The Train of Other People’s Memories (nostalgio-ferro-tourism?)

Every now and then, EFE (the train authority/company/people in Chile) run these tourist trains along old tracks that used to, but no longer carry passenger trains. EFE drags old cars from somewhere, plump up the seats, put velcro on the curtains (really, my 1920s German car had velcro on the curtains), and wring money out of sillies like me who want to ride the train of memories. It’s called the tren de los recuerdos, and this particular one went from Estación Central in Santiago to San Antonio, a port town on the coast.

I call it the train of other people’s memories because, unlike the family that was beside and behind (and then in front of, as the train changed direction on the way home) me, I have never taken the train to the coast before. I have never sat on those seats with a basket full of sandwiches and the never-lacking hardboiled eggs.

We sat on the train and it lumbered slowly out of the station, picking up speed, my hair blowing from the wind that came in through the open window, until the EFE attendant came by and “suggested” we close our windows, saying as a closer (to end all closers), “they throw rocks here.” Slam. Window shut.

closed window

And then we got past the rock-throwing zone, which nobody even thought twice about, or at least didn’t seem to, and we were given ave pimentón sandwiches, which are (I guess) like chicken salad with red pepper, on white bread, in those triangular plastic containers.
We also were given a box of peach “juice.” These I refused, preferring to look out my (now open) window.

zippy view

Though I did later take the chocolate bar which was, of course, a “trencito.” (means little train).

trencito

When we got to San Antonio, I remembered something important. Most of San Antonio is very steep, parts of it are poor, and parts of it smell like it could use a good hose-down. The market and surrounding area was a bit smelly, but the esplanade and view over the water were lovely.

view of the harbor

And I walked in the sun, looking for something to be nostalgic about, but did not find much. Though I did find these fish heads, which are good to feed to the sea lions. The sign above said, “comida para lobos 500″ (food for (sea) lions, 500 CLP, about a dollar). I could not imagine a scenario in which I handled fish heads for animals that are supposed to be, in a word, gruff, so I wandered away from those.

lobo food

I walked off of the esplanade, through a little plaza and across the street, up the hill, and there, instead of the view of the ocean I deserved, there was the giant mall, which is good for going to the bathroom and the supermarket, but should never have been built where it was, blocking the view of the ocean which is basically the main thing San Antonio has going for it.

san antonio pano

It was a terrible move. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. The text below says, I want to see the sea, not the mall.

quiero ver

Since I was supposed to be feeling nostalgic, I put on my most wide-eyed and deep-breathed attitude, and thought about the many times I’ve been to the Pacific coast, and how for me, it has kind of eclipsed my childhood Atlantic coast in what I think of when I think about the ocean. I lived in California for a little while, and Oregon for a little longer, but I think it’s Chile that did this to me.

And then I wandered some more and had a very oversized empanada, which I chose because the band that played nostalgic music on the nostalgia train (which everyone sang along to, because being Chilean is like summer camp sometimes) was eating there, too, stacking their coins that they’d busked (does busker come from the word buscar, as in to look for?, must investigate) earlier on the train.

stacking money

Here’s where they were making their money, notice clapping of happy audience members/train passengers.

clapping

Gratuitous in-the-train shot.

on the train

Kids excited about nostalgia that is not theirs, either.

kids hanging out of train

And then I remembered something nostalgic after all, which is that when my good friend C and I were at his family’s beach house in a little settlement not far from El Tabo, we came to San Antonio one day to watch them pull fish and other creatures (lots of jibia, or giant cuttlefish) from the sea, drink some coffee, and get a good view from up above. And we went to one of the two cactus sellers there on the promenade, and I bought a cactus, which I’m happy to report is alive and well, and actually blooms every year in the winter, which surprised the hell out of me the first time I saw it, and made me say, “you can do that?” which reminds me of the time when, in my old apartment, I found a surprise cat in my living room, and I spoke to it saying “Y tú, que haces acá?” (what are you doing here). Like the cat, the cactus said nothing. Unlike the cat, the cactus sat still. The cat fled, as you might imagine. Out the window and back to the neighbor’s apartment from which it had come.

But I digress. Having once purchased one cactus in San Antonio, and since I was trying to have some memories of my own, I bought another one. Except it’s a succulent. It looks happy enough on my kitchen windowsill, and like the other one, it sheds little pebbles every time I water it.

The mean age of the people on the train was somewhere in their 60s, and by the time it was time to get back on the train, everyone was milling around and sitting on benches, waiting for it to be time.

people waiting

It was a long day to essentially have nothing to do, other than walk hither and yon, and take a boat trip in the harbor (which I did not do). The fine people of San Antonio peeked all around the train, asked us where we were going, to which we responded “Santiago,” and many of them seemed surprised, as they hadn’t heard of the program. I wished they’d left the train parked during the day so all the train lovers could have taken a peek. A couple of kids got lifted up so they could see in, but I thought EFE could have done more to make it more fun for the people of San Antonio.

As we got back on the train, everyone windblown and sun-exposed, and it started to slowly chug its way back to Santiago, people stood and waved at the train. Buen Viaje! they wished us, waving with one, or both hands, holding kids, who waved and wished us well, too. I spied a solid fifty people, walking along the promenade, or standing beside the tracks who waved to us, saying goodbye as though we were friends that they wouldn’t see again for a while.

waving

As we rolled back in the direction from whence we’d come (at less than half the speed of a bus), we periodically saw groups of photographers poised and waiting for us to pass by and click. And then we got to this one point, an all-but abandoned platform where a woman had brought a gift to pass into the window of one of the cars, to one of the kids on the train. The woman couldn’t make it this far and fast, so the track worker grabbed the gift and ran up to the train to hand it through the window. Really.

gift

And then I got it. A little tingly chill somewhere around my left shoulderblade, a feeling of belonging to this crazy summer camp of singing sextegenarians, chicken sandwiches, boxes of juice, people throwing rocks and sometimes handing presents. I had a succulent in the outer pocket of my backpack, the Pacific ocean in the rearview mirror of my mind. And I felt a little twinge of someone else’s nostalgia. Or maybe it was my own.

