June 11th, 2011
Two days ago… Francisco and I went to Alta Las Condes, which is a mall in the center of town catered to wealthier residents. The notable thing about that is that in the parking structure, little green lights were on above empty parking spaces and signs blinked green numbers detailing how many open spaces were present in any particular row… It made me wonder why I had never seen them before in the states–I can definitely think of a few places I’ve been that could use them! Fco stopped to get a porcelain bathtub figurine for his mother there and then we left for the airport to pick up Francisco’s friend Joaquin, a schoolmate from Uruguay who he met in Singapore. However, there was a big mix-up where we arrived three hours early to the airport (fine with me, as that meant I got to try my first pineapple caipirinha as well as a ham-and-mozzarella quesadilla smothered in avocado, just like everything in chile) (THEY LOVE AVOCADOS).
Soon after we picked Joaquin up we went to an Italian restaurant (still full, had onion soup) and I saw The Fanciest TGI Fridays In the Entire World. It was a seriously first class establishment, so much so that only a picture suffices (updating from my iPad makes this a hard process, please excuse me and allow yourself to picture the magnificence of a three-story dimly-lit TGI Fridays).
Yesterday I woke up at 7 to go to Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, two cities on the coast that appear to be some kind of hybrid of Cannery Row and Quito, colorful, with hand-decorated signs and corrugated tin walls along a Monterey-esque coast. We walked along the beach, ate street food (peanuts covered in red sugar, profiteroles filled with manjar/dulce de leche, an empanada filled with cheese and clam) and dropped into a casino where I tried $2 on a slot machine that I had no idea how to use (“wait which button do I press–where did my money go?”). Needless to say, my first try at “gambling” didn’t really give me that rush that some people experience…
We ate dinner at a place in Cochoa, where I had the best ceviche of my life. Made with some time of very soft fish kind of like sole that begins with an r, accompanied by rice cooked in the south American fashion, almost halved and kind of rough looking while still soft. I also tried loco, which is abalone or something: it was rough and gelatinous at once, looked like a snail with a little extra flesh–to Chileans, it is a delicacy, but to me it was… pretty horrible. There are few dishes in my life that I have had to admit defeat to, but this was one of them (the last one, I believe, was a cow’s stomach lining). You win some, you lose some.
We strolled around a park downtown, where there were a few baroque-looking churches and mansions converted into theaters. After crossing by an all-glass metro station, kind of like a mini version of the statue in front of the Louvre, we went to a behemoth all-concrete stadium surrounded by a jungle-like landscape where Sting and many other artists once played. We also saw a colonial mansion in danger of falling down at any moment because of the damage from the earthquake, completely cracked from foundation to roof.
We came back after I slept for two hours on the ride home, although I did wake up to go to the bathroom at a rest stop–the ladies’ room lights weren’t on, so I went into the kids bathroom… the toilets were a foot high… such an odd sight. Like a bathroom in a Wonka factory.
I packed up my stuff like lightning and after a 35 minute drive (instead of the necessary 10), we found my host family’s house. Very sweet, five kids, all blond and blue eyed. The daughter told me she gets approached once a week on the streets and is asked, “where do you come from? Why are you here?” since their physiognomy isn’t the norm on the streets of Santiago. We had dinner at 11:15 pm, and ate salad, corn chowder, chicken, flat noodles with butter and ground meat, and persimmon pudding (which looked like a chocolate bundt cake) that we poured a mixture of margarine and lemon sugar icing over.
Woke up at 6 this morning to start my first day of school, and took the city bus with the 17 year old son, Daniel. The Bradford school is a massive enclosed three-story space with a library on the ground floor. I spent about three hours in the principal’s office, and after I met him I was shocked by his accent. I was trying to guess where he’s from and I was thinking for some reason, “Iowa. There is no way that this guy is not from Iowa.” But alas, born and raised Santiago son of diplomat parents, who spells like a Brit and occasionally places a heavy English accent on words like cottage, hockey, and haughty.
I spent the day in the fifth grade class, shuffling between the classroom of a teacher from Danville, California and another from Australia, both very inviting and sweet women. Going to lunch was odd because all of the teachers (even gringas) exchanged jokes in rapid Spanish while I nodded and got the classic questions: 1. Why are you here? 2. For how long?, and in that order.
I slowly got over my embarrassment at having jokes and phrases fly over my head as I worked in my second classroom. The kids were absolutely hilarious and precocious, and it was wonderful REALLY knowing the answers to their questions (“how do you pronounce this?” “oh, that’s alliance, you’re welcome” and “what does it mean for a sea to be ‘almost completely enclosed by land’?”). They were given ten minutes to ask me questions, and of course, “do you have a boyfriend?” came first.
They tried to give me words to pronounce randomly, like refrigerador and veterinario while I helped them on their ecosystem posters, and I honestly can’t wait to go back.
Now, waiting for Fco to pick me up at the house… And the next leg of my day begins…