Monday, February 9, 2009

The Return

My return to Santiago was happy, yet immediately stressful. After a month away, I walked into my apartment and found everything in disorder, while two of my roomates maniacally scrubbed the bathroom and kitchen. I half expected this, knowing beforehand that I would have exactly two days to move all my shit out before turning in the keys.

Some background: I had planned to put the apartment lease in my name upon my return. I love Barrio Brasil, and the apartment was nice yet cheap. Two of my roomates were returning to France, and the other Chilean roomate had been looking for a place to live solo even before I left. However, the corredora asked me for things she never asked my roomate (documents, salary, etc.), so I moved on to Plan B and asked a friend of mine if she would like to search for a place with me upon our return to Chile.

I didn't realize at the time that the corredora's requirements were "conversable," and after asking my concerge if I was "confiable," she was suddenly willing to renegotiate the terms. But I had already made my decision, and I didn't feel like dealing with a corredorra who did business like capricious car salesman (little did I realize at the time that they're ALL like that.) So that was that.

With E.'s help, I crammed all my things into a bodega and moved into a hostal for a week. That was hellish, to say the least. Why?

1. I specifically chose a place with WiFi so I could apartment search on Emol, VivaStreet, etc. However, due to the bizarre connection, I could only access Gmail and Facebook. Wtf??

2. I was reminded of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, the pyramid that lists basic needs at the bottom and thus necessary to achieve more abstract needs, such as love and happiness. Perhaps an exagerrated comparison, but being "homeless" and paying 16 luca a day to keep a roof over my head were preventing me from concentrating on anything else. I was in a constant frenzy.

3. After a month of being apart, E. and I couldn't have sleepovers. =(

4. The apartment searching itself sucked: furiously looking through newspaper ads, online classifieds, and walking around Santiago more than I care to admit while trying to spot "Arriendo" signs and chatting up concerges for info.

So that weekend I took E. and his family up on their offer to stay with them in their home. They live in a smaller town outside Santiago, about 20 minutes away by colectivo. It was only supposed to be for a weekend, but I was convinced to stay another week. I felt like I might be imposing, but they were quite adamant that staying with them was the best (and most economical) option I had until I found a place. "Puedes quedarte aqui y buscar tranquilita!" E.'s mom had told me. Plus, it was like having the immersion/home stay experience I never had! I learned a lot about E.'s family after hours of lunches and once's. E.'s mom made some great food, showing me a thing or two in the kitchen, and was always offering me fruit and tea between meals. His dad even offered to be my "aval" or co-signer, since most apartments that I found require this, and I am eternally grateful.

All in all, staying with E. and his family was a great experience, and by the end of that second week I had a found a place and moved in.

Back in New Orleans for a month

From mid-December until mid-January, I spent a month back in New Orleans (and a few days in Houston) to see my family and catch up with friends over the holidays. I brought back an obscene amount of Alapaca scarves to regalar as souveniers. How was my return to the motherland? Some highlights:

  • Eating some AMAZING Mexican food with Dad on my first night back stateside in Houston: spinach enchiladas with Monterrey Jack cheese, shrimp and crabmeat, complemented by a frozen raspberry margarita and the obligatory chips and queso. Try finding that shit in Santiago.

  • Bringing back some alfahores I found in the Arturo Merino Benítez airport and being greatly disappointed! These decieving cookies were beautifully packaged in a little wooden crate, complete with a "Chile" flag sticker, but do not be fooled if you find yourself on your way home and looking for a last minute souvenier. Very dry and too nutty. Ugh.

  • Being a huge nerd and reading the entire Twilight series during my break at home. I saw the movie too. Being in Santiago during the height of Edward-loves-Bella mania, I saw it as an opportunity to indulge myself in a little U.S. pop culture. So don't judge me. ;)

  • Accompanying Mom on all her daily errands like a good little daughter and patiently enduring all her "This is my daughter...she lives Chile!" comments. But what can I say? I'm lucky she's so proud and supportive.

  • Making some book purchases for E. He's an English pedagogy student and he wanted some classic American novels that would be very expensive here. I bought them for about 2 bucks a pop at a used book store in NOLA. Cha-ching!

  • Getting ridiculously drunk with my best friend from undergrad while dive-bar hopping in New Orleans.

  • Eating and probably gaining at least 5 pounds from the following items: individual boxes of Nerds and Sweet Tarts leftover from Halloween, various Mardi Gras King Cakes, a box of frozen chicken-and-cheese quesadillas that I found in the freezer, and eating out almost every day. I do not regret the oyster poboys.

  • Buying "professional" clothes that fit well and aren't made from 100% polyester. I hit the outlet malls for some work essentials and brought back some black pants, a gray skirt and some button-down shirts.

