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



January Feria Report, nightshades and salad greens, and an almond milk obsession

Salad is upon us. With the Peruvian stalls having well-priced berros (watercress) and rúcula (arugula), and the new hydroponic lettuces leafy and light, it’s a fairly amazing time for salad in this world. Tomatoes are good, as are eggplant, and the mangos (imported, a guilty pleasure) are perfectly unstringy. Here’s what this week’s haul looks like, with tips for a new (to you) bulk shop, which I don’t think I’ve mentioned before, actually in the Vega, very close to the magical cheese shop with the sheep cheese. I will try to explain with great precision where it is, but let’s be honest, it’s not so simple sometimes! This time I used Whatsapp to save the approximate location, so maybe that will help. At the bottom, after the vegetable blather. Peso is currently at 628 to the dollar. (good for dollar-holders, not so good for peso-holders)


basil 500 CLP=$.80
eggplants 1000 CLP=$1.60
lemons 500 CLP=$.80
eggs 1900 CLP=$3.02
1/2 kilo arugula 500 CLP=$.80
1/2 kilo water cress 500 CLP=$.80
2 heads hydroponic lettuce 500 CLP=$.80
1 container blackberries 1000 CLP=$1.60
2 mangos 1600 CLP=$2.55
4 tomatoes 600 CLP=$.95
5 onions 500 CLP=$.80
1/2 kilo “aceitunas amargas,” a kind of “bitter” olive, closest to kalamata we have, 800 CLP
1/2 kilo almonds 6000 CLP=$9.54

15,900 CLP=$25.29

The almonds were a splurge, I’ve gone on an almond milk kick of late, and using the flour in making pancakes and such. See: pomegranate madness (as in, there is little I will not try at least once in the kitchen).

Also, as promised, cheese store, and almond purchase spot. This is the the whatsapp coordinates of the cheese shop I talk about here: cheesy goodness. If you stand where my pin was (near Antonia Lopez de Bello and Nueva Rengifo), it is inside the building, on the NW corner (more or less. To get to the place I bought the almonds and olives (and they sell loads of other items in bulk), stand in front of the cheese store turn left and walk about 20 feet, and it is on your right.



So you think you want to be a guidebook writer?

Ever since I started writing about travel, there are a couple of things that seemed holy grailish. National Geographic. Conde Nast. Guidebooks. I was 0 for 3 for a long time there, working on what I normally work on, regular contracts that pay well enough, that I enjoy doing, but some of which have a low wow factor. I wanted more wow factor. (I also have some stuff that feels wowy to me, but it comes slowly at times). So when I heard through various channels that a guidebook was looking for someone for Chile, I threw my hat in the ring.

My hat (and resume, and experience) were caught, and a contract winged my way. In it, it said I couldn’t work for another guidebook publisher at the same time. I thought to myself, how could I, I am keeping up with my regular work and adding literally 400 things to my to-do list. Please reread that: 400 things. And then then reread the part where I said, “how could I” and please insert a whole lot of exclamation between the how and the could.

What you don’t know about guidebook writing, of at least guidebook writing in my case, is that the book you are working on may last have been updated many years ago, and the city you live in/are writing about (for me those are one in the same) may have changed substantially in that time. What you also don’t know is that, at least in this publisher’s case, there is a world of information that underlies the actual guidebook, long troves of text and a content management system in which you update each individual file on a website that may or may not be cooperative at all times. In that content management system, you may be asked to plot points on a map, when said map always thinks you are in (for example) Pennsylvania, despite the fact that you are many thousands of miles away, which means you have to zoom out on google maps and then zoom back in, such that your pinching and unpinching zooming fingers might turn into a permanent claw.

But hey, you’re writing a guidebook. And that is exotic.


Eileen working on Easter Island

That’s me working one cold morning on Easter Island, before everyone else woke up, because the only way I was going to get everything done that I wanted to get done, was to economize, by which I mean not sleep enough. And also take the extension that my editor offered me because believe me, there was no way to get all of this work done in the allotted time. And then not go to Argentina (but you read about that already)

And I got to go to Easter Island. Which was fabulous, and kind of crazy. I got the gig because I’ve spent time there before, which in a way seems unfair. I mean, shouldn’t someone who has never been there get to go? But it was a pretty unmissable opportunity. I took an awesome hiking tour of the north coast, and I had to drive all around to the fancy hotels, in addition to seeing everything else, and there are four of them, and three of them are far-flung, and so I rented an ATV because I am not a comfortable driver, and it seemed somehow like that would make it better.


