Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thursday

The shower in our bath is leaking from the taps.  Mr Tabubil went to see how bad the leak was.  
He didn't stop to check which direction the shower head was pointing before he turned the taps on. 
Mr Tabubil is wet.


Monday, November 23, 2015

Popo de Elefante

At the end of October we invited a few friends around for a light spot of Halloween cheer.  We even had a theme - worst nightmares in food and dress.
            Unfortunately for us, my "agoraphobia" costume suffered a fatal structural failure half an hour before the party started (the damned pigeon fell off my head), and on a warm October night, Mr "Arachnophobia" Tabubil flatly refused to wear 6 inches of fiberfill around his chest. To show willing, he hot glued a few wads of stuffing and a couple of spiders to and old t-shirt.  He looked a nightmare all right - a nightmare of last-minute design, and he lost his temper along with his stuffing.
            That's sort of how the evening went. Our friend Sal - rather a man's man - had found the food something of a stretch.  He's not a natural cook, so I set him a simple quiche - eggs, cheese and icky food coloring in a pre-made bought pastry shell.  Half an hour before the party (right when I was wrestling pigeons) he  called from the supermarket in a panic - the recipe had been in imperial measurements and he'd converted everything to grams to eight decimal places, but he was having trouble figuring out what sort of eggs he should buy - vitamin fortified?  Omega 3?  Grade AA?  Grade A?  Did he need to buy a baking dish?
            He arrived at the party 45 minutes late, looking cross and flustered.  He handed me a bag of chips and a jar of salsa.
            "The whole afternoon's been a horror show." He said sourly.  "I hate supermarkets. Why didn't you tell me that a quiche has too cook for an hour? Believe me, the chips count."*

*Speaking of horror shows, you wouldn't believe what a little pulverized walnut does to the look of  guacamole.  It's unspeakable.  Five stars and two hearty thumbs up. I recommend it for all your holiday parties.

And then there was the dessert.  Mr Tabubil and I own a recipe for chocolate mousse.  I may have mentioned it once or twice before, in passing. To do it right, you soak raisins in rum for an entire week beforehand and you use rather a lot of heavy cream  - 

           A triple batch of it makes a rather nice bowl of popo de elephante (elephant poop.): a voluptuous tureen of turds, studded with oozing alcoholic raisins, the heavy smell of rum rising up like drunken heat in summer* from the swirl of well-set soup -

*I might have used two full cups of rum in the raisins, and I might have tipped what was left in the bottle into the bowl as I stirred. Waste is a terrible thing.

After a couple of hours staring at the guacamole, our guests ate lots of it. With a pleasantly buzzy fruit drink on the side.  The blood-red ice hand floating in the punch bowl was a nifty touch. They giggled. And drank some more.  And ate a second helpings of the mousse  -

            Not to put too fine a point on it, a lot of our guests got pished.
            One young lady had three glasses before we caught her.  She giggled, climbed carefully onto the sofa and closed her eyes -  right next to Sal - who is Bermudan and treats his relationship with rum like a religion, but who was lying with his head on the back of his chair and his feet up on hers, sort of snoring, and cradling his third bowl of elephant poop.

We really had radically overestimated how much mousse we'd need for a party of 12, and the next morning we still had a couple of liters of the stuff.  

            We gave it to our neighbors. They brought the bowl back the very next day - licked clean.
            Looking at us sort of anxiously, "That was the best dessert" they said "that we have ever had in our lives - would you like a plant?" 
            And they thrust a potted fern at our chests.

It must have been some seriously good mousse.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

On Love

In the wake of the terrible events in Paris, there are many voices saying the words that have become all too predictable.
            Responsibility - in varying degrees of more or less - is placed on Europe's refugees. The trouble comes with them. We must be vigilant, we must we must resist these threats against our way of life - 

            And I am reminded of a question that was recently posed to Germany's Chancellor Merkel:

            “You’re doing a lot to help the refugees,” a woman asked. “What are you doing to protect our Christian values?” 
            Over the last few months I have found myself meditating upon an answer that was given to this question by a thoughtful and considering man: 

            "It is a strange notion that “doing a lot to help the refugees” is distinct from the business, the practice, or the essence of Christianity. Helping refugees, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, aiding widows and orphans in their distress -
These corporal and spiritual works of mercy and justice are not a nice little additional thing that it’s generally commendable to dabble in a bit…Without them, our 'Christian values" are devoid of content and substance, an ornate treasure chest with nothing inside.