  • Buying lots of great lingerie from T.J. Maxx. Sorry Falabella, looks like I won't be needing to make an overpriced bra purchase very soon.

  • Reconnecting with my four close girlfriends from high school. No matter how much time passes, we can always get right back into our groove and talk about everything that's going on in our lives.

  • Driving. And initially being scared to do so since it had been close to a year since I had last merged onto a highway.

Playing Catch-Up

It's 4:58 a.m. in Santiago and I just got back from a night in with the ladies. Thanks to my friend Renee, I've been inspired to get back into the swing of this blog. We'll see where it goes.

Let's see...where to begin? Well, I'm back in Chile for another year. I made this decision relatively soon after my initial venture here in February of 2008, and having a pololo, a great network of gringa friends, and a tentative job offer made it even easier to come back.

The following is a series of catch-up posts that will eventually lead up to present-day.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Foodstuffs in Bags

Have you ever opened up a ketchup packet in a screwed-up way? A way that forced you to squeeze the tiny bag from a variety of angles so that the contents could finally be released? And when the ketchup does come out, it's in one big, messy splatter?

Imagine having to deal with that ketchup packet for weeks on end, every time you want to enjoy a nice pancito with jam, perhaps. Or put tomato sauce on your pasta. Or use pretty much any kind of condiment.

Spices, herbs, pasta sauce, Parmesan cheese, every condiment imaginable...all in a queue lining the bottom shelf of my refri. Although this quirk is old news for anyone who has been living here for a bit, I still hold much contempt for this unsightly and inútil method of food storage. While it may not be a uniquely Chilean phenomenon (perhaps commonplace in all of Latin America?), all I know is that I find myself dealing with these offending bags on a daily basis. I hate these bags:

1) Because they are ugly!

2) Because they are messy!

On weekend mornings, I like to make a nice breakfast. Lightly toasted marraqueta bread, palta, Gouda cheese, coffee...all looking splendid with place mats and napkins.

But wait! I seem to have forgotten the jam!

I open the door to the fridge and there it is, Watts Mermelada Mora Sin Azucar, sitting in a pile of its own waste (a.k.a. the excess that has managed to leak out onto the bag itself and the refrigerator shelf.) I reluctantly place it on the table, trying to find the best angle so that it won't fall and spill. I struggle to ignore the crust that has formed around the crude opening and squeeze the jam onto my bread, mumbling obscenities to myself.

"You know, you can transfer it to a jar or something," E. suggests. True. But I never seem to get around to it.

Taking a step back: I know we're used to superfluous packaging in the U.S. Using bags is probably a cheaper and less wasteful option than packaging things into glass jars and elaborate plastic containers.

But where would the fun be without all the petty differences we like to bitch about?

Sunday, August 31, 2008


Since yesterday was the first warm day that we've had for a while here in Santiago, I feel compelled to reminisce on the coldest winter of my life.

Yes, I'm from New Orleans. Yes, it's really hot down (or up?) there. But it gets cold there, too. And I also spent a very cold winter in Dortmund, Germany about three years ago, with satisfactory results. The difference? Indoor heating.

I remember getting excited as a child when it was so cold that I could see my own breath in the frigid, outdoor air. Little did I know that a day would come when this phenomenon would actually occur indoors, as in inside of my heating-free, Santiago apartment in the year 2008.

But just for the sake of irony, let's have a look at what happens during this time of year in my hometown. June, July and August in New Orleans bring a series of summer-related hazards. The extreme heat and humidity will cause your sunglasses to fog up immediately upon leaving your house. By the time you make it to your car, your face, underarms, and backs of your knees are already covered in a thin film of sweat. You blast the air conditioner, hovering your arms above the dashboard in a Superman-like pose while aiming the vents directly at your pits. With a bit of luck, you arrive at your destination without ALL of your makeup melting off or evaporating.

So while this was occurring north of the equator, I was beginning to question those in the know, both Chileans and gringos, on their preferred methods of keeping warm. I took action by making the following purchases:

1) Long wool socks with fun Andean designs on them. These can also double as an economic souvenir for family and friends (unused, of course.) Effective.

2) A guatero, which can be loosely translated to "rubber bottle designed to contain hot water." If there's an English word for this, I wouldn't know. I've never gone camping in cold climates and hopefully never will. Anyway, one takes this into bed with them at night to keep warm. Only somewhat effective and evokes feelings of desperation, seeing as how you can't wrap your entire body around a foot-long rubber container...but you sure as hell can try! However, I find a guatero con uñas to be much more effective...heh heh heh...

3) A down comforter. The polyester comforter, wool blanket and sheets, combined with three layers of clothing, were not enough. Very effective, yet makes getting out of bed in the morning even more tortuous.

