...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Ambar: quite a character

When Ambar, my host mom, gets in a chatty mood, she can be hilarious. She´s very opinionated, teaches me a ton of Chilean slang, and is great to talk to. The other day we were talking about this Chilean slang expression, andar a lo gringo. (This is where J.Lee and Riana start laughing.) Andar a lo gringo literally means ´´to walk around like a gringo (North American)´´ but is used to mean ´´to go around without underwear.´´ The origin of the phrase is a mystery to me; I don´t think we gringas are any more likely to, well, andar a lo gringo than a Chilean, but apparently before the family started hosting North American students, Ambar always thought that it was a statement rooted in fact.

Ambar: The first time we did Emily´s (their first host student´s) laundry, I was like, ´´Hey! She´s got panties in here! This gringa does not andar a lo gringo!´´ And I told Maria (our nana, or nanny/cook/maid) about it, and she was like, ´´I know! What´s up with that?´´ I was so surprised to find out. And since then, I´ve noticed that both Julie and you also wear panties. I have noticed, though, that you gringas don´t wear bras.
Me: Well...I always wear a bra.
Ambar: Really?

A little later, we started talking about Bill Clinton. Ambar detests George W. Bush (she didn´t agree with the war, and thinks he has a ´´devious face´´), but she was a big fan of Clinton. In regard to the sex scandal, she said she couldn´t care less about what goes on in his personal life and all that huevada (´´shit,´´ and pronounced weá) and initially seemed very critical of Monica Lewinsky, blaming her for the scandal, etc. Then, a few minutes later, she refined her position.

Me: At this time last year, I was knocking on doors trying to convince people to vote for Kerry.
Ambar: Oh, Kerry. I forgot he even existed. Not like Al Gore...or Clinton. (Pronounced Cleeeen-tohn, and accentuated by some suggestive wiggling of the eyebrows.)
Me: You...found Clinton attractive?
Ambar: What woman wouldn´t? Tall, charismatic, very good-looking...Jessica, the problem was never that Monica Lewinsky chupó a Clinton. The problem was that she told the whole world about it! If I were in her situation, I would have done the exact same thing. I just would have kept my mouth shut afterwards!

Monday, October 24, 2005

¡Canta! ¡Sueña! ¡Vuela corazón americano!

Part Two of What We Did in Argentina is still coming (obviously, when I say ´´Check back tomorrow,´´ I really mean ´´Check back sometime next week,´´ but everything in the world happened or threatened to happen last week and I didn´t have time to write it up--sorry!) but I first I ahve to write about what happened over the weekend.

Yesterday was a very important day for Chile: the canonization of Padre Alberto Hurtado, a Jesuit priest who founded the Hogar de Cristo (Home of Christ), an organization that helps street children and the poor. Ever since his death in the early 1950s, Chileans have been petitioning the Vatican to canonize Padre Hurtado (make him into a saint), but they had to wait until he performed--and the Vatican verified--two posthumous miracles, which is the requirement for sainthood. (As an aside, that´s the main reason why Mother Teresa hasn´t been canonized yet.) Padre Hurtado supposedly performed his second miracle in 1996 when a young woman miraculously recovered from a coma following a car accident, and the wheels were set into motion for his canonization, a long process that culminated Sunday morning around 4:30 in the morning Chile-time, when Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed Padre Hurtado´s acceptance into the communion of saints.

In honor of the occasion, the pastoral organization of our university sponsored a vigil Saturday night in the gymnasium of the U, and I decided to go. The vigil officially started around 11:30 pm, but I didn´t get there until about 2:30, since Mariah and I had been tango´ing at the Piedra until 2 or so. There were at least two hundered and fifty students in the gymnasium, gathered in small groups around dozens of plastic tables. The lights were off and the room was dark, lit mostly by hundreds candles which burned at the tables. Huge posters of Padre Hurtado hung from the walls and a stage had been set up at one end of the gym where a few people stood, leading the crowd in song, prayer, and devotions. Despite the late hour, everyone was in high spirits, excited about the canonization, clapping their hands and dancing to the music. One of the songs in particular caught my attention:

¡Vuela corazón americano!
Ya no habrá dolor que nos detenga
Todos somos hermanos ante Dios.

Take wing, American heart!
Soon there will be no pain to hold us back
We are all brothers before God.