 

That photo I always take

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There is no explanation for this photo. I can tell you where I took it, but I could have taken it anywhere, because I do take it anywhere. And everywhere. There is something about strong shadows of stringy trees on painted walls that I cannot get enough of. I want to freeze them and make them mine and look at them again and again.

And it’s funny, because in college I lived next door to a woman who (to my eye) painted the same thing over and over and over again. They were stick-figure trees on a pale background. I would see her at the Art Barn (an open workshop space), and out my back window, wearing fingerless gloves, painting the winterscape of New England, trees upon trees, spindly and dark, against a pale bluish-white sky. I couldn’t understand why, if she could paint the same thing inside and out, she would choose to stand in the freezing cold, fair neck wrapped in a slouchy grey scarf, hair in a loose bun, right arm extended towards her canvas, flakes threatening to fall from that bluish-white sky, instead of in the relative comfort of her workshop space.

I also didn’t understand why she’d paint what looked to me like the same painting again and again. But I bet that she could pick any of her paintings out of a line-up and know which one was hers, just like I could probably name for you the dozens and dozens of pictures of spindly trees on painted backdrops that I have taken, mostly in Santiago, because we have the right light, but sometimes other places, too.

This one is from República in Santiago, close to where I live. If I were a painter I would die of frustration of how the shadow moved over the course of the day, while I was trying to paint it. As a photographer, I have the luxury of snapping and walking away, but I do not have the luxury of taking this photo when the image is not there.

But fall is upon us in Chile. I shall have leafless trees with strong shadows on painted buildings in droves. And I know I’ll take dozens more of this photo (or ones just like it) before the leaves come back. It probably looks like nothing important to you. I don’t have an explanation for that, either.

 

Shriveled like a sun-dried tomato in the Santiago sun

The sun in Santiago wants to kill me. Of this I am convinced. Every year I tell the quirky little tale of how I think there are four seasons in Santiago. And they are fall, spring, summer one and summer two.

Summer two, I explain, to anyone who will listen, is when you’ve had three months of summer and you’re just done, but there are still three months to go. This summer, as you in the northern hemisphere have dug out and dug out and dug out again, we have had an uncharacteristically warm summer, with 35 degree days where formerly there were none, and many days in the 32-34 range. Many, many days.

But don’t take my word for it. I thought to myself, one day, when I was taking in my dry laundry after it had been on the line for twenty minutes, and again when I went to take something off the ledge by the window in the kitchen and found that it was hot to the touch, that I could easily make sun dried tomatoes at home.

I started, like you do, with tomatoes. I used cherry tomatoes because they’re sweet, and also because they’re small, so they seemed unlikely to mold, and also because they’re what I had on hand. It seemed the first step would be to cut them in half, and this I did.

To wit:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Then I left them outside, whereupon they shriveled, but not quite as quickly as I might have liked, so I moved them inside, beside the heat-seeking kitchen window. I face east, and get the morning sun from the time the sun pops up from behind the mountains until it starts beating down on people’s heads sometime around 1 PM. And here they are, a few days later.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Time elapsed: four days

Verdict: sweeter and crunchier than I expected, better as a snack than with pasta, or maybe would have been good with pasta, but I didn’t get that far, and just crunched my way through.

I wonder what else I could dehydrate (besides myself) in the Chilean summer, which when I left, was up to about summer 3. Apply sunscreen, and repeat.

I made a second plate, drying them only inside, and they dried a bit faster.
They are sitting in a container awaiting my return from that very same north where you may or may not currently be freezing, thus the radio semi-silence. I am hoping the summer has, if not completely receded, at least dissipated by the time I get back. In the meantime, I’ve had below freezing, snow, rain, and up to t-shirt weather in the last five days. But no sun dried tomatoes.

 

Walking in the Wind

2548498742_a14c86e61e_z

The wind can push you back, hold you in place, or escort you along. This is a piece I wrote about a windy day in the Falkland Islands that did a little bit of all of those. Bronze place winner in the 8th Annual Solas Awards. Category: Travel Memoir.

Something that’s always bothered me about the Falkland Islands is that when you look at them on a map, they don’t look like anything else. They’re that cloud in the sky that you pass over when playing the “this cloud looks like that thing” game. They’re not quite antlers, and definitely not a snake eating an elephant. They’re not long and skinny, shaped like a stringbean, like Chile, where I currently live, nor alligator-shaped, like Long Island, where Brooklyn, my home town is located.

The second southern summer I lived in Chile, as part of what I thought at the time might be an only-once trip to Patagonia, because I was considering leaving the southern hemisphere, I took a side trip to this unlikely British outpost despite the vexing shape that East and West Falkland make together.

I vaguely knew that England calls them the Falklands, and that in Argentina, they are called the Malvinas, a name which sounds more like marshmallows than anything else, and that there had been a war in the early 1980s about which conflict (though not armed) still persists. You can see memorials all over Argentine Patagonia to the Argentines lost, and small museums with artifacts and memorials in many locations in the Falklands.

