaten with a sweet mustard, and ají, a spicy sauce.

But on rainy days, visions of different sopaipillas, the hand-patted ones, slightly irregular, certainly squash-enriched, and smothered in a sweet syrup dance in Chileans’ heads. And I am left to chalk this up to nostalgia. Nostalgia for a food eaten as a child, for warm kitchens and special treats and your hair dripping down your back even while someone hands you a hot mug of tea and you know that you are warm, and that somebody loves you.

But sopaipillas pasadas don’t mean that to me.

And here’s where I admit something that could even cause problems for me later on, if ever apply for Chilean citizenship (mostly kidding about the troubles, my main challenge will be the national anthem). Until the day before yesterday, I had never eaten sopaipillas pasadas. I was convinced by a friend once to try picarones pasados, which are similar, but more ring-shaped. The sauce that makes them pasadas, made of chancaca, a dark brown brick of sugar that in this case is dissolved in water, and boiled with orange peels, cloves and maybe cinnamon, is not to my liking. It’s thick and syrupy, and I like my fried things crisp, not sodden. What’s the point of all that oil if it just collapses back onto itself, I thought?

In the time since then, I have written about sopaipillas pasadas on more than one occasion, even developing a recipe for them, but suggesting that they be dipped in, rather than soaked in the syrup, but that is a personal preference, and I have been told by several Chileans, is just plain wrong. I was at a talk by Pebre, a group that promotes homestyle Chilean cooking at a recent event at Ñam, and the cooks were basically crowdsourcing, asking Chileans what was special about the Chilean table. And you could almost feel a ripple of nostalgia. No one puts down as many salads as we do, no one dresses their salad with lemon, no one serves the kind of bread we do. All this over the smell of carbonada cooking, a kind of brothy soup made with stew meat, layered over the Chilean sofrito, this with peppers and onions and ají de color (paprika), and cumin seed, parts of a type of Chilean garam masala, if you will, which we call aliño completo (complete seasoning), which contains only these things, oregano and garlic, as if you would never need anything else.

And I got to thinking again, about a longstanding pet project of mine, talking to people about food nostalgia. Because the things you eat aren’t just what they taste like, they are what they remind you of, of the context in which you first (or last) ate them. They are my Chilean friend in Montreal biting into a completo (Chilean hot dog, with avocado, mayonnaise, tomatoes, ketchup and mustard), and drinking a cup of hot tea, closing her eyes for just a second, and I know, even sitting across the table that this completo has hit the spot. They are a friend holding a camping cup full of tea after a long hike that has deposited us beside a waterfall in complete darkness, and saying, “Que reconfortante,” (how soothing). It doesn’t matter what is in her hands, or in his cup. What matters is that there is this enveloping sensation that settles down like a warm blanket, that says, “you are home.”

But like the Tren de Los Recuerdos, which I joked was the train of other people’s memories, this dish, sopaipillas pasadas, was not designed for me. As part of Ñam, there was catering, and they made very tiny sopaipillas and doused them with the aforementioned sauce, and set them out on a table, and everyone first asked what it was, because the sopaipillas were so small, and the format could also have been mote con huesillo ( a drink which I actually do like, and have even created my own nostalgia for).

I took a dish and went outside, to try my ridiculously delayed bite of sopaipillas pasadas. I had to fight a little, as the sopaipillas were not entirely soaked through, and when I finally took a bite, I sort of got it. There’s still a little crunchy layered flakiness to the sopaipilla, a spiced warmth to the goopy syrup. I tried to receive the nostalgia of the hundred or so people around me, all eating the same food. But it was not raining, and there was nary a grandmother to be found, or at least not mine.

So what I got instead of that community nostalgia was, tastes like chinese noodles in duck sauce.

But not to Chileans it doesn’t. To the ones who love sopaipillas pasadas it tastes like rain and winter and comfort.

I could sit and lament my lack of connection with the sopaipilla pasada lovers, how I’ll never understand Chile, never get the nostalgia of the food, despite living here for so long. Or I could, like I generally do, surround myself with like-minded people, including Chilean friends who, upon hearing this story, said things like “the world is divided between those who like sopaipillas pasadas and those who like them plain. Luckily, the latter are the majority,” and my favorite of all comments, which sounds better in Spanish, so I’ll type it in the original first, “me cargan las sopaipillas pasadas.” (I can’t stand sopaipillas pasadas). Makes me wonder as a sub-sub project, what other nostalgic foods are out there that have a upstream contingent that can’t stand them, either.

