Around this time last year, my boyfriend and I were getting on a plane from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires. We were staying at the house of a schoolmate of ours, whose parents world-traveling diplomats–needless to say, I was more than a little nervous.

Making matters worse, my boyfriend ever-so-gently decided that it was finally time to inform me that I had been holding my fork and knife the wrong way my entire life.

Hiding my face in shame.

As a child, I placed the knife between the rungs of my fork, and I suppose that I had just gone years without being corrected. I’ve always tried to be polite, but I’ve never had a “Finishing School” experience.

Anyway, I’ve been slowly making my way through Debrett’s Etiquette for Girls for a while now to cover any remaining social missteps that may rear their ugly head in the near future, and I can think of a few situations where a nuanced reading of the material would have seriously helped.

(For instance: about a month ago I was a guest at the house of a friend-of-a-friend-of-the-family’s house, where the only appetizer was large cuts of slippery smoked salmon on toasted crackers… delicious. Debrett’s: Never attempt to eat smoked salmon if it requires more than one bite. Heed that advice, or you might end up like me, dropping half of your salmon on your chin before being forced to cram it in your already-full mouth with a half a cracker left over. Not awesome.)

Take this self-aware tidbit about canapés, for instance:

Are canapés a conspiracy invented by resentful caterers? What other possible explanation could there be for something so eternally unmanageable? … Imagine the hilarity back in the kitchens as the hotshots and bigwigs are incapacited by gobstopping vol-au-vents or humiliated as their cherry tomato spurts into the eye of an important associate.

What I love about this book is that it casually makes fun of its uppity content at the same time that is seriously embraces it: the authors truly do appreciate etiquette but they also understand the unapproachability of the subject.

The book covers absolutely everything, from underwear to office romance.

Although… nothing says anything about how to avoid dropping not one but two wine glasses in a night at the party that your boyfriend’s family threw so that you could meet the family. Also, everything is happening in your second language.

Shudder. To be explicit, that was me.

This was the spread at the party, about T-2 hours before doomsday hit. Despite that, an awesome example of Chilean canapés.

Background from Bert’s Kickstarter page:

About. Coded Stories, a documentary film, weaves together contemporary art with indigenous rights to convey the struggle of the Mapuche of Chile to preserve their culture and way of life. After a year of original filming, we are reaching out to supporters to help us raise $25,000 to complete filming in Chile and Los Angeles through October 2012. The goal of Coded Stories is to spread awareness about the plight of the Mapuche, a people whose traditions are under serious threat and to share their beautiful art and culture with a larger audience.

The Story. The film follows artist Guillermo Bert, a Chilean-born, Los Angeles-based artist whose recent work was inspired by the similarities between Mapuche textile patterns and contemporary bar codes (QR codes). Bert’s art raises questions about identity, globalization, modernization, and challenges facing indigenous cultures in the Americas.

Click here to read more on kickstarter.

One of the pieces about which the documentary was made: Poem in Blue, based on a poem by Graciela Huinao, art by Guillermo Bert.

Mapuche Art is what I hope to study as I progress in my Art History career, and this man is doing an incredible job in increasing visibility of the indigenous Mapuche community as well as highlighting their integration with the Modern Chilean nation as well as the international, digitally-enriched world.

I sincerely hope that this project gets fully funded, because I would absolutely love to hear more Bert’s inspiration and art.

I spend a lot of time browsing architecture websites for no good reason at all, really.

These are some of my favorites.

Junta Castillo Leon Offices, Alberto Camp Baeza, Spain

Image 1 of 2: Pael House, Chile. This is my boyfriend’s uncle’s house, and during the record-shattering earthquakes, they hardly felt a thing inside.

Image 2 of 2

“The Vertical House,” Paris, France. For more information/pictures, click through link.


Maison à Vitznau, Lischer Partner Architekten

I have spent countless hours sifting through blog posts about Chile, reading Spanish novels (a term I use loosely as the current read happens to be a teen novel translated into Spanish from English), and just generally missing the place in the past few days. It feels like ages since I’ve seen many people that are like family to me: my boyfriend Francisco, his entire family, my once-host family, and the friends and acquaintances that made my time there incredible. I’m even missing the (insane, copious) amount of mayonnaise that they spread over every food item in their path (although I still do not miss manjar, that sticky caramel-y stick-to-your-arteries substance that Francisco adores). All in good time, I suppose–and in the meantime I can consider my explorations in the blogosphere a form of research for my quickly-approaching senior thesis about Mapuche art within Chilean culture.

I’m getting knee-deep into my exhibition on John Baeder now. I’m a few paragraphs into my rough draft, which needs to be finished within the week–I think I should start hitting the library soon or else I’m never going to get anything done.

I’m also going to be working with the head of academic programs at the Museo Larco in Lima, Peru in order to create new material having to do with Latin American Art for Smarthistory–the website is a fantastic resource for Western art, but is notably lacking in academic articles about the art of the Americas, Africa, Oceania or Asia, which they are in the process of correcting.

Anyway, here is a picture of the Museé de la Mode et du Design in Paris, where I was lucky enough to be able to visit an exhibit on the trademark style of the Spanish couturier Balenciaga maintained throughout the past 100 or so years:

View from the Seine

View from inside the green shenanigans

Great Blogs from English Expats in Chile:
Way South of the Border
Cachando Chile: Reflections on Chilean Culture
Bearshapedsphere (a travel blog by a professional freelance writer)

I went to go see the exhibition La Patagonie at the Musee du Quai Branly yesterday (finally) and it was pretty impressive… the indigenous Selk’nam tribe of Tierra del Fuego was given a significant portion of the exhibit, and although I have seen drawn pictures of them, it was my first time being able to see what their ritual costumes looked like when worn.