One morning my hosts at Port Howard drove me to the airport, a pebbled airstrip beside a tin-sided shack with a clipboard hanging inside. My destination was Saunders Island, population 6. I stepped onto a tiny red Falkland Island Government Air Service (FIGAS) plane, which could have whisked away the whole human population of Saunders Island (but not much more) away in a pinch. On the plane with me, there were two older women, British and Scottish, with a combined age of about 165. They were to be my housemates for the next day at a guest cottage near the family farm on this island.

After “stopping by to buy milk,” which entailed picking up a blue child’s beach bucket of the frothy white that comes out of a cow, not a box, I asked one of my housemates to snap a photo for me, standing in the living room in my socks, holding and pointing to the bucket. I handed her my point and shoot camera, and she clicked. It was not until later that I learned that she was a photography instructor, more qualified than I was to operate my DSLR. She explained the rule of thirds to me as I poured the milk out of the bucket into a pot to make hot chocolate.

We had lunch, and got into the inn owner’s jeep for our outing to the rockhopper penguin colony out at “the neck,” a skinny piece of this island. On the trip, we drove past field after field, some with cows, others with land mines. The road sometimes crossed the former, but never the latter. Since I was neither driving nor 80 years old, it was my job to get out and unhook, unhinge, pull, push, slide, or otherwise open a steady stream of Get Smart-like gates. With each stop, our host would explain to me what needed to be done to the gates, showing me with her hands what had to be pulled or squeezed, jostled or wound, and I would try to repeat her movements, thinking of all the times I’ve zigged while everyone else zagged in every choreographed dance class I’ve ever taken.

When we got to the rockhopper colony, a round area that the penguins had claimed for themselves among the rocks, which spilled down a sharp, stony cliff, stained white with years of guano, the acrid smell roiled around us. I sat, observing the red-eyed, fat-beaked penguins with angry looking faces, which looked as though they were squinting derisively. I wondered how many feathers comprised their yellow swoopy eyebrow which trailed off the backs of their heads into the air, and watched them do their clumsy pitch-hop, pitch-hop up the precipice. I tried to keep in mind the photography advice I’d just gotten, to give subjects a space to look into in the frame.

I was in the Falklands because I was curious, because I didn’t know anyone else that had ever been there, and because I hoped that somehow, if I ran all over Patagonia and thereabouts, that I’d know what I was supposed to do upon returning back to Santiago, Chile. I paid for the trip with the money I’d come into not that long before. A few months earlier, I had flown to the United States to sit in a freezing, air-conditioned room and signed both of our names, again and again on dozens of pages, as my ex and I had decided to sell the house we’d once bought to be ours “forever.”

I walked away from the penguins, and peeked over a ledge to the fez-nest sitting brown-browed albatross, who blinked at me, and then turned his head away, his feathers blowing in the wind. He shifted his weight, but not enough so that I could see the egg he was surely sitting on. I had read that albatross chicks learn to fly without any help from their parents, and in fact, sneak out of the nest while their parents are away. The parents return, and the chick is just gone.

I decided to skip the Jeep on the way back home and walk the several miles back to the cottage. I let my housemates know, and they looked up from their binoculars and wished me well. I turned back to the settlement for a long walk, thinking of chicks that fledge solo and expats that don’t know whether they’re supposed to stay or go.

I was walking against a fierce and unpredictable wind, the kind that slaps your hair against your face and then up into the air, then shooting it to the side. There was no way to keep it from flying, and so I just walked, letting it flap, and whip, and pull. The cold wind hurt my ears, so I put in my earphones, turning my music to random, opening and closing gates as I went.

falklands beach

I came over a ridge and saw to my left side, a few hundred feet below, a perfect arc of a beach, white, with water a color I might have described as azul at the time, if I’d been speaking Spanish. Eight years later, I think of the water as being celeste, the Spanish word for a color somewhere between light blue and turquoise, as though the English color nomenclature was not nuanced enough.

The beach, which I had not seen on the way out to the penguin colony from the Jeep, looked tropical. But in this freezing wind, hundreds of miles off the coast of Argentina, antipodean to a spot on the border of Russia and China, to the east of Mongolia, and where tomatoes grow only through coaxing and in greenhouses, even without touching the water, I knew that it would be frigid. Perfect for penguin and albatross feeding and for carving away at the cliff sides, but not for me to swim in.

I turned my thoughts again to whether or not I should leave Chile when I returned. I’d be further away from penguins, but closer to a place where I knew the names for all the colors. As I walked along, looking over my shoulder at the beach, a song came on, by the Waifs, an Australian band I’d first heard my last year living in DC, just before moving to Chile.

Take it in
Take it all in
This is the time
That will not come again

Click here to listen (0:45 is the relevant lyric)

And I breathed in a gust of air that seemed to want to push me back to where I’d been standing seconds before, and thought about the lyrics. I had no way of knowing at this moment what I should do in any other. And I didn’t have to think about the border of China and Russia, the difficulty of growing vegetables in near arctic conditions, abandoned albatross parents, or even octagenarian photographers. The ocean was a color I couldn’t yet name in my adopted language, milk sometimes comes in a bucket, and the next day, a tiny FIGAS plane would take me away to another place I’d never been.

 

Valparaíso Cerro Abajo 2014 Report

zoom 1 copy

Before even leaving for Valparaíso this past Sunday to take pics at this thoroughly, completely insane downhill race, I did a little research. Okay, research might be putting it strongly. I read the press communique. Which in Spanish is called a comunicado de prensa. Press release? Something like that.