When we sang it, we all joined hands and swayed back and forth, a chain of hundrds of students united by their faith and emotion and pride in this incredible man who would soon be a saint. I don´t want to get too maudlin but it was a special moment, and I know I´ll always remember it.

The canonization itself began around 4:30, broadcast live from Rome via the University of Chile television station. There were actually five priests being canonized Sunday, and huge portraits of them hung in front of St. Peter´s Cathedral. Every time the camera panned past Padre Hurtado´s portrait, a huge cheer went up from the students, who chanted several rounds of CHI CHI CHI! LE LE LE! VIVA CHILE! When at the end of the service the Pope pronounced Hurtado a saint, the vigil coordinators unfurled a huge poster with a picture of Hurtado and the words ´´San Alberto Hurtado´´ and there was even more cheering.

After that, there was a Mass officiated by a priest from a local parish who had come to the vigil, and I fell asleep for about twenty minutes and had a brief but enjoyable dream that I lived in a tree house. By the time we (my Ciencias Religiosas friends and I) left the vigil, it was seven in the morning and the sun was up. As I rode the micro back into Viña, I thought about how grateful I was to have been able to share such a special occasion with my friends and with Chile.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Paris of South America

Okay, so I´ve never been to the Paris of Europe, but after spending Thursday night through Monday morning in Buenos Aires, I could see why porteños (people from BA) call it that: wide, tree-lined avenues; gorgeous architecture; and world-class theater, art, music, and cuisine. Our mini-vacation there (I went with Kristin, Julia, Carla, and Mariah) was near-perfect. We did and saw and ate so much that it´d take a while to describe it all, but I´ll give it a try:

We all brought our luggage (which was not much, since we were only going to be gone a few days) with us to our CIEE class, then left during the recreo (break) about half-way through to walk to the bus terminal a few blocks away. All international flights in Chile leave from the capital, so we had to take a bus to Los Pajaritos station in Santiago, then take another transer bus to the airport. We flew to Buenos Aires and transfered to our hotel (it was included in the price of our trip) without incident. By the time we got there, it was after eleven, and we didn´t get to sleep until after midnight.

The day got off to an inauspicious start: when I turned on the faucet to wash my hands, there was no water. Ditto the shower. We called reception, and they said the water had been turned off for plumbing work or something; when we tried the water a little later, it came out all rusty and brown. At this point, I was a little concerned about the hotel, because it seemed just a little sketchy: it had a generally shabby aspect to it, the elevators were Old World-style lifts, and there was no bathtub or shower area in our bathroom. There was just a shower head near the ceiling, a drain in the floor, and a squee-gee. The idea was that the entire bathroom was your shower, and you´d squee-gee the floor afterwards. After breakfast at the hotel (tea, hot milk, toast with dulce de leche, and medialunas (´´half moons,´´ or croissants)) the water had been turned on and was coming out of the faucets looking like water, so we showered. Things started to look a little more auspicious.

And they were really auspicious when we stepped out of the hotel lobby and realized that our location could not have been better: we were right at the junction of Corrientes and Florida; in other words, smack in the middle of where we wanted to be. We spent the morning changing money, buying stamps, making reservations for things we were going to do later, and exploring the area around our hotel. We ducked into musty used-book shops, played in the plazas, bought fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juice from a street vendor, visited the tribunal building and national post office, and walked along Avenida 9 de julio, the widest avenue in the world. 9 de julio, named in honor of Argentina´s independence day, is sixteen lanes and over 140 meters wide--that´s about one-and-a-half football fields. Since it´s impossible to cross in one change of the traffic lights, there are four grassy island/plaza strips running down the avenue--think the Park Blocks in Portland, only on a grander scale. 9 de julio was also the site of our near-death, as four of us (Julia made it across the street in time) were almost run over while trying to jaywalk. (We were sure the light was about to change!) But as Kristin said, at least being killed on the widest avenue of the world would vault us into legend-status among friends and family.

Walking around the city, I was amazed at how much diversity there was. Chilean society is extremely homogenous, and anyone with light-brown or blond hair sticks out like a sore thumb. To Chileans, I am blond, and anonymous Chilean men feel the need to point that out to me wherever I go. But there were so many porteños with blond, light-brown, medium-brown, even red hair that we barely stood out at all. It´s due to all the European (especially Italian) immigration to Argentina and especially Buenos Aires, and the fact that there was probably not as much mixing between the European immigrants/Spanish conquistadores and the indigenous populations as there was in Chile. In any case, it was wonderful to be able to spend three days virtually free of piropos (catcalls).

