I’ve been wondering recently about my relative lack of updating, and I think I’ve traced the issue. It’s certainly not for lack of things to write about, rather I’m accumulating a laundry list of topics that I really should mention, to the point that it would take the rest of my Chilean experiment just to describe everything that’s happened so far. I’ve yet to describe Peru or its alpacas, or La Serena and it’s penguins, or any number of things in Santiago that are worth at least a second look, if not a third or fifth.
Still, I think that part of it is just that I didn’t have that itch, that nagging necessity to write, the “ganas de escribir,” if you will, that I had like crazy for the first few months of my trip, and I believe that I can blame that entirely on my iPod. That’s right, music and audiobooks. I’ve been listening like mad to everything I can find, from Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, by Mark Twain, to The Conscience of a Liberal by Nobel laureate Paul Krugman. My podcast subscriptions regularly provide me with hours upon hours of history lessons, political analysis, introspective storytelling, or side-splitting comedy. I love listening to things while I walk, but it blocks out my own thoughts, and I decided that it was time to take a break.
That said, the last few days have been some of the most interesting and fulfilling that I’ve had in Santiago, not because of crazy trips or new toys. Just ’cause.
I left work yesterday and walked across the river directly outside the office, and nearly stumbled upon two jugglers performing a show in front of the Bellas Artes museum, with a large crowd gathered in front of them on the museum steps. They had a great act, and I watched until the show ended, laughing when the crowd laughed, yelling when they yelled, and drinking in the public spectacle.
But that wasn’t all. I took five steps away from the museum and saw a strange man standing in the middle of a six-lane road, his suitcase sitting in the center divider as he wandered back and forth across the lanes, stopping traffic and bugging drivers for spare change. But we quickly realized that his man was not mentally challenged (as far as we could tell), or drunk, or homeless. He was a mime. Also, given the end of the juggling show, a sizable crowd started to form as he ran around, doing his mime stuff and getting a large number of laughs from what I can honestly say is probably the biggest crowd to ever witness a mime show.
I tore myself away after a bit to continue my trek, a walk to my friends’ apartment that was meandering by design, walking in the general direction but allowing myself to be distracted by the slightest thing, and distracted I was. I went to a Chinese restaurant and bought chaufan (fried rice) for 800 pesos, and wandered Plaza de Armas, stopping to watch a dance performance of the cueca – the Chilean national dance – a stand-up comic, admire some art, and buy some random kitchy stuff to fill my shelves and remind me of Chile.
Sunday was equally random, with my friend and I going to the park at Quinta Normal to play tennis, because I’d heard that they had free courts to play, though my neighbor didn’t know where they were in the park. No problem, I said, how big could it be?
Well, Quinta Normal has a tremendously large, beautiful park with every imaginable park feature one could imagine. We walked around the park, past the lake with rentable boats, past the train museum, past the countless soccer fields and running tracks, past the dozens and dozens of couples making out on the grass, and after about an hour and a half of walking we found the tennis courts… 5 minutes before they closed. With that a bust, we decided to wander aimlessly and happened upon a cultural center with a performance starting in 10 minutes, for free.
We went in and sat down, suddenly aware that we were dressed for a tennis game in what would be an outdoor performance, the an unseasonably cold spell in downtown Santiago. But as we shivered our way through, it turned out to be a really good play, if a bit gory. It was a performance of Shakespeare’s Titus, which I did not know the story of, and though I followed it pretty well in its Spanish, futuristic gun-wielding adaptation, I was glad to go back to Wikipedia afterward and read the story line to figure out what I’d missed.
To cap it off, I think today was the best of all. I finished up work around 5:30 and hung out in the office, taking advantage of free wifi to Skype call my friend for his birthday. He and I had been very close in high school after not really knowing each other very well when we were younger, and our contact seemed to drop off almost entirely as soon as we went to college, me to UC Santa Cruz and him to UCLA. And while we’d randomly chatted a few times throughout the years, this was the first time we really got a chance to catch up in quite some time, talking about our lives, where we’d gone and did in the past four years, our hopes and fears, and more than I had imagined one could fit into the 25-ish minutes we talked before Skype cut us off.
Afterward I walked to the nearby park and plopped down on a bench, a cup of coffee in one hand and an apple in another, book stuck under my arm and a chocolate bar hanging out of my pocket. I sat down and read, and read and read, stopping only to leave the bench and nestle up between the overgrown roots of an old tree, and didn’t stop until forced to by my inability to see the pages as the sun set.
I used to love reading. I can almost remember far enough back, back before I was hooked on TV and 24/7 Internet, when I would actually select reading as the #1 thing that I wanted to do. That of course faded, and my gargoyle status on reinforced with the sudden onslaught of college readings and responsibilities that made me want nothing more than to spend my free time away from anything that would remind me of “work.” Boy, how I’ve missed out.
In Peru I finished a book called Stolen Season, which I loved, which documented an LA Times reporter’s journey throughout the country as he visited minor leagues all around. Not only did this book strike my fancy as the kind of thing I’d like to write – that is, a themed book that concentrates on people and their societies – but it demonstrated that when I really sit down and read something, it actually goes by pretty quickly. Since then I blitzed through Obama’s Dreams From My Father, and just borrowed Marley and Me from the Santiago Times office, where there are several books available for whoever wants to pick them up.
Though I didn’t succeed in my goal of 100 pages (only got to page 198 after two days), I’m really starting to see the appeal of this whole “reading” thing. Though I had my iPod playing Rolling Stones softly in my ear for a lot of the afternoon, I decided that I’d try to go Noises Off for the rest, and drank in the sounds of the park as I continued reading. At one point a man sat a hundred yards away and began playing his guitar, and I was considering getting up to move closer to him as he left.
I continued with my ears free of distraction for my walk home, and chatted with a street vendor that I often walk by a few blocks from my apartment. John, or Enrique, as he keeps changing his name, makes figures out of wires, particularly tree figures. It’s a bit hard to explain, but I’ll post pictures in a bit, and he’s quite talented. I had bought one of his trees earlier and passed him regularly, and he and I got to chatting. He said that he’s in art school in the day and comes out at night, and he constantly needs to watch out for the cops, who cart him to jail because it’s illegal to sell on the street without a permit. He looked about my age, but said he has a one-year-old son, and explained for a while the difference between “artesania,” which he does, and the people who we see the rest of the time who are reselling various manufactured goods. He does about $15-$30 worth of business every day, which is plenty for him, he says.
He was a very nice guy, and he showed me a piece he was working on, which he’s going to sell to me when it’s finished (pictures to come). We shook hands, his stained black from handling the wires, and I left, with his promise that he’d call me when it was ready.
Which brings me to my next point, the trip that I’m hoping to take. Still, this post has gone on way too long, so I’ll leave the rest for next time.
Current obsessions (or “recommendations,” if that makes you feel better):
• Get Over It, song by OK Go
• Dan Ariely, behavioral economist
• Rice Boy, web comic
• Stuff You Should Know, podcast