We can imagine this same woman standing to ask this same question at the end of Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew’s Gospel:
            When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
            Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
            Then the just will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”
            And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
            Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from …”
            And they will interrupt, saying, “Lord, you’re doing a lot to help the refugees, but what are you doing to protect our Christian values?”
These "Christian values" are not unique. In many words and many turns of phrase, they are the foundation stones of every culture and society on this earth. Just look at the people of Paris right now - bringing strangers off the streets and into their homes to keep them safe. Restaurants closing their shutters and turning off the lights with their patrons safe and silent inside.  For those who prefer particulars - I particularly recommend Mr. Bathily, who in January hid hostages in the freezer of his shop at the real risk of his own life.
Beside him, I recommend the Greek fishermen, whose economy might be in ruins, but instead of looking for scapegoats, go out every night to make sure strangers safely reach shore - 

            Split those hairs if you dare!

My grandparents were refugees: Poles who fought the Germans, then fled the Russians, and after the second world war ended, made their way to Australia. 

            Australia let my grandparents in.  In due course they had children, and later, grandchildren -  doctors, microbiologists, painters, writers, teachers, architects, zoo keepers, civil servants, network administrators, surveyors, businesswomen -
            There are great-grandchildren as well, now: boys and girls who act out plays and build model engines and help fold the laundry and carry groceries and laugh and speak kindly in the streets - 
            Is Australia sorry?  Are we regretted?  Regrettable?
            Can you imagine that we are not loved as we love in our turn?

It is not a good time for the vulnerable anywhere in the world right now.  For myself, I can only speak for the culture of Western Europe, but I will say this:

           Over the next few weeks, Western Europe will celebrate a cultural origin story - a story of the greatest love the earliest Christians could conceive. How wonderful it would be if, instead of celebrating by rote and having the parties and singing the songs and paying the postage on cards promising goodwill and fellowship and reflect warmly on a season well done, we could think seriously about the values were are celebrating?
            We are imperfect. We stumble. We fall. But always, and often at the same time, we rise up. Black balaclavas and guns are as much of a threat that we permit to be.  We are compassionate. We are kind. We possess mercy and charity and love - love for the citizens of Paris, and love for the thousands and thousands of people just like ourselves, who are right now fleeing horrors black balaclavas have devised, placing themselves into the hands of strangers, hoping for charity in the names of our shared values and humanity. 
            These are frightening times. Reaching beyond fear take strength and courage that are often difficult to find. To those voices anxious for their cultural values - I ask you to let your pride in those values raise you up. If you are afraid, let those who are not carry you until your strength returns.  In honor and love, out of culture and humanity, we cannot do less. Any day of our lives.

Monday, November 9, 2015

A measure of relativity.

We were woken by a temblor at 4:45 on Saturday morning.

            Mr Tabubil shook me awake - "big one, big one, Get UP!"
            BANG! The room shuddered. BAMMOBAMMOBAMMO - 
            And we were up, half-asleep, my feet tangling in the sheets and I fell, and then we were securely next to the core and Mr Tabubil opened the front door - 
            "Mr Tabubil!  I'm not wearing pants!"
            "Does it matter?!"
            BAMBANGBAMBANG  - the rattling was tremendous - walls and floors and windows and drawers and cupboard doors going bang bang bang and something in the stairwell slam slam slamming against the walls -
            And it eased and i saw the coats next to the door and thought "well that's all right, I can wrap one around my legs -" and
            And it stopped.

It was a 6.8, near Ovalle. A very very rattly 6.8.  It took us a long time to get back to sleep.  Mr Tabubil was woken up again at 7:00 by a nice solid shaking 6.0 and thought "it's smaller than the last one.  I don't care." And rolled over and went back to sleep.  I didn't wake up at all.
            And that was that.  We haven't heard a word about it.  From anyone.  This is the thing that i find most fascinating about living here in Chile, on the edge of the pacific rim.  In most of the rest of the world a 6.8 is a respectable quake.  Newsworthy.  Water-cooler excitement for weeks.
            Here, once people were back to sleep, no-one raised an eyebrow.  Not on facebook, not between friends or neighbors or colleagues - 
            Nothing fell over and it's business as usual.  Bothered?  Us

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Things that go Gulp in the night.

