Saturday, December 31, 2011

Santiago Summer (A Tribute to George Orwell)

Thick yellow curtains cover the window to the patio.  Sunlight defies them, seeping in around the edges while also illuminating the curtains in a pallid hue.  It is mid-afternoon, but an air of drowsiness and sloth resonates through our small 4th floor apartment.  Visitors from France arrived late yesterday, and their internal clocks are still recalibrating.

The heat in Santiago is nearly unbearable at this time of day.  The temperature is high, but more troublesome than the thermometer is the sun itself.  Here the sun strikes all it sees with a ferocity unequaled by any other place I know.  During the summer, even clouds dare not pass over our city for fear of catching its yellow wrath.  People walk the streets hugging the buildings to hide in the thin sliver of concrete jungle shade. Wherever there is a patch of grass, chances are a scorched man in a city-crested florescent jumpsuit is watering it, or just watered it. Grass must be watered multiple times daily, or it quickly turns brown, and then disappears into the dirt.

A chorizo on the stove hisses and spits in the background. It hates the heat as much as we do, but it only complains by ejecting fat and oil.  Lucky for it, its suffering is nearly over. Ours has months to go.

It is time to escape. I step into the hallway, and am immediately bathed in slightly cooler air. The apartment door slams itself behind me, and now the only light is white fluorescence coating the already white walls and doors. The elevator is waiting for me when I get there, and within a few moments I am crossing the lobby. I wave to the security guard as I pass, and we exchange a pair of muddled "buenos dias" as I push open the glass door.

The blacktop on the 3-lane one way is fighting back against the sun as best as it can.  My calves take the brunt of it as I half-jog across the street to the shady side. Once on the sidewalk, my eyes turn to search for a taxi.  Not 30 seconds pass before a familiar black car with yellow roof flicks its hazard lights, and stops with rear passenger door right in front of me. "Pedro con Grecia" I say, gently closing the door behind me.  No more words are uttered, and the driver takes off.

We pass intersection after intersection, all of which are spotted with people standing in the shade.  I check every face I can as we drive along, not a smile to be seen. Everyone sports the identical look of someone who just received their 3rd parking ticket this month.  If only one or two people looked like this, I would wonder about the source of their misfortune.  But when everybody outside shares the same facial expression, the source of their discomfort is obvious.  I look back out the windshield, but my head remains close to the open window.

The taxi pulls through the intersection of Pedro de Valdivia and Grecia.  The red digital ticker reads "2050", so I hand the driver three 1000 peso bills.  He hands one back, and smiles at me through the rear view mirror.  I can feel sweat beads gathering around my forehead and temples, but somehow his face is bone dry.  I smile back, and once again find myself hurrying a "buenos dias" as I open a door to the outside.  The driver had pulled close to the sidewalk, and this time I avoid crossfire in the constant battle between sun and blacktop. The off-white sidewalk had long given up, and there is an extra spring in my step as I walk up to the white apartment gate. The security man looks out, and a moment later the metal gate announces my entry with a grating buzz.  I walk past the security guard, who nods with a thin grin before returning to the small TV I hear in the booth.  With one look, he knows why I am here.

The joyful yelps of kids and the muted conversations of adults betray their presence before I can see them. I round the final corner of a white stucco apartment to see the pool, shining a brilliant aqua blue.  Children are splashing and jumping and diving, and the surface of the water dances in turn.  Adults line the sides of the pool, but not one of them is dry. Water beads run down their shoulders and back, giving their bare skin a much needed reprieve. My friends are on the shade's edge, ten feet from the pool itself. None of them are dry either. Saying a quick hello, I drop my bag and take off my shirt. It is time.

The kids avoid one corner of the pool as if they have anticipated my arrival. With my big toes hanging over the edge, I pause for a second to admire the artificial sea before me. This is going to feel incredible. The sun shines even harder on my back for a moment, pushing me in from 93 million miles away. I need no further motivation. My lungs fill with a little extra air, my leg muscles tense, and I thrust myself forward.


Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Festivities in Chile

This may come as a shock (to newer readers), but Christmas in Chile is pretty different than how it's normally celebrated in the US.  I spent the majority of the past two weeks fielding questions about what a traditional American Christmas is like, and after a while my responses boiled down to "it's just like the movies, with snow and everything".  The responses varied from a smiling "I knew it!" to a muffled "wow." to a nod and request to pass the beer.  Now, let me describe the other side of the coin for those of you living in the states.

The celebrating starts on Christmas Eve, around dinnertime.  I went to my friend Marco's house, where we had a large Christmas dinner with prime rib, chorizo, pork, Chilean salad (lettuce, tomato, and avocado pieces dressed with lemon juice), corn, and french fry-like mini potato balls.  We were all quite full afterwards, so we moved to the balcony and sipped champagne for a while.