Possible future project: finding Chileans who don’t like marraquetas (the semi-official national bread, similar to French bread rolls).

PD (PS), Ñam has a market of products from all over Chile as well as food trucks on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (April 17-19, 2015), on Cerro Santa Lucía, enter from Alameda. I can’t speak to the quality of the food trucks, but the market has been interesting in past years, and the people selling goods quite willing to chat. Starts at noon.



Feria Report, Montreal Version (Sami Fruits), with bonus text

Some dear friends of mine moved to Montreal last year. It was a big loss for me, they were some of my closest neighbors, and good friends, one of them someone who I often refer to as my cousin. We’ve lived in a bunch of the same places, had many same experiences, but it wasn’t until we moved to Chile that we met. Montreal is far from here, and frigid in the winter, but the stars aligned just so (wedding in Chicago and family trip to the Southeast), and I was able to run away for a few days to spend some time in Montreal with them in their cozy, well-lit apartment decorated with art old and new, including portraits in progress which I am not allowed to post on the internet, but trust me, they are fabulous.

So I got to Montreal, whereupon I discovered what winter really is. Winter is really biting your calves and thighs if you wear jeans that are even a little bit loose, and pain on the face where it’s exposed, and generalized brrr. It had been a long time. We ended up renting a car to go to Quebec city for one night, and trying and failing to visit an érablière, a sugar shack that is doing sugaring, not serving pork-laden meals (that is a cabane a sucre). We did make it to the érablière, they were not running the machinery because it was still too cold out during the day for the sap to run. Which did not stop us from taking a tour or trying some syrup, but I never did get a tire, which is the thing where they boil syrup to about the soft-ball stage and lay down a strip for you to wind around a popsicle stick and then eat, frozen face be darned (pictured here, from the shack near my friend’s closest metro station, not a real sugar shack).



On the way back into Montreal from Quebec city and the failed érablière stop, my friends were excited to stop by Sami Fruits (8200-19 Ave Jarry), which seems like the best place to buy fruit and veg in the city, and also a great place to learn about all the things that grow in this earth that you didn’t know about. I could have stayed for hours and asked everyone what they were making with what they were picking up. I also drank an avocado pineapple smoothie, which was confusing and delicious and allergic all at the same time.

And I took photos. Of you know, the squash-n-aloe section.


And the cardoons! we never get these whole in Chile. We call them penca, and eat them as salad.


And then there’s my friends’ haul, as listed below:


4 tomatoes, CA$1.29 a pound=$1.02 US
6 lemons, CA$1.79=$1.42 US
3 bunches mint, CA$1.25=$.99 US
2 mangos, CA$1.98=$1.57 US
2 green peppers, CA$.77=$.61 US
19 small zucchini=CA$9.01=$7.15
1 head garlic=CA$.34=$.27 US

Total= CA$20.70=$16.43

You may wonder what they were doing with so much zucchini. It’s probably one of the most commonly eaten vegetables in Chile, where it is very cheap (in season, you can get five giant ones for less than $2.00). They’re often eaten as a stew, linked here on PIlar Hernandez’ En Mi Cocina Hoy. Some recipes are translated, not sure why this one isn’t, but in general, an outstanding site on traditional Chilean cooking, and she has a cookbook, too.

We also went to posh-town markets with tomatoes the color of tulips and garlic that cost 4x as much as that at SamiFruit, and I also really enjoyed that visit (see below).


But in the end, Sami Fruit is where you get the best deals on quantities of vegetables, and a great place to get an eye for who has emigrated to Montreal in recent years. Also, do not stand between a Chilena and her guisos. They were quite tasty.

And now, a gratuitous photo of bikes left to rot in Montreal’s amicable winter weather.


Did someone say stew?


Skies of yestercity


There’s a certain kind of broken sky we never get in Santiago. A weak northeastern sun that fractures the space above into clumps and sheep and defrocked pillows. This sky whispers directly into my head. It says you are waiting for the B49 bus on Ocean Avenue, your curls frozen in the chill winter air, and they will melt while you stand and review geometry lessons for a test through which, as a freshman in a sophomore class, you will surprise a group of people you are terribly afraid of, because at fifteen they know everything, and at thirteen you are sure you know nothing except how to solve a proof in eight steps (or fewer).

The sky today, like then, is struck through in parts with the twiggy branches that elementary school students draw to show the four seasons, spindly tree fingers stretched out above, striking poses, one hip jutting out, winter, spring, summer, fall.

