Monday, July 27, 2009

Thania's Chile travelogue & a reading by Rubén Martinez

by Thania Muñoz

(Today's installment by Thania replaces Dan Olivas's usual Mon. post. He needed to attend to family. See Thania's first installment about her visit to South America here.)

Santiago de Chile is very cold. It has rained a few times and the city has been dealing not only with the regular winter season flu, but also the infamous “swine flu” or whatever name they have given to it now. Officials have advised people to be careful, to take care of themselves and avoid crowded places.

Not a lot people have followed this advice; everyone is out and about, downtown stores are crowded and bars and restaurants haven’t lost that much business. I’ve been taking care of myself. I avoid crowded places, but I still walk the streets of Santiago every day.

It’s funny. Santiago hasn’t changed a bit. I honestly thought I wasn’t going to be able to recognize places and people, but it hasn’t been that way; my friends say that I haven’t change a bit, either. I guess the three years since my last visit is not as long ago as I thought.

I arrived on a rainy morning at “my family’s” house. They received me with warm sopaipillas, a traditional Chilean snack or appetizer that is fried and made out of flour, lard, pumpkin and salt. It's traditional for Chileans to eat them during the winter season, especially when it rains, because they are warm and delicious. It compares to having a cup of hot cocoa and cookies for us back in the states.

Almost every day late in the afternoon we gather in the kitchen, waiting for the pastry to be taken out of the oil. Street vendors also sell them outside metro stops or at street corners, but as in most cases, homemade ones are exceptionally good. As I caught up with my family that morning, I had a few sopaipillas and a cup of warm tea.

The first time I went to Chile I lived with the Arteaga family for six months and after all the good times we spent together I now consider them my family. Back then they used to rent out rooms of their house to students from places like England, Haiti, Germany, Perú, Brazil and Chile.

Living with the Arteaga family is one of my most cherished memories. They taught me all there is to know about Chilean culture. The Arteaga sons were one of my many idioms--bad words included--instructors. I still remember how I used to write down words I heard in school and read the whole list to them when I got home. After a few laughs, they’d explained them to me with detail and examples. I’m a quick learner when it comes to idioms. Some easy ones include “flaite” or “cuico,” and some of the hard ones, “agarrar pa'l leseo,” “barsa,” “fome.” Any guesses?

The Arteaga family is originally from southern Chile, from a town called Los Angeles (yes, as in California), and during the summer I went on vacation with them to meet the rest of the family. Mr. Arteaga’s family has a “fundo” there, a house in the country or a rancho, with a brick oven, next to a river. I went during the summer so during the day everyone would go swimming or sunbathing at the river.

At night we sang, played the guitar and some of the older ladies even gave “cueca” lessons, Chile’s national dance. During this trip I ate and drank traditional Chilean food: warm “humitas” (similar to Mexican tamales) that are usually eaten with chopped tomatoes and sugar on top; drinks such as a homemade white wine mixed with blended strawberries, and “chicha,” a fermented drink made of grapes or other fruits.

When I started this post I didn’t intend to write about food, but being here has brought back all those wonderful memories. As of now, I’m almost done eating a cheese empanada, and later I’m going to Paseo Ahumada, a lively and crowded pedestrian street downtown to buy some sweetened warm peanuts. Enrique Lihn, a Chilean poet, has a wonderful book of poetry named after this street:

Que los que se paren,
en Ahumada con la Alameda,
escuchen si corre un poco de aire,
el relincho del caballo de Bernardo O’Higgins.

(Paseo Ahumada, 1983)
I’ll stop at this point and maybe hear the horse’s neigh.

Thania Muñoz
de Santiago

p.d.: Dieting is forbidden in Chile, I swear.


An Evening of Stories and Songs by Rubén Martínez,
Featuring Joe Garcia, with Ruben Gonzalez and John Schayer.

An evening of spoken word and music (with a band!)—material from my book-in-progress on the Desert West and Borderlands.

Thursday, July 30, 7:00 pm
CENTRAL LIBRARY • Mark Taper Auditorium
Fifth & Flower Streets, Downtown L.A.
PARKING: 524 S. Flower St. Garage

Visions in the Desert: Searching for Home in the West
Writer Ruben Martinez, accompanied by his longtime musical partner, explores some of the oldest American symbols and the newest motley cast of characters to confront them.

(Please note, reservations strongly recommended!)

Rubén Martínez

No comments: