Monday, November 30, 2009


So even though it's pretty much always sunny with highs in the seventies, Thanksgiving was last week. The Southern Hemisphere continues to confuse me. To celebrate I cooked the traditional meal for pretty much everyone I know here. I was expecting seven and ended up with ten (eleven for dessert). I also feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment at having done it all by myself. The hardest part was tracking down all the necessary components. For example, although there are Chilean cranberry farms, there are virtually no cranberry products for sale. Also, fresh herbs (besides parsley) apparently won't be available until around Christmas time. Needless to say finding a whole turkey was not possible. But! I documented the whole process and, at the risk of boring all of you, this is how I did it:

I was going to need chicken broth for the stuffing and the gravy. The grocery store had condensed cans of Campbell's soup and cubes of mono-sodium-ized bullion. So I had to make my own stock. The kitchen is not equipped with many storage containers so I ended up pouring the stock into an empty bottle that once held a grapefruit flavored seltzer drink. I think the twinge of citrus the broth leeched from the plastic really added to the complexity of flavor.

So after searching high and low, I was only able to find dried cranberries and a bottle of the most expensive cranberry juice cocktail of all time. I decided to cook these down with frozen raspberries, some red wine and apple chunks. In the end I added quite a bit of orange zest to accomplish tartness. It wasn't cranberry sauce. But it was pretty tasty.

I have been so spoiled having a Cuisinart for the last two years. Cutting together pie dough by hand is tedious and tiring. I was glad that shortening is readily available here though. And it's made with animal fat rather than just vegetable oil so it's extra delicious.

I did a sort of loose conversion of my mother's ratios for crust into metric. And then I realized that I don't even have metric measuring cups and eye-balled the whole thing. I might have skimped on the flour a little, but ultimately it's hard to complain about a crust being too buttery.

I guess I've made more gorgeous pies. I'll have to practice more.

So it's a chicken, not a turkey. And I trussed it with dental floss (for a hint of mint). But there wasn't a single bit left. So I must have done something right.

We didn't have knives for people to cut the meat. Wine was mostly drunk from mugs. We even had to improvise a seat with the propane tank from the stove and a board... But it fits nicely with the spirit of the holiday to have people from six different countries come together over a meal.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Film Festival Fail

So I led you all on. I told you there would be theater and film reviews all week and all I gave you was silence. I'm so sorry. But, in my defense, I have had some pretty bad luck with the Film Festival. Infrastructure seems to be an issue for festival facilities as well. Every single thing I have tried to see has been thwarted in some way. There have been bad tapes, bad projections, cancellation due to electricity issues (that would be the container festival) and tonight just a lame, unspecific explanation that they didn't have the film. The gentleman who explained the film's absence (at length without saying anything exactly) kindly showed his own film instead. I do not exaggerate when I say that it was the worst film of all time. Aesthetically on par with films from the Fast Forward Teen Program I was in during tenth grade. The sound of each fork scraping a plate rang out like a bell, but the dialogue might as well have been delivered through a pillow. And the plot. Well it was about a family and business and probably lots of things. But mostly the director seemed interested in the incest aspects of the story. The plot line seemed to surface without any particular explanation and was so graphically depicted that I think it would be more accurate to just call it sister fucking. Pardon. We stayed for about thirty minutes and then just had to leave. In an effort to make sure that the director knew how awful his work was, my friend tried to make as much noise leaving as possible.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Theater and Film Week!

So I totally missed writing yesterday. Sigh. I guess I won't win the chocolate covered MacBook, or whatever they were giving as a prize (a chocolate covered MacBook, for those in the generous mood this gift-giving season, would be sublime).

But as an update of sorts, yesterday was the first day of the Festival Theatro de Containers. My roommates and I went to see a Catalonian aerial dance troupe perform in the middle of the largest square in the city on four giant shipping containers stacked one on top of the other. It was pretty rad. Unfortunately the non-aerial aspect of the performance was a half-hearted clowning gestault. As a caveat, I am completely unable to see theatrical performances without being incredibly critical (this also applies to movies, fashion and architecture, improbably).