Marco lives in a fairly large complex of apartment buildings, and from his balcony we can see the communal area/pool and entrances to many other apartments.  At about 11:30, I noticed that there were suddenly a lot of little children with their parents wandering around the common area of the complex, talking and playing with each other.  "Why are there so many kids out now?"  I asked Marco.

"Because man, in Chile, Santa Claus comes by midnight.  At midnight, all the kids go back to their homes and unwrap their gifts.  The kids outside are the ones that still believe in Santa," he replied.  As he mentioned it, I looked down to the pavement and noticed that many of the kids were intently staring upward, scanning the sky for a sleigh and 8-9 reindeer.  I smiled, remembering my own childhood when I also scoured the Christmas Eve sky for the same thing.

At 12:00, the kids all went back inside.  Marco and his family each got each other one thing, so their exchange lasted all of 10 minutes.  Afterwards, we sat on their balcony drinking wine and talking to the neighbors and their families who came to the complex for the night.  It was quite pleasent.

Yesterday, I spent the majority of the day skyping with the family and watching the NBA kickoff.  Around 2:00, I had a traditional Christmas lunch of Chinese food.  Fa ra ra ra ra, ra ra ra ra.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Los Tetas Concert

This past Wednesday, I went to the reunion show of one of the biggest Chilean groups of the 90s, Los Tetas.  They were big in Chile in the 90s, but had broken up in 2004 and hadn't played together since then.  My friend Wasi is a big fan of theirs, so when he heard they were coming he told me we had to go.  I listened to a few songs like this:

...and I was in. I hadn't bought a ticket yet, but Wasi assured me I could get one at the theater.  So I said "sounds good", and made plans to see the reunion show of Los Tetas

I arrived at the theater about 90 minutes before showtime so I had ample time to buy a ticket.  From the outside, "Teatro Caupolican" is a classic concert theater, with a white with red letters marquee and light bulbs everywhere.  It felt a little out of place in this fairly native Chilean neighborhood.  There was barely any line for the box office, which surprised me a little.  The lines to get into the concert were already wrapping around the corner of the block.  As I approached the box office, I saw a sign which said all the tickets were sold out.  I cursed silently, and wondered how I could go about hunting down a scalper. 

It ended up being much easier than I thought.  Before I even got back out onto the sidewalk, a small Chilean lady walked up to me and said, "Comprai boletas?"

"Sipo." I replied, "la Tenis?"
"Claro.  Tengo un boleta por la platea, 20 luga"
"Ahhh quiero cancha."
"Ah ya, esta bien."  She reached into her shirt by her bra and unveiled another single ticket for the GA floor (cancha)
I smiled. "Buena, cuanto es?"
"25 luga."  She said with a stone face.  Game on.
"Bahh por la cancha?  Te doy 20."
"No hay mas boletas, si quieres, el precio es 25 luga"
"Esa es real?"  I said, trying to undercut her argument.
"Claropo, quieres pregunta la securidad?"  She starts to walk towards a man in a flourescent jacket.
"No, te creo te creo."  I responded.  I pulled 20,000 pesos out of my pocket.  "Aca, toma.  20 luga por la."
"No... necesito 25."
"Oka, chao."  And then I started to walk away from her.
"Esperate, joven.  24 luga."
I stopped. "Te doy 21."
She paused a second before responding "23?"
"Puedo pagar 22." I said, with a note of finality.
"Buena, 22 luga.  Dame"

I secretly smiled to myself as I took an additional 2000 pesos out of my wallet, and passed it to her.  A minor victory for my wallet, a major victory for my Spanish.

Wasi showed up a couple minutes later, and we headed across the street to a bar.  It was 8:00, and the opening act didn't even go on until 9.  There was a little hole in the wall bar in full view of the theater, so we decided to camp out there and wait on the rest of our friends to show up.  The place was pretty busy, so we took a booth that still had 2 empty glasses sitting there.  The waitress came by a couple seconds later, and we ordered 2 beers.  She nodded, and picked up the empty glasses.  I started to tell the story of my haggling for my ticket, and before I even got to the part where I met the lady, the waitress dropped off two full beers, and quickly walked away.  The glasses looked quite familiar.  In fact, they were the exact same glasses that had been sitting on the table not 45 seconds earlier.  Wasi and I looked at each other for a second, we shrugged, and raised the glasses in a toast.  "A Los Tetas!"