I found out who the major players were (from my point of view), and decided that I would be an informed photographer. So when I ran into Sik Mik on the cerro, just doing a recce (say: recky, I can say that because he’s Australian and that’s what they say), I chatted him up a bit and then let him go when I realized I wasn’t the only person who knew who he was, and was going to be in every single picture of him. Caught up with him later again though, pleasant as always.

sik mik copy

The way the race works is that they open the course for a couple of hours, during which time people walk it, bike it as many times as they can/like, and then there’s a qualifying heat. 50 people were alleged to start the day, 16 made it into the qualifying heat, including Sik Mik with the best time of 2:32, which was still two seconds off last year’s time that Colombian Marcelo Gutierrez made. In between all this madness of naming attractive 20- or 30-somethings I don’t know, I should also mention Filip Polc, the Slovak who had won a few years ago, and Maurico Acuña, the hometown favorite, who won in 2012.

In actual fact, the race course was severely delayed in opening. Like by hours. Why? Rumor has it it was the “Canon Jump” (which is what they called it at the Canon booth, but I think we can all agree it was the Plaza Bismarck jump, loaner lenses be darned, I shoot Nikon). A problem with this jump (or the recibida, which is what you call the ramp landing, handy that) is not necessarily something that should have surprised me. Why? Because they were still painting it when I arrived some 2.5 hours after the black press credential tent was supposed to go up. Which, by the way, was white. They tried to placate me with a Red Bull, which was the sponsor of the event. Blueberry? Not bad. Probably saved me from falling on my face starving because there was no time for lunch. But back to the ramp:

and the race starts in 20 minutes copy

And they were still putting together the press pits, too.

still setting up the press pit copy

Competitors were were hoofing it up after walking parts of the course.

hoofing it up the hill copy

And then, when the course finally opened, riding down, tons of air sometimes optional.

straightaway, kind of copy

And sometimes not.

jump copy

Sometimes stacked up one after the other.

pileup, not uncommon copy

Sometimes surprising (this was a new obstacle).

container copy

And sometimes just like years’ past (both the dog and this final jump have appeared in previous years).

this dog watches every year copy

final copy

And then sometimes someone who knows he’s not going to win the final comes riding down in a suit. Which was most unexpected. And surprisingly resilient. Nice move, by hometown favorite Mauricio Acuña. Maybe next year a fancy suit company can sponsor him.

M. Acuña, en su terno copy

Polc won again, and he was gracious and smiley and polite, like most of the competitors.

filip polc copy

And this is not a sport where you look at it and say, “I could do better than that.” Because you couldn’t. And neither could I. There are, stairs, obstacles, banks, dogs, glass, broken bits of wire, narrow passages, piles of hay and flying dirt, hazardous photographers, etc. Oh, and big air jumps.

hot dogging copy

One of my fellow photographers took issue with this hotdogging, (this photo taken from under the Bismarck jump) saying it wouldn’t buy him any time. I’d have given him points for style though. If such a thing were available and I were handing them out.

In the words of Sik Mik (who has broken both pinkies four times, he told me), “this (VCA) is not an event you can practice for. It’s too dangerous.”

But at least you, as a spectator can walk around with your fancy pants camera and know that the worst thing likely to happen is that one of those jerks with the GoPros or similar on long sticks will jam their camera into the middle of every race photo. Grrrr. Did they even get any good shots?

And Valparaíso was, as always, photogenic.

valpo desde arriba copy

shades of blue copy

All photos copyright me, no thieving, thanks. Larger versions available on request. More on Flickr.

 

Dear those who are traveling, and (perhaps moreso) those that are staying put

I am so happy for you that you are traveling the world and blogging/instagramming/tweeting it. That every day you wake up and see something new, something photogenic. And that you take pictures of it, and describe it with your pretty words, both of which bring one thing into focus while leaving the things behind it in a blur photographers call bokeh and writers call, well, I don’t know what writers call that, but maybe we should have a name for it, too.

And I love the people you meet, and share some tea with, or learn how to make pupusas from, or get the same Vietnamese noodle dish from that has all those letters and accents that mean nothing to me because I don’t speak Vietnamese, and don’t really know much about Vietnamese food, except that pho is pronounced fuh, more or less, and it has that brothy yum plus crisp vegetables, contrast and flavors and well, you know better than me, because you’re in it.

I’m so glad that your life has aligned in such a way (or you have aligned it) such that you can drop everything and go somewhere else, in search of something. Good food, or good photos, stories, yourself, experience, “adventure” (whatever that may be). I love seeing where people go when the world is their oyster. Maybe it’s the less morbid version of asking someone what their last meal would be.

But I also wanted to give a shout out to the people who are staying still. For a few months, for a few years, for a lifetime. Your experiences and stories are no less interesting to me, and your honest descriptions tell me more than photos with six-sided blurred lights with just the right F-stop ever could. I don’t believe you’re not moving because you can’t (unless you tell me that’s the case), or that you haven’t quite figured it out, or that you’re too scared (ditto). I assume that you are in one place because you like it. Because you have the right combination of friends-family-wardrobe-kitchen-culture-chanterelle hunting-dentist-bed (but not all at once), or at least it’s right for you right now.

I trust that you are where are is great for you, and if it’s not, you’ll look at all kinds of fixes to make it better. More self-expression, a new hobby, a different job, more exercise, better podcasts, more alone time, more patience, less internet, fewer PWSYD (people who suck you dry, those needy, non-reciprocal relationships that fulfill the need to be needed, but nothing else), or whatever your better looks like.

In the interest of blogging from the perspective of the second, not of the first, because, although I travel, I am not traveling right now, and although I am an expat, I’m coming up on ten years. If this doesn’t feel like home, then maybe no place ever will.

This is what it looks like when I “don’t go anywhere,” and my city is charmingly photogenic and throws in a few surprises.

