Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Contrary to popular belief, Chileans do not have a monopoly on distinctive slang. I was reminded of this yesterday, when I stepped out of the shower and exclaimed, "Achachay!"

Had a Chilean overheard me, she may have assumed I had stepped on a nail or reached some kind of psychological breaking point. A Quitenian, on the other hand, would have known I was freezing. I can't count the number of times I've had to explain myself in Chile after sputtering an "Achachay!".

Herein lies the curse -- and the blessing -- of the globetrotter. After spending months adjusting your vocabulary to the local dialect, you find yourself transplanted somewhere where people have absolutely no idea what the hell you're talking about. Frustrating? Yes. But also demonstrative of the richness and diversity of language.

Without further ado, I present a list of Andean Ecuadorian slang words that I miss:

Achachay! - Brrr!
Llucho - Naked
Chuchaqui - Hung over
Huasipichai - Housewarming party
Fffff - Quito's version of "po," used in many of the same contexts

For example:

“¿Tienes frío?”
“Sífffff. Quedé llucho y chuchaqui después del huasipichai.”


“Are you cold?”
“Yeah. I ended up naked and hung over after the housewarming party.”

In Chilean:

(Some sound to indicate being cold)
"¿Tay con frío?"
"Sí po. Quedé en pelota y con caña después del carrete de inauguración."

Tomato and tomahto, right?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Free Santiago en 100 Palabras books!

Free Santiago en 100 Palabras books are being given away at select Metro stations today until 5 p.m.! All the info is available here.

I hardly saw this publicized anywhere, which is why I'm just posting about it now. Maybe the Metro powers that be wanted to avoid a mob scene like the one I found myself in the middle of the last time I went to get one of these books.

I picked up my book at Los Heroes this afternoon. Then I went to a beauty parlor where a toy poodle named Simba growled at me and a 60-year-old woman in curlers called someone on her cell phone to announce she was getting "pimped."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Shoeless Crusader

There's a Santiago city bus that rolls to the end of its route a block from my house. I greet the driver whenever I get on to go home late at night, knowing that it will probably be just him and me by the time the bus sighs to a stop at the end of the line.

Earlier this month, I climbed on board at about midnight, said hi to the driver and settled in for the ride home. As we approached the home stretch, I realized that the only other remaining passenger was a middle-aged man in stocking feet gesturing to an invisible antagonist seated across from him. I began to feel uneasy at the prospect of being dropped off on a dark corner with a guy so very likely under the influence of something and was considering asking the bus driver's assistant to walk me to my door.

Meanwhile, the shoeless man was becoming disconcerted himself, apparently having discovered that the bus was not taking him where he wanted to go. He shouted up to the driver to ask if the route included his destination.

It was after the assistant told him it didn't that the real excitement began. When the shoeless man demanded to know why he hadn't been told, the assistant retorted that the route was on the sign in the front window. The confrontation that ensued involved the assistant brandishing said sign and Mr. Stocking Feet jumping the turnstile and making menacingly for the front. Luckily for the assistant, a group of cops were standing on the corner just outside, and the driver had only to open the door and deliver the wayward passenger into their waiting arms. As we rolled away down the street, I saw the ousted man pointing to his feet, as if protesting, "But Officer, I lost my shoes!"

This and other experiences have led me to believe that being a Transantiago driver is about as thankless a job as one can get. It's not uncommon to witness passengers -- and sober ones at that -- hurling their accumulated frustrations at whatever chofer happens to be behind the wheel. They press the stop button repeatedly, shout and bang on the side of the bus if the driver refuses to let them off between stops. I've seen more than one driver insulted simply for sticking to the rules of his or her job.

When a passenger's latent rage detonates, the shrapnel doesn't just fly up toward the steering wheel. Inter-passenger abuse usually takes the subtle and even subconscious form of pushing and territoriality. Sometimes, though, it's more patent, such as the time a passenger chewed me out for being in his way as he got off the Metro, apparently not having noticed that I was struggling to stay on my feet as a human tidal wave bore down on me on its way for the doors.

It would be easy to claim that the frustrations of public transportation tend to bring out the worst in people. But I've also seen them bring out the best. Passengers are quick to offer their seats to pregnant women, the elderly and people with disabilities. I've had an elderly woman help hoist me into a seat on the bus and have had numerous people offer to carry my bag in their laps. One morning, the woman sitting across from me noticed I was struggling to keep my eyes open and taught me a Metro-friendly relaxation technique involving deep breathing and curling my toes. And as I may or may not have mentioned on this blog before, I still hang out with a friend I met on a Santiago bus more than four years ago.

So while tensions can boil over when dozens of strangers pack themselves into a sardine tin on wheels, the door is open for kindness as well. I sometimes feel a strange solidarity with the people in my Metro car, as if we would all have each other's backs if someone from another wagon decided to take us on. After all, we're all in this together.

Oh, and speaking of the guy with no shoes, I once saw a young, almost certainly foreign woman get on the bus completely barefoot. I would not have wanted to be the person who did her next pedicure.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Taxes for drunkards

I'm not a big partier. Like everyone, though, I've had my moments. One of the most ignominious of these involved dancing on a table at a party my sophomore year in college and proceeding to rant (in Spanish) to everyone in the bathroom line about how racist the Mercator projection is. Not a high point.