A beer or 2 later (we asked for "otros vasos" the second time, so the lady rinsed out the same glasses and brought them back to us.), the rest of our crew showed up.  We talked briefly about Los Tetas, and some favorite songs from the group.  It struck me halfway through the conversation that this was the band these guys grew up with.  These were the rock stars of their adolescence.  To them, Los Tetas were the same as Rage Against the Machine or the Red Hot Chili Peppers to me and countless other Americans my age.  This was the music that defined a very memorable time in their lives.  I became a little more excited for the concert - this was going to be a window into the past for many of my friends down here.

We headed across the street, and got in line for the security pat down.  The frisking was pretty light, I easily could have snuck things by her had I been so inclined.  But being the honest gringo that I am, I took everything out of my pockets before the pat down started.  I had a pen in my pocket, and the lady told me that I had to throw it out because it was considered a weapon.  I started to throw it into the nearby trash can, but my friend behind me said "He's from the US, he doesn't understand what you're saying."  So the lady just shrugged and let me in go in with my pen.  The security down here is nothing if not mildly apathetic.

Inside the theater, the concert was very similar to its US counterparts.  There was a big circular floor space, and 2 levels of raised seats surrounding the stage.  The opening act was midway into their set when we got there, and it didn't sound like we missed much.  The old percussionist from Cypress Hill was playing with them which was kind of cool, but the music wasn't anything to remember.  The concert atmosphere reminded me a lot of the shows I used to go to in the early 2000s, back when people could still smoke inside.  Looking out at the floor, it's a sea of heads and shoulders packed in tight, with plumes of smoke shooting into the air from the various smokers not wanting to exhale directly onto the people around them.  A little haze forms over the audience, which makes the stage lights a little more vivid and intense.  Here though, I detected that pot smoke constituted a larger portion of that concert haze.  I guess thats what happens at a funk concert.

The concert itself was great.  The whole crowd had a great energy to it; you could tell a lot of the audience knew the lyrics to every song.  Los Tetas played for a solid 2 hours, and trotted out a ton of guest performers, backup musicians, and human beatboxers to keep things interesting.  Over the course of the show, the performers each had a musical solo, all of which were pretty impressive.  After the show, a guy came on stage to tell everybody that there was a party here after the show, so everyone should stay.  I think about 1/4 of the people ended up sticking around, but most of the people on the floor left.  None of us really felt like dancing more after the show.

Another cool thing down here - everybody can take video/pictures of a concert, and it doesn't matter.  Internet piracy is a crime treated with the same respect as littering, or cursing in public.  I just checked youtube, and there are a ton of videos from the show.  Here's a few of my favorites:
Good times.  Viva Los Tetas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


One of the things I really like about Santiago is that every Sunday, all museums in the city are free to the public.  And when you work at an institute that goes 2 months between paychecks, free activities are quite difficult to pass up.  Eventually, I will cross off all the museums in the Greater Santiago Area, and then be able to talk to Chilean grandparents for years.

This past Sunday, I went to the MAVI (, or Museo de Artes Visuales.  It's squirreled away in a small corner of the barrio Santa Lucia, a very cool little neighborhood which has the hill from which the main blog picture was taken.  A couple blocks from the Metro stop, we came up to this little side street:

Leading up to the MAVI, there was actually a book sale going on.  I searched high and low for a book of Pablo Neruda's poetry, and left still wanting.  However, I did find a few "gems" like this:
The English print copy of 1984: 368 pages.  The Spanish print copy of 1984: 226 pages.  I'm willing to bet something has been lost in translation.

Out in front of the MAVI, there was a little ethnic festival of some kind (judging by the outfits, I'd guess Peru).  They had a lot of little trays of food and trinkets set out.  It was unclear whether you needed to pay for the trinkets and food or not (there was a cash register, but people seemed to be just picking stuff up and walking around), so we browsed a little bit and then headed into the museum. 

Inside the museum was very cool.  The floor level of each room was half a floor below the next level, and the walls between floors and rooms were all glass.  It gave the impression that the whole place was very open.

One of the things I've noticed about the art in Chile is that there is a much larger range of quality (IMO).  There are some truly great pieces in every museum, but every museum also has a couple of pieces that you'll look at and go, "...huh?"  Whenever I see a piece like that, I like to think that it was a piece made by an untalented daughter of one of the Chilean Godfathers.  He helped some struggling artist to open a gallery, and in return his little "angel" gets to throw some putty and paint at a canvas, and then tell everybody that she's a professional artist.

Alright, let's get on to some of the pieces, shall we?  I'll start at the top floor of the museum.  These two paintings were pretty large, at least 6'x8'.