In addition to the Container Festival, there is also an international film festival in Viña del Mar this weekend (Viña is Valparaíso's sister city). So I am going try to see at least (!) one performance or film every day. I have several willing accomplices in this effort, so I think it shouldn't be hard. And! You lucky readers will get to hear all of my very strong opinions! Think of it as an early Christmas gift.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I am not really sure if this counts as not forgetting to blog. Since it is technically Saturday now. It's sort of a weird arbitrary thing. Dates start at midnight. Years too. A minute and you're a year older. I feel sort of attached to dates. I sometimes test my memory and try to remember really specific details of what I was doing on a certain date in years past. What I was wearing or what I ate. Usually I can only remember specific days. If I'm playing the memory game with March 3, for instance, I will probably do better because that's my very first best friend's birthday. And the date still tends to protrude a bit even though I haven't seen her in years. And of course some days stick out so much that they sort of loom in the distance beforehand. And sometimes one significant date is replaced by another thing that happens on that day.

I've been thinking a lot about this time a year ago lately. And how much it changed the direction in which I was headed. I feel certain that I made the right decisions, took the signs to mean the right things. But I often wonder what if things had happened differently. Right now I would probably be in Law School, thinking about things in past Novembers like going to the Cloisters with Ryan and Alex or that time I accidentally burnt a mouse in the toaster oven. And I'd probably read some friend's blog about moving to a completely different place and feel jealous and maybe a little trapped. It's strange to have moments where you can see your decisions stacked up behind you. Piled around the giant, immobile facts of events beyond your control.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Complaints: Plumbing Infrastructure

All things considered I am feeling pretty good about where I am so far with this crazy project. I am learning tons of Spanish. I have an apartment. I'm making friends. There are some things that just drive me insane about life here. Plumbing is very high on that list.

1) It is unheard of, as far as I can tell, to have hot water in bathroom sinks. Public restrooms and private homes alike. Not to be a typical American germophobe, but they do serve a purpose. My wasteful expectations of boundless hot water aside, it seems a fairly simple pleasure: splashing warm water on one's face, rinsing off the grime of the city. In terms of hand washing, I rely much more on soap, which is drying out my skin. Because I'm a pampered princess, basically.

2) The hot water that is available in my apartment (in the kitchen and the shower) is extremely limited. If I were the kind of person who used Gilbert and Sullivan patter songs as measuring units for her life, I would say that the Lord Chancellor would not reach the description of his dream in the duration of a hot shower here. 90 seconds. Max. It's deeply demoralizing.

3) This is going to come as a shock to all of you, but you are cannot flush toilet paper here. At all. There are small wastebaskets next to each toilet for used tissues. For the first week it was distressing and vaguely mortifying. I am mostly used to it now, but each time the basket is full and I have to bring it down to the street I experience a wave of physical revulsion. It adds dimension of desperation to the sanitation worker's strike which has been ongoing for the last two weeks.

4) My toilet might be older than my father. The age of the plumbing is apparently responsible for the above mentioned general infrastructure problem, but my particular device is truly a relic. Water never completely stops running into the tank. In order to avoid exorbitant water bills and quite a bit of noise I have to turn the water on and off waiting for the tank to fill each time I want to flush. It's really only a problem when I need to be somewhere and can't take the two minutes. I often find myself using the bathroom immediately upon arriving at places.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Lost and Found

I have been reading this book since I left the States. It's a series of essays with a heavy emphasis on memoir and art and cultural history, all about the concept of being lost. I have found it almost viscerally poignant to my current experience at times. I haven't picked it up in over a week now. Partially because I find it difficult to read in English when I am concentrating on learning Spanish so much. Partially because I hate the sadness of finishing books I really like.

Today I used an ATM on my way to the grocery store and thought that the cash that I withdrew fell out of my pocket somewhere on my way home. I looked in every pocket, the bathroom, my shopping bags. I was so annoyed/frustrated/upset about what amounted to carelessness on my part. But then my roommate found the cash on the kitchen floor. The relief of finding something I though was lost was such a wonderful sensation. Even something unemotional like money (an amount that will have very little long term consequence, anyway). It was like a really nice surprise. There may even be something about the feeling that's similar to falling in love. Or at least a fraction of it. Finding something that really belongs to you that you had been living without.

I constructed an inventory of things I have lost over the years that I really miss. About seventy-five percent of them are winter outerwear (that blue hat from tenth grade, a pair of my grandmother's gloves, the perfect street-pashmina, etc) and the rest are single earrings. None of them is worth nearly as much as the cash I misplaced today. Probably not even all of them collectively. But if, through some strange tidal flow of the universe, any of those things were to come back to me the elation I'd feel would be exponentially greater. I even have a box full of mate-less, former favorite earrings awaiting that unlikely turn of events.