This morning I went to take the recycling up to the nicer neighborhoods where they do that kind of thing (I have a non environmentally-friendly bubbly water habit) and I ended up in several places that made me ask WISIBSP? Where in Santiago is Bearshapedsphere? I was just in my backyard, I guess. Where my backyard has a long closed route for bikes and enough water to make it through, and nearby mountains and dirt bike paths that go through gardens of purple blooming agapanthus, which always remind me of fireworks, and a feria I never go to, where they sold me both blackberries and basil, and these together with plain yogurt and honey are fueling this post entirely.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Santiago has become much more bike-friendly, in theory. Let’s say it is more bike friendly for meanderers. For people who really need to get from point A to point B safely, not so much. But on Sundays, there are closed streets all over the place, from 9 AM to 2 PM. Which is handy, since with the exception of the people on bikes (and rollerblades), pretty much everyone in Santiago is home at that time. Near me, there’s Santa Isabel (closed from about Dieciocho to about Portugal), downtown there’s Catedrál (which I would never bike on on purpose, too many baches (potholes)). And then there’s Andrés Bello.

Andrés Bello, also known as the “Costanera,” where the only costa it’s close to is the Mapocho River, which is not exactly so grand that you’d want to spend time near it. It’s one of the main east-west conduits. I always forget that Andres Bello is closed on Sundays, but today I remembered, because I was riding towards the beautiful, peaceful bird-filled Parque Bicentenario, because it has a nice view, I needed some fresh air, and I know they have a punto limpio, which is what we call the recycling center.

But then I remembered that outside of the Café Literario in Parque Forestal, they have bins, too. So I dropped my stuff there, but still thought I could take a spin up to the other park. But then something happened, and I zigged, when I should have zagged, and the next thing I knew I was on a miles-long bikepath (asphalt, then concrete, then dirt) that took me up past the river, with Manquehue and Manquehuito (two hills you can climb) in the distance.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I kept on riding, curious as to when this would end, when I saw I was passing the backs of the fancy restaurants at Borde del Río (a kind of stand-alone foodcourt/boulevard full of kinda fancy restos). And the path kept going. Insert agapanthus, etc. It stopped near the rotunda at Lo Curro, which is at the entrance to a neighborhood called Santa María de Manquehue. I’ve never ridden up there (though I have gone in to climb the hills), so I picked a flattish street, listened to a podcast about chocolate (like you do, do not judge, I saw exactly no cars), and then made the somewhat ill-thought-out mistake of zigging when I might have zagged. Remember how well that went the first time?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So instead of riding back over the river, I ended up at the back entrance (Lo Pirámide side) of Cerro San Cristóbal, looking at the overpass that goes over the river as it curves down, trying to figure out where it made land, and hopefully not on a highway. In fact, I know for sure that there’s a way to get to this overpass/bridge from the street I was on, because I walked down it one day when I had to do something at El Mercurio (the main newspaper). I remember I had to ask a man with a weed-whacker in his hands (with the head in a plastic bag), how to get down to the road from the overpass/bridge (smarter move: take bus or taxi). He indicated that I should follow it a bit further, bail early off a side shoot, jump over a ditch, go past some bushes, come out by some trees, and then run across the very busy street. So I did, like you do, and though I was a bit sweaty, it all turned out just fine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But today I did not see the trees, bushes or ditch, though I did see a helicopter.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And the next thing I knew, I was at an overlook called Lo Pirámide, which I think might be new, but what do I know, I had left my personal Kansas about an hour earlier. Another cyclist called out to me, to ask if I needed help. Looking lost=win.

Yeah, I said, can you explain to me how to get back over the river, like where do I get on the overpass?

Oh, you don’t want to go up the cerro? Um, no, I said.

Too hilly? he offered.

No, just trying to get over the river, not up over a big hill and over the river. Got a little turned around up in Sta. María de Manquehue, I explained.

He pointed this way and that, asked me where I was from because he’s Argentine, and they do that (many Chileans might not bother), and wished me well. Ok, I’ll just ride up this way, I thought, following where I figured he’d pointed.

And there was this one moment, when there was what looked like a road under construction, and there was a woman sitting in a freestanding booth that may or may not have said “informaciónes” on it. Thinking back on it, she was the person who would have been the one to tell me that if I didn’t take that detour, I was riding over the hill, like it or not.

Which is how I came to ride up what people use as a training hill in Santiago with panniers (used to have the recycling in them), a flowy white shirt (good for sun protection), 3/4 length cycling tights and (wait for it): rafting sandals.

I ride up this hill with some frequency, but haven’t been up this side of it in years. Every turn I’d think, this is where the roads meet up and I get to ride down, right? But it was not to be. Not for some time. In between, I saw many a cyclist of all ages and sizes, including some that were running beside their bikes which I assume is some kind of triathlon training thing, and I do not believe they also swim with their bikes, but I could be wrong. I was wrong about going across the river, you see. People can be wrong about many things. Even me.

The hill is Santiago’s backyard, in a way, with gardens and aerobics classes, and swimming pools (costly!), and plazas, and places to lay in the grass and stare at the sky. But it was so in my way. Alas!