Which, do not get me wrong, it did, because it turns out zipping around on nearly unpopulated roads at an unspecified speed and without a gas gauge but with a helmet, because I am not careless, is crazy good fun. I loved having a task to do on Easter Island, a reason to ask a million questions. It was gratifying. It was interesting, and it was stark and wave-crashy and moai-filled and I ate a lot of fish, but not as much as I should have, because I missed a couple of meals, but at the Hare Noi, they gave me this to eat because they’d just been posing it, and I was not going to turn town a free lunch, though there may have been bacon in the yucca purée, and whatever, I’m trying to be more open-minded.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I also gave a ride home one night to a woman I recognized from my hotel breakfast, which was nice, because I am endlessly getting rides from other humans and not the other way around.She was Uruguayan, a solo traveler, and about my mother’s age.”Do I just get on and put my arms around you, she said?” “Pretty much,” I said, careful to deposit us both carefully back where we were staying. Plus the ATV made me  look pretty cool , which I am not, particularly, which makes looking that way extra special.


But it wasn’t just Easter Island. I love, love, loved wandering around Santiago. I have a fairly extensive, or some might say obsessive knowledge of certain things in Santiago, and this was totally the right job for me, or I the right human for it. I spent about eight days (plus ten years of living here) combing the streets of my Santiago, your Santiago and many Santiagos in between, in hotels and restaurants and cafés and museums and on streets and talking to construction workers and hotel managers, sometimes even wearing a hardhat, which made me feel strangely powerful, because maybe I’m just into hats.

The wandering and the info-collection was, as recently-returned Australian friend would say, ace. It was fantastic. It was everything I want out of work, with wandering and exercise and lots of coffee, and good food, and meeting people, and talking to everyone and views I’d never seen before and so much information, which I adore.

And then came the data entry.

At which point being a guidebook writer was alot like working for a very grumpy boss on a task that requires many phone calls, much corroboration, and much dealing with a set of files that are not organized how you would organize them. To be clear, my editor was mainly absent, save a few back-and-forths, and he was lovely the whole time. I was the grumpy boss. Remember the 400 things? Well, in travel writinglandia, we talk about POIs. Points of Interest. And that is what there were so many of. Some of them were super easy. Statues that haven’t moved in hundreds of years, except to fall down and get put back up again, that have no opening and closing hours. Other were restaurants or buildings that had burned down, moved, disappeared, closed, or were otherwise no longer recommendable, or had errors in their records. And there were dozens, if not a hundred new things that I wanted to include in the book. But you can’t include everything. Your job (or my job) was to winnow out what you think is important, what you think people will like, what you think will make someone’s experience of your guidebook as good as it can be (except that it’s not your guidebook, there’s just a little photo and a weird third person bio you wrote yourself).

I was so careful. I am nothing if not conscientious and thorough. To the right of my desk looked like this while I was organizing all the papers.


behind me looked like this:


See those pretty books? Butterfly is for Santiago, sailboat for Easter Island. See how tidy (the books are)?

Meanwhile, my living room looked like this. Please notice sunscreen, lip balm, water bottle (from a hotel I have never stayed at, was left to me by another travel writer who was working on another guidebook at the time) and phone. Yay, traveling office.


But my main problem was not the state of affairs and papers on various horizontal surfaces, it was the fact that I was not aware of how much behind-the-scenes work there was for a guidebook, and how long even basic things would take to find out, and enter in the system. I also thought that I had a major jump on anyone else that would be writing a guidebook about Santiago because I know it so thoroughly. That may or may not be true. On the one hand, ask me where to do, get, buy, photograph or look at something in Santiago, and I probably know. But do I know the cross streets? The name of the manager? The fact that the salsa lessons are only free on Tuesdays (given that I don’t dance salsa, no, I did not know that). On the other hand, I am also so curious and so interested in knowing nearly everything there is to know about my city, that I got distracted by every single shiny thing. And there were many shiny things.

Like the hotel that I got to review last week because I met the general manager because I walked by the hotel and saw it was under construction, and took a tour then, and then reached out again, after talking to a glossy magazine about whether or not they’d like me to review it. And I got to eat dessert with chañar (a local fruit) in it, and that’s going to be the topic of yet another story.

What about the money? Every publisher is different. Some give you a budget for the travel you’re going to do, and some don’t. I have helped travel writers make a budget for Chile for the former. I was in the latter group. I was paid a lump sum for Santiago, and another for Easter Island. How expensive or cheap it was for me to investigate those places was on me. Easter Island paid disproportionately well because of the costs associated with flying and staying there. Buuuuut, I do other work for a company that I know that is trying to promote EI, and so some arrangements were made on that front, which made Easter Island more lucrative for me, though it did take me out of the land of reliable internet and away from my home, and it takes seven hours to get there, all told between the getting to the airport and waiting, making the hourly rate perhaps not actually that great. Also, some hotels and guides on Easter Island were interested in possible coverage in a guidebook, and I was able to work some magic on that front, which I didn’t even try in Santiago, because I like my house, papers and all. This, by the way is perfectly legal and considered in the text and annexes of and to my contract, and does not require me to write nice things about the places that put me up or fed me or gave me juice. Everyone wanted to give me juice. Perhaps I looked parched. Perhaps I was. Maybe it was the sun.