This one in particular I really liked.  It looks to me like the artists interpretation of what he sees in the constellations at night.  I'm not really sure if there's a story in progress here, but I liked the blending between the real and fable worlds.  (None of these paintings had any description next to them, so it leaves the viewer to come up with their own interpretation of the picture.) 

The partner picture looked like it was sort of a similar medium, but perhaps what the guy saw was through cave paintings or something.  The color scheme this artist uses is quite interesting.  Personally, I'd like a touch more clarity in this picture, but I'm not the artist.

Here, I think the artist is envisioning a future where people live in little colorful pods, and there is an overabundance of ceiling fans.

In the painting, I liked the artists sparing use of color.  It really made a couple ideas in the painting pop.  This little elephant, however, is a decent example of some sub-par craftsmanship shining through in the museum.  Hopefully for this sculptor's dignity, he lived back in the day when owning art meant you owned more food than you could eat.

This is one of those classic modern art, "I'm trying to confuse you" pieces that really means nothing.  It photographs well though.

The other rooms had some interesting pieces, but nothing really worth photographing/interpreting.  Here's a few shots of the other rooms.

 I ended up donating a couple pesos on the way out the door.  It's a great museum, come visit me down here sometime and I'll take you.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Despedida de Renata

One of my friends Renata moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil on Sunday.  To celebrate her last day here, our friends met at her house for a barbecue and party.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, this was to be a barbecue to end all barbecues.  Take a journey with me, won't you?

We started by arriving at her house around 5:00.  Planning ahead, I had an early lunch to account for the dinner time barbecue, so I arrived a little hungry to begin.  Some other friends were already there, and were drinking cheap beer (Escudo, the Miller Lite of Chile) mixed with a little Fanta.  I have to admit, I was pretty intrigued by the proposition of a delightful orange soda to cut the taste of a bad beer.  Sounds like a good idea, right?

It wasn't.  It tastes absolutely disgusting.  Escudo and Fanta together tastes like you added a couple packets of old Splenda and a teaspoon of red number 5 and yellow number 40 to an already bad beer.  The opposing flavors of sweet and bitter wage war within your mouth, and your poor tongue is left to clean up the spoils after.  I choked it down in 4 well-spaced out slugs, and then settled in with a plain Escudo to sip on for the rest of the afternoon.

Some more friends trickled into the house over the next couple hours.  Eventually at about 8, Wasi looks at me and says "Time to go get the stuff, man".  I nod, expecting to be lead into the kitchen to grab the barbecue meats and charcoal.  Nope.  Instead, we end up collecting money from everybody, and then jump in his car to hit multiple grocery stores and little tiendas to get all the necessary items for the barbecue.

Once we got back, it was almost fully dark outside.  Some of the people were still sitting around, while some were preparing the tables and grill.  The music playing was a playlist from one of the guys computers, and it oscillated between American hip hop, and Chilean funk and hip hop.  They meshed together surprisingly well.

Finally, it was time to start the barbecue.  This one was to be a little different than your average on-the-grill experience.  They called this a "discada", but I think a more appropriate term would be "a middle finger to all vegetarians".  We started with a couple onions and garlic...
Then we added some little chicken wings, and white wine to cook them in...
And then, we threw in some boneless pork ribs...
You might be thinking to yourself, "Erik, I thought you said pork.  That looks like just good old-fashioned steak in his hand."  To which I would reply "Sharp eyes, dear reader.  But if you look closely, you can see that the pork has already been added to the discada.  The beef is simply waiting in line."

So yes, the beef came next.  After a couple minutes, the discada looked something like this:
Looking pretty good, right?  At this point, I'd say the vegetarians would be pretty up in arms.

But let's stick it to them a little harder.  Mariscos!
So for those of you keeping track, we currently have a barbecue dish which contains chicken, pork, beef, and two different types of clams.  Your move, tree huggers.

And afterwards, we made more.  Only with the next couple, there was even more meat, sausage, and chorizo in them thanks to a few people who showed up late.
 Even though we didn't actually start eating until well after midnight, it was worth the wait.  Good times.

We'll miss you, Renata!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Cumple de Luis

My friend Luis just had his 24th birthday this past weekend.  To celebrate, I spent the day with him, his friends and his family on Sunday, where we had a "traditional" Chilean birthday.  He lives in Nunoa, an area to the south of me which is almost exclusively populated by natives.  Getting there from my apartment is like watching a reverse-time video of the development of Santiago.  The buildings slowly get smaller, and their walls become a rougher concrete.  The store signs go from illuminated metal and plastic to painted names and logos directly upon the wall.  The streets slowly shrink in size, and the sidewalks develop more and more cracks.