Eventually I found where the La Pirámide road met up with the Pedro de Valdivia exit, and some distance later (2 miles? 3?), was able to get out of the park, and back across the river. From here I could ride back down the still-closed street, amid runners with jostly sleeping toddlers in their jogging strollers, and kids with training wheels toodling behind their parents and skaters with and without wrist guards. There were stands giving away water, and sunscreen, and lending (?) bikes with helmets, which most of the borrowers left hanging from their handlebars. And it was lovely, except that sometimes people who borrow bikes are not the best at riding them, so keep your distance.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I crossed the river again only briefly, to pick up some fruit and vegetables, since my trip had taken far more than the hour I’d allotted for it, and by the time I got back to my feria it would have been insanely crowded. They’ve recently cobblestoned my normal north-to-south street downtown (Teatinos), so I’ve changed my route back from this part of the city, which means I get to pass the Gaudi-inspired lizard sculpture at the Aguas Andinas building, where there is also a large, multi-sided fountain that dispenses drinking water. I took some, and washed my hands in the splashover. I saw a tourist taking pictures of a group of people rehearsing a Peruvian version of the cueca in a little plaza between a couple of buildings, about 50 feet from where I was. I wondered if she would blog about it, post the photo. If she did, what she would say, and what they would look like to a person who doesn’t live here, I wondered. She’s traveling. I’m staying still.

Just before getting to my house, I stopped in at the closest minimarket to pick up some bread, and horrified a whole group of Chileans by taking the fresh, hot marraqueta (like french bread rolls, sort of) out of the store in my BARE HANDS (which I had just rinsed), and not in a plastic bag.

I’m not traveling the world at the moment. But I am traveling my world. And noticing what’s in it. For today, that’s plenty.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recipe for a Coastal Weekend Relajo, El Quisco Norte

One of the things that I find so hard to capture about what I love about Chile is this. Also, forgive me, but I have been in recipe development land, and old habits die hard. You’re lucky I didn’t take all the photos with a shallow depth of field, heavy bokeh and strange items in the background.

Grab some friends, add some wine, food from about six nations, three awesome cooks. Pour into one beach house, with great view and beautiful balcony.

Let simmer for three days.

Serves as many as will fit in the house, are willing to cook/clean/share/laugh/go for long walks.

This is Chile.

El Canelo

This is the beach we did not spend much time on, at El Canelo. Reason we did not spend much time there? Look at all the people!

thicket

The piney thicket we got to walk through on our way to the beach. The air in stand of trees was cool and damp, like someone had turned on the natural A/C

plants over the beach

Not for the faint of heart, slippery of foot or short of breath. A view over the cliffs with this funny plant I always love when I see it, but forget to look for the name of in foreground.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I almost lost my voice shouting “Pelicans pelicans pelicans pelicans” every time they flew overhead. Thanks pelicans.

pan

On a reconnaissance off the beach and up through the town, we found this painted sign, one of my favorite styles. You used to see them all over Chile, they say, but now I only know of one in all of downtown (near San Diego). Click here to see my other bread guy.

two sunsets

And if you time it just right, you can take a picture that looks like there are two suns. Which there never are. Unless you added entirely too much wine.

 

Hit or Miss, more things to drink, all in Providencia

Back by popular demand (okay, one person asked for it), I’ve got a hit or miss for you.

First, a miss, with a qualifier. I was on the fifth comuna of a 5-comuna tour, with meetings and visits and such all over town, so I needed this to be good. I needed it to be really good. And it wasn’t.

I finally went to Big Boba, the bubble tea place in Manuel Montt. I figured out it was here because I saw someone drinking one on the metro, and I did a quick run-through of the places where they make bubble tea, and she was coming from the opposite direction (incidentally, this same sleuthing is how I found out that there was a Starbucks in my neighborhood), so I asked her where she got it.

They have a panoply of flavors and combos. The menu looks like the back of a jelly belly bag where they explain what combination of colors and flavors you need to make for example, a root beer float. So I did not get one of the fancy concoctions with pinepple or coconut, just said black tea, regular tapioca. They also have molecular science-produced popping boba, which I did not get. The tea was several things. One of them was not cold enough, and did not have enough ice. The second (possibly related to the first) is that it was much too milky. The third one is that as I was putting the straw to my lips, the happy cashier (possibly the proprietor) said, “It’s got stevia in it!”

What the what? I don’t want stevia, and I especially don’t want surprise stevia. He said, “you can’t even taste it!” So then I thought, then why did you tell me? And I also thought, then why use it? Also, taste is very suggestible and then I felt like I could taste it. And I was grumpy.

On the other hand, the tapioca balls themselves were perfect, not to hard, not too soft. I would go back to try the popping bubbles because I have no idea what that would be like, so may as well try. But I would not go back for the classic. I’m sticking to good old Chicken Tea for that, my local Taiwanese-owned fried item and bubble tea shop down in República.

IMG_2759

Miss, but look how cute. I wish I liked my tea more. Big Boba, Manuel Montt 221. Closest metro, unsurprisingly, Manuel Montt.

And then there’s the flip side.

Biking around one day with a friend, while housesitting for another friend’s dogs and cat, which by the way, did you know that dogs will follow you around incessantly with a look on their face that says, “walk? walk?” even when you have just come in from an hour-long walk? That is pesky.

So anyway, up on Suecia norte, which I normally have no occasion to go to, and popped past Cafe Cultura, which you can smell from far away because they roast their own coffee. Roast their own coffee. Their own single-origin coffee. Have I stressed this enough?

I had a single espresso (which they gave me for free for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, maybe they’re just like that) and it was excellent. Had a nice crema, not too hot, and it was more bitter than chocolatey, which is how I like my coffee. It was Peruvian, but I’m sure if you told them you like it nuttier or whatever, they’d make you that, too. They do siphon and all the fancy prep, too. But I just wanted an espresso.

