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blogging | by Priya Lal | February 10, 2004 at 01:35 PM | comments (36) | trackback (0)

today was THE day... the first time i experienced the rush of energy and confidence that came from knowing (and i mean really KNOWING) where i am down here. it's as if a clear sense of geography and direction, an identification with the people i'm rubbing shoulders with on crowded buses and passing in the streets, and a new level of ease and comfort with the language surrounding me all coalesced for a single fleeting but thrilling instant to make me feel like i truly understand and belong in santiago. fish out of water i might still be, but at least i might forget that i'm a stranger more frequently now.

the past couple of days have definitely helped. sunday afternoon ended up bringing neither argentinian movies or empanadas my way, but no matter -- even better things turned out to be in store for me. while walking down the street after leaving the internet cafe i was kind of complaining to cristobol about how i'd like to see more of the city and that i felt like a slug for wasting the past couple of days in an alcohol-infused haze. in a second he shrugged his shoulders and anounced, "so let's see the city," and flagged down the first micro that passed us. he's cool like that. (note: public buses here are called micros. they are numbered but there are hundreds of them so you have to figure out which one to take based on the roads/regions listed on signs on the sides of the micros. there aren't really official stops... you kind of have to board and disembark by making yourself seen or heard. a bit indian-style, in that sense - on-the-fly...)

so we spent the rest of the day getting lost, essentially. we would get on a random micro, sit and watch the city go by for 10-15 minutes, get off at an arbitrary point, walk around a bit, board another random micro, and so on. the 'game' lasted for close to 5 hours, during which we traversed most every region on the santiago map, ended up walking through this amazing, endless junk-market/street fair in the farther stretches of the poor, run-down ghettos of the south-west part of the city (where cristobol almost bought a SWORD for about 6 dollars, incredibly), wandering around abandoned trains in the back of the central station, and exploring an amusement park by nite just after its closing time. all of this, of course, was interspersed with honest spanglish conversation about themes ranging from faith to love to jazz music, which cristobol calls "life"... a nearly perfect few hours, all in all.

yesterday i was lucky enough to get a tour of an entirely different santiago by pato, whose name turns out to be a very common nickname for 'patricio.' though i believe 'pato' has connotations of homosexuality in some parts of central america... like 'fairy' maybe? anyway. irrelevant. over lunch, pato (who speaks no english but spouts very clear and intelligible spanish) waxed poetic on popular culture and general political themes in the u.s. and chile, touching on everything from the metallica-napster debate to chilean telenovelas, from michael jordan to futbol, from wwf wrestlers to high schools in santiago. and (almost predicatably by now!) he threw in a bit of requisite hatin' on peruvians and bolivians. it was during all of this that i realized that pato and i have absolutely common. but no matter... he's a sweetheart, and ended up driving me around the weird suburban expanses of north-eastern santiago all afternoon and giving me quite the 'tour guide' narration of this part of the city, chile, and his life. NE santiago is in every way like the worst of southern california as i know it - full of comical malls and chain stores so enormous that they look like inflated, oversized toys; 'edwards scissorhands'-style track houses and cookie-cutter condos, walled-off mansions on eerily sterile streets, and endless, endless construction projects in every directions. the 'burbuja de los cuicos,' as pato put it (bubble of the snobs), was made even more surreal by the fact that it was entirely deserted... i'd wager that 80% of its residents are off at the 'shore' on their summer holidays, and thus the neighborhoods were completely vacant except for an occasional mapuche maid we spotted trekking down the blazing, sun-drenched hills to the bus stations below. it's a shame, all of it - that santiago has to grow in this awful manner into the foothills of the mountains... a region of such breathtaking physical beauty. to top it all off, the rio mapuche (river) that runs right below this region is literally overflowing with mountains of trash. yuck. i'd take the ghettos cristobol and i landed up in on sunday any day over the ugly developments pato showed me. but i will admit that the view from way up in the foothills was amazing.

a fun nite with friends yesterday spilled almost seamlessly into school this morning, when i decided that i want to supplement my group classes with a few days of private lessons for my last week and a half in santiago. i know all the rules of the language now, and verb tenses and grammatic rules are starting to click together immediately and fluidly in my head - i no longer have to strain when i search for the correct conjugation or participle form to fit words together, so each sentence is no longer some hellish puzzle my brain has to assemble. hopefully i'll be able to do some newspaper reading and discuss my findings with my tutor, or something like that.

lately i've been appreciating people a lot. yes, that is one of the most vague statements that one could possibly make, but i mean it. i've met some wonderful folks down here, and i can't help but wish i could replicate the openness and freeness of interpersonal communication that occurs in the travel context when i'm back home in one place. i guess it helps when most of the people i come in contact with every day are such exceptional individuals. take cool candy, the indie-hippie seattle princess who smoked voraciously yet was some kind of lean mean running machine and carried around the most amazing handbag she sewed together out of her favorite pair of corduroy pants that irreparably ripped after 8 years of wear. or the german giant, who i have written of earlier. or andryn, the quiet but hard-thinking coloradoan who has the exact same twisted sense of humor as me. or maria, the older irish woman who is trying to convince me to go on an 8-hr hike with her this weekend on some mystery mountain outside of valpairaiso to retrace the footsteps of darwin on some trail where he apparently walked back in the day. or earnest eric, who in his semi-clueless fiercely independent boho way demands respect, especially after he got caught up in a mob of angry chileans near his house on sunday after a tense futbol match and could smile about it even after being stomped on and beat up. and california kristina, who plans to head to the south of chile in a few weeks to spend over a month sleeping in a barn and doing hard labor for free on an organic farm. and all the chileans who've been so friendly.

but, alas, i know that what makes these relationships so perfect is the fact that they are ephemeral, and we're all just enjoying each others' company for a few days before we march away in whatever directions our lives take us.
sigh. how sentimental.

have i written enough for now? i should think so. i'm truly becoming a blogaholic.


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