Friday, May 13, 2011

May 12, 2011

A year ago today Mom died. I’ve been aware, on this trip, of the gap between what I was doing a year ago: attending to Mom in her hospice room; and what I’m doing now: touring Chile. One of the things that I’m thinking about is identity. Here and now I am a sponge trying to absorb the new culture and language around me. The idea of being myself is useless. Either I’m being an entertainer, which is only a very small part of who I am, or I’m trying to learn about the world around me. The idea of just being myself, in this context seems absurd. To whom?

Mom was so good at being herself. It’s an enviable skill. I’ve been thinking about her throughout this trip. And wondering what she would think of it. Right now I’m on a bus headed for Viña del Mar – for the second time. The day is pretty much free and is giving me plenty of time to reminisce and philosophize. Other than checking into our new hotel (thankfully, a different one than the last time), we have no obligations. Carol and I are hoping to catch Pablo Neruda’s house in nearby Valparaiso this time.

Yesterday I played at El Colegio Aleman de Santiago. It was the first time that I arrived at a school which had students with signs waiting for me. Their enthusiasm was quite touching. A lot of times I leave time at the end of my performances to answer questions. One that keeps coming up is: “Are you glad Bin Laden’s dead?” or “How do you feel about Bin Laden dying?” My stock answer is “I’m sorry that there are people in the world with so much hate in them.” But I’d love to have a more complex conversation with somebody (in English). My sister and I talked about it a little when we Skyped. It’s a little surreal being out of the country and at such a distance from the news and goings on of home. Here I’m more aware of the news of Chile (or I have been for the last few days) and of South America in general. Once again I was flooded with a longing to be home.

I’ve often been asked for autographs after the show. This happens at home too. Kids will bring me the most miniscule pieces of paper and ask me to sign them. Lord knows what happens to them. Here, I’ve been signing notebook paper, paper towels, hands and, at El Colegio Aleman de Santiago, arms. That’s another first for me. One kid wanted me to sign his stomach. But I drew the line. I’ve gained six new face book friends from Chile so far, all of them students.

Friday, May 13, 2011
Wednesday night I went out in search of the ingredients for tea eggs, which would make the perfect snack food or breakfast here. I managed to find an herb shop to grab the star anise, and a Chinese owned quickmart-type place where I was able to land some very expensive soy sauce. We already have the tea so I bought a half dozen eggs and laid in. I had to put them in the fridge during the trip to Viña del Mar but I brought them out again when we got back and they’re steeping now. They might be ready to eat when Carol and I have another stay at home supper.

We took a taxi to the bus terminal and were able to see some more protests and riot police. Things seemed to be a bit calmer this time, but I had my camera ready. The return visit to Viña del Mar was fun in an unexpected kind of way. This is Carol’s first trip to Chile. So I’ve been able to be a tour guide for places that I’ve already been to, which includes Viña del Mar. The new, improved hotel that Alberto booked did have a better shower, bed and breakfast. So that helped. And the smell of recently applied insecticide in the room reassured me that bedbugs would not be a problem. And what with the razor wire around the wall of the courtyard in back of my room I was pretty sure that we wouldn’t be attacked by anarchist guerillas. So I slept with a real sense of security.

It’s all in how you look at it. In the courtyard there was also an orange tree with ripening fruit on it. Flowers in another tree and planted next to my room. There was a kind of dingy old world feel to the place that had it’s own charm. Even extending to the tired looking but very sweet dog who seemed to live in our section of the compound.

We checked into the hotel and almost immediately left again, taking a local bus – they’re called micros here – to head for neighboring Valparaiso in our second attempt to tour La Sebastiana, one of Pablo Neruda’s three Chilean homes. Faithful readers will remember that last time I tried to visit Pablo I discovered that the home – now a museum – was closed on Mondays, the very day of the week I was trying to visit. A bus took us from Viña del Mar to Valparaiso and then we took another Ascensor to what I thought would be the neighborhood of La Sebastiana. But wouldn’t you know it, we ended up in Cerro Alegre only a few blocks from good old Tio Pato’s heladeria. Clearly, since it was going to be another long but charming walk to the museum, and ice cream cone was called for. I had Tsunami which was the tiramisu flavor.

It was fun pointing out the sites to Carol and had eyes enough to be able to point out some new ones to me. Like the mural painted to commemorate the tsunami that hit after the most recent earthquake. And the aloe plants in the yard (with flowers!). And the good ship Esmerelda which was apparently lying in dock the time Alberto and I came, but which we completely missed. Not this time!

I got some more pictures of homes and streets and we had a very pleasant walk to the museum which was… Open! Yay!! We had a wonderful time looking through all the rooms. Those little tour recording things were available. I could choose between English and Spanish and went with Spanish which I was able to comprehend pretty well. They didn’t allow picture taking inside the house which was a real shame because there were some wonderful things there, including a mosaic map of South America made of stones on the wall, a picture of Walt Whitman who Neruda admired, distinctive artwork and of course his poetry. I just love Neruda’s poetry. We finished our visit to La Sebastiana and began our trek back towards our hotel. Rather than walk all the way down hill – which is what Alberto and I did the last time – Carol and I were able to ask at La Sebastiana for directions to the nearest Micro. It turned out to be quite near: Micro “O,” which we could catch on Avenida Alemania, just up the hill from La Sebastiana.

I want to take a moment to thank George Westinghouse who, on March 5, 1872, patented a safe air brake. I owe him a lot.

I now know that one has not fully experienced life until one has taken Micro bus “O” down the narrow winding streets of one of the Cerros of Valpariso. Really, I could have saved myself the fee for the zip line at Cascada de las Animas. This bus ride was much more exciting and quite a bit longer. Indeed, there was never any sense that the ride was ending too quickly. On the contrary, there were several points in the ride down that it occurred to me that no hill could possibly be THAT long. The slope was breathtakingly steep. The turns were hairpin. There were sudden, unexpected stops when pedestrians on the street would lift their fingers indicating that they wanted to be picked up – surely they were kidding, I thought, they’re much more likely to be killed – or when stop signs would spring wholesale from the ground, immediately after an impossibly sharp turn.

Once we finished the life changing down hill ride (and elegantly eliminated any need to ever ride a roller coaster ever, ever again) we headed toward Viña del Mar. With shaky knees, we got off the Micro and walked towards our hotel. On the way we spied a man hauling a whole line of bicycles up the hill. I tried to imagine riding a bike up these hills, then began to imagine riding one down these hills. I stopped thinking about it right away. We went out for pizza, got back in time for me to Skype with my family again and crashed.

This morning it was the MacKay school at which there were three of four quadruplets who posed with me for a shot. It wasn’t clear where the fourth was. I did the shows and we made our way back to Santiago. This weekend, my last in Santiago, begins. Tomorrow Carol and I are headed for another castle and market. Sunday it’s the plane to Antofagasta.

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