Or the wind. Or the fact that at this nameless hotel, they made me wait a really long time before taking me around. But the juice was tasty, and they returned my phone to me when I left it behind, which would be unlikely at best on “the continent” (mainland Chile).


I was also offered to write the guidebook on another piece of Chile which I was not able to take, because I was out of town working on a different project for part of the timeframe. It was also for a part of Chile I don’t know as well as some others do, it seemed it would not be a great fit for me (out on the coast, far from home, POIs quite spread out, no ATV rental available). It also turned out that what I really wanted was the feather in one of my many hats that says, “Eileen Smith, travel and guidebook writer,” not “Eileen Smith, master of all the knowledge of everything within five hours of Santiago and also suffering from work-related collapse.”

Before I took the part of the gig that I did take, I asked three different people who I know and trust about guidebook writing. All three of them write or have written for different publishers. One I asked for very specific advice, and she gave me some that had to do with having a purse-sized notebook with a waterproof pen. One said point blank, “Not worth it,” and another said, “you have to love it to do it.”

Here’s what I would say to you about whether or not to work on a travel guide. Consider the answers to the following questions.

-Are you are interested in having the information that you will cram into your brain in the time that you are working on the guide?
-Do you want to go to or explore the places where your assignment will take you?
-Will this assignment somehow circle back to be to your benefit?
-Can you cross purpose/multitask (within the purview of your noncompete clause) your research or photos?
-Do you mind asking for free things and running around like a madhuman?
-Do you have to give up other work to take this work, and if not, can you turn in other stuff either early or late to clear your calendar?
-Do you mind losing somewhere between a month and two of your regular life? (really? your friends and family might miss you, mine claimed to).
-Do you mind becoming simultaneously pale and sun kissed, ill-fed and doughy?
-Do you want to be briefly, flash-in-the-pan famous, or possibly raise the ire of people who will disagree with your recommendations?
-Do you hold the (possibly ill-informed) belief that guidebook writing is fancy and or goal-worthy?
-Will guidebook writing advance your career in a way in which you’d like it to be advanced?

It’s also important to note that your work is not done when you turn in the files. Your work is done when your fact checker releases you, but not before dinging you for having conflicting information, arguing with you about vocabulary (seriously, I’m still baffled re: crow’s nest) and suchlike. Also, if you live a paperless life, you may have to jump through some hoops to get the deposit made to your account.

If I had known everything I know now about this assignment, I still would have taken it. Because of the answers to the above, and because I wanted to know more about the industry I mostly work in, and because I’m working on savant status for Santiago info (hoping to get my propellor beanie any day now).  I would have interspersed the data entry better between exploration days, or done half exploration, half data days, and by doing so, I would have circumvented a few snafus I caused myself re: missing information, which I had to recheck. Overall, it was a good experience, and tested my “dislike of telephone in any language” like nobody’s business.

Another very important consideration is whether or not you have a tendency to get lost, as I do, once outside of Santiago. This is not always bad, but it can be time-consuming, if gorgeous.


Photo taken upon glimpsing the beach, which I was not supposed to be seeing, as the people at the Explora hotel were awaiting my arrival significantly further inland. Whoops. Also, vroom.


On the Eighth Night of Chanukah, My Father Gave to Me

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust before I receive my big, last-night Chanukah present, my family gathers in the front room of our Brooklyn house, where the wind leaks through the front window panes and blows the flames on the menorah candles to the side, rushing them through burning, as if we were in a hurry for this coziest night, eight candles strong, to be over.

Which part of me is, because I can’t wait to see my biggest present, and if I’m right about what it is, ride my brand new bike for the first time the next morning.

It’s 1977 and I’m six. My father, often warm and cuddly, but also quick to growl, looks down upon the training wheels that came with the schoolbus yellow bike that he had picked out for me. “You can use them for now, but you won’t need them in a week or two,” which makes him sound like he can see the future.

And, what seems like only a week later, my bear of a father, with wide-knuckled hands, a long, round torso and hairy legs, makes the decision. I come outside one morning to find him using my favorite of his tools, the clicka-clicka-clicka socket wrench, taking off the training wheels and the brackets they come on.

“Hop on,” he says.

He has been telling me it was time to take off the training wheels for a couple of days, but I still feel tippy and insecure, and I was hoping maybe he might forget. He’s holding the bike from the side, handlebars and the metal bar at the back of the seat, and looking at me.

“I’m not ready. I want the wheels back.”

“I didn’t buy you this bike so you could ride around the neighborhood with training wheels.”

“One more day.”

“If you don’t ride it, I will take it away, and give it to someone who will.”

I grit my teeth and get on the bike. At first he steadies me from the side, and as I pick up speed, he runs behind me, holding the bar on the back of the flowered banana seat. And then like a snapped cable, I can feel that he is no longer there. Three pedal strokes, and the world goes slanted, rushes up to meet me. My knee is stinging from the impact, blood beginning to flow beneath thick denim.

I drag the bike back to where he is standing, and drop it on its side.

