Friday, May 29, 2009

Mr. Darcy on the Metro

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a handsome man wearing a top hat on the Santiago subway, must be in want of a gringa to fall in love with him. And so it transpired yesterday, when I saw Mr. Darcy on the Metro.

I had just stepped into my carriage (subway car) when I noticed him sitting staidly in an orange plastic seat. There was nothing exceptional about his clothing -- except for the Austenesque top hat that towered over the balding heads of the two men flanking him.

Handsome, handsomely sedate and wearing a handsome top hat. This was none other than Mr. Darcy.

Looking back, there were a number of ways I could have started a conversation, including, "Hey, I like your hat" (the witty banter would have come later). Nevertheless, I succumbed to shyness and hurried away to the nearest handrail.

How despicably I have acted, Jane. And I don't just regret it because he was cute. It takes a brave spirit to wear a top hat in a city where people tend to stare at the outlandishly dressed.

So if you see a guy walking around Santiago in a top hat, give him my e-mail, please.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Jesus on rye

Remember Navy Jesus One? If so, it may interest you to know that I've finally learned what they sell: sandwiches and salads.

That's right. It's a deli called Navy Jesus One. Oh, and they deliver. Perhaps the placing of an order would sound something like this:

"Hello, I'd like to place an order for delivery."
"Which sandwich would you like?"
"The navy Jesus one."

Mystery solved. But a new question arises: Are the sandwiches made with Communion wafers?

I find it amazing how many businesses here in Chile choose to christen (no pun intended) themselves with incorrect or just plain strange English. The name Navy Jesus One is so delightfully ridiculous that I suspect logic was hardly a concern for whoever thought it up. But you would think someone would check with a native English speaker -- and believe me, they're not hard to find in Santiago -- before naming their clothing store chain Fashion's Park or investing in a fluorescent sign proclaiming "Nigth Club." I know I would consult with a native Spanish speaker before printing a Spanish menu or opening a business with a Spanish name. That way, I would be sure to avoid the fate of the U.S. Mexican restaurant Vicki wrote about in the comments of my Navy Jesus One post.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


People aren´t afraid of me very often. I have a relatively tranquil disposition and a more-than-relatively short body. My weapons arsenal is limited to pepper spray and my vendettas to the administrators of Santiago´s Galpón Victor Jara concert hall (more on that another time).

This week, however, this harmless little gringa got scary. Not by growing several inches or spontaneously developing a penchant for violence. Apparently, all one needs to do to strike fear into the hearts of Chileans is come back from a trip to the United States.

I first knew Chile was suspicious of me when a flight attendant handed me a batch of Chilean customs and immigration forms that included, for the first time, a health questionnaire. As a "traveler arriving from an infected area," I was asked whether I'd experienced sore throat, vomiting, muscle pain or a variety of other symptoms within the past 10 days. Luckily, I was able to check an honest "none of the above" and banish fears of being dragged away by men in hazmat suits.

Upon arriving in Chile, the passengers on my flight filed one by one in front of a thermal camera. Apparently fever free, I continued to immigration, where an official in a surgical mask stamped my passport.

I remained a deadly threat after leaving the airport as well. Upon hearing that I had just returned from a visit home, people take a step back only half-jokingly.

With so many people afraid of me, I've started to become afraid of myself. I feel an inexplicable inner certainty that swine flu is not the way I go. However, that doesn't mean I can't unknowingly infect slews of people who may not be as lucky, right? I've started standing a bit further back when I talk to people and have become paranoid about what I touch. For example, after blowing my nose while teaching yesterday, I spent the rest of the class avoiding touching anything with the hand that had held the tissue.

Now that there have been a handful of swine flu cases confirmed in Chile, I'm afraid of other people too. Yesterday I wore mittens, both because it was cold in the morning and because I didn't want to touch the handrails in the Metro. When someone sneezed at the bus stop, I moved away quickly, forfeiting a coveted spot in the shade. I hold my breath whenever someone coughs or sniffles and immediately grow wary of the puffy-eyed.

Am I being ridiculous? It's been known to happen.

I've heard people theorize that swine flu is part of a worldwide conspiracy to make us afraid of one another while distracting us from real problems that no surgical mask can fend off. If this is true, then congratulations, shadow government. I raise my glass to you with a mittened hand.

(I took this photo at a Labor Day march I'll blog about at some point.)