Tuesday, December 9 marked a watershed day in the history of my life in Chile. For today, with hundreds of rush hour commuters as witnesses, I was officially inducted into that most exclusive and coveted of Chilean societies: the Bibliometro.
For those unversed in the glories of this hallowed institution, it is a library system located inside Santiago's subway. Actually, it's not exclusive at all: For what currently amounts to less that 5 U.S. dollars per year, anyone can sign up and check out books to his or her heart's content -- and all without having to see daylight.
Well, not everyone. Having always been intrigued by the tome-filled Bibliometro huts clinging to the walls of major Metro stations -- and more than a little envious of the people who clustered around the counters and retreated examining their yellow-paged selections -- I decided a number of months ago that it was time to join the club. With a bounce in my step and a list of titles in my head, I approached one of the counters and asked to sign up.
Was I a legal resident?, the attendent asked.
Well, no, but I wanted to be one. And I had a valid tourist visa. And a pure heart.
Not good enough, apparently. Not only did I need a carnet de identidad -- a Chilean identity card -- but I had to provide proof of address.
I put up a fight for awhile, trying to charm -- and then beg -- the attendant into accepting me as one of her own. Eventually, though, I came to terms with the fact that I would have to fight this battle elsewhere.
With my elbows propped on the Bibliometro counter, I racked my brain for ways to trick the system. Not to lie exactly, but to somehow skip over the necessity to be truthful. After all, I just wanted to read. Wasn't it unjust for such a basic right to be limited to the documented?
It occurred to me that all hope might not be lost. Four days before I left Chile the first time around, a teenage girl stole my wallet at a bus terminal in Puerto Montt. She got about 20 dollars out of it, and I got a copy of the police report I filed -- with my identity card number on it.
The day after my Bibliometro defeat, I headed to the police station to get a replacement copy of the report I'd long since misplaced. I clung to the hope that maybe, just maybe, the powers that be at Bibliometro wouldn't notice that the carnet mentioned in the report had been lost more than three years before. Or that if they did, the fact that I had once been a legal resident would be enough.
As I walked away from the police station with the report in my hands, it occurred to me that if I was going to go to all this trouble anyway, I might as well get off my ass and apply for a visa. Hence, it is thanks to Bibliometro that I am now a card-carrying legal resident of the Republic of Chile.
With my shiny new carnet and stamped address certificate in hand, I strode proudly up to the Bibliometro counter this afternoon and took my place in the computer database. I am now officially authorized to borrow books underground -- and I have another shiny new card to prove it.