Mr Tabubil DID take over the gift- wrapping. After an evening spent ostentatiously shuddering every time he saw me holding something so deadly as a blunt butterknife, he picked up the scissors and tape and became so very enthusiastic about the wrapping that he went a little too far and wrapped up the comfort-food sci-fi paperback books I had strewn around me on the sofa, and labeled them to his father and put them under the christmas tree.
And since Mr Tabubil-in-law IS receiving a small stack of books of his own for Christmas, we had to unwrap EVERYTHING to get at the wrong ones.
This year Tabubilgirl is celebrating with a knee full of stitches. She managed to stab herself with a pair of scissors while wrapping Christmas presents.
One minute I was looking around for address labels and the next moment there was a bright red fountain coming out of me. I didn't even feel the blasted thing go in, but blood was spurting twelve inches sideways onto the tile floor. It was pinpoint perfect stabbage.
I have the worlds most wonderful mother-in-law (may the gods bless her and keep her forever and ever and ever). She took my rather frantic phone call and jumped straight into her car and came straight over, and took me with her to the hospital.
She even mopped up the floor of my flat. (Which was very brave and kind of her - she is very very unhappy around blood.)
As I hopped through the doors to the local Sala de Emergencia (Emergency Room),a bloody washcloth clapped against an even bloodier leg, an admitting nurse scooped me straight into a wheelchair and said "What happened?"
"Stabbed myself with a pair of scissors."
"Aaaaah." He nodded knowledgeably. "Wrapping presents, were you?"
"I'm not the first person this has happened to, then?"
"Dearie, you're not the first person today. We see this right through the New Year. There's a whole season for what you did."
And smirking slightly, he wheeled me over to the admissions desk and abandoned me.
I was given a tetanus shot for starters, and this being the Clinica Alemana, they insisted on an ultrasound to make sure there wasn't anything inside the wound, because -
"Sometimes the tips of the scissors break off!"
"The scissors were in one piece when they came out of me!!"
"There might be something else in there!!!"
-and when there wasn't, I was sent back to my cubicle for suturing - and had to wait while a small child who'd fallen and sliced open her chin screamed the whole hospital down while she was sutured up.
She was quite upset about her situation and most of the ER staff was looking quite seriously agitated by the time she was done. Which was nervous-making. A strung-out doctor who's spent half an hour being kicked by a hysterical seven year old is not a doctor I want approaching me with loaded needles.
But after the last harried nurse fled the suturing room we waited quite another while- about the right amount of time for a nice friendly coffee break, and at last, I got stitched up. With steady hands.
His hands were steady, but the doctor was sarcastic. He stitched, I said "Thank You, Doctor," he smiled and said "Take Care" and strode off into the hallway - and as he cleared the door he turned back and said "I presume your husband is taking over the rest of the gift-wrapping, hmmm?"
And then he about-faced and was out of that door fast, grinning manically.
My mother-in-law and I went home. And found Mr Tabubil looking pale and woebegone. He'd justbeen drilled for an entire hour at the dentist, and was minus most of a tooth, and looking forward to more of the same after Christmas. He was curled up in one of his beloved Ikea Poang chairs with a very sore face and looking very sorry for himself.
In other news - My sister-in-law broke her toe this evening. Or rather, her husband accidentally stepped on it and broke it for her, and she's not feeling so great either.
My mother-in-law is not having the best of all possible weeks.
As a farewell present, Dr Tabubil too me out for a pedicure. I had never been to a spa before and my word - I can't believe I spent thirty years missing out on such a hedonistic experience!
It goes like this:
You are sent to wait for your "therapist" in the Tranquility Room. The lights are dim, soft violin music plays out of hidden speakers, and the walls are lined by enormous wicker armchairs upholstered in something soft and squashy and velvet. Half of the armchairs are occupied by blitzed out humans in soft brown robes. They have unfocused edges - as if they've been massaged and rubbed so long that their edges are blurred - they're still vibrating to a happy cosmic resonance frequency.
The chairs ooze - invitingly. Sit in me, they seem to say. I am comfy like you have never known before. Three enormous candles flicker against the far wall, and you are softly invited to drink the house herbal tea blend in the glass teapot, resting on a flickering, candlelit samovar.
The light is very dim indeed, so when you pour yourself a cup you overshoot the teapot and pour tea all over your hand. Fortunately the candle-powered samovar has no heating power worth mentioning, so the shower is barely lukewarm.
You pour again, and take a sip and gasp and choke and scrabble for the pitcher of water and drink and drink and drink and stuff your mouth with tic-tacs and collapse, heaving, into the armchair next to Dr Tabubil. She is fascinated.
