Chilean Odds & Ends

There are a number of things I meant to write down about Chile but didn’t; some of them seemed too everyday to mention, while others I just forgot to bring up. Here is a small compilation of some of these.

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As you know, I made an effort to think in Spanish as I walked around the city. Since it was a very hilly city and my limbs are rather decrepit, many of my thought-conversations involved an inventory of which joints hurt today. While I can’t compare to my mother’s talent for recalling amusing linguistic difficulties, there was one error in particular that I made several times that stuck out to me. I would very seriously think, “Me duele la ardilla.” What I meant was that my knee hurt me, but the word for knee is rodilla, where ardilla means squirrel. I could never keep them straight, and thus, I constantly reaffirmed that the squirrel hurts me.

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As with many Latin American countries, street harassment is a part of everyday life. It’s like smog in Los Angeles: you can learn to ignore it, and some days it’s less thick than others, but it still pervades everything. If you walk in the streets, you will inevitably be breathing it. On the bright side, it seems to be almost entirely verbal, at least in my experience: every third man in the street might eye me, but nobody tried to grab me (other than one eight-year-old boy in an Argentine supermarket). The constant male attention didn’t upset or bother me, but I didn’t love it either, since I felt I ought be more vigilant because of it.

Other than the occasional whistle or hiss, much of the street harassment was verbal, most commonly a single word that its speaker doubtless regarded as paying a compliment. I heard every single variant of “beautiful” I knew, both in English and Spanish: beautiful, pretty, linda, hermosa, bonita, preciosa, bella. I refused to respond to the English comments, because can’t you see I speak Spanish? If I wasn’t fully focused on ignoring street-comments, I might respond to the Spanish comments with a dry half-smile, but would continue striding ceaselessly past.

At one point, when I was coming back from a trip, I rode in the front seat of a microbus because of my giant backpack, despite the sign designating the seat for elderly people and pregnant women. I noticed an old man staring at me, seemingly disapproving, and I worryingly assumed that he was cross with me for taking the front seat. However, when he stood up to disembark, he paused in front of me, and declared, in accented English, “You are a beautiful woman.” Well, I guess that’s better than irritation.

Since I arrived to Chile with short, dark brown hair, I wondered whether I might see less street harassment, but that didn’t seem to be the case. One especially strange aspect of my experience was that one part of my appearance was seen as “exotic” and was often commented upon: my blue eyes, a relative rarity there.

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There is a Spanish verb for “to google,” which is googlear. Isn’t that fabulous? Necesito googlear muchas palabras de español.

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During normal Northern Hemisphere winters, I often spend my time acquiring small colds and illnesses, and then recovering from them just in time to catch a new one — a by-product of the dampness and close quarters. When I was in Chile, I only got ill once, when I traveled to winter-weather Patagonia. Obviously, this means that I should fly to warmer climes every winter, for my health. (Although then I would miss out on the trappings and the fireplace-inspiring weather of my favorite season, which would sadden me.) Still, I was pleased to have an illness-free December, for once.

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I am eternally in love with any culture that believes avocado is a key everyday food. Do you know how fast food chains, when they open stores in new countries, will often add special items to their menu that better reflect the preferences of the country? Well, that item — for Chile — is a beef or fried chicken burger piled high with avocado, called an italiano.

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That’s all I have to say, for now. Soon I shall post a round-up of links for the trip, and then perhaps a thing about what it’s like to be back. And then: who knows?

3 thoughts on “Chilean Odds & Ends

  1. I loved reading your last tidbit-ridden post. I want more tidbits. Round tidbits, purple tidbits, tidbits that fade in the sun. Why did an eight-year-old grab you? Did you consider he might have been an auld, auld man disguised as an eight-year-old? Maybe he wasn’t even human. That happens, sometimes.

    1. I suspect he grabbed me because he knew he could get away with it, and also because he was Argentine. He grinned mischievously, and I gazed at him with coldness and auldness.

  2. Bad, bad squirrel. Una vieja should be mighty pleased you referenced-and linked to-her talent for recalling linguistic difficulties, I think. She’s famous! (famous-er) I wonder if a doctor could prescribe Southern Hemisphere trips, like they did in the auld days? You know, a hysterectomy here, leeches there, a trip to Chile to unblock your phlegmatic humours.
    P.S. WAction Arbuckle,

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