I got over to his house at about 3:00 PM.  It's the final house on a little dead-end street, across from a small restaurant and grocery store.  The outside gate lets you into their driveway, where there is a mini-RV trailer parked right by the main door.  Once inside the house, you walk through the main entrance, by the TV and couches, and then by the kitchen table to the outdoor patio.  On the patio, Luis and his friends were already hanging out, drinking Escudo beer.  His father and two uncles were also sitting out there, while the mother and aunts were at work in the kitchen.  The music was initially a Chilean pop/rock radio station, but after a while Luis hooked his computer up to the stereo and American gangster rap took over the soundwaves.

We talked soccer for a while (Real Madrid - FC Barca, U de Chile - Liga) until dinner was almost ready.  We (the next generation) were sent by the women to pick up some bread for dinner, so we hopped into the family truck and started hunting.  Most places in Santiago are shut down on Sundays, especially more rural spots, so we had to drive for a while to another part of the city which was a bit larger, but further south and still unknown to me.  "Only Spanish here man."  Luis told me as we were getting out of the truck; his tone a bit more serious than before.  He doesn't need to say any more.  I kept my sunglasses on and my mouth shut as we entered a little mom and pop convenience store and grabbed bread for the table.  The old lady behind the counter didn't say a word to us the entire time, except for the final price after the bread was weighed on a scale.   

Once back at the house, it was time for lunch.  We all shuffled into the dining room on the other side of the patio, and took seats.  The table was comprised of 2 smaller tables, one of which was about 4 inches shorter than the other.  The parents all sat at the larger table, while the next generation took the smaller table.  Ironically, everybody at the small table was bigger or taller than the people at the large table, but there was no way I was bringing this point up to the group.

Lunch itself was a leg of chicken, a strip or two of beef, choripan (chorizo sausage in an italian bread bun), a bean/onion salad (porotos granados), a mayonnaise-less coleslaw, and a normal salad with a balsamic vinagrette-like dressing.  It was the best meal I've had down here, hands down.  Interestingly, nobody drank alcohol with the meal.  Even though everybody was drinking beer or pisco (a grape liquor) beforehand, during the meal they only had sprite or water.  Also, nobody here puts their bread roll on their plate of food.  Everybody just sets it on the tablecloth, and breaks off pieces of it as they work through their meal.  In a strange way, it makes sense.  Why bother taking up space on your plate? Your bread can just rest on a clean tablecloth, simultaneously not really dirtying the tablecloth, and also not absorbing whatever's left on your plate.

After lunch, the women cleaned up the table while the men all went into the back warehouse to smoke cigarettes (did I participate?  You'll never know).  In the middle of the space was a thick rope hanging from the rafters, much like your generic high school gymnasium rope.  The rope ran about 25 feet to the ceiling, and it was just hanging there, taunting us as we stood around.  Finally the birthday boy, Luis, looks at me and says "escalas?".  I couldn't resist.  After I slapped the rafters, I got a few cheers from the food-sedated audience.  A few others climbed it after, but most called it off a couple feet from the top.

I ended up climbing it one more time, only this time when I came down I allowed my hands and ankles to slide a little bit on the rope while I was coming down.  As a result of this decision, I have a couple nice burn scabs on my ankles and blisters on my hand.  Fortunately they had plenty of beer medicine on hand to alleviate the injuries.

We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting around the patio, drinking beer and trading jokes.  Some of mine translated better than others, but it was a good time.  Jokes are actually a good way of practicing a language, because it forces one to think about the double entendres and where the force of the punchline comes from.  The telling of a joke requires some planning when translating across languages.

Feliz Cumple, Luis.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Parque Bustamante

One of the things I really like about my neighborhood is its close proximity to Parque Bustamante.  In fact, when I started looking for a new residence within the last month or so, one of my main caveats was that I remained close to the park.  Parque Bustamante (PB) is a large strip which in total runs about half a mile on each side, and half a city block or so across.  Here's a shot of it from Google Maps:
PB is the area in the middle, encircled by the blue lines.  The purple star is my old apartment, and the red star is where I currently live.

To describe the place for you all, I'm going to start up north, and work my way south with my pictures.  Starting with the north side of PB, this is the view looking north to Bellavista (club/bar area):
To the left of this picture is a semi-major intersection, where a lot of busses pass through.  Behind the statue is Cerro San Cristobal, which I posted pictures from back in September.

And turning around in the same place, we see the northern tip of PB:
I usually don't spend a ton of time on the northern side.  I jog by this little patio on my runs, weaving through bicycles and taxi drivers lounging around in the park a few yards from their cars.  There is a pretty interesting statue in the middle of this patio though, as shown here:
I like to think that in this statue, the rider is desperately trying to keep pigeons from landing on him.  He's not very good at it, unfortunately.