I combined these purchases with a series of improvised methods, such as taking my clothes into the bathroom with me during my morning shower so that I could dress amongst the warmth of the steam instead of venturing into the cold depths of the departamento in nothing more than a towel and wet hair.

Eventually the roommates and I caved in and sprang for 4) a kerosene heater. But even then, it was a bitch trying to find the damned parafina. One day E. and I ventured out to get some. One gas station didn't sell it at all, and the second and third were out. The fourth one did have it, thank goodness...but good thing it was before 9 p.m.! Otherwise you're shit out of luck, thanks to a seemingly ineffective method to prevent huffing of said parafina.

I admit my interpretation is a bit exaggerated. But the truth is that it's a good feeling to know that you can survive and thrive outside of your comfort zone. In NOLA, I would crank up the heat with the touch of a digital button at the first hint of a chill. Here my only recourse was layers, and more layers, of clothing. But the experience has made me more mindful of my attitude towards energy: how much I used in the U.S., how much I use here, and how much use is actually necessary.

That's all for now, and here's to hoping the coldest of winter is behind us already.

Weekend update

I like Sundays. They're the days in which I don't feel pressured to do something social or productive. I have complete license to lounge around all day, in a mix of the clothes I've just slept in, padding around in my red slippers that I bought from Santa Isabel.

It's not that I'm completely unproductive. I usually take my time catching up on the news, reading my favorite sex columnist, and getting my pop-culture hate fix. I download the latest of The Daily Show, which never ceases to both inform and entertain. I log onto to see what kinds of shenanigans and scandals are plaguing my city this week. I call Mom on Skype and maybe watch a movie.

This weekend was a good one, mostly spent with my pololo E., roommates and friends. This weekend:

My first expedition to La Vega Central. It's THE fruit and veggie market of Santiago. The produce is cheaper, fresher...but the cost comes at having to make your way through the hoards of santiaguinos and vendors, clamoring about prices and quantities and hastily making their way through the tiny aisles. I can barely deal with regular shopping malls without getting stressed, so needless to say the experience took a lot out of me. But we came away with two stalks of broccoli, one of cauliflower and ton of beets for about US $3.50.

The wild goose-chase for mote con huesillo. Yesterday was one of the first warm days since winter set in a few months back, so after a hectic time at La Vega, E. and I were craving a refreshing mote con huesillo.

Unfortunately, after roaming the centro for about an hour, looking for street vendors and ducking into various cafes, our mission was reluctantly aborted. We compromised on Mega ice cream bars (sooo not the same...) and finally sat down, exhausted, on a bench in Plaza Brasil near my apartment. Poor E. insisted on carrying our heavy load of veggies the entire time, without complaint, even after I offered to help...let's hear it for that famous Chilean chivalry.

Game night. My roommate S. arrived from France with a myriad of card games. I never played many games in the States, but it really is a fun alternative to getting smashed at bars as your main source of recreation. Plus we usually have a few liters of Cristal or a bottle of pisco on the table to share, so it's always a good time.

Last night there was about ten of us: my roommates S. and B., my other roommate Y. and his sister who was visiting from Valparaiso, friends K. and J., P. and F., and of course E. and me. A chill yet entertaining evening!

Other highlights. I talked to E.'s mom on the phone, which was a semi-success (i.e. semi-disaster.) It's incredible how much nerves can affect your comprehension abilities. How can I understand almost everything E., my roommates and students tell me, but have so much trouble in situations when I get nervous? Argh. But basically she wanted to thank me for the basket of goodies from Peru and invite me to lunch soon. My expression of desperation and terror seemed to amuse E., who was 90% giggling and 10% cringing.

Isn't Spanish fun?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Now let's begin...

Hello there! And welcome. This is my blog. In it, I will attempt to document my life here in the great Santiago de Chile.

It's been about six months now, living and working and whatnot, and I've decided it's about time to start recording my experiences here 1) for posterity's sake, and 2) to alleviate the constant guilt I feel for not regularly updating my nearest and dearest on my life down here.

This blog's title refers to one of my favorite things to eat during a leisurely breakfast: toasted marraqueta bread with avocado. I usually mash the palta in a bowl and add a touch of olive oil with a pinch of salt. Top it off with my usual Nescafé au lait (a.k.a. Chile's preferred brand of instant coffee mixed with powdered milk-- it grows on you) and you're ready to conquer whatever this smoggy city may bring your way.

Just yesterday I had real coffee for the first time since...well, since right before I arrived in Santiago I suppose. According to chilenismo folklore, the code for drip coffee as opposed to instant coffee is café café, special emphasis on the first café. I ordered one of these café café's one time, feeling ridiculous by the redundancy of such a phrase, and am quite certain that I was served espresso, NOT coffee.

I've since learned my lesson, that being "When in Rome...," and have come to embrace mis momentos Nescafé. Ha.