I don’t know exactly who Sr(a) Perez de Arce is. I have a vague suspicion that he/she may have lived here sometime in the last sixty or so years since my building was built. I wonder how he/she had the furniture arranged, if he/she ever fell asleep in the living room and woke to find the rain trickling down the wall where the hinged windows close in the middle, looked at it and said, oh darn, I’ll have to repaint, again. (or is that just me?)
When I lived in DC I owned a house that had been built in 1908. One day I went to the census archives to find out who’d lived there before me. Just names, but they told a story. Southern-sounding names, old-timey monnikers, and finally some Chinese ones, proving that in fact, the Chinese family that owned that place over in Cleveland Park actually might have owned the house at some point. In this house the previous owners had also left me things. A ballet slipper, an old wooden cart in the crawlspace in the basement, some foreign coins, the colilla (butt) of a pito (joint). They also left about six layers of who knows what kind of floor covering over the gorgeous mosaic that graced the tiny entryway floor. (astroturf, rug, carpet, burlap sticky tiles, vinyl tiles).
This apartment didn’t really come with anything of note. Oh, it had an escoba and pala (broom and dustpan) and fifty years of floor wax accumulated in the corners of the rooms. It also has curtain rods, which I really appreciate, especially when I have a particularly large load of laundry to dry.
But the main legacy of any previous tenants here is their names on the bills. There’s the aforementioned Sr(a) Perez de Arce who appears on my electric bill and I can’t quite remember who on the gas bill. You see, the gas bill bothers me not even a little. It’s low, and it’s all cooking costs, as the only place I use gas in the house is the stove. Spending money on cooking food is not spending money on eating out, so the bill comes, and I feel virtuous and I pay it.
The Perez de Arce bill is quite another story. This is to whom the electricity bill comes. I am one person, tend to be only in one room at a time (though it is said I have a tendency to leave the kitchen light on). But my electricity bill is astronomical (for Chile). More than 20,000 pesos this month (about $35). The problem, unequivocably, is the hot water heater. Almost all homes in Chile have a calefont. It’s a relatively awful gas-powered system of heating the water randomly between scalding and iceberg for the ten minutes in which you’re bathing. Some people don’t trust the pilot light and light them (sometimes with a match) before every shower. It’s a very other-country experience for those of you with instant access to hot water. It also means people with calefonts may wash the dishes with cold water, but then again, they might not.
But I don’t have a calefont. No, I have a hot water heater. A big cylinder hanging from the ceiling of my bathroom which provides some of the most delightful showers I have ever taken, and also gives me hot water for dishwashing with no notice at all. Guests have also reported enjoyable bathtimes. Which almost makes up for the giant bill (most of my friends pay 5,000 pesos, but pay more for gas, of course). In fact, I never think about the electricity bill except for when it comes, and when I pay it (online, natch).
At which point I get a bit frustrated with Sr(a) Perez de Arce and wish he/she would work on conservation a little more.