A lot of people raise their eyebrows when I tell them where I live. Not because Santiago doesn´t boast a slew of areas with sketchier reputations; it does. Some of the people taken aback by my address even come from them. I think their reaction is simply due to the fact that people don´t expect gringas/os to live in working class neighborhoods like mine, regardless if that´s where our levels of income place us.
Whenever I´m confronted with a cocked eyebrow, I jump to my barrio´s defense by telling the truth: Aside from catcalls, I´ve never been the target of any kind of aggression there. What´s more, there are people who have gone out of their way to be kind to me. If there´s time, I tack on a bit about the neighborhood´s underappreciated historical value.
Not to worry. This isn´t the part where I pontificate about how much more "authentic" my Chilean experience is than that of foreigners who choose to live in wealthier areas. Providencia and Las Condes are in Chile too, after all. However, I do believe that living where I do has brought me in touch, at least in part, with a reality that is both literally and figuratively miles away from the more exclusive corners of this city. Part of this reality: bitchin´ street markets.
Sunday afternoon, I staggered through the door of my house weighed down by bags whose contents included lentils, nail polish, tomatoes, garlic, a purple dish towel and a pot of honey. I had been eyeing some potted plants as well, but bringing them home to join the growing family on my patio would have involved sprouting a few extra arms. One possible solution would have been to purchase the barbecue grill someone had been selling on the curb, stuff everything inside and roll it all home, but I hadn´t been thinking very creatively at the time. Plus, I´m pretty sure we already have a grill.
While strolling between the dozens of stalls while dodging (and envying) gaggles of cotton candy-brandishing children, I felt a surge of neighborhood pride. It seemed as if the whole barrio had turned out to make the week´s purchases, joke with the vendors or just enjoy a Sunday stroll. Say what you will about my neighborhood; you can´t find festive street markets like this everywhere, especially not in areas where people generally have enough money to pay exhorbitant supermarket produce prices.
I was so delighted by the wealth of edible objects that surrounded me that I decided to invite a friend over for dinner. And this, dear reader, is where things get interesting. Stay tuned for Part 2.