A half block south, and we come up to the little public library.  I often go here to read, or to just hang out and grab a coffee with someone.  It's a really nice place to sit and spend a couple hours.

The same building, from the side.

And behind the building, there is a little reflecting pool.  It looks nice, but often you will see dogs swimming in it, or homeless people washing out their socks.  A couple times I've seen little remote controlled sailboats and ships flying around in there. 
Continuing further south, we come to the exercise portion of the park.  This is where I end most of my workouts, in my attempts to retain whatever anaerobic muscle I've got left. 
 Sadly most of the useless machines were occupied when I walked through, and thus I didn't want to snap a photo of the chubby ladies operating them.  I'll try and include another one of them at a later date (the machines, not the ladies).
 This is the one useful machine they have, which I use to do pullups, dips, and pushups.  The handles close to the ground allow you to do deeper pushups than on a flat surface.

The view of the park from the pullup bar.  Often filled with ice cream vendors and little kids throwing soccer balls at each other.

Continuing south, we come to the first of two crossroads that divide the park into 3 parts.  Across the road, the middle island is occupied by a very popular skate park.  Without fail, if you walk around the park for more than 5 minutes, you will see kids either riding towards or away from the park.  This picture I took was at about 10 AM on a Saturday, and is easily the fewest number of kids I've seen in the park.  It's normally packed, to the point where it's a miracle that so few people crash into each other.

Also, it's here that we are treated to the majestic crest of the City of Providencia.

If you look at this picture and nothing comes to mind, congratulations. 

Now we've reached the second intersection, to the far southern tip of the park.  Standing across the street, we can see an open, amphitheater type area which is often set up for little outdoor expos, or festivals.  Often though, the area is left open and I finish workouts with a couple sprints.
If you follow these cars for about 2 blocks, you'll run into my apartment buildling. Immediately next to this picture, however, is the metro station Parque Bustamante:

Here, during rush hours, there are often many little street food vendors, jewelry salesmen, and people begging for change.  It's an interesting window into how some of the people around here survive.

Parque Bustamante is a really nice place to live by.  When I first moved here,  I lived in the heart of Santiago Centro, and it was a little overwhelming.  There aren't really any decent open spaces nearby, and the whole place felt like an intimidating concrete jungle.  The park gives me a place to work out, to hang out, and observe Chileans in their natural environment. 

For those of you who appreciate the photo-heavy entries... you're welcome.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The New Apartment

I sit here on a lazy Saturday in the living room of my new apartment, reflecting on how large an effect one's residence has on one's outlook on life.  My old apartment felt old, decrepit, and uninviting.  The people I knew there were friendly, but in no way welcoming.  I spent all of my time outside of cooking in my room, with its faded nature painting upon the wall and mason jars with taxed candles inside lining my shelves.  I slept on an uneven mattress, with a frame that would occasionally shift out of place and leave the mattress unsupported in the middle.  The chair/couch that accompanied my room had become a fancy clothes rack, as it was really no more comfortable to sit on than my desk chair.  I couldn't open the windows at night on pain of large moth invasions, and I couldn't leave the window fully closed or the room became stuffy all too quickly.

I now sit at the dinner table in my new apartment.  The sliding door to the patio is open behind me, and a breeze gently rolls over my shoulders.  Occasionally a louder than average car passes by on the street below, but the noise isn't as abrasive 4 floors up.  My room is down the hall, and is principally used for sleeping and changing only.  The rest of my time is spent in the open, often with the other tenants of the apartment. 

The two other tenants are Bastian and Sergio.  Bastian is from Germany, and just finished his studies at a local university for the summer.  He's a tall, skinny kid who helps me to explain to people what blond hair actually looks like.  He took off this past week on a trip to Patagonia and southern Argentina.  He's been here for 8 months, and despite not knowing Spanish before he came, he now speaks quite well.  We only converse in Spanish, and I actually find it easier to understand him than most Chileans.  I definitely communicate better with fellow academic learners of Spanish.  There is unquestionably a difference in thought patterns and speech between people who grew up with the language, and people who learned the language in a classroom.

Sergio is the other roommate and official renter of the apartment.  He's about 5'4, and somewhere around 110 lbs.  He grew up outside Santiago in a little town where his graduating class was about 30 kids.  His school also included more indigenous kids, who spoke a completely different dialect of Spanish.  Those indigenous kids would also use the meat of fresh bread to erase pencil marks from their papers.  It's a life that I really can't relate to.  

He's incredibly nice, and likes to operate our apartment as "a small family".  We share whatever food we have, and eat together when we can.  The apartment also stays surprisingly neat, which is nice.  Chileans, for the most part, keep their living areas pretty tidy.