Maybe the lesson here is that I care far too much about material things. That objects shouldn't hold such emotional worth for me. Everything should be dispensable. But it could also mean that, despite all evidence to the contrary, I might want to fall in love again.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Night at the Cinema

This evening Nike and I went to a film club screening. The movie, The Grin Without a Cat, was in French and the subtitles were in Spanish so I spent much of the time confused. Especially since we both thought we were going to see this visually rich, surrealist Czech film (which I had already seen, but thought would be fun to see again). Anyway, besides an extended exercise in comprehension, it was a sort of fascinating look at a subculture here. Well, subculture might be to strong a word for six middle-aged, leftist film buffs. Since I understood approximately every seventh word, I was relying heavily on audience reaction, gesture and tone to follow the post film chat. But I was definitely picking up some, "Oh no he didn't say that about Chris Marker!" kind of facial expressions. The film itself (which I have since learned is something of a classic, in the scope of documentaries dealing with the failures of the left in the late sixties) relied more on voice over than a non-fluent viewer would hope. But I really enjoyed the spectacle of the event itself: in a basement screening room of a university building, the strange blend of men with graying hair and film students, the guy sitting next to me with a Che Guevara pin and a paperback copy of a Balzac book... It was familiar but completely different.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Currying Flavor

So the Chilean diet has some quirks. Or maybe it has absolutely no quirks at all. The food here is definitely not bad. But it's certainly different and not in a particularly exciting way. I like the two national street foods: giant, calzone-like empanadas and completos, which are hot dogs covered in avocado, tomato and mayonnaise. But generally the intensity of flavor around here is pretty low. Culinarily, the most exciting thing is being able to buy a kilogram of strawberries and two perfect avocados for about two dollars. Many can attest to my abiding love for strawberry-avocado salads, but like anything, one gets sick of them after a while. Especially when one is consuming strawberries by the kilo to avoid spoilage.

So today I decided to branch out a bit and make a curry. I wouldn't say that curry is a staple of my repertoire, but I feel comfortable making it. The nice thing about curry is you can make it with anything as long as you can find curry powder (or paste, but they don't even have milk in the refrigerated section of the grocery store here). When I began my adventure I wasn't sure I'd be able to find the powder. But sure enough, it was on the shelf in the international section of the grocery store, tucked behind some soy sauce. I also bought the brownest looking rice (it was not actually brown rice), some chicken legs (easy) and a can of what I thought was coconut milk. It was actually coconut cream, unfortunately. Which turned out to be really delicious and I ate some spread on a piece of bread as dessert.

Veggies were of course no problem. Cauliflower, strangely awesome potatoes, carrots, peppers... my roommate even had a ginger root stashed in the freezer she let me use (thanks, Nike!). So the curry was coming along nicely. My other roommate demonstrated the completely foreign can opener (thanks, Rodrigo!- It actually seems to just be a blade you use to cut open cans). I sort of just added gobs of coconut cream and lots of water where I would normally use coconut milk. And honestly it wasn't bad. The curry powder had a nice kick. It was definitely better than the curry powder I bought from the bodega on fourth avenue in Park Slope. All in all, I think I'll be able to figure out how to approximate all the varieties of foods I have been missing. Maybe next I'll try chili. Because puns make things more delicious.

Sunday, November 08, 2009


So in case you haven't picked up on this, I am making a go at National Blog Posting Month. I am sort of challenging myself to write more substantive things here and use my tumblr for my one-offs... But after a full day of bike riding yesterday and a full day of walking in the sun today, I'm afraid I don't have a ton of energy. And tomorrow my super-expensive Spanish classes begin at nine am so I need to get to bed pretty much now. According to the rules of the school there will not be more than five people in my class tomorrow. Which is a pretty small first impression to make. But the standard first day of school anxiety is still creeping in. Will I make friends? Will everyone else be muchmuch better at Spanish than me? What if I make some crazy pronunciation faux pas (like the time I tried to ask the dishwasher at Aroma for the "vasos" but said something more like "besos")? The "what to wear?" questions are not so pressing since wearing anything other than jeans and a t-shirt here garners far more unwanted attention than its worth. But, you know, which t-shirt??

