...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

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

This feels like a Víctor Jara song

Sometimes something happens that makes me miss Chile so much that it's like an actual physical ache. Yesterday I had to take the #51 bus from downtown to get to Harriet's house, way up in the hills above the downtown area. V., J., Helana and I all ran into each other on our way there, but the bus was too crowded for us all to sit together, so I sat by myself at the very back of the bus and listened to my iPod and watched the scenary go by. As the bus twisted up into the hills of upper southwest, the route and the views reminded me so strongly of taking the little orange #14 ("La Catorce") back to Jardines de Agua Santa every day after my classes as the university ended that I sat almost breathless, willing myself not to start crying there on the bus.

The flat part of Valparaíso--along the waterfront, from where Avenida España empties on to Errázuriz, and a couple blocks up from Avenida Pedro Montt, up to Playa Ancha or so--is called "El Plan." Not much of Valparaíso is "Plan," though. To get up into the multicolored hills, you can either take one of the few winding staircases or long switchbacks, an ascensor , or one of the old green, yellow, or orange buses that chugged up the cerros, all "I think I can I think I can." La Catorce was not one of the newer buses, the #1 or the #111, that sped along Avenida España between Viña del Mar (where I lived) and Valparaíso (where I studied); if the Joads came out to California by bus, they could have come by La Catorce. Occasionally the bus would stall on its way up a hill and begin to slide backwards slightly; once it rolled to a stop in front of park somewhere in Cerro Recreo and the driver made us all get out and wait for the next bus. (I was relaxed enough by that point that I just went to an almacén (convenience store), bought an Escudo, and sat in the park, pasándolo piola no más po.) Always there would be vendors hopping on and off the bus, selling popsicles de chirimoya or lújuma, native Chilean fruits; or tchotchkes; well-appointed men and women on their way home from work at the national Congress would sit primly reading El Mercurio; elderly women hauled their bags home from the mercado; uniformed school children bounced and giggled as they squeezed three to a seat. It took about thirty-five minutes to get from the university in Valparaíso to Jardines de Agua Santa, my condo complex in Viña, and I always had a book with me, but more often I would just look out the window and try to absorb the sights and sounds of life in Chile, as though if I stared at it hard enough it would truly sink in, get under my skin.

The #51 up into the hills of Portland was much quieter, more orderly, making regular stops at designated points. The seats were not ripped, and there were no makeshift saint medallions of Padre Hurtado and Santa Teresa de los Andes. But looking out the window, the hills, the winding streets and hairpin curves, the wheeze of the bus, I could have sworn I was taking La Catorce home, passing through Cerro Recreo and Calle Arlegui, and the realization that I wasn't hurt so badly that it almost made me cry.