“See?” Pre-cry, the word comes out creaky. It is my first ever confrontation with my father, and it won’t be my last.

He picks up the bike and gets on, contorting himself small, to fit. He rides it back towards the house, the bike impossibly small, his legs splayed out wide, the yellow streamers blowing out ridiculous, a giant bear on a tiny toy bike.

When I see him on it, I forget to cry. I want it back.

Almost 30 years later, on the south island of New Zealand, I complete a 600 mile ride over terrain that is rolling and purple and yellow lupin-lined and occasionally has giant turquoise lakes that fill the entire left (or right) side of my field of vision. It also has parts I have nicknamed “the climb of death” like the Crown Saddle, where in 10 ten mile uphill back and forth stretch through blowing golden tussock grass, I climb some 1800 feet. When I see the cycle computer turn to 1,000 kilometers (600 miles), as I roll into Oamaru, I can vaguely imagine my father by my side. I would have said it again, no creaking this time. “See?”

My ride ends here, and next I’ll take a bus to Christchurch, and north, back towards Auckland. Now that the ride is over, I’m looking for something else to do, to hold onto that feeling of accomplishment and pride that I get from pushing myself.

In this steampunk town, there are Victorian-dressed ladies as if I was the anachronism in beige zip-off travel pants. I decide to try my legs at a penny farthing, the name for a bike with a giant wheel in the front, and a tiny one in back, the seat resting at the top of the big wheel, which is as tall as I am. There are no brakes or gears, and there’s no way you could possibly put your feet down in case you start to lose your balance, and there are definitely no training wheels. From where I stand, the world-gone-slanty probability is very high, and yet, I’m intrigued.

I get on the bike, and Bruce, from the shop that rents the bikes is behind me, making sure I don’t fall. I’m holding on a pole for balance, when he says, “and you’re off.” And I am. I feel him steadying the bike, and I’m pedaling. The tires are solid rubber, not inflated, and I feel the occasional crack in the asphalt through the hard leather seat. I am riding higher than horse-height, and the world sails smoothly by, full of trees and a town square, and the occasional car, and now, Bruce, jogging next to me.

“What are you doing over there?” I ask, surprised to find I am doing this alone.

“You’re all right.”

And I am. I can ride bikes big and small, on continents far and near. My father left a lot of unfinished business when he died at exactly the age I am on this bike ride—39. He didn’t finish raising his daughters, and he didn’t celebrate many more Chanukahs in the front room of our house with the leaky window that always burned down the candles too fast.

But maybe his job never was to keep me protected. Not when he let go when I was riding a two-wheeler for the first time, and not later, when I was ten, and he was gone. His lesson was something else. Sometimes you fall and get injured, and sometimes, with a guy named Bruce running beside you, you slow the bike, and come back to the tall pole where you started, place a shaking foot on the dismount pedal before coming back to the ground.

Either way, you stand up again.

This year I’ll be celebrating Chanukah with friends at my home in Santiago, Chile. We’ll light the menorah, and eat latkes, and my father won’t be there to steal one right off the plate, before they come to the table to be served with homemade applesauce and sour cream. But if I’m lucky, and it’s not too hot out, I just might get in a bike ride.

This piece is excerpted from a memoir in progress. All rights reserved. For inquiries, please write the author at 39thememoir at or use the blog’s contact information.


A new kind of feria report, December version and a Boladero cheese dato

How many times can you look at photos of food arranged on my living room table (yes, you read that right), coffee table or balcony table? Many, judging by how long I’ve been at this. Thought I’d do something a little different today, details to follow.

But first I must wax southern hemispherish about how hot and crowded La Vega was today. And that’s on the Sunday of a three-day weekend (assumption of Mary Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Thanks, Frances)). I wisely wore closed-toe shoes, and shuffled very slowly, and did not shout at or step on anyone, nor did I get pickpocketed. All good then. Today’s mission, in addition to the regular veggie-stock up was to find a different good cheese place, recommended by another cheese lover, where they sell the Boladero feta that has revolutionized how I feel about cheese in Chile. Previously I had found this cheese at Colmado (coffee rec, a ojos cerrados, which means just go already), or the fancy Jumbo at Lo Castillo, which is much more upscale than the one at the Costanera Center, evidenced by the presence of this cheese, as well as phyllo, and the street-selling fruit vendors who wanted 3,000 pesos for cherries the other day (see Vega prices below). But now I can go to other places to get that cheese. For example, La Vega.

First, let’s look at these gorgeous cheeses.



Well, that’s a display. You can’t really get anything from that, can you?

Cheese from Patagonia, sheep. Tasty, sharp, crumbly when it’s supposed to be. Fuerte. But where to get it?

The describing of where things are in La Vega is a bit like playing I spy with a person who has never been in the room you are describing. You know the place with all the peppers? ok, not there. You know the guy with the grey cat who sells the envases (paper packaging)? You know where the pig’s head usually is? Across from there on the south side, near the… It’s a royal pain. One day we will figure out a way to fix this, though I am only partially inclined to, because I kind of like the sleuthing. But in this case, for cheese, I will make an exception.

