On Friday night I stayed out late and slept poorly. I woke up Saturday morning restless and angry at the world -- angry at Chile, specifically.
I was angry at Chile because no one seems to respect the sleeping. Because Santiago is so hot in the summer. Because the giant Easter candy displays in supermarkets include little else besides row after row of chocolate eggs that are all virtually the same and aren't even that good.
I realize I really should have been angry at myself for having been too cheap to buy decent rum the night before. At the time, however, I was convinced that Chile was personally and intentionally responsible for all my woes. I doubt there are expats who haven't had days like this.
My foul mood had sweetened very little by the time I set out to run my errand for the day: buying a St. Patrick's Day costume. I headed to Calle Meiggs, just east of the Estacion Central train station. A lot of people say this crowded capillary of discount micro-commerce is the perfect place to get pickpocketed. I say it's the perfect place to pick up all the multi-colored novelty items you never knew you needed.
I stepped into one of the handful of costume and party shops on the block and was greeted enthusiastically by a college-aged woman with pastel stars and hearts painted on her cheeks. Another woman, also with a painted face, emerged from the shadows and welcomed me cheerily as well. I wasn't sure which one of them to address when I asked them, stupidly, if they sold face paint.
They pointed me to a staircase at the back of the store. As I walked past rows of streamers and party hats, I was met with smiles from a Chilean Snow White and a bevy of additional fairytale characters.
As I descended the stairs, which were lined with streamers and Halloween masks, I wondered fleetingly how wise I had been to let a bunch of adults dressed up in party costumes lure me into a basement. The feeling passed when I emerged into what appeared to be the hat, mask and wig room, where a king and a woman with alien antennas helped me pick out green face paint, a green plastic bowler and a pair of sparkly green sunglasses. We talked about St. Patrick's Day, and I asked them if they had fun at their jobs. They said they did when the clients danced.
The costume shop staff made an impression on me that went far beyond their goofy costumes. Not only were they being friendly and helpful in a city that is not necessarily known for chipper customer service, but they seemed to genuinely enjoy selling sparkly wigs in a dank basement next to the train station. Maybe that was why the tiny place was so noticeably overstaffed.
Of course, I know next to nothing about the reality of the costume shop. Maybe the staff are only so perky because they get paid on commission. Maybe their boss is a tyrant. Maybe it's all a drug front. Somehow, though, I doubt it. While I'd been moping around all day, these people had been painting each others' faces and trying to get their customers to dance.
I left the costume shop in such a good mood that I wore my glittery, heart-shaped green sunglasses all the way to V.'s house, where we painted our faces before heading off to a St. Patrick's Day celebration at a bar. Yes, there are things about Chile that bother me. But this country -- and this city, specifically -- is full of spirit-lifting experiences tucked away in the most unlikely places.
If you want to read more about Chile redeeming itself in the eyes of a gringa, check out Kyle's recent post.