Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Mysteries of Santiago

I recently found a copy of Michael Chabon's The Mysteries of Pittsburgh at The Strand in New York City. In the book, a motley group of eccentric new friends help the protagonist, the Washingtonian Art, discover the hidden charms of his adoptive city. Even though Art has spent four years studying in Pittsburgh, he begins his final summer in the city oblivious to such marvels as the mysterious Lost Neighborhood and the Cloud Factory, whose smokestack hiccups perfect white puffs into the sky. Art begins to see this city with different eyes: At one point, as he looks out over the city from his front steps, "[f]our years of familiarity and unconcern with Pittsburgh turned suddenly to arousal and love, and I hugged myself."

Like Art's, my days in my adoptive city are numbered. I generally don't like to post about things on my blog until they're set in stone, but suffice it to say that within a few months, it's very likely that I will be posting from another hemisphere. As evidenced by my temporary disappearance from the blogging world, I've recently spent some time outside of Chile, part of which was spent negotiating the terms of my departure from this long, skinny land.

I have, as one might expect, mixed emotions about this. I'm very excited about beginning This Next Stage in My Life but very sad to be leaving the country I've called home for the past two and a half years (three and a half, if you count my junior year abroad). Being the nostalgic, sentimental person that I am, I'm prepared for this to involve no small amount of blubbering and an even less small amount of wistfully staring off into space. While I know that a certain degree of melancholy is inevitable, though, I don't want to spend my remaining time Chile steeped in the type of funk that overcame me during the final days of my study abroad experience, when I was so anguished that my hair literally started falling out.

I would rather have a last hurrah similar to Art's and spend the next few months discovering all the Mysteries of Santiago that the hulking girth of work, study, and routine have elbowed outside of my realm of vision.

I'm already privy to a few of these mysteries. I know, for example, that one can purchase delicious mote con huesillo at the south entrance to Parque Quinta Normal. I know that southwestern Santiago Centro is dotted with abandoned factories which, although they don't produce clouds, exercise a silent and oxidized draw of their own. I've eaten lunch at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that requires a password and purchased used paperbacks at hole-in-the-wall shops populated by dusty towers of books and booksellers who know their contents like they know the lines on their palms. I know where to send an international fax on a Sunday afternoon and know that there's nothing like a steaming sopaipilla from a street cart at the end of a rough day...even if I invariably get the hiccups after gobbling it down. I know that if the city falls silent at just the right time, you can hear the deliciously spooky whistle of a late-night train leaving Estacion Central.

I'm confident that everyone who has lived in this city has his or her own collection of mysteries. So, as someone who wants to make the most of her remaining time here, I'm inviting you to share them, either in the comments or in a post of your own. What special, surprising or enigmatic discoveries have you made in Santiago? Between us, I'm sure we have more than enough to write a book.


dregonzrob said...

Great post. I'm eager to read about your findings and what you see in the final months living here in Santiago. I'd love to learn about this city's mysterious because right now Chile is such a reality for me, I might take a while to find them on my own.

Anonymous said...

Here's an open secret that every taxi driver who works nights in downtown Santiago knows: if you want an inexpensive, tasty, and filling meal that will leave you satisfied and put a smile on your face, you have to go to the little old egg sandwich-maker lady.

One of the last surviving street vendor of late night downtown Santiago, she's seen it all in this town. Her petite frame sits inconspicuously in the corner of Alameda and xxxx, a basket by her side, where the goodies are kept hot and ready for consumption.

The ritual continues throughout the night: a taxi stops, the driver waves at her, she swiftly walks towards the car door, the usual pleasantries are exchanged, goods and monies are transferred, the purchase completes and the car is on its way. She returns to her spot until the next customer comes around.

The police have conducted many raids in the area, forcing nearly all of the late night street vendors to move away, but she remains, active as ever. Have the cops given her a free pass on account of her advanced age and her reputation? Perhaps, or maybe she's just too skillful for them. Whatever the reasons for her endurance, cab drivers all around are thankful this true late night institution has managed to survive.

Margaret said...

Wow, Anonymous! I want a sandwich right now! And I don't even like egg sandwiches!
I love this idea... Chile in general and Santiago in particular are places filled with little secret corners just waiting to be discovered... good luck in your search! I'll be working on some good ones for you!

Leigh said...

I didn't know that, Anonymous! I'll keep it in mind the next time I'm starving in the Centro at 2 a.m.

Anonymous said...

Have you read Santiago Bizarro?

Leigh said...

Santiago Bizarro's pretty awesome. I wish they would publish an updated edition!