After la Vega Chica (coming in from Cal y Canto side), go in the right hand entrance, walk about 30 meters, and see this sign:

boladero cheese shop in the vega

And then behold, get cheese that tastes like what you remember cheese tasting like in the old country, approved by foodies from three countries, USA (not me, a different foodie, who is more of a foodie than I am), France, and Australia. Prices are listed by the quarter, range from 1350 to 2700 ($2.20-$4.41 per 250 grams, or roughly the half pound). Also, as far as I can tell, this is the only feta commercially available that actually tastes like feta. We get a Danish one that tastes almost nothing like feta (not tangy, cow’s milk, etc) that people who don’t know better think is feta. Trust me on the cheese, already, ok?

The rest of the trip contained:

1 kilo Ranier cherries =1,000 CLP= $1.63
1/2 kilo giant blueberries= 1,000 CLP= $1.63
1 kilo spinach=1,000 CLP= $1.63
1/2 kilo arugula=1,000 CLP= $1.63
1 tray watercress= 300 CLP= $0.49
1 bunch cilantro=300 CLP= $0.49
1 bunch mint=500 CLP= $0.82
5 onions=500 CLP= $0.82
3 heads garlic=300 CLP= $0.49
1/2 kilo kumquats=1200 CLP= $1.96
2 avocados=600 CLP= $0.98
bag of cardoons (penca)=500 CLP= $0.82

8,500 CLP=13.88 (dollar is at 612)

Whereupon I have eaten a giant arugula salad and made blueberry lemon muffins from this recipe, and I have not yet tasted them, but they look fantastic. This is such a good time of year for everything fresh. And cheese. Have I mentioned the cheese? Varieties tried are the Ricotón (like ricotta salata, but sheep), Feta and queso de oveja maduro. (As opposed to queso de oveja madura, which would mean the sheep was old, not the cheese). Grammar lesson=free.


Do you think in English or Spanish?

Workshop or greater in height? Depends what language you're reading in.

Workshop or greater in height? Depends what language you’re reading in.

Do you think in English or Spanish?

This is a question I am frequently asked. To be honest, I don’t know how to answer. If I’m having a conversation in Spanish, it stands to reason that I must be thinking in Spanish. If I weren’t, then I would be translating everything the other person said to English, thinking of the response in English and then translating it back to Spanish. It seems like that would take a long time. So long, that surely someone would get up to go get another copa de vino or glass of wine, as the case may be.

Last night when I was asked this question (in Spanish), I said, “I don’t think I think in words.” To which the person I was speaking to said, “that’s crazy, of COURSE you think in words.” Is it? Do I? I don’t think so. I mean, what if I ask him if he spells correctly when he is thinking the words, then what would he say? “I don’t think in print, I think in words I think about”? In what form do you think about them? Do they sound like something in your head? What does it look like to think in a word? And how do you know which meaning of the word it is, if it’s the actual word you think of, not the meaning? If it’s muñeca, for example. Doll or wrist? Bank, place for money or side of a river?

I’m not being pretend facetious. I really don’t understand. Do you think you think in words? Do I think in words and not know it? Does it feel different to think in English or Spanish? Can I not think in two languages at the same time?

One thing I will say is that when I am speaking Spanish to someone and they suddenly throw in an English word in with Spanish phonetics (happy hour, headhunter, etc), I usually have no idea what they are saying. I may not be thinking in Spanish, but I am definitely listening in Spanish (one point for Spanish thinking, if we assume that thinking and listening, those two silent processes are somehow related, in that they take place inside my opaque head). However, people speaking English near me when I am having a Spanish conversation is more distracting than people speaking Spanish near me when I am speaking in English, which I think is a point for thinking in English. But I get the feeling that this is about phonetics. I know which sounds belong in which language. English words said with Spanish phonetics sound like gibberish to me the first time I hear them, unless the person is already speaking English with Spanish phonetics, in which case I’m primed for it.

Something similar happens when I read words that could be in either language. For example red (English: the color red, Spanish, net), or taller (English: greater in height, Spanish: workshop, see photo above). If I hear them, I know immediately which they refer to, because of the pronunciation. But when they are written, I will on occasion, read them the wrong way. At the Y near my sister’s house on Long Island, one year when I was there, they were putting on the show Evita, and upon seeing the sign “Evita Saturday,” I thought to myself “you cannot avoid Saturdays, and further, why would you want to?” (Evitar=to avoid in Spanish). Evitar is a more common word than Evita (Perón). Or maybe I was “thinking in Spanish” when I read it that way? I’m still not convinced that my thinking is language-specific, or at least cemented to a particular language. Are you?

Then what about pre-linguistic babies? Do they not get to think things, because they have no words to hang their thoughts on? Or is the “think in words” thing only related to concepts that maybe don’t have a physical representation, like hate or global warming?