After lunch at a little Italian cafe headed back to our hotel for the city tour that was included in our travel package. It was more than a little touristy and cheesy (we were in a huge tour bus, and had to in introduce ourselves and then applaud everyone as they said which country they were from, etc) but definitely worth it, because it took us through some gorgeous neighborhoods that we might not have gotten to otherwise. For instance, we stopped in La Boca, the colorful, shabby-chic neighborhood where the Italian immigrants first settled and where tango was born among the brothels and sexually-frustrated single men. Originally, men danced with each other, the tango moves representing their frustration and longing and the dances serving as a kind of competition to see who would have the next ´´turn´´ with in the brothels. Eventually the men started dancing with the prostitutes, and the tango became less violent and forceful and more sensual. On the tour, we also passed by the theater where tango was first officially performed, signalling its acceptance by European and Argentinian high society.

Now La Boca is also home to one of Argentina´s two primary fútbol teams. The other one is called ´´River,´´ and there´s a huge rivalry between them.

We also passed through the cuico (posh) neighborhoods of Palermo, Palermo Chico, and Recoleta. We saw the Casa Rosada, or ´´Pink House:´´ it´s the seat of the federal government, and according to the guide was painted pink to diffuse tensions between two rival political parties, the Reds and the Whites. We stopped at the Plaza de Mayo, where I stepped into the National Cathedral and snapped photos of political graffiti scrawled on the cement pillars near the Plaza. We saw Puente Madero, a land-mark pedestrian bridge, and many many more things. By the end of the day, as we walked back to our hotel, it´s safe to say that we had all fallen under Buenos Aires´spell.

And one of the best things was yet to come: dinner. Oh, the food in Buenos Aires. Because of all the Italian influence in Argentina, there are a ton of incredible Italian restaurants and all but the most cuico can be enjoyed for incredibly cheap prices. We went to an Italian-Argentinian restuarant, where I ate the best steak of my life (the meat in Argentina is world-famous), shared a substancial breaded-mozzarella appetizer with Julia, and had two glasses of Argentinian red wine, all for less than $10 US. It was an Epicurean dream. We all went to bed that night happy, excited, stuffed, and completely in love with Buenos Aires.

I´ll have to write about Sadturday and Sunday later--I can see that I´m not going to be able to be concise, and I´ve got to work on a paper. Check back tomorrow, and until then, ¡chao!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

It´s easy to find my blog. Just misspell things!

According to my site referrals, I´m both the third and fourth results on Ask Jeeves when you search commentary, "persistant widow"--you know, misspelled. As I recall, sometime last year I was the first Google result for searching ´´Lindsay Lohan sunless tanner´´ or something like that, with Lohan´s first name misspelled.

I hope this doesn´t mean that Chris will kick me out of the grammar police!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Without a trace

Somehow, in the five minutes between getting into a colectivo on the corner of Alvarez and Agua Santa last night and getting out at my stop, I lost my document holder with my identification, money, and miscellaneous cards and notes. I know for sure that I had it with me after I boarded the colectivo and closed the door, because I remember taking out a two thousand peso bill to pay the driver. Then there was a little bit of confusion as I searched for a fifty peso coin to give him so that he could give me an even fifteen hundred in change (the Agua Santa-bound colectivos recently raised their prices by fifty pesos, so after 11pm it costs 550 pesos to ride, or about a dollar). I stuffed the change, a five-hundred peso coin and a thousand peso bill, into my change purse instead of putting the bill into the document holder, which I must have dropped without realizing it. When I got out of the colectivo, I was immediately like, ´´Oh, shit!´´ and searched my purse and pockets. No luck. So, I waited at my stop and flagged down every colectivo that passed by, hoping to catch the same driver on his return trip down Agua Santa. When he finally passed by about twenty-five minutes later, he said that he hadn´t seen it. He waited and the other passengers waited patiently, for which I´m grateful, while I searched the seats, the cracks in between the seats, the floor of the colectivo, but it was all for nought.

