When my sister and I were (not so) little, we used to watch the Nickelodeon show Hey Arnold! (when we weren't watching Mexican soap operas, that is). In one episode, Arnold resolves to complete every activity on a list that supposedly consitutes a recipe for a perfect Saturday. As one might expect, misadventures and life lessons ensue.
I set out to complete a list of my own this past weekend, when Chile celebrated its independence. As those who have lived here know, saying the Fiestas Patrias are a big deal in Chile is an understatement. And since I never know which September 18 will be my last in Chile, I try to live it up each year. This time around, I had compiled a mental checklist of activities that, in my mind, stood to make this year's Fiestas Patrias memorable:
1. Spend time with friends. OK, kind of an obvious one. Part of what made this round of Fiestas Patrias so enjoyable for me, though, was the fact that I was able to spend it with a wide variety of people: workmates, new friends, old friends, friends I hadn't seen for months, and people I met along the way. The marathonic nature of Chile's September celebrations lends itself to this. This and severe hangovers, which -- luckily -- did not afflict me this year.
2. Eat ungodly amounts of food off a grill. Mission accomplished. Twice.
3. Drink chicha. This sweet alcoholic cider isn't something I would necessarily keep in my fridge year round, but it is just as much a Fiestas Patrias staple as empanadas or meat kabobs. I also had the pleasure of ingesting navegado, which is red wine boiled with sugar and orange slices -- a tasty and efficient way to warm up when the coals under the grill start burning low.
4. Fly a kite. OK, I'll admit it: V. and I didn't actually fly kites in the strict sense of the world. We yanked furiously on their strings in a completely fruitless effort to keep them from nosediving into the ground. Never mind that the seven-year-olds next to us were enjoying some success; we blame lack of wind and faulty kite mechanics.
5. Dance cueca. In all fairness to the cueca, one or both of the previous two words should be in quotes. I know the basic steps and the order in which they come, things I learned on the "Learn to Dance Cueca" DVD a friend sometimes busts out at barbecues. When it comes to dancing with style, however, I'm pretty sure my cueca skills are on par with my kite-flying prowess. Still, if the lights are dim and there are enough people on the dance floor, I dive in. I did so on Friday night at a fonda (public Fiestas Patrias party) in a small (and smoke free -- yay!) bar near downtown Santiago, where two of the four invited bands got heels stomping and handkerchiefs spinning to the beat of Chile's national dance.
If my life were a Nickelodeon cartoon, I would have learned that no list makes for a perfect Fiestas Patrias. In real life, though, I had a pretty damn good time. Tikitikitiiiii!