Friday, April 16, 2010


The laundry people in Santiago matched up several of my socks with red lettering with socks with black lettering. HOW CAN THESE PEOPLE LIVE LIKE THIS?

Yesterday I finally figured out the calafón, the on-demand hot water heater, so I've had a couple of not-frigid showers. Despite all my past experiences, I think the true glory of a not-freezing shower escaped me until I took a couple of cold showers on 50-degree mornings in an unheated, poorly-insulated house full of tile floors, and walking semi-wet into a bedroom where the window has a big gap to the outside. (Not big enough to admit either of the two kittens who very much like coming inside, but plenty big for a draft. Trust me, it's on my list of things to fix, before it gets really cold.)

Mike from the Ministry finally explained why there's no central heating here, and why everyone's focused on how much hot water you use (I haven't seen this from my family here and I don't expect it, but by all accounts it's common): natural gas is really expensive. And it's really expensive because Chile doesn't have any. Neighboring countries like Peru, Bolivia and Argentina all have natural gas, but they're kind of cranky at Chile, so Chile imports natural gas from someplace far like Russia or Australia.

I'm constantly amazed how much Chile reminds me of Mexico. Somehow, even though the culture is different, the aesthetics are almost the same: homemade houses, stores with the names painted directly on the buildings, similar fonts used on the micro signs. Thousands of street dogs, although the Chilean dogs are well-fed. Where dogs of Mexico seem to have driven the cats into hidden exile on the upper levels of buildings, cats and dogs outside of Santiago (which seems cat-free) seem to have a relative truce. We have three strange but friendly dogs here at the house: La Princesa (the Princess), El Duque (the Duke), and La Chiquitita (the Little One). La Reina (the Queen) was apparently hit by a car. The dogs seem a lot like street dogs that Oscar has brought home and made part of his pack somehow.

There's a small rotation of outside cats, who would all love to be inside cats. Two kittens and one adult look to be clearly related, and one or two longer-haired cats come and go. At least one of the kittens loves to stick his paw through the gap in the kitchen windows, clawing at the wood to try and open it. The dogs bark at whatever people they're not introduced to by a known person, and occasionally they go into a frenzy at what I assume to be a cat they disapprove of. This often happens late at night; they also respond to the network of other yard dogs barking across the hills and valleys around us.

Like Mexico, there's an exuberance to the rhythms of daily life here, an appearance of impossible chaos that looks as though everything must be improvised. That's not entirely untrue, but the improvisation happens within the framework of a functioning society. Everyone has to get to work and home again, buy bread, cook dinner. It's just...different. And sometimes kind of insane.

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