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If you are from Concepción, you are a penquista. Which makes it sound like you’re from Penco, which you’re not, but you used to be. At least you’re not from penca, which means (roughly) lame, though it is also a kind of thistle which makes a nice, shiny salad when cut in tiny pieces and tossed with lemon juice.

And the road trip blather goes on. Because I can tell this story out of order, I am. We arrived in Concepción after Dichato, but before Chillán. It was late, getting darkish, and finding a place was not easy. In the end, we ended up staying in a pensión, a place where middle-aged men stay while they’re working in town, their families and homes elsewhere. It was pricey, cold, and odd, an apartment in a desolate, creepily-lighted, walk-up apartment building. The pensión itself was called Antuco, which is the name of a volcano where 45 recruits died in a snowstorm. If I were writing fiction, this would be called foreshadowing, about the giant mother of a snowstorm we’d get caught in the next day. However, I do not write fiction, so we call this a coincidence, and darnit, a place to sleep. The creepily-lighted, scalding-shower having apartment was also ensconced in a galería, or an arcade/mall, such that when I went out for a walk in the morning, I had to walk out through this little gate, since the mall wasn’t open yet.

And on my walk down Barros Arana, which where we were was a pedestrian mall, later (or earlier) becomes a regular street, and in fact, the street where we’d been instructed to park Chispita (the tiny car) the night before. It was a few blocks away, but the closest place to park. “Es que quedaron pocos estacionamientos”, our host told us (There are few parking lots left.) She didn’t say “después del terremoto” (after the earthquake), but you knew what she meant all the same. Here I saw Chispita safely locked behind closed gates on my morning walk.

The night before, we’d gone out to Cinzano Penquista, which we were assured was typical food for Concepción. R had a typical longaniza (sausage, no pun, the south is known for its cured meat products), and I had a typical freezing cold, wet and flavorless salad, because sadly, they were out of budín de zapallo, which is a lasagne-pan of deliciousness that I really must learn how to make. There may also have been some wine and a bajativo (digestif), which I finally got right and ordered manzanilla (chamomile), and not menta (mint, always tastes like scope), though the cinzano that Richard got was better still. Walking “home,” fed and tipsy (me) we remarked on how Christmasy it was out, crisp and cold, and see-your-breath clear. The area around the Plaza de Independencia is beautiful cobblestoned, old, mostly undamaged or fixed up. It felt downright European. Until we hoofed up to the stairs to our digs, in the flourescent-lit hillway, taking care to step over the giant puddle.

When I woke up in the morning, I decided to take a walk around town. The European part quickly gave way to Chile, with this in evidence:

I am not old enough or observant enough to remember peeling posters glued over peeling posters in NY, having been replaced by those pesky “post no bills” signs. But I love these fraying, dessicating posters all over Chile. I know they’re messy and not environmentally correct and all the same, but to me, they’re found art.

And of course, the market, which I can only assume does not always wear a green plastic coat. This must be a quick fix post-terremoto (earthquake).

Later, we’d drag all our/my stuff down the stairs, through the mall to go pick up Chispy and ride out of town on the street Las Carrera. Where we’d glimpse this vehicle, familliar to many of you who’ve travelled through smaller-town Chile, and no reason not to ride on the main roads/highways:

And then this, the embarassment of a country, a city and a construction company who got it all wrong. I can’t for the life of me figure out why they haven’t demolished it and taken it away, or at least erected an opaque fence around it. For a city as badly-hit as Concepción, I think they could all use a little lift, an I don’t know, not having to drive (or walk, or horse-and-buggy) past this gigantic, offensive reminder of something that happened 1 year and 5 months ago today.

Thanks for the crazy amalgam of wet and cold and dry and crisp and old and new and peely flyers, Concepción. I owe you another visit and another chance. I hope for your sake they do something about that building by then. You can leave the rest just the way it is.