There was a video that went around through chain emails in the 90s that started out with a little car driving peacefully on a tree-lined highway. In the first minute it warned you to look closely and turn your speakers all the way up, so that you “could look closely.” After about a minute, a ghostly black object took over the screen, screaming, and without fail most people would literally fall over out of fright. It may be a bit of a stretch, but I got that same feeling when looking at the Selk’nam costumes. They hit you with that same hard impact, haunting and cold.

The rituals that the particular costumes I’m talking about were used for a type of male initiation ritual–they were the literal embodiment of spirits, walking around terrifying the members of the tribe.
Selk'nam ritual wearSelk'namSelk'nam

In any case, this exhibition was incredible, right up my alley in terms of academics. I’m thinking about going back to the museum to pay the 35 euro price for the exhibition catalog which I can barely read, since it only exists in French.

In terms of the ‘remnants of past brutality,’ it’s hard for someone who has any background in indigenous arts whatsoever to ignore the history of how objects got to a museum like that one. The objects are almost completely religious or used in religious ceremony, and objects like the boli of the Bamana culture were never meant to be understood or really even seen by members of the populace other than the village’s priest, so infused were they with sacred meaning and materials. It makes me cringe a bit walking through that museum and understanding how much blood was spilt transporting them to this location so Westerners could gawk at them.

Another interesting choice made by this museum was to exhibit recent (circa 2008) Bolivian parade costumes–in the midst of ancient art from indigenous cultures the curators chose to exhibit mainstream festival wear… to me, this just reinforces the mental subjugation of cultures that express their art in different forms than realism: these forms of art are not created out of the inability to create a perfect, ‘photographic’ image, but because of the difference in the purpose that the art will serve. Showing contemporary art next to ancient, religious art seems to be in poor taste–it leaves too much unsaid to the viewer, even though the curator could have a great reason for displaying it in that way.

Despite my oversensitivity to issues like these, the museum made up for these inherent moral qualms through an obvious love and respect for the items it holds.The Patagonia exhibit was also breathtaking–they captured the sense of that land as “magical” through historical notions of its other-worldliness and through modern/semi-modern landscapes.

I’ve had six bedrooms in the past two years: six different beds that I have considered my bed, and six different places that I have tried to personalize and recreate the previous living space. Two years ago, if you had asked me where I come from, I would’ve said California without hesitating, giving the ‘halfway between SF and Lake Tahoe’ description I’ve been using to indicate my fairly unknown, nondescript town of origin. Lately, though, with my house in California out of reach and my official change of residence to Monroe, Louisiana, I’ve called myself Louisianan (and therefore an expert on all things made with crawfish, seafood and rice, as people are wont to believe). Living in Chicago has further complicated matters, and the change of beds and living conditions at the start of each year doesn’t make anything more clear; neither do my sojourns to Santiago or Paris.

I still consider California my point of origin, with snippets of Louisiana living added in once every few months, and I still get giddy when I meet people who are familiar with my part of the state (like yesterday’s “Your boyfriend is from Walnut Creek?! I was born there!”), but I wouldn’t describe myself as settled in any particular place anymore.

I bet there are a lot of people here in Paris who feel similarly given the range of languages that I encounter on the Metro each day. I’m not sure how I feel about this–maybe I’m just floating around until I make my next big move. Odds are that it won’t be soon.

June 13, 2011 

Last night I went to the Chile- Perú game at a movie theater called Cine Hoyts–Joaquin picked me up and my house and waited for two hours while Francisco was picking out his lice or something (hello Francisco!). Being at the movie theater was even more exciting than being at the Sports Cafe last week, even though the game was a little slower, up until the last minute. After a game of missed goals, Chile scored its first and won in the third minute of overtime. As Joaquin said, “God must be Chilean.” 

After we went to the supermarket and grabbed a bunch of empanadas and potato salad to bring to Francisco’s brother Rodrigo’s house, where we watched the Uruguay-Mexico game, ate, and discussed the possibility of me tutoring Francisca, Rodrigo’s wife, in English. Rodrigo also showed us the remnants of the earthquake present in the house; large cracks in the walls that ran from floor to ceiling. 

This morning I woke up just like I did yesterday, at 930. Yesterday, I decided what I would be doing with the fifth graders, helping with lessons to distinguish fiction and nonfiction and improve reading comprehension, while keeping in mind that a book report would be coming at the end of the term. Today I showed up to watch the English skits that the children were working on based on the book that they are currently reading, The Witches by Roald Dahl (I remember loving that book when I was a kid). 

After that, I took a taxi downtown and ate at Cafe Elkiko, where we had ‘el kiko’– a hamburger with sauerkraut, pickles, mayo, and mustard to which I added a ton of ají accidentally and didn’t realize that I just eaten the hot sauce the whole time in place of ketchup. I went out and bought a bouquet of lilies afterwards to bring back to the Acuñas from the streets of Santiago and took a taxi back. 

At the Acuñas all of the animals were out playing, so I dropped my stuff inside and ran out with my camera to take thousands of pictures of the cats and dogs. However, I still haven’t mastered how to open that door, and got locked out for forty minutes until someone came home… It’s okay, I had my feline friends (my only friends). 

After, I packed for Concepción, took a three hour nap, and ate dinner–brown rice with sautéed veggies and chicken, salad, and we opened our See’s candies for the first time. We had a conversation about the dairy industry (why Americans drink so much milk), cheese (I remember from NPR that it’s illegal to buy cheese under about 50 days old), and rosemary. 


P.S. Ecuador is 2-2 vs. Brasil now!!!