But in these kids’ drawings there is never a sky, as though no one cared what hung above, as if to say, don’t memorize it, because one day you will live in a place where the sky doesn’t break like that against shades of grey and the blue of promised sunshine, and you will miss it without missing it until you see it on the El ride one morning on the way to yet another city, even farther away, 5000 miles now, where friends from your unbroken sky city in South America have made a new home.

And you ask yourself if it means something that the sky calls you so loudly on a winter morning in Chicago, and what that has to do with where you once belonged, where sophomores were scary and Brooklyn and the sky above it were your whole world. Or if maybe the answer is in those gangly, reaching trees, who exist just to scratch that sky, and the nostalgia they awakened.


What’s in a feria? The Valdivia feria report

On a recent trip I took to research two different stories, one short and one long, I knew that one of my hotspots would be the diminutive feria fluvial or riverside market in Valdivia. Valdivia is lucky enough, or smart enough or pretty enough (not sure which) to be run through or passed by by a river, which is plied by boats taking you hither and yon, and also sea lions, which occasionally tumble like clumsy ferrets out of the water and then lie about yawning and barking and howling and paying only minimal attention to the signs behind them that say “lobos marinos animals mordedores mantenga su distancia,” or “sea lions biting animals keep your distance.” The people also pay minimal attention to said signs.


But not me, I took this with a zoom lens. Ever since the last dog bite, I stay away from semi-wild animals, rabies shot be darned.


The sea lions are here because they want fish guts, like the ones that can be thrown to them from the riverside market, by fishmongers who are processing fish for customers walking by.


I never talk about the fish or seafood available at the market in Chile because I don’t generally buy or cook either, but it was notable that the selection here was good, and inexpensive, and occasionally doused with water by their sellers.


Also on offer, rounds of cheese, a lot of elephant garlic, which we call ajo chilote, though I have no way of knowing if these actual garlic cloves were grown in Chile. People often make a spreadable mild garlicky paste out of this garlic, and in fact, I have never seen it prepared or eaten any other way, though I’m sure you could experiment if you could get your hands on some.


And there was ulte, which is the part that holds cochayuyo onto the rocks, where all those words mean something about seaweed, though ulte is the meatier of the bits. I have eaten this a couple of times, once in a fancy resto in Puerto Montt (believe it or not), where it was very tasty. In this area it is also called lunfo, thus the sign, that says ultes o lunfo.



No walk down the Chilean seafood lane would be complete without piures, or red sea squirts. The first time I ate one, I thought to myself, “I have just eaten the caleta,” where the caleta is the fishing cove, and all the smells that go with it. Here they are in a bag.



and dried, hanging. People say they have great medicinal powers, but they are very high in iodine, and taste (if you ask me), like they are trying to kill you.



And there were these items, which you might confuse for some vegetarian form of lobster claws if you didn’t know differently.


But they are actually chupones, or an edible part of the Greigia Sphaecelata, a crazy, wild-haired looking plant, which the forager who sold them to me told me, these pieces must be wrested from the plant with pliers, but this does not kill the plant. You bite off a fleshy white bit at the end, and suck (thus the name) the sweet flesh and juice out, getting many, many seeds in your mouth, which you spit out. The juice is clear, and the flesh is creamy-looking, but the taste is Welsh’s Grape Juice, as far as I’m concerned. Very tasty. Only the third time I’ve ever had them, and this was the closest to the source, and the best. I am currently drying the seeds on my windowsill, and recently offered them to my followers on Twitter (@bearshapedspher). I have no idea if they will grow in Santiago or nearby, as they need a lot of shade and water, but might be a neat experiment. They are in the bromeliad family, like the puya (chagual). which believe it or not, I have written about not once, but twice. Because they are so beautiful, how could you not.

Much of the time I was in Valdivia, it was a bit overcast, and then suddenly, it wasn’t. As though the sea lions and river and chupones and all the other cool stuff there was to look at and talk about weren’t enough, the world started looking like this. The low building in the foreground is the market.


I have a new urban crush. Which is surprising, because the last time I was in Valdivia, it was raining so hard, I woke up thinking “they have a train here?” They do not have a train. But sometimes they have horizontal rain so hard you have to change hasta los churrines (even your undies) when you get where you’re going. So be warned, and pack Gore-Tex, or your local equivalent.


The things you learn about dogs and cats in the supermarket (in Chile)

How do you call a cat?

In the United States, we make kind of a psss psss psss psss sound. I often make a more of a clicking sound, which one time in Cuernavaca, in Mexico, I was told by a groundskeeper, is how you call a rabbit. Which seems odd, because though cats may seldom come when you call them, rabbits tend to be terribly indifferent to people, unless they are pets. At any rate, just like how animals say different things in different languages, or are at least spelled differently, looking at you meow and miau, and woof and guau guau, the things you say to call them are different, too.

