Chile: the Only Country Skinnier than I Am

abe-clabby-profile-picAbraham J. Clabby
St. Edwards University
Valparaiso and Vina del Mar
Summer 2 2009 & Fall 4 2009

Hey folks,

Thus far, this is the clearest interpretation of Chile and I that I can give. I’m going to try making this alphabetical, and see how well that works.

Bilingual Famous American Movies: A lot of famous directors over the years, and even an author or two, have used the stealthy trick of using a Spanish word as fantasy name for something. Take Star Wars, for instance. “Han” means “have,” “Solo” is the same in either language, so his name means “they alone have.” They alone have… Han and Chewie have the only-one-of-it-in-the-galaxy Millennium Falcon? (It’s a code! Like Italian paintings or rock ´n´ roll played backwards!) “Leia” is “I / she has read,” which means even less. But then there’s J.R.R. Tolkein. I’d heard he used French for the name of Mordor… but it also means something in Spanish. “Morder” is “to bite.” But here’s the chewiest bit: “Moria.” It means “used to die,” or “died over time.” Tolkien, you are one heck of a foreshadower.

Capoeira: still flipping cool. There actually is some flipping involved. For a close-proximity dance / fighting style, there’s a good amount of extra show-offery. There’s also something to be said for the chants on CDthey play throughout the evening. I’ve started to understand the Portugese they use in it. Aside from saying “Capoeira” at different paces and rhythms consecutively, I found they’re saying “Amaré” for parts ofit.“I will love.” So we are a group of roundhouse-kicking hippies after all.

Classes: school seems easier here. Classes are more demanding, seeing as professors are endowed with an extra set of lungs allowing them to lecture for one hour and fifteen minutes without visibly taking a breath. So note taking is fun; none of you might ever ask me about that in conversation, but at any rate I can write notes in Spanish now. Whether the notes are the same material as I´ll be tested on is, ominously, yet to be seen. I think that´s a universal trend in education systems: what they say, what they have you read, what you’ll use in a career and what you’ll be tested on aren’t quite the same things.

Communism: I’m living in the only country in the world to elect a Socialist president: Salvador Allende. Mind you, the military and the U.S. government cooperated in a military coup to replace him and dictated the country for the following 17 years. But Communist isn’t a scary buzz-word here. You can still grumble that someone’s a Socialist, but it´s not some remote Cold War evil threatening the nation. It’s legitimate.

Doggie: the Doggie known as Doggie no longer wants to eat my hands and feet. I miss that about him.

-Isms: every sub-culture has their slang. These 16 million people have that same habit of saying things that confound and befuddle the Spanish-English Dictionary. The moms, as I´ve learned at the table, have as much of it as anyone else.”

Let’s start with “-poh”. Any sentence can be ended with this sound if it feels like it needs a little syllable-pop at the end. It doesn’t mean anything; I´ve asked. But it´s very temptingpo.

“-pue” I think is an ancestor of “-poh” which everyone but this new generation uses just as easily.

“Cabro” means “goat.” While our Mothers refer to people shorter than them as sweetie and cutie (or something sugary and edible), here they would be called “cabro” or “cabra”. I tend to associate goats with eating shirts and kicking people in the shins, so I took it the wrong way for the first several weeks.

And then there´s the “-it-” sound that makes everything smaller. Like “–ie” as we use it. Perrito, pancito, platita, papita, anything can be made cutesy by the addition of this syllable. Most of all I lament the already-small child who, in the endearing words of an elderly woman, becomes a “¡chiquitiiiiiiiito!”

Maternalism: I think the social roles are a bit more enforced here. Every woman seems to be able to become a mother at any moment; not your mother, per se, but with all the delegating powers necessary to take care of you. I worry sometimes that they’re over-working themselves. But then it dawned on me that, with men being so chill, ladies really do run society in their stead. Heck, it´s true in my house, true in the offices, true on the street corners, and until December, true of the Presidency.

Starbucks: it’s so powerless here, people don’t even know what a Starbucks is. That was dazzling. (It doesn’t go by Estrella-Billetes, either.) Though Nescafe markets half the powdered milk and coffee-like substance in the nation.  Update:  There is now a Starbucks in Vina del Mar.  It costs twice as much as it would in the U.S.  My host-sister prefers her espressos powdered.

Television: excuse me if I start to generalize here. But the telly comes on every day at 2:30 and 10 at night, and I will now forever associate eating Almuerza and Cena with the shouts, whispers and intense, close-up facial expressions of the Latin American Soap Opera. It can be really intriguing, actually, or would be if people would just have Relationship Status posted under them so I could see who was with who every ten minutes.

Then there’s the tempting alternative: subtitled American flicks. It’s interesting to see which ones the TV plays over and over again, and how they change what people are saying. “White Chicks,” which I´ve been told every Chilean has seen, is called “Donde estan las Rubias?” (“Where are the Blondes?”)

Valle Nevada: The rhythm of school days and weekends gets interrupted by the occasional trip, which tends to begin absurdly early in the morning. It was a place called Valle Nevada, near Santiago. Four-and-a-half hour busride serenaded by countless 80´s music videos, and we were there. I hadn´t ski´d since Japan so I was just in the Beginner´s areas; but after an hour of clumsy, hazardous waddling and ankle-whacking, I did get the hang of it. The course was about 20 seconds (30 if I weaved back and forth), but I´d paid $85 American all for this and I shredded those 30 second bits for all they were worth. But during the snowstorm, I did get the perspective that the mountains melted into the sky with nothing but scattered black rock in between. There was a part, right when I had 20 minutes free near the end, where some friends decided to do one more slope. I hadn´t seen anyone take it in hours. They made it down fine (I hung back as one crashed majestically at the end), but inexplicably, I got about fifty feet down before a ski popped out and landed me two feet deep in powderpuff. I spent nearly ten minutes in the ardurous climb back up, rolling and pulling myself on hands and knees… before the ski lift appeared on the horizon. I must say that was the most dramatic point of the day. I hadn´t felt so Survivor-y in weeks.

Yo: Well. It´s been no bed of roses. No pleasure cruise. (I consider it a challenge before the whole human race, and I ain´t gonna loooooose! Wwwweee, are the champions, my frie-end…) I´m going to say, in the end, that this changed me. Like most of the biggest changes in our lives, I won’t quite be able to say how. Most of the things I had a confident grip on in my life in the States, the comfortable position I´d sunk into in my own little world, most of that is gone here. It´s made me have to identify myself less by the things I do, and the people I know, the conversations I have.

It´s been comical, it´s been grueling. It’s been awakening, it´s been exhausting. I´m more connected and more independent, more confident and less sure I´m right.

Quite a head-scratcher, this one. I´ll have clearer philosophical insights in the aftermath of December.

Que esten bien,

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