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Life on Mars

Today my friend Jaime took me to Reñaca* to teach me how to rock climb. We walked down a rocky gulch into a sort of chasm by the sea. Even about twenty feet away from the opening, I could see dots of sea spray on my sunglasses. I'm not a geologist, but the rocks were completely fascinating. Boulders in a standard grayish color (limestone? granite?) were interspersed with deep black ones. Like a lava had flown between the rocks and cooled as it reached the sea. Even though we didn't get there until after five the sun was incredibly bright. The glaring difference between shadow and sun gives the afternoons here an almost extra-terrestrial intensity. Like how you hear about temperature differences on the surface of the moon. The sun, the wind, the ocean, the ache in my arms and legs from the exertion... it was just a completely singular experience.

*According to Google Maps, the route we took today was 18.3 km each way. We went on bike, so I am pretty much ready to collapse right now.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Call Me

I have a Chilean cell phone. I bought it solely based on price and ended up with a package intended for children. It came with a tiny t-shirt, stickers, a bracelet, a notebook and a lanyard. It also came with 50 text messages and about $20 in credit. So that should last me a while. Especially considering that I simply don't have anyone to call. Coupled with the fact that I signed up for a Spanish class today, I am feeling pretty productive.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Theft and loss

When I was about five my mother's purse was stolen. It was carelessness, as I remember it. She left it on the front seat of the car which was parked next to the soccer field where I was playing. I might have forgotten to lock the door. They found the purse a day or so later, dumped in a mailbox without any money in it. I remember a conversation between my parents about canceling a Mastercard.

Later that year the family station wagon was stolen. It was parked outside our elementary school. Something about the way the story was told made me imagine that it was used as a getaway car in a bank heist. In retrospect it probably was not a bank heist (in Roxbury, in the late '80s). But it was gone and along with it a particularly special blanket with trucks on it. The blanket was of course irreplaceable. The hassle of replacing a car that my parents experienced (insurance, police) did not affect me in any way. Only the new smelling, silver Ford Taurus that replaced it held any interest at all. In the end, the car theft was no great blight on my childhood.

During my first year in New York, my credit card and bank card were stolen from my wallet. I realized the theft the next morning when I received a call from my credit card company about a strange number of purchases made in Jersey City the day before. Nothing was really lost though. It was the sort of fictitious money that exists in banks and gets spent with checks and swipes. I filed reports with the police, the bank, the credit card company. I made statements. I talked to officers. I identified the likely time of the theft. The money was back in its virtual place before it was missed. Someone got $125 in socks from my credit card company, but all it cost me was a temporary annoyance.

When I moved to Valparaíso I had read a lot about petty crime here. One day last week two men stopped me on the street unprovoked and told me to be careful. I think I must have been looking particularly gringa-ish that day, wearing a skirt and boots. People around here talk about theft all the time. The people living at the hostel all had stories or stories of friends- cameras ripped from hands, cell phones taken at knife point. It's an expectation. A sort of mistrust everyone has of everyone else. It's hard to explain really. It's not a hostile feeling. Just sort of sad.

I guess I was bound to see it eventually. Today my roommate was robbed while we were walking down the street together. A kid, who looked about eleven, grabbed her bag and ran down the hill. She yelled and threw a coffee cup at him and ran after. And then eventually, I yelled and ran after. But my shoe came off and I had to make my way more slowly. The police came. And witnesses said various things. A report was filed. Ultimately not so much was lost. Money. Things of personal significance. And I think she feels those losses now in ways that won't be as important in time. I am surprised really at how much it affected me. That invasion of personal space. The almost violent moment when he grabbed the bag. The paralyzed feeling right after. There are worse things. Many many worse things. Knives or guns could have been involved. It could have been a group of people rather than one kid. In time it will just be a small trauma. A little reminder that even in the glaring sun, it's not always safe.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Teach Yourself Spanish

So despite the fact that I took Spanish classes for four years during high school, my language skills now (in a Spanish speaking country, nine years later) are pretty inadequate. For the last two weeks I have been getting by on my patented method of simple words and phrases accompanied by gestures and lots of smiling. To give you an idea of how much language this really involves, I am also able to communicate this way in French and German speaking countries. And I did not study those languages, even at a high school level. With patient collaborators, I have had several real conversations (with verbs and predicates and occasional subjunctives) in Spanish. Meals, drinks, a card game... But generally improving my level of language proficiency is the goal of my life right now.