This is not the only thing I have been thinking about since we last spoke. Next up: what the hell does it mean to be a cuico, anyway, including great gales of laughter when one friend suggests that perhaps I occasionally read as a cuica in Chile because I am one in the United States.


Entre Tongoy y Los Vilos

As in English, where there’s an expression, “in the middle of nowhere,” Chile has its version. A place of minimal interest, or where there is nothing going on, is often said to be “entre Tongoy y Los Vilos (between Tongoy and Los Vilos), two towns on the coast roughly north of Santiago and south of La Serena. I have friends that have camped in Los Vilos, and I have been to Tongoy, but what lies along the coast is mostly what people drive past, including Los Molles, a pretty beach town with a restaurant everyone raves about (El Pirata Suizo), and a little nature area (Puquén) that was blooming with pink chagualillofenvirs and fuchsia pato de guanaco, and loads of other flowers. High season is said to be mid October, though I’m sure it varies from year to year.


Los Molles is technically not between Los Vilos and Tongoy, but part of the trip, and in some senses, is in the middle of nowhere, though it’s close to the allegedly amazing and mythic Empanadas Huentelaquén, which are, you know, fried cheese empanadas, so how much you will love them is related to how much you love cheese empanadas in general. Me? not so much. Also, ran into friend’s father-in-law there. Unexpected, but such is Chile.

Anyway, the whole reason I was up in this area was to go further inland to a town that is in the proverbial middle of nowhere, called Combarbalá. I first found out about Combarbalá in a store in Los Dominicos in Santiago, where they sell little stone boxes and decorative items out of a stone called combarbalita, a marble-like stone with patterns of lavender, pink, brown and cream. The stone is lovely and smooth when worked, and every now and then I get a town stuck in my head that I want to visit, and here I had a willing accomplice, and so we drove north.


There is just so much emptiness, so much space. It’s amazing to me that humans could live in such vastly different environments, like in Pucón or Puerto Varas or Puerto Natales in the south, and where I was recently, or Santiago (where I usually am), all within one country.


The town of Combarbalá is fairly small (urban population about 5500), and seems like a nice place to live, people reasonably friendly, lots of stone detail, including in the central plaza which also has free wifi. And a few stores selling mortars and pestles (unpurchased by me), and jewelry and trays and bowls and such. Also, a big yellow church.

combarbalita church

And the winner of the buildings-I-love competition for this trip, with an unfair advantage based in being painted colors I like, creative font on the sign, abbreviation, awesome combination of items (sweets and birthday party supplies), pretty door, multiple colors, zinc roof and diagonal shadow. There really was no contest, actually.


While we (M and I) were shopping on one of the combarbalita stores, a flyer caught my eye. Observatory. To be fair, if I’d done any research at all, I would have known that it was there. See: the story about the Last Supper in Milan and how I failed to see it because I did not know it was there, the planning is not strong with this one. The sky in the north of Chile was not “perfect” on this date as it was close to the full moon, but we waited until it was good and dark (9 PM, and then) trundled out to the Cruz del Sur observatory and their 14-inch telescope. As soon as we got there, the guide told us that normally they do movie, telescope and then talk, but he wanted us to stop in and peep through the telescope first (and then again later), because Mars was just about to drop behind the horizon. We got to see Saturn (hello, rings!) at this time as well. It was only the two of us, so we got as much telescope time as we wanted

I had a fight with my tripod here, but a couple of night shots never hurt anyone, blur be semi-darned.


DSC_1348 - Version 2

We also saw two stars that rotate around a point, and that are orange and blue, the surface of the moon, and many constellations, including one that is meant to look like a teapot (hello, English influence!), and of course, the Southern Cross. I also found out that in Australia, the Big Dipper is called the Saucepan, pronounced sauce-pin.

The day after the observatory visit and after some punitively-priced coffee, because this is what happens when you want foreign comforts in mining towns re: pricing. We went into a small mine, the name of which is not depicted on the following sign. That mine is closer to the enclave of Los Rulos, though how anyone’s hair could stay curly in that dry windy heat, I have no idea. Certainly it must refer to something else. m, generally speaking you can’t just go into a small mine (though you can visit El Teniente and Chuquicamata, and I should write about this someday), but we know a guy who knows a guy. And guy number two (got that) explained to us that women were not traditionally allowed into mines, since mines are named with female names, and as such would get jealous of the presence of women. Oh sexism, we barely missed you! Also, on the pop etymology of why the word mina is used in Chile to mean a mine and also a woman, because they are “ricas” (where that means rich in minerals, or beautiful/delicious). Worry not, men are also called minos, and I am sure this does not fix anything, but it will impress your Chilean hosts if you know it.

Moving right along.



Mines are dark and rocky, occasionally wet, and sometimes have large vehicles driving into them. You should get out of the way. We did.



See, women’s name. We did not go into this mine.



And this is what a living fence looks like when you live in a place where it’s pretty much cacti everywhere you go. In foreground and the ridges behind, all made of cactus.