As it happens, I know the person who does PR for them, and she was there, so we got to talking, which led me to talk to the owner/proprietor/coffee master extraordinaire, Juan Mario Carvajal, a Chilean Colombian who sometimes says “chevere,” which I love, because it reminds me of when I lived in Ecuador in the late 90s. He was excitedly showing me a drip apparatus in which he was going to make cold filter drip coffee, by freezing the water and then keeping it at the right temperature so it would drip through the ground coffee (and filter) over the course of 8 hours. Sorry, had to wipe the drool. That sounds incredible, and incredibly smooth. He loves coffee, and he loves teaching people about it, and he was not unhappy that soon he was going on a trip to an undisclosed Carribbean location (well, yeah, he told me, but I’m not sure if I’m supposed to tell you) to teach coffee whatnot and lounge on the beach, or more likely hop around, since you know, with the coffee and all, he’s a bit inquieto, but not in a bad way.

cafe cultura

This is a photo of the school, not of the café, but the school is in the café. They give classes here. I might take one, who knows! I did not take a photo of the coffee. It looked very much like coffee. Trust me.

Super Ultra Mega Hit: Cafe Cultura, Suecia 0130 (north side of Providencia, towards the river), open m-f 8:30-7:30.
Closest metro: Los Leones.

Raison d’etre: I like food, like reviewing it, eat out a fair amount, photograph my food and drink shamelessly and often opine about what I like and don’t in the culinary ambit. And I sometimes get a little fed up with how much “happy-glad tourism writing” there is out there, so I decided to show both sides of the coin, and not just happy-glad my way around only places that have been hits for me. If you can figure out a way to go to only places that leave you satisfied and gleeful, please don’t share. I get the feeling the misses are going to be the most popular part.

Also, I am a little on the fence about linking to the places. What say ye?

 

Excused Absence, where our protagonist comes clean. She fell into a book.

The time has come to come clean. For the last several years, on scraps of paper, and little journals, and USB keys that have traveled hither and yon, where yon is Suriname and Costa Rica (twice), and Nicaragua, Seattle, San Francisco, and Argentina (several times) and all kinds of other places, some of which had really great waffles, I have been dragging around a book.

Not just a book. My book. The one I’m working on. A memoir. If you’ve been reading, you know part of the story, in fits and starts. Girl turns ten, girl’s father dies. Girl spends period of time mourning, then looking, then forgetting, then blammo, girl is about to turn the age her father was when he died.

And then all hell breaks loose.

I am so pleased to report that despite strong personal superstitions to the contrary, I did not die when I was 39. I turned 40, like you do, with just the right amount of fanfare (none), and a piece of grainy cake a teenage girl gave me at Anakena, a very lovely pink sand beach on Easter Island.

And then I had to respin it all, because damn, that was alot of panic. And also, because now I’m older than my father. Huh. Young punk.

The book process flows fast and furious, then grinds slowly to a halt. Then stops. Sometimes goes backwards. I think a glacier (sans global warming) is the best analogy, slow, plodding progress, then a giant edit that cuts 20 pages. Or maybe it’s more like the bunny hop. Forward, back, forward forward forward (cue music).

I’m working on the second paper edit, where the workflow goes: Write for several years, toss a bunch, start over, finally pull it together into one big file, edit until your eyes bleed, then print it all out.

Go to Argentina for a week, and during that time, edit (on paper) everything you’ve written, with circles and arrows and words that not even you can read. Then input it all, making changes and rearranging, and drinking a lot of coffee as you go.

Then write the chapter topics on little scraps of paper, and, while drinking a minty raspberry juice at an adorable new café that despite all odds, has popped up in your neighborhood, put like kinds together, like some kind of psychological test (or like the one they made me do at the embassy, grouping pedagogy and English language textbooks together). Figure out, after all these years, that there are five major sections to the book. Rearrange rearrange rearrange. More editing.

One more print out, one more long period of paper editing, this time at the beach in El Quisco Norte, and again at a house with two dogs and a cat where I procrastinated this project so hard that I ended up with 24 apple empanadas, though this was actually ok, because it was for work. Also, delicious.

Now I’m inputting this second set of paper edits. Where am I today? Page 21 of part 3. What does that mean? I have no idea. I could plod along like the little engine that could, or I could, as I said to a friend yesterday (at the same time as she did), “fall into a hole.” Creative processes people. Damn unpredictable.

How long is the book? Long. How long is the accompanying file of text I’ve cut? Just about half as long. How long is this process? At times, it seems eternal. A friend recently said to me, “llevas harto tiempo con eso” (you’ve been doing that for a long time). He was talking about the book. He’s funny, only partially informed, and totally correct.

So that’s why I’ve been ausente of late. Deep in the book. At times tidily and with great precision, and at times like one of those people in the windy booth with all the paper money flying around that they try to shove into their pockets to see how rich they can get. Except with a miniscule probability of financial gain.

In my free time, I’m working, which is mostly writing, and some traveling, cooking, and eating. I also worked on a podcast piece for a friend here who is moving along in the audio production world. We know each other from elsewhere on the internet, but she interviewed me using this piece as a starting point. It was a great experience. She’s sensitive, easy to talk to, had done quite a bit of research, and also (perhaps most importantly), made me think. I actually had an aha moment while talking (though I don’t think you can hear it).

If you want to know more, give it a listen. It’s about photography, nostalgia, dead fathers and coincidences. Which sounds just about right. The production is all her, Silvia Viñas. Look out for that name. In English and Spanish.

Thanks for your patience. And just so you know, clicking publish today is the scariest thing I’ve done all year. Though the year is young. There is time for much more scary. And writing.

 

Woe be unto she who dares to be hit by a bicycle with unshaven legs, a tale of tolerance in Chile

So.

