Select Page

When you’re from two places, there’s always this comparison. What’s here, what’s there. What you’ve got, what you had, what you can find. When I first got to Chile, I looked in vain for a couple of things that have never been found. A certain brand of tampons, for example (don’t mess with a woman’s monthly supplies), bottles of naproxen sodium (aleve), a shampoo that didn’t strip my hair of all its natural-born moisture. That’s in the bathroom. Then there’s the kitchen. Cinnamon that tastes like what I’m used to, pine nuts, basmati rice, chocolate for baking, real vanilla.

Over time I’ve a) changed what I think I need b) found lots of stuff lurking around the edges of obscure supermarkets or been willing to pay higher prices for it or c) developed a supply strategy worthy of a small, landlocked country.

That’s right. I bring stuff back. In amid the books and the clothes and the occasional techie luxury, are things like rice krispies (to make rice krispie treats, naturally), grapenuts, to enjoy at breakfast time, chocolate chips that are made of chocolate and don’t break the bank. I’d love to bring some greek yogurt, but feel quite certain that after the international garlic incident this summer, SAG (the agriculture department) would not look kindly on me “bending” the rules.

Not long ago, at a friend’s house, I found something unusual. She and her husband travel pretty frequently, and they have a constant supply of friends and family making the reverse bungee jump from Chile to the States and back. They’ve got a good supply of items made in the U.S.A. This time in her house I found american ketchup. We get ketchup in Chile. True, it’s Helman’s, not Heinz, and it comes in a bag with a nozzle, not a bottle. But there it was, proudly proclaiming its contents and high fructose corn syrup (a sweetner that’s not used in Chile) in English. I asked her about it, and she sort of pointed at her husband. Seems he’s developed a taste for the good stuff.

But there was somethingt that surprised me evn more. Another time, at the same friend’s house, we were cooking something or another and at some point, the foil came out. You know, foil. Comes in a box, on a roll, makes a sheetmetal sound, and a satisfying rip when it goes across the teeth installed on the box for just this purpose. Riiiip. I held it in my hands. I folded it. And it stayed. The foil we get in Chile is slightly thicker than the gold leaf applied on the baroquest of churches. And I looked at her and said, T… where did this foil come from? And she looked at me, and said, isn’t it great? I brought it from the states. And I had to admit, it really was.