It´s a sucky situation and I´m pissed at myself for being so absent-minded as to drop something important like that in a colectivo. As much as it sucks, though, I was lucky in several ways: I didn´t lose my pase escolar, my school ID card and bus pass; I didn´t lose my Chilean identity card, which due to laziness and poor timing I still haven´t gone to the Registro Civil to pick up; I didn´t lose my passport or a photocopy of my passport; I didn´t have my credit cards in the document holder; I only lost about six thousand pesos (twelve dollars). Six thousand pesos is a fair amount and I could have done a lot with it, but it´s not like I had just made an ATM withdrawal or anything.

The moral of the story is, be careful. I was lucky I didn´t lose anything irreplaceable or extremely valuable, and now I know I´ll definitely be more careful about my things.

In happier news, Ronald and I went out to lunch today after class. I think he´s probably my best Chilean friend. Actually, we were going to meet another woman, Viviana, to talk about a project we´re all working on together for Moral Social, but she called to cancel; something came up that she has to deal with, and she´s not even going to be able to go to the Ciencias Religiosas congreso this weekend in Temuco, about twelve hours south of here. The congreso sounded really fun to me--all the Ciencias Religiosas students of the Catholic universities from around Chile are getting together to give presentations, debate, and do some touristy things--and to tell the truth I tried to meterme--insert myself--in the group that was going to go, but without success. Now that Viviana´s had to cancel, I thought about asking Ronald if I could take her place, but I decided against it. It´s too short notice (they leave today around 7:30pm and don´t get back until Tuesday morning) and I´ve already made plans for the weekend that I don´t want to cancel. Plus, I don´t want to be varsa (a person who pushes social boundaries) with the Ciencias Religiosas crowd; since I´m not officially a part of the Institute, I don´t know if it would be appropriate for me to take part in that kind of activity. It would be one thing if Ronald had suggested it, but I would have felt weird asking to go along and possibly putting him in the uncomfortable position of having to say no.

Anyways, this weekend looks like it´ll be pretty busy as it is: Saturday afternoon Kristin and I are having tea with our surrogate Chilean grandparents then going to flute concert with them. There´s also tentative plans of playing poker at Pamela´s house--she´s a Chilean friend of Jake´s who we met a couple weeks ago. If the poker doesn´t happen I´ll probably go to the Piedra for Saturday-night tango, and the tangueros are all getting together again Sunday evening at a different place in Valparaíso. If it all comes together like we hope, Sunday afternoon we´re going to the sand dunes for a picnic with Chilean friends.

I hope everyone back at Lewis & Clark is having a good Fall Break!

Memorable quotes:

Jon: ´´Can you put scotch in beer?´´ (Note: As it turns out, you can, and it tastes better than you might imagine.)

Mariah: ´´Bloch makvat...that´s how you say toothpaste...in Russian.´´

Carla: ´´I miss being affectionate with my friends. It doesn´t seem like Chileans hug as much as we do in the US.´´
Ronald: ´´What? No! I´m super affectionate.´´
Carla: ´´Well, I know Chileans kiss when they greet each other, but it´s not quite the same.´´
Ronald: ´´Group hug! Right now!´´

A North American girl (overheard): ´´I miss the Napolean Dynamite culture we have in the US. Here, if you say something the way Napolean Dynamite says it, the Chileans don´t understand that that´s funny.´´

A North American guy, describing Mendoza, Argentina to a North American girl in the international student office: ´´The girls there are so hot. They´re so much better looking than Chilean girls. And the guys are hot, too. I mean, I´m not gay, but I know when a guy´s good-looking. I´m telling you this for your benefit: the guys are hot. Oh, and make sure you go to the park. Those Argentinians really know how to make a park.´´

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Baby steps

Yesterday afternoon, I hopped on a bus to Santiago (about an hour and half away) by myself. It might not sound like a big deal, but to me, it was: although I´ve travelled a fair amount, I´ve never been completely on my own (well, I was on the six-hour bus ride from Coquimbo to Valparaíso a few weeks ago, but I´m not counting that because Ambar´s mother Paufá helped me by my ticket and put me on the bus. But that´s another story). Even flying to Chile I was with the other LC students, and Eugene is close enough to Portland that my parents always just drop me off or pick me up from school at the beginning and end of the semester. But my very tentative January 2-January 11 plans include travelling through Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay alone, so I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it without dying or flailing around.