So the answer to the question Combarbalá yes or no? I say yes. There are also some petroglyphs and an archaeological route nearby, as well as solar panels, many, many goats (and goat cheese) and great photogenicness. As usual, this trip makes me think of taking off and tooling around more rural, only semi-touristed (mostly by Chileans) Chile someday. There is so much more to this place than Santiago. And if I seem to have a preference for the south, well, I do. But little by little the north is creeping into my subconscious. Even if the arid air and the desert sun are trying to shrivel me into a human-sized raisin. Sunscreen not optional.

Anyone got another small town they want me to visit? Up in this area, if I’d had more time, I’d have checked out Monte Patria, where it turns out a friend’s grandmother is from. Because if you ask around enough, nearly everyone has an interesting, non-Santiago place their people are from. True story: I kind of want to visit them all. Especially the ones where they make pretty things. And yes I know, I have not included a photo of anything made of combarbalita. I will try to remedy this or you know, google.

Also, thanks to LM who pointed out that I had the expression worded the wrong way around!



In which, surprisingly, I am asked if I speak Mandarin Chinese (spoiler: no)


As you may know, I grew up in New York. And my parents were adventurous eaters. I have fond memories of walking through neighborhoods far from home where my father would hold up different food items in a store and ask simple questions. “Soak first?” or “salty?” These were foods marked with signs in languages we didn’t read. Chinese for example. And this was our normal. Smells of spices dried a continent away, or loops of noodles dried into little nests. I have always loved going into neighborhoods that are not designed with me in mind, and learning just the tiniest bit about another culture. Food eaten, clothes worn, that the people from that country feel that their dish soap/toilet paper/ice cube trays are worth importing, despite the apparent (to me) availability of versions of these items in the new country.

Since leaving New York, I have never had the luxury of the concentration of different cultures in such a small space. When I lived in Portland there were few paltry pockets, and while in DC there were a few more, they were mostly in the suburbs, where I wasn’t. It seemed like for me, that just is New York, and isn’t any place else.

There’s a funny thing that happens to me with Santiago, which is that it makes me feel a strange nostalgia at times for my 80s Brooklyn. Something about the light, pollution, old fonts on signs, sometimes peeling paint and brick buildings, the occasional coca cola out of a glass bottle. It feels like someplace known.

I was home working the other day and (as I’ve been trying to do every day lately) went out for a a walk. I set out walking to the east, down towards Estación Central, an area full of shops and import stores and school supplies and crockery and stands and stores that smell like incense and that sell those multi-clothespin apparatuses designed to hang socks and undies off of on your clothesline, which I need, but seem to never find the perfect one of.

I wandered around a bit, and then decided I’d stop in at one of my new favorite import stores, called Orient Market. What’s special about this place is that they have some local farmer who grows all kinds of vegetables that I don’t really know what they are. A few times a week, at around 1 PM, these vegetables come in, and two hours later, they’re gone. I happened to get there at just the right time, and bought something I know as “Chinese Broccoli” but which surely has another name. I picked up some tofu as well (far from the cheapest place to buy it, but I was there, and seldom buy tofu anyway). I have bought these items from this store before, and although I remember the man who sells them to me, I’m sure he doesn’t remember me. The first time I was there, I asked him what the vegetable is called. This led to some back and forth confusion, but I never found out, because we didn’t really have any languages in common. So I thanked him, and kept walking. This time I didn’t ask, just walked out and started back towards home, happy with the smell of someone else’s spices and visions of packages of I-don’t-know-what in my head.

As I was getting closer to home, I thought (as I sometimes do), bubble tea. I should have some. There’s a bubble tea place (actually a little fast food place/restaurant) near my house. And then I thought, hmmm. Just how tight is the Taiwanese community? I turned plastic bag from Orient Market around so the name was visible, and went in to order “Te rojo con leche con tapioca,” as I do. The guy at the second place saw the bag and said, “El es mi paisano,” talking about the owner of the first store. This a) is true, and b) is not how you say that in Chilean Spanish. But this family, who own the bubble tea shop used to live in New York, where we do use the Italian word for “compatriota” on occasion. And we had a little laugh and smile. I pulled out the vegetable to show him what I’d bought, and he told me what it is called in Taiwan, which I first repeated (probably incorrectly), and then promptly forgot.

“You have to cook it in a hot pan, with ginger and garlic,” he told me and I nodded, and then said, “I actually used to eat it as a kid.” I’m from New York, I explained. “New York…” he said. The whole time we were having this conversation, he was on the phone with someone. “Did you know that they were also from my country?” he said, pointing to the bag. “Yep,” I said.

And then I asked, “do you also know the people who own Te León?” (another Taiwanese tea food and tea shop in Patronato, which I have failed to get to while it’s open, since I usually save my wanderings over there for weekends, and on Sundays many things are closed). He pointed to the phone, and said, “I’m on the phone with him right now.”