For example, if you say pssss psss to a cat in Chile, he or she will not pay you any mind. Or will look at you once to see if you seem dangerous and then look away. The thing you want to say in Chile is, coincidentally (or not), the name of this cat food:


Though it turns out, it’s not quite as easy as that. It’s not cu-CHEE-tow. It’s c-ch-tu, or c-ch-t-c-ch-tu. It took me alot of practice to be able to say this semi-correctly, and the thing that finally solidified it for me, believe it or not, was Dub FX, specifically, this video:

In which he explains that beat boxing starts with words, (start at :57) such as bouncing cats, or baboons and pigs, where he emphasizes breath and consonants, eventually mainly dropping the vowels, just like cuchito. He, of course, sounds like a musician when he does these, and I vaguely sound like a person that may or may not have a cat turn around, or also a bit like the sound on my printer when it is trying to find paper in the paper tray and there is none. As it happens, cats don’t really pay that much attention to humans anyway, but on occasion, they have been known to stop and look at me with my new found c-ch-tu. Your mileage may vary, on a recent trip to Argentina, I had mixed success with c-ch-tu.

But what about dogs? Dogs in Chile (when they are not biting you) are so friendly, that you don’t really need to call them, as in, request that they come close. But there is still something to be learned from supermarket wares re: dogs. The generic salutation for an unknown dog, of course, seen here:



You don’t say c-ch-pn for a dog, so much as when you see one, you can greet it by saying “hola cachupín,” or “que lindo que eres, cachupín.” Though sometimes you will greet a stranger’s dog on the street, calling it “cachupin” and you will be corrected by the owner who tells you “es cachupina.” Dog gender politics. Looking forward to the google searches on that.

And speaking of correcting, and things that are made for dogs, consider this food, available at the market in bulk, to be bought and brought home, cooked and fed to dogs:


Although I believe that technically, those should be “fideos para perros,” unless you think that a) the dogs are the owners of the pasta/noodles or b) the noodles are made of dogs. I may only recently know how to call a cat in Chile, but I’m pretty sure that pasta is not made of dogs, though depending on what you feed them, your cachupín may be made (at least partially) of pasta. And now I find myself trying to say “fideos para perros” as fast as I can and see what I come up with. So far, nothing good. I wonder where Dub FX stands on the trilled r.


What’s in a park? Parque Fluvial Renato Poblete, a new park in SCL

When I first moved to Santiago in 2004, the Mapocho river, in a word, stunk.  We used to call it the Ma-stink-o in English, and it may be what someone was talking about the first time I heard the word hediondo (smelly). But times have changed, and the river is cleaner now, though it still looks chocolatey brown due to the silt it carries down from the mountains. We have a bit of a relationship with the river in that we notice how much water is in the bed as we walk over it to get to (for example) La Vega or Bellavista. Answer is often: not much. So I thought we had reached a kind of detente with the river, where now that it didn’t smell so bad, we were all free to ignore it.

And then there was a rumor of this park. A park that capitalizes on the river location, has water in it that will one day have little boats in it, and which is also part of a larger plan to make a 42k-long beltway more or less through the city of bike paths. I heard about it, and then I more or less put it in that part of my brain where tasks like filing and studying French live.

But it opened last week, and there was some fanfare, and it’s in Quinta Normal, which isn’t far from me, is an underserved area greenwise (though it is home to Quinta Normal Park, recently renovated), and the next thing I knew, I was trying to find it. Trying to find it because no story about it actually gave an address, it was just “at the end of Parque de Los Reyes.”I went, and then I stuck this handy pin, so you would know where it is. Basically, go down Balmaceda til it turns into Costanera Sur, then keep going, keep right. If you end up at Maturana, you’ve gone too far.

Handy pin:


But why are you going to this park that no one will tell you where it is, next to a formerly stinky river? Because it looks at times a little like Parque Bicentenario and at times like a whole ‘nother country. And well, it just looks like this:






long shot of the water feature


amphitheater seating, notice people huddled under still-small trees and the little shade they give. Also unfortunate? How much these white blocks kind of look like tombstones on a hillside. The trees will grow, and I will learn to associate the stones with something else.


another overview


a different, stiller part of the lagoon


bike path (skating potential=high) Brown river to the left. Notice the similarity in color to the bike path. On purpose?


rayitos de sol! One of my favorite things about summer here