And I did, which was the remarkable thing. I wanted to see the Salvador Dalí exhibition at the Centro Cultural Estación Mapocho, so I got off at the Los Pajaritos bus station, successfully read the metro map and took the red-line metro (it´s like the MAX in Portland, but underground and bigger) to Los Héroes, transferred to the yellow line, and rode it to Puente Cal y Canto, then de-trained and found the Centro, without having to ask directions once. This was an achievement for me considering I have a horrible sense of direction and usually have to ask directions whenever I venture over to the East side of Portland, much less a huge metropolis of 6 million people. I loved almost all of the Dalí exhibit, especially a series of about two hundred paintings he did to represent different Biblical scenes, and his ´´Hippies´´ series of paintings. The sculptures were cool, especially ´´Perseus,´´ and interesting to me because I don´t really think of Dalí as a sculptor.

I spent about two hours at the Dalí exhibit then wandered in to an exhibit about the history of copper mining or something like that. Copper is Chile´s chief mineral export, and the country is the number one producer of copper in the world. The most interesting thing about the exhibit was El Hombre de Cobre (Copper Man, but it rhymes in Spanish), a dead body that was excavated about a hundred years ago from one of the copper mines in the far north of Chile. Apparently he was a 19-year-old man who fell into a copper mine around 550 CE (!) and was trapped by rocks. Based on the physical evidence and lack of wounds on his body, scientists think that he died from carbon dioxide (?) poisoning from his own breath. Totally creepy.

After leaving the Centro Cultural I walked down to the Plaza de Armas, at the historical center of Santiago. I bought two sopaipillas (fried, sweet squash cakes), some candied peanuts, and a mote con huesillos, some kind of sweet peach drink with...barley? at the bottom. It wasn´t bad, exactly, but it tasted kind of funky and a couple months ago I almost threw up from some chocolates I bought off the street in Santiago, so I decided to play it safe and tossed most of it out. After walking around for awhile I ducked into a hole-in-the-wall restaurant for bife a lo pobre, a traditional Chilean dish that my mom would call ´´Heart attack on a platter´´: a steak, a fried egg, carmelized onions, and french fries. Tasty, but I wouldn´t want to eat it every day.

It was getting pretty dark by then so I decided to head back to Valparaíso, again successfully navigating the subway system without getting lost. As it turned out there was a bus leaving right as I arrived at Los Pajaritos, bound not for Valparaíso but for Viña by way of Agua Santa. Perfect, because I live right on Agua Santa. All the way back I talked to the somewhat cuico (monied, higher class) guy sitting next to me, who had pretty much the most non-Chilean name ever: Jonathan Kiddenstein. Interesting conversation and all of that.

All in all, it was a great day. I feel really good now about the prospect of travelling alone at the end of the program; in fact, I think I´m going to enjoy it a lot.

Monday, October 03, 2005

What´s a little rain to a native Oregonian?

Yesterday afternoon Ronald and I, along with my CIEE friends Carla, Jon, and Mariah went for a walk around Valparaíso. To tell you the truth I thought about calling Ronald to cancel beforehand--the weather was pretty crappy yesterday and I didn´t want to walk around in the rain, since my grasp on good health has been tenuous at best for the past month or so. Luckily it didn´t start to rain in earnest until after Carla and I met up with Ronald at 4:15, forcing us to go through with the plans. I´m so glad we did! It was pretty much the perfect afternoon, despite getting soaked.

By the time we had all assembled at 4:30, the rain and wind were starting to pick up, so we headed over to Muelle Barón (Barón Moor) to watch the waves. They were huge! The water was a glassy greenish color, and the wind was so strong that Mariah said it made her want to fly. After watching the waves for awhile we walked south along Avenida Perú until we got to Cerro Artillería and Cerro Playa Ancha, further south than I´ve been before in Valparaíso. The hills were beautiful, full of unexpected plazas and broken-down, vividly painted Victorian mansions, and the company and conversation were lovely. We walked back north along the coast and watched the tide come in and the waves crash against the rocky coastline. It made me miss the Oregon coast.

By the time we headed back to Viña by micro, it was quarter to eight and the sky was a gorgeous pinkish-purple color. When I got home, I took a quick shower to rinse off the salt water (I got soaked by a surprisingly huge wave), read a little of Memorias póstumas de Blas Cubas by Machado de Assis for my Brasilian Identity class, watched Desperate Housewives, and passed out at eleven. The perfect end to a great day.