April 24, 2011
The powers that be are looking after me. Upon boarding my re-scheduled flight to Dallas a kindly voice announced over the loudspeaker that “Mr. McMullin, your luggage did make it onto this airplane.” Phew! All of that hard work, fasting, and meditation really paid off. I celebrated by eating fast food Chinese in the Dallas airport, in a restaurant where I could recharge my laptop and buy some non-fortune (unfortunate?) cookies for my flight. Said flight from Dalles/Ft. Worth, Texas, to Santiago, Chile, was practically empty. This meant that I got to stretch out on the middle three seats of the 767 in a pathetic attempt to sleep.
Now, three airline seats with one required seat belt – and they do wake you up to remind you that the seat belt light is on – is not, by any stretch, as refined a test for royalty as say, a pea under 29 mattresses. But it’s three times better than one seat. I was able to toss and turn with much greater freedom. As a result, when I landed in Santiago I only got into the wrong line three times (once for each seat!) and left behind only a handful of Chilean heads shaking in resigned disbelief at the stupidity of American. Just think of the results had I actually been exhausted.
My luggage was waiting for me! O joyous sight! Alberto, my road manager and contact with DreamOn was also waiting for me. Double Joy! We made our way into Santiago and I was able to collapse, shower, take three naps (one for each seat!) and spend some time chilling and getting to know the neighborhood.
I am chilling in a second floor apartment of an 18 floor building that belongs to – I kid you not – the ChilHotel. At first one is struck – or at least I was – by the similarity to Tai Pei. The same kind of narrow streets feeding onto major, busy arteries. My digs are on one of the former, Cirujano Guzman (Surgeon Guzman). House walls and gates form the border to narrow sidewalks that meander on either side of a narrow road. Here in Santiago the sidewalks are useable and safe to walk on whereas in Tai Pei the sidewalks were defacto parking lots for the ubiquitous scooters.
And, hombre, they could use some scooters here. I’d read in my copy of The Lonely Planet that smog is a problem in Santiago. They were not lying. Like Tai Pei (where smog is also a problem), Santiago is nestled in the arms of the mountains surrounding it. This makes for lovely scenery if you can actually get a glimpse of it through the miasma of exhaust, smoke and ozone-layer-free, sun-baked vapors that settle throughout the basin wherein rests the greater urban area. Down on the street it’s more difficult to appreciate the obfuscating nature of the air (you want Buenos Aires, pal, you gotta cross the Andes). But a trip up to the roof of my apartment building gives you the full Monty. My guide and amigo, Alberto, assures me that there have been days when the mountains weren’t visible at all. For those government hating Americanos that would like to dismantle our environmental protections, I recommend vacationing here for a couple of weeks. Leave your inhalers at home and when you get back to the U.S., after a few days of respiratory therapy we’ll talk. I’m praying for rain.
Aside from the buena vista of the polluted air, the roof also sports a pool. It is not a large pool, as pools go. But it is a large bathtub. Standing next to the bathtub you can (on a clear day) look out onto the roofs of neighboring buildings. Maybe a half dozen of them also have large bathtubs. I’ve not yet tried it, but perhaps tomorrow I’ll bring my rubber duck up and swim a couple of thousand laps.
The buildings too, many of them newly constructed with a somewhat shabby, un-sturdy patina, are reminiscent of Tai Pei. And when one remembers that Santiago, like Tai Pei, is in an earthquake rich geologic zone, one is perhaps not surprised to notice – architecturally – that a higher value is placed on flexibility than on longevity. The last Big Mama that hit (a couple of years back, you may remember) did only minor damage in Santiago. But still, a 9.1 Richter temblor, even from a distance, has a deflating effect on elevated esthetic sensibilities. Neither Tai Pei nor Santiago has spent a lot of time on exterior décor.
Today, after spending some time reconstructing my plugs so that my computer and the Chilean electrical system are now friends, I spent some time with Karen (yea, Skype!). Then Alberto and I took the Metro (which has new, shiny train cars that are also very Tai Pei-ish in appearance, but stations that are much more reminiscent of downtown Chicago) to a very touristy arts and crafts fair filled with faux thatched roofs sheltering stalls and buildings wherein one can buy hand thrown pottery, hand crafted jewelry, hand knitted clothing, hand carved wood furniture and pets; all at handsome prices. Pets, you say? Well, not the cats that seemed to have free run of the place. They belong to the artisans. But there were dogs for sale. And a remarkable variety of birds. Everything from parrots to chickens. These couldn’t have been calmed by the presence of so many artesian (?) cats. But there were no disasters while we were there.
It was a beautiful sunny day. A harpist and face painting clown added to the festive atmosphere. The fair wasn’t too crowded and it was a great place to see other tourists walking around just as cluelessly as I was. Alberto was able to point out the other South Americans from their accents. Peru, Argentina and lots from Brazil, where a robust economy and good exchange rate has propelled many of the newly affluent into neighboring countries in search of escape, adventure and slightly over-priced hand made goods.
We had dinner in a Chinese restaurant. I wasn’t expecting much and I got it. The maitre de might have been Chinese. The waitress needed to check to see if they had tofu. Still, Chilean Chinese food is not Chinese in a way that is distinctly different from the way that American Chinese food is not Chinese. A lazy walk home during which we visited a patisserie and then back to The Chil. Tomorrow, my first school!