If you're going to spend a day sitting on the floor with a pile of books, and if the sci-fi pulp you're reading turns out to be horror fiction, don't keep on reading. All day. It might be cheesy in the daylight, but that night you just might have to sleep with the bathroom light on, carefully angled with mirrors to point directly at your face. On account of tentacles.
            And your husband might get fed up and leave the bed and go sleep in the living room where it's dark. Which is even worse. On account of tentacles.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Today I saw...

I wish a phone could capture the light the way it really looks.  It was the most extraordinary evening - not the faintest hint of smog - you could see clear to the ends of the earth and the sky was filled with that golden liquid light that you get before a thunderstorm.
            At one point in the evening, as dusk fell, I looked out the window and gaped - it was falling like molten gold on the glass panels of the buildings and the sky was very dark and stormy and the shock of that bright gold against a dark sky was the most extraordinary thing.
           A few of us crowded onto the balcony and stood and watched while it faded.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Estufa

When you live in an earthquake zone, reliably solid stuff  like walls and roofs and windows are somewhat less reliable than they are in places where the earth doesn't rumble and realign itself every other week.
            Walls develop cracks.  Inspectors and building contractors smile and tell you that the cracks are superficial and happening exactly where they're meant to - along slab lines or down the side of a core - places where the building is designed to flex. Because Chileans build really really solid.
            Structural integrity is a very good thing, but in the day-to-day, non-crisis scheme of things -
            There are air gaps everywhere!
            Doors work their way off plumb, and spaces appear between door and frame.  (Our front door has been sticking pretty good since Wednesday last. Opening it takes a shoulder and a shove.)
            Windows rattle out of alignment and lean tipsily in their frames, and narrow wedges of empty space keep the air circulating in and out.
            Every couple of years you call in a man who spends a couple of days pushing on the glass, whispering to it, and tapping gently at pressure points with a rubber mallet, and you're right and tight again for a month or three  But mostly you shrug your shoulders and be glad that no room is sealed too tight for health or happiness. 
            In winter, it takes bit of remembering.  Winter storms whistle straight through your healthy, happy environment- running up and down the curtains, ruffling furniture, knocking over bottles over the kitchen -
            It makes you feel like a protagonist front and center in a really theatrical surround sound experience, but a winter storm that breaches the walls and comes right in the apartment and cozies up next to you on the sofa is cold.
            The first really cold day of autumn nuzzles its way into your bed in the night and burrows deep into the thermal mass of the cracked concrete walls and  the next thing you know you're sleeping under four feather quilts and wearing hot- water-bottles strapped to your waist under your winter coat. (This isn't an exaggeration. I've a friend on the top floor of a building in El Golf who wears a hot water bottle every year from May to September.)
            Freezing isn't actually mandatory. Most of the apartments built in Santiago in the last half century have radiant heating.* 
            Unfortunately, running radiant heat is extremely expensive. Chile has no natural fuel reserves. Hydro exists only in the south where the rivers are.** Coal, oil and natural gas are imported from overseas, and the prices reflect it.
           Most Santiaguinos spend winter wrapped around their estufa. An estufa is a small portable gas heater that sits on a little wire trolley. You trundle it around your apartment from room to room to work up a nice localized fug, and you are very happy that the local geology has blessed you with natural ventilation that lets the fumes out as fast as they build up.
            The average human being is not overly gifted with foresight. In Autumn we watch the leaves fall and we talk about the cold weather that's coming but hardly anybody remembers to fill their kerosene can in advance of the winter.  On the first really wet, windy morning of the year, the whole city rolls out of bed, winces as warm toe meets icy floor, and lets out a collective damn.  
           Because now you have to queue.
           The kerosene that fuels your estufa is purchased at your local service station. There's snow on the mountains, which would be cause for celebration, but you can't see it because of the low grey mist rolling between the trees and the buildings. A slow rain works steadily down your collar, drip by icy drop. The chill creeps up through the soles of your shoes into your feet. The gas station attendants have to fit filling kerosene cans in between serving the cars that are pouring in (because anyone with a car is torn between filling the kerosene and getting up into the mountains to see the snow in person) and it looks like this -

* Most of them under the floor as per general spec, but in our first apartment here in Santiago, some unsung architectural genius installed the radiant heating network in the ceiling. The only winter we didn't spend in three layers of sweaters and a woolly hat was the year the people downstairs had a sick baby and ran their own heat all day long. They burned whole gas-fields keeping the temperature up to 70, and we walked around in shirtsleeves and bare feet.

** There's a major political kerfuffle right now over a possible huge high-voltage power line that would run 2000 kilometers from Aysen up to Santiago.