The other day (Monday, to be exact), I was minding my own business, walking across what in English I would call the park blocks of the Alameda. The Alameda is the main street, and for many blocks, it has a central area that you can bike or walk in. The bike path is, well, awful if you are headed east, as the noses of all the ramps are broken off. If you are headed west, you get to play a game of “where’s the bikepath” as it dips down over small flights of stairs. Raise your hand if you’ve ever had to stop short or flown down a flight of stairs. Oh wait, I need both hands for typing.

So I was standing there, far from the bike path, waiting for the light to turn green so I could keep walking east. When from behind, I got scraped/hit by a bike. It was painful, but mostly surprising. And the cyclist who hit me did not peek back to see how I was, or stop to see how I was doing. He flew across the Alameda (with a red light) to get away, and then proceeded to ride slowly up the sidewalk, which makes me wonder just how much of a hurry he was really in.

But I was grrrrr. Very grrrrr. Also bleeding. So took a picture of the aggrieved leg, and posted it to a cyclists group here, announcing that I had been hit, and that I was leaving that photo as a gift for the “saco de weas” (roughly, piece of shit) who had hit me. And that if I found him, I’d give him another. In truth, if I found him, I would demand an apology. Because I’m like that. I described his bike and helmet, and asked for help in figuring out who he was.

Anyway, back to the photo. You’re thinking, hit by a bike, wtf? what does that even look like? It looks like this:

hit by a bike

What followed requires you to sit down, and you might want to eat something, so your neighbors can’t hear so clearly when you start screaming “sacos de weas, sacos de weas” at the top of your lungs.

It seems that to many of the poor suffering facebook users, who had to look at this photo of my leg, the interesting point was neither the fact that I had been hit, nor how absolutely adorable my red suede mary jane shoes are, but the fact that, in fact. I have leg hair.

God, I hope I didn’t catch you unaware! I am so sorry.

Ok, first of all, there were several comments of the “I can’t believe this happened, some cyclists are so irresponsible, this is terrible, hope you feel better, so sorry, etc.” We like these people. We would be happy to share bike lane space with them.

And then the following comments appeared:

Gotta do some weeding
Someone should buy her pruning shears
You have to protect your image
The guy who hit you is still trying to patch his tire, he’s tried 10 patches already, and they still won’t hold
It’s a matter of hygiene
and my favorite:

se abra depilado” which should mean “will she have shaved her legs yet,” but in fact means something like “it opens shaved,” because the smartypants who wrote it also has really awesome spelling skills.

This devolved into people squabbling back and forth about whether or not it is machista to make such comments. I turned off the notifications because I have better things to do with my life, but went back to post the following:

First of all, I’d like to thank those of you who were sympathetic about how I was scared and angry (which I am less so now) regarding what happened with this person who is supposedly a “member of the tribe.” The accident was a product of his own lack of manners and education (Education here does double duty for actual education and also for how you were raised).

I am also fascinated by the obsession with whether I shave my legs or not, and how often. It just demonstrates that for some people, the purpose of a woman’s appearance is to comment on it.

With regard to the lack of manners, I have no solution. You’d have to look at how your parents raised you. But in terms of education, I offer the following: Fish have scales. Birds have feathers. Mammals have hair. I am a mammal. So what?

And the commentary goes on and on. I knew I was opening a very teeny tiny Pandora’s box in that I hadn’t shaved my legs in a few days. I was on my way to a lunch with a couple who are friends of my sister’s. I couldn’t imagine they’d be touching my legs, so why does it matter?

And why does it matter at all? This is not a tirade about whether you should or shouldn’t shave your legs. To be quite honest, I don’t care. But it is worth considering how the idea of a woman who has not made her legs touch-ready for the hair averse can cause such a scandal.

In the words of a good male friend of mine, who surely has studied more feminist theory than I have, “the problem is that you addressed the group because your bodily integrity had been compromised. Some of them reacted to continue violating your bodily integrity.” (paraphrasing)

And the leg hair issue is cultural. It feels like mainstream women here play along with the masquerade of being hairless, to placate or attract or keep the men in their lives. To be honest, I’m almost glad I hadn’t shaved my legs recently, so that this topic could come up. The cultural norms are different, and to me, they do not seem to follow any logic. I cannot count the number of times I have seen Chilena women on the street plucking their eyebrows or chin hair (on the bus, in their car, on a bench waiting for friends), or squeezing their mate’s pimples while seated on a bench in a park. Yet show one prickly leg (which to be honest, they must have eagle eyes or enlarged the hell out of that photo to get so incensed), and the world goes up in flames.

I have, of course, turned off the notifications for the original post (though you are welcome to comment here, I would actually be interested in what you have to say). I have no interest in hearing how people feel about my leg hair. I do think that cyclists need to hold themselves to a somewhat higher standard re: running down middle-aged ladies (or anyone) in the street, and take responsibility for imprudent actions, with, I don’t know, an apology.

So in light of that, I do apologize for being so vile as to get run down on the street by a bicycle and then posting my wound on Facebook for all (or some) to see. As the owner of an unshaven leg, I deserved to get hit and I deserve the insults. Or so some of these clowns would have me believe.

I know the few people behind the hygiene/pruning shears comments are probably social misfits. But that’s the fun of the social misfit. They have no filter, so they say what other people are probably thinking. Luckily I am old enough, and come from the kind of culture where I can listen to this asshattery and mentally send them to the “damn”, top of the hill, or even to fry monkeys (fun Chilean expressions).

I’ll be the one with the allbriefs on, until the oozing stops. What, you ask? I did a double-take, too. These were the cheapest bandaids at the pharmacy. On the bottom, in small print, it says “adhesión no agresiva.”

Non-agression. Too bad they don’t sell that, too.20140115-105003-a.m..jpg