I could tell he was talking about me on the phone. “word word word New York word word” (Word is where I don’t know what he was saying). “Tell him I’m going to come by and see him soon, I want to visit his shop,” I said.

“word word word word Te León word word New York.”

And the man at the counter looked at me and said, “Do you speak Mandarin Chinese?”

I was surprised. I have never been asked this question before.

I have to assume it was the question of the guy on the other side of the phone, who could not see me. Me with the curly hair, and freckles and utter ignorance of how to say anything, not even the name of a basic vegetable in Mandarin Chinese.

“No, just English and Spanish,” I said.

He finished up his phone call, charged me for my tea and handed it to me. And I walked out drinking/eating it and recognized a glimpse of New York, or Chinatown, mixed with Chilean semi-friendliness to curious foreigners and a feeling of self-sufficiency and slight pride in knowing where to get hard-to-find food products, and the first expression that came to mind was in Spanish. I was “en mi salsa,” which is to say, “in my element,” and I still have no idea how to say that in Mandarin Chinese. I might have to go over to Té León and ask.

Tea shop in my neighborhood= Chicken Tea, Sazie 2069, closest metro República
Tea shop in Patronato= Té León, Eusebio Lillo 398B, closest metro Patronato
Taiwanese Food shop= Orient Market, Grajales 2950, closest metro Estación Central

Pictured above: urban garden on Domeyko. Most of what you see is ortiga (nettles), which is/are edible when cooked, but not eaten in Chile. Also, that is a fine looking bunch of the monster swiss chard we get here.


Feria report, now with lúcuma, a weak peso and Chico Trujillo

Dear Internet, It has been more than a month and a half since my last feria visit. My penance is that I feel like I have been through a nutritional wasteland with short visits to the paradises of the land of fruit and veg.

Let me be clear. I am not an adherent to the cult of the busy. I think it is destructive, competitive, unfun and wreaks havoc on both my social and my self-life (self-life? is that like shelf-life?). But I find myself in these waters all the same, with a deadline that will hopefully relieve some of the pressure come Monday. I am coming back out of my isolation, taking breaks from work now (to scrub the kitchen floor, but still), and yes, retomando (resuming) my habit of feria reports.

Food is expensive! The peso is dropping against the dollar, but even so, I have never seen potatoes, tomatoes and avocados so expensive here. Or not in a long time. I am fortunate in that a couple hundred extra pesos either way is not going to make or break me, just noticing the price jumps.

Here’s what it looks like:


And here’s what it is:

1 bulb fennel/hinojo =500 CLP $.84
1 bunch chard/acelga =500 CLP $.84
1 kilo green apples/manzana verde =600 CLP $1.01
1 kilo mandarines/mandarinas =1000 CLP $1.68
1 small bag walnuts/nueces =1000 CLP $1.68
3 tomatoes/tomates =600 CLP $1.01
1 bunch cilantro/cilantro =300 CLP $.51
1 bunch parsley/perejíl =200 CLP $.34
4 tiny red peppers/morrones =200 CLP $.34
1 bag of olives/aceitunas =1300 CLP $2.19
1 lucuma/lúcuma =300 CLP $.51
1 kilo lemons/limones =600 CLP $1.01
1 head broccoli/brócoli =700 CLP $1.18
1 head cauliflower/cauliflór =700 CLP $1.18
3 sweet potatoes/camote =600 CLP $1.01
1 kilo potatoes/papas =450 CLP $.76 LAST
2 artichokes/alcachofas =700 CLP $1.18
1 cucumber/pepino =400 CLP $.67
2 chunks squash/zapallo =600 CLP $1.01
2 small red onions/cebolla morada=300 CLP $.51

11,550 CLP = $19.28 (dollar at 593.66)

It is worth noting that these artichokes were overpriced, but gorgeous, and I am going to eat the lúcuma raw, even though nobody ever does, because supposedly it has a strange aftertaste (so it says in the Spanish wikipedia article). People generally cook it into a purée and then it goes into dessert, It’s pasty and tastes like sweet potato mixed with maple syrup, more or less. But again, I have the luxury of spending $.51 on a lark, and so I did.

And lest you feel that the fact that you have learned Spanish vocabulary, your 593.66 times tables and what a lúcuma is has not been a good use of your time, I now also leave you with the following.

1. The dollar is stronger than we have seen it in years. Years, I tell you. Screen capture from google.

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 11.06.33 AM.

2. When you are at the feria, you will hear songs like “Conductor” on the radio. This is a song by the band Chico Trujillo, from the “nueva cumbia chilena” style of music. The main words are “Que le pasa que le pasa a mi camión,” which would lead you to believe that the song is about a truck that “no arranca” (it won’t start). However, the first lines make it clear that we’re actually talking about the singer’s girlfriend, not a truck. Because a woman that you can’t start up is songworthy. It’s a damn catchy tune, regardless. You’re welcome. If you want to sing along, or toss these lyrics in a translator, here’s the letra.

And to listen to the earworm song, here it is: