Monday, March 22, 2010

There are some longer posts simmering in my head, plus a bunch of photos and one or two videos. This is just some notes about Santiago; there's a saying that "Santiago no es Chile", which is good, because Santiago has the same isolation and busyness of other giant cities--which isn't just my perception, our Spanish teacher has been here for many years and he says it's not as friendly as it was 15 or 25 years ago. I'll be interested to be in a smaller community, that might be a bit more traditional.

There are uncountable street dogs here, but unlike in other cities, they are fed and cared for. The first one we met was an adorable little brown thing whose collar said "Café Central", which is the café a couple doors down from the hotel. We just call him "Café". Chileans will often pet them and leave food out, and I think take them to the vet as the Café Central people are doing for Café's wounded paw. It's surreal to see dogs lounging around in front of the Palacio de La Moneda, the President's office building, drinking from the fountain, and in one case lying tranquilly in the wheelchair ramp of the sidewalk while the rush-hour foot traffic of downtown Santiago just went around him.

Some sort of insect flies around our room and bites me where I'm exposed above the covers, leaving me with harmless red spots on my face. The bites don't hurt or itch. I have no idea what kind of insect it is.

There is no soap in the bathrooms, and restaurant napkins are maybe 3 inches square, and the same not-really-absorbent paper we use for disposable placemats in the States.

I brought a big old Columbia summer sun hat, which I've been wearing around. I was feeling self-conscious about it with people staring at me, until I realized that (a) people stare at gringos constantly (that's not a derogatory term here), and (b) I'm usually walking with a small horde of cute twentysomething white girls, and people are actually staring at them, not me.

I attract very little attention when walking around on my own.

The air here is bad, from the smog. I went for a run on Saturday, and the first 10 minutes felt like 30. We walked another 10, then ran another 10 (8 days earlier at home, I ran 30 without stopping). The four flights up to my room were really easy on Wednesday, got progressively harder, and now seem to have plateaued with a bit of heaving and my heart racing.

The fruit here is amazing. They export the stuff that will survive the ocean trip; everything you buy in every stall or kiosk or market is (a) so cheap that it's considered rude to bring fruit as a house-gift for dinner, and (b) is sold at a peak of perfect ripeness that I couldn't get if I had the stuff on my counter. The avocado in my sandwich was liquidy and perfect; the pear was sublimely textured, soft with a little bit of resistance, and sweet without being cloying; the nectarine was some kind of insane Platonic ideal of a nectarine, perfect in every way. My roommate Jeremy was skeptical of his banana today, but I suggested the Chileans clearly knew their fruit, and sure enough, despite feeling too hard on the outside, it was absolutely perfect inside. I've shown remarkable restraint on the grapes, I think, only buying them a couple times and only a pound at a time (at prices around USD$0.85/pound), though surprisingly they don't beat the grapes I get at the farmer's market in season.

I'm not sure what to say: it's another country. I always feel like I should feel more taken aback or surprised, but in practice, I get to the new place, and I see that they do things differently, and then that's how they do things. Except for the napkins, nothing's been really surprising; but I'm still in the bubble of hanging out with gringos and (starting today) learning how to teach, before I really get into it.


  1. I love the story of your self-conscious feeling that people were staring at you, and then realizing they were not. Awesome. So very often, the self-conscious stories we tell have nothing to do with anyone else's actual behavior...

  2. Yeah. Sometimes they really are looking at me: it's not rude to stare here, and people will just do so for as long as they feel like. Men will even lock eyes with me and stayed locked for a duration unthinkable in the US. The Embassy says there's 18,000 gringos in Chile, so while seeing a gringo is not unheard-of in Santiago, it's pretty unusual--more so in our placement towns.

  3. Plus, you're easy on the eyes ;-)