Anyway, here are a few shots of the place:

A shot of the living room, with the patio outside.  This is the first house I've ever lived in with no TV in the living room.
This picture was from standing by the coffee table, looking the other way.  The kitchen is through the door to the right, and the hallway to the left has the bathroom and bedrooms.  The entrance to the apartment is to the right of the kitchen.
The kitchen, in all its long and skinny glory.  The washing machine is through the door on the back patio.

My room.  Everything isn't quite put away yet, and it will probably look a little different in a month.  It should get a desk and a dresser.

My new address is:
Erik Greene
88 Curico, Depto 404
Santiago, Chile

And yes, I am still accepting birthday presents.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pigeons, and Esteban

As I was running yesterday, I saw an exceptionally ginger kid riding his bike through the middle of the playground.  There's no path there, and it's not designed for bikes as it's mostly sand.  I watched him weave his way through the park, silently judging him as I jogged a few yards behind and to the right of him on the designated exercise path.

The path he took required him to split the difference between 2 large trees that were about 6 feet apart.  No outstanding roots or anything, but they momentarily limited his peripheral vision.  At this same moment, a domesticated terrier was let off of its leash about 20 yards to the left of him. The terrier immediately scampered towards a nearby flock of pigeons, barking and jumping around.  The pigeons immediately took off, headed directly towards the 2 large oak trees.

As the ginger kid came through the other side of the trees, he found himself in a delightfully unexpected game of pigeon "chicken".  They buzzed his head, chest, and bicycle with the crazed ferocity of a flock of stupid creatures fleeing for its life.  The ginger kid gave a mini shriek and almost fell off his bicycle, catching himself by setting both his feet on the ground.  He was still stopped when I jogged by a few seconds later, laughing to myself.  Gingers.


A couple weeks ago, I walked out my old apartment at about 11:00 PM on a Tuesday night to meet some friends.  As I was leaving, an effeminate, graying man exited one of the adjacent buildings.  Being nice, I held the gate open for him, and watched him saunter through it as a faint "gracia..." escaped his lips.  He turned to the left, and I turned to the right.

I walked to the corner of my block to take another right, and as I was about to turn right I quickly glanced back.  The guy had changed his course and was now about 15 paces behind me.  I decide to walk up Parque Bustamante on the opposite side of the street, and quickly cross instead of turning right.  He stayed on the same side of the street, and at a more or less parallel pace we walked towards the north side of the park.

At one point we were both stopped by a red light.  As the cross traffic breezed by, I glanced over at the other side of the street, and noticed this man intently staring at me.  Fully creeped out at this point, I patted down my pockets and "realized" that I had left something back at the apartment.  I began to walk back towards my apartment, keeping a peripheral eye on the guy now on my left.  Fortunately he continues to walk up the street in the other direction.  I walk back to the corner, then slowly saunter in the same direction I was initially headed in.  At this point I couldn't see him, but I assumed he was long gone.

Less than 5 minutes later I run into him on my path.  He immediately introduced himself, and asked a couple questions in Spanish.  His name was Esteban, and he worked in some kind of finance in Central Santiago.  Whether he was talking or listening, the expression on his face never changed.  He embodied the emotion of intense, off-putting interest.  I told him I was "moving out of the country" on Dec 1, and would thus be gone soon.  But the conversation kept going, and I felt myself talking more and faster than I normally would to a complete stranger.  Then he asked me what I was doing right then, and I told him I was going to meet some friends in Providencia.  He asked me if I would be going out around the same time the next night, and I told him "yeah, probably."  He says that we should meet and go out for a walk at that time, before I go out.  To which, I inexplicably responded, "ya perfecto".

I have no idea why I said that.  This guy set off every creeper alarm in my head, and I was already squirming inside my body having talked to him for that long.  The only explaination I can think of is that my Spanish is still developing, and often when I don't understand what somebody says to me, my knee-jerk reaction is "ya perfecto" (it works surprisingly well in most cases).  After that I said I was late and had to go.  I power-walked to the nearest metro stop, and boarded the subway.

The next day, as I got back from class, I slipped a little note under his apartment door telling him that I wouldn't be able to meet him the next day.  I did this mainly so he wouldn't be hanging around my apartment door for an indeterminate amount of time, waiting for me to come out.  I waited a good half hour after our scheduled meeting time before I exited the apartment.  This time, I jogged to the far side of Parque Bustamante, and entered the metro stop from the other entrance.