I am strongly considering taking some intensive classes starting next week to get my grammar into shape, but I have also created a rigorous course of personal study:

-Write out the entire conjugations of two irregular verbs each day. It's easy to chose these verbs because whenever I am speaking in Spanish I have to stop to conjugate them.

-Write down every word looked up each day (at least ten). I never actually write down all of them. It's rarely convenient to pull out a notebook and take a minute to write something down in the middle of a conversation.

-Speak in Spanish whenever possible. Obviously. But sometimes it feels so much easier, knowing that the person I'm speaking with also speaks English, to resort back. No. That is totally against the rules. (This is a rule I break every day)

-Read something, at least one entire thing, in Spanish everyday. Sometimes it's an article or internet news story. Sometimes it's a poem. This just focuses me on comprehension.

-Reread all notes everyday. Usually in bed before I go to sleep I look through the conjugation tables and the vocab lists and try to find them in my brain again. So far they're usually there somewhere.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Valparaíso en la Tarde

I went for a walk in the late afternoon today. The sun was brighter than it ever gets in New York or Boston. But when walking on the shady streets my hands were stiff from the cold. At the top of the hill the added persistence of the wind made it impossible to stand still on most of the narrow, shadowy streets. But every so often I found a perfect spot, exposed to the sun but sheltered from the wind, where I could feel that it was almost summer.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Truth About Food/Love

So honestly, I think I haven't been eating enough. It's not conscious or purposeful it's just that eating is sort of depressing alone. And cooking is even more so. My mother might fly down to Chile on the wings of concern when she reads this, but I am just sort of always hungry and never want to eat.

I think most of you can attest to the fact that I have a pretty good appetite. I love food and always have. But even though I have been cooking for myself for years now, I really hate cooking for one. And the pleasure of a meal- a glass of wine, the fruits of an hour's labor, the beginning/end/pause of a day that meals represent- are just lacking on ones own. It's slightly better to eat alone in a restaurant. There's a formality that's comforting. There are people at least. Waiters, a cook definitely. But honestly I am not on the kind of budget that can afford restaurant meals often. So it looks like I'll have to find a boyfriend.

I guess it's sort of awful. I feel like generally I am in a very single state of mind. Woe-betide the man who I'll ensnare in my macaroni and cheese net, for surely I am far too selfish at this point in my life to regard another's feelings gently. But at least he'll be well fed. We both will.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

New Digs

Yesterday I moved into my first real apartment in Valparaíso. And eventhough I was anticipating feeling lonely after leaving the hostel, I really have no idea what to do with so much time to myself. The apartment does not have working internet yet, so I am writing from a cafe. My room is about five feet by fourteen feet with its own tiny bathroom at one end. One of my roommates described it as "austere" (she's German...) which sort of gives you an idea. Fitting with the general level of color saturation, the walls of my bedroom are a robin's egg blue, the kitchen is yellow (the best color for kitchen, probably) and the dining room/common area is a sort of orangey-terra cotta color. Currently it is Sunday and a religious holiday so most stores aren't open. Which is sort of annoying since I am missing some key elements in my living space (a mirror of any kind, for example). The cold, grey-ish weather we've been having this weekend has been a little tough on my moods.

So this week I am going to begin the search for a job in earnest. Which will probably look something like me walking into places and stammering fragments of sentences in Spanish, smiling, leaving my resume and never hearing from anyone. I think I'll have to get a cell phone here in order to effectively find work. Especially if my lack of Internet continues. It's been sort of nice to be without one these two weeks. I also really only know about six people in this entire country, so I really don't need to call people very often. But maybe it would make me feel more connected...

This blog post has been a sort of fascinating exploration of the Chilean keyboard for me. I don't think of myself as being the greatest typist, but move things around and I am completely hopeless. Additionally there is no "undo typing" option on the edit menu, so when I accidentally erased the whole post with an unknown key command, I had to start from scratch. I wonder if there is some sort of universal keyboard that people in multi-lingual countries use (can you imagine what a South African or Indian keyboard would look like? They have so many official languages!)...

So I hope everyone had a very happy Halloween. Yesterday when I was grocery shopping I saw a couple of older ladies wearing brightly colored witch hats, but that was about the extent of the celebration here. There was also a drunk fruit vendor heckling all such women and calling them natural witches. Which was funny and sort of surreal.