Friday, October 29, 2010

Becoming an anecdote

Kyle's recent post about her dance party of one reminded me of one of my favorite moments from the nearly four years I lived in Santiago. (The biggest excitement I've had here in New York over the past several days has been trying out a new reading room in the library, so unfortunately, you're stuck with nostalgia this time around.)

I'm guessing that everyone who's ever lived in a city with a subway system has a favorite station. It might be the station closest to your apartment, the one with the prettiest tiles on the walls, the one where you and your significant other met up before your first date or the one where peoplewatching is at its most fascinating. Within the Santiago Metro system, there are a few stations particularly close to my heart. One of them falls at a point on the line where the track travels above ground.

A good friend of mine lives right next to the station and can see onto the platform from his bedroom window. After visiting him during one of my last weeks in Santiago, I crossed the street, swiped through the Metro turnstile and, once I was down on the platform, looked up to his window and, per tradition, waved goodbye.

However, a simple wave didn't seem to suffice this time around. I was leaving Santiago in a few short weeks, making this one of the last times I would set foot in my favorite Metro station. Plus, there was a really good song playing on my iPod. I was going to go out with a bang.

It started with a general rock-out: hips swaying, hands in the air. Then came the robot, the Egyptian and Saturday Night Fever. Across the street, my friend was breaking it down just as hard in his bedroom window, but very few of the waiting passengers who were casting curious glances my way could see him; to them, I was just a crazy, vaguely foreign-looking woman who apparently believed she'd stumbled into the world's most poorly choreographed iPod commercial.

I was disappointed when the train pulled up and cut our dance party short, but I rolled away satisfied that I now had yet another reason to love my favorite station. It had become -- and forever will remain -- the site of the most badass dance party the Santiago Metro has ever seen.

Around the same time, I etched my initials into a square of wet cement. Unfortunately, "wet" in this case meant "half dry," so the result wasn't nearly as aesthetically pleasing as I'd hoped. Still, I relished the idea of leaving a permanent mark on the city that had left such an important mark on me. My interest in nostalgic vandalism had actually been sparked a few years earlier, when I'd accidentally planted my foot square in the middle of a patch of wet cement on a sidewalk in Santiago's Recoleta neighborhood; it was my first taste of the thrill of altering the urban landscape. (I've been back to the area many times since but was never able to identify the imprint of the bottom of my flip-flop. I choose to believe it's because I haven't looked hard enough and not because they smoothed the cement over after I marred it.)

When I think about it now, though, doing the robot in a Metro station may be an even more effective way of accomplishing urban immortality. Cement can be recast, but memories of people acting like lunatics in public last a long time. If even just one of my dance party witnesses now associates that Metro station with spontaneous rug-cutting, I've done my job. I've done it even better if my friend and I contributed to the belief that the Metro and public spaces like it are just as open to the absurd as to the everyday.

In class, we've been giving presentations that are supposed to end with discussion questions, and I've gotten into the habit. Plus, I'm genuinely interested in your answers to the following: What's your favorite subway station and why? (I can't name mine here because I don't want the world -- I'm probably overestimating my readership just slightly -- to know exactly where to stand in order to see into my friend's bedroom.) Where's the strangest place you've ever had a dance party? Do you feel that being foreign (if you live in a place where you are) makes you more or less inhibited about going nuts in public? Have you ever tried to leave your mark on a city or place, through vandalism, vogueing or otherwise?

4 comments:

Kyle said...

"It had become -- and forever will remain -- the site of the most badass dance party the Santiago Metro has ever seen."

I take that as a challenge.

And me being uninhibited doesn't have anything to do with how willing I am too embarrass myself in public. In fact, I'd take a gander that for most people who live abroad, they're already open to public humiliation -- that's why they're living abroad and learning a new language :)

Sometimes I'm willing to be more aggressive in customer service moments and my behavior will be different because I'm a foreigner and I figure, "Eh. They think I'm a crazy gringa anyway." But I'd be just as willing to dance in a metro station in NYC as I would in Chile.

Leigh said...

Haha, it is a challenge, then! I hope Seba captures your next dance on video!

I also feel that I'm more aggressive in Spanish sometimes. One reason might be that I feel I need to be: the foreigner's (I think the foreign woman's, especially) classic fear, legitimate or not, of being taken advantage of or not being taken seriously. Also, the fact that I almost certainly don't pick up on all the subtleties of communication in Spanish -- and the fact that whoever's listening to me probably knows it -- make me feel freer to just come out and say what I want how I want. Like you said, they probably think I'm crazy anyway.

I haven't danced in the NYC subway yet, but I hope to remedy that at some point!

Julie said...

I danced at Starbucks today, does that count?

Jamie said...

Man, I wish I had a favorite subway/metro stop. When I was in Santiago I used to meet friends a lot at Los Heroes. Baquedano sticks out because I had to change trains there every day.

The only one that I think might come close is Carlos Valdovinos. That name will never leave my mind because it was the stop I had to memorize and find in an extremely inebriated state... coming from Baquedano, but by bus cause it was late at night, to go to the carrete of a person I had JUST MET THE DAY BEFORE. Yes, study abroad does encourage dangerous and stupid behavior. Still one of my funnest stories to tell.