Smash cut to yesterday.  I was late getting on the Metro that morning, and thus everybody was packed in next to each other like this:

After standing patiently for a couple minutes, I look around at the people around me (there are often some verrry entertaining characters in metro stations).  As I start to look behind me, I notice none other than Esteban staring daggers into the back of my head.  Fortunately I had my sunglasses on, so I just continued my sweep around like I noticed nothing, then faced forward again.  I then "noticed" an opening in the line a couple yards down, and jumped into the next subway car as it pulled in.

What I'm trying to say is, if at any point I don't post on here for over a week, it's probably because I'm trapped in a broom closet in Esteban's apartment.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Old Apartment

I'm delaying the post about my new apartment until a later date, one where my room is clean enough to take pictures of it.  Just know that I am now sitting comfortably in the living room of my new 4th floor apartment, where the sun is shining on the patio and the house goldfish peruses the water's surface in search of nourishment.

Now might be a good time to answer the question of why I left my old apartment.  I had signed a contract to stay through the end of February, but another opportunity had opened up (namely, this place), and I had to take it.  Why?  For many reasons.  First of all, the people who I lived with were friendly, but "South American stranger-friendly".  I would be asked how my day was, and then between sideways glances in the kitchen or living room, I was generally left alone. 

The landlady, Monica, also had this really passive-aggressive way of doing things that just irked me.  For example, my room was literally 10 feet from the patio where we hung clothes to dry.  If I walked out of my room to grab laundry, she would walk by and turn the light off in my room.  I would literally be gone for less than a minute pulling shirts off the clothesline, and I would come back to a dark bedroom with my hands full.

I know this isn't her fault, but I'm also fairly certain that she had a colostomy.  As a result, there would often be an awful smell permeating the apartment.  This lead to me spending the majority of my time in the apartment with my bedroom door shut.  And then when I did wander out into apartment, I would be treated to these little signs everywhere:
 Reading it every time was like a double stomach-punch.  A reminder to turn off a light switch I never used, and then poorly translated into English.

My personal favorite - this was the sign you couldn't help but read every time one used the porcelain throne.  It was on the door, perfectly placed at eye level.

Also, hot water here is generated with an in-line heater that is turned on/off only when used.  It's called the "calefont", and looks like this:
Frequently, Monica, in an effort to pinch every available peso, would turn off the hot water in the middle of the day.  It also happened 3 times WHILE I WAS IN THE SHOWER.  So yes, that was another strike against the place.
(Side note - down here they have a lot of tongue-in-cheek ways to identify people as homosexuals.  Some of the most popular ones are translated to "he burns the rice", "he likes the leg of pig", and "he turns off the hot water."  Maybe Monica was trying to tell me something...)

So yes, I am now fully moved into an apartment 4 blocks away, after telling her that I was moving back to the United States.  I never, ever saw her outside of the apartment before, but Karma dictates that I am now going to run into her on a weekly basis.  Whatever, she kept the security deposit.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Michigan-Ohio State, and English Gaffes

People make mistakes in my English classes all the time, to the point where I forget most of them.  Every so often though, they stick.  The first one to stick was "matter of fact"  (New to the blog?  Check the archives!), and now I've had 2 more burned into my audial memory.

The second one came about 2 weeks ago, when we were having an open discussion in class about siblings.  One of the heftier ladies in the class was talking about her older sister, and what she did.  They are always encouraged to use new vocabulary, so she was occasionally checking her notes as she talked.  After a brief pause in checking her notes, she announces to the group "my sister has job where she has much sex."


"So, Carol... what kind of job does your sister have?"
"She is bank manager."
"...and she has much..."
"Ohhhhhh.  Carol, you mean 'success'."

And the latest one came earlier today, as I was giving the final exam for one of my students.  I like to warm the students up before the exam, so to start I asked my student about his family, and what they did.  After talking about his parents, he said "my older sister is an accountant."  Only when he said "accountant", he left off the -ant at the end, and the o was silent.

From his perspective, I had a mini coughing fit between his response and correcting his pronunciation.


For those Wolverine fans out there, here's a few shots of where we watched the game:
California Cantina, where we gathered to watch the game.  I made them put on the sound for the game, which took a team of 3 of them like 20 minutes to figure out.  Fortunately I got there 25 mins early.

For the times when there was too much excitement in The Game, they thoughtfully put a soccer game on the adjacent TV so we could all level out.

Marco and myself.  One of the other 4 Michigan fans there took the picture.  Unsurprisingly, nobody from Ohio State showed up to the bar.

Bliss.  The postgame interview.

For the first time in 7 years (my entire tenure as a Wolverine), we've beaten Ohio State.  It's a nice feeling.  For those of you who don't know, "nice" is an extreme understatement.

I'm currently writing this from my new apartment.  Things are still getting settled, so I'll have a post up about the place soon.