It's been a while since I've danced on a table. That hasn't stopped me from being a magnet for drunken tirades here in Chile, though. Just the other night, a stranger at a bar treated me to a monologue on what he called the vulgarity of the Chilean bourgeoisie. He only shut up when I turned to the Chilean friend I had come with and entreated him not so quietly not to abandon me. Unfortunately, I hadn't had anyone to rescue me a few months earlier, when a Chilean guy cornered me at a party and enlightened me for 20 minutes on the intricacies of the Chilean taxation system.

I have a theory that being foreign makes one a particularly attractive stop on inebriated lecture circuits. If everybody finds what you have to say fascinating -- as drunk people tend to believe -- it must be even more enthralling to the newcomer who obviously came to this party to be educated by you.

When I described my theory to V. (for those new to this blog, a friend who moved from Bulgaria to Chile as a child), he laughed knowingly and mused that once you've been in Chile long enough, your knowledge or experience is eventually bound to contradict, in places, that of your tipsy professor. Since I have a bit of a pride problem, this may be what makes these booze-fueled harangues so frustrating for me.

So here's my message for all Chileans with something to say: I want to learn from you. I know you have a lot to teach me about your country. But please, for the love of beef-and-onion empanadas, do it when you're sober. If not, I will retaliate. Ever heard of the Mercator projection?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Good Friday on the West Side

Gruta de Lourdes, Quinta Normal

Entrance to Parque Quinta Normal, Santiago Centro

Barrio Yungay, Santiago Centro

Street fish market, Barrio Yungay, Santiago Centro

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Digital atrophy

Ever since I can remember, I've felt an inexplicable attraction to all things dilapidated. When my family and I used to drive from Minneapolis to my grandmother's lake house in Michigan every summer, I would press my nose to the window and drink in the abandoned grain elevators and tipping silos that filed past outside. I anxiously awaited stepping onto the grungy dock where we boarded the overnight ferry that would shuttle us across Lake Michigan.

Obviously, decay is symptomatic of economic circumstances that are far from enchanting. However, something about structures marked by the passage of time and the corrosion of glory gives me chills.

A perfect example of such a building is the abandoned Machasa textile factory in southwestern Santiago Centro's San Eugenio neighborhood. Since drowning during Chile's plunge into the free market, this once emblematic establishment -- which I'm pretty sure employs a number of the characters of Antonio Skármeta's novel Soñé que la nieve ardía -- has been overtaken by weeds and rust.

Meaning, of course, that it's the perfect place to take photos. Last weekend, I circled the perimeter of the giant complex, searching for a gap in the fence or an open gate. After finding nothing, I approached a guard, connivingly conscious that gringas frequently can charm their way into exceptions to rules. He was just about to let me in when his stern-looking coworker emerged from the guard hut and dashed my hopes.

Oh, well. The exterior of the building is derelict enough to be more than photo-worthy. And as for shooting inside one day, let's just say the fence isn't that high.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Window to the world

I have something of an obsession with windows in Santiago. First and foremost, I like looking through them. Even when they're closed, I find that curtains, shutters and stickers can provide a glimpse into the lives of those behind the glass. I also consider windows fascinating in and of themselves because they frame people's view of the outside world.

While wandering around with my camera this afternoon, I came across this particularly eye-catching window in southwestern Santiago Centro's San Eugenio neighborhood:

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Book club logistics

It looks like we have enough interested people to get the book club idea off the ground! Those of us who live in or close to Santiago can have monthly meetings (with refreshments, of course), and those who want to participate from afar can read along with us and blog about the book.

So here's my question: How should we go about it?

One way to start would be for us all to get together to look through the books we already have and decide on which one to read. We could then find an inexpensive way to, um, procure copies of that book for everyone.

Another option would be for everyone to contribute suggestions, either in the comments or to the e-mail I've posted in the "About Me" section of this blog, and for me to make an online poll and have everyone do the virtual voting thing. We could then figure out among ourselves how everyone could get a copy of whichever book came out on top.

What do you think? Can anyone think of another way to do this?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Wedding bells

At this time last year, I was engaged to a Chilean named Oscar. We had met a scant three months earlier, but we were very much in love and knew we were making the right decision. We were planning our wedding for the Chilean spring.

At least that's what my uncle thought.

See, April Fools Day also happens to be my aunt's birthday. As I finished typing her birthday e-mail, I decided to add a little April Fools prank. Hence, the birth of Oscar. Since I figured it would be anything but funny to lead my entire family to believe I was getting married to someone I had just started dating, I added "April Fools!" at the bottom of the e-mail.

Apparently, my uncle didn't get that far when he was checking his and my aunt's e-mail later that day. He -- usually a relatively stoic guy -- sent my mom a frantic e-mail with multiple exclamation points in the subject line and even more disbelieving question marks in the main text.

My mom, in turn, forwarded his e-mail to me to make sure I was kidding. My uncle, in the meantime, had left on a business trip and was unable to be reached by phone.

Oh, goodness.

The funny part is that my aunt, the person for whom the prank was intended, reacted to my nuptial news the way one intends people to react to April Fools jokes: with a few moments of shock quickly followed by the realization that she had been had.

I guess this just goes to show that one should exercise caution when pulling pranks from afar.

On a completely unrelated note, I'm excited about the enthusiastic reaction to the book club idea. Let's do it! Logistical information to come.