"Don't drink the tea." you rasp.
"Uh huh." She says, enthralled. "You're exaggerating." And she gets up, and walks over to the ledge to pour herself a cup.
I will cherish until I die the memory of the following fifteen seconds. There is a clanking noise as she drops the cup, her mouth works like a goldfish and then she seems to stretch and doppler in the flickering light as she lunges across the room, her fingers flexing madly as she groped for the tic-tacs that are still three feet away from her.
I think we were good entertainment. And that tea tasted like a glass of highly astringent sick. There are no words.
Fortunately, about the moment that Dr Tabubil was sucking on her own life-saving mouthful of peppermint, our therapists arrived.
I was led to another dim room, and seated on a chair only slightly less sybaritic than the big wicker armchair outside, and asked to step my feet into a silver basin filled with milky, scented water. Seated cross legged on the floor, a divine goddess washed my feet and ankles with creamy unguents, dried them with a cobweb cloth and led me over to a divan. Over the next hour she rubbed and scrubbed and rasped and buffed and soothed and smoothed and massaged and painted my toenails in bright scarlet and far too soon, led me back, blitzed and beatific, to the Tranquility Room.
It was a cold and rainy day and we spent a happy afternoon ducking in and out of the rather splendid Victorian and Edwardian arcades that thread through the downtown business district.
Rattling down St Kilda Road into the city in a rather spiffy green tram (all green enameled paint and polished wooden paneling) we climbed off in front of Flinders St Station - a cheerful late Victorian pile on the bank of the Yarra River.
Dismounting, we were hit by a cloudburst and ran into the rather grandly named Australian Center for the Moving Image across the street. Its made of carefully forward-leaning computer-generated sort of architecture, and frames what must be one of the most misguided 'public spaces' in Australia (Federation Square. I'm not going there. Enough people have.) and the architects commitment is total. Check out this very Starfleet entryway, whose fractal paneling frames a (rather fabulous) bookstore and a doughnut shop (less fabulous, but the coffee is alright.)
I particularly like the inflatable air-lock squeezed into the large open archway to keep in the central heating inside in winter. Seamless and unnoticeable until you're well inside the building.
Caught in another squall, we slipped into St Paul's Cathedral. It's a very pretty church - delicious licorice-striped Victorian Gothic. I wanted information on the whos and the whats of the building, and I went to pay my respects at a small information booth next to the rear doors.
"Are you American?" The elderly lady manning the booth asked us.
"Canadian." Mr Tabubil said. "Oh my." She said. "We get all sorts in here, but you're the first Americans I've had today! What do you think of our beautiful cathedral?"
We allowed as how we thought that it was all rather pleasing.
The lady smiled proprietary. "Isn’t it." She said. "Such a beacon of light!" She beckoned us close to her and said, very suddenly, "You're American. Tell me - how do you deal with your black problem?"
And while we stared at her dumbstruck, she proceeded to give us a precise and potted history of how Australia had failed to use sufficient force in dealing with its own little problem, and how the only realistic solution must involve the use of barbed wire and "concentration camps for every single aboriginal - man and woman and child." The word Aboriginal was said with a particular twist to her lips. We presumed that Americans should take notes.
And while we backed away, the dear woman tried to sell us postcards of Jesus on the Cross.
St Paul's needs to get that woman the hell out of PR. And possibly into a few classes on remedial catechism.
And we felt very grateful that we were about to fly six thousand miles and didn't have to worry any more about loving that particular strain of Australian neighbor.
The fourteenth floor of an office building in St Kilda Road, Melbourne. The offices of the Chilean consulate. A frosted glass door, locked. An electric door buzzer.
And, at length, we buzzed again.
At further length, there was a muted 'click'-ing sound, and the frosted glass door sagged slightly on its hinges.
We passed through.
A room - small and square. Four walls, two doors, six chrome chairs. A narrow blue filing cabinet with a potted plant drooping yellowly on top of it, and a large framed photograph of Presidente Pinera in his sash of office, beaming happily at the camera.
And the two of us, as well. We knocked on both doors and were ignored, so we sat.
From the other side of a wall we became aware of a voice. It was a GOOD voice - soft and gentle, and suffused with the warmth of honey and grandmothers.
It's owner was engaged in a telephone call.
"Como NO, senor - a SU consideration-!" Of Course, Sir - at YOUR convenience!
The telephone receiver was replaced with a delicate click, and immediately it rang again.
"Alo?" The voice coo'd. "Si? De INMEDIATO, Senora!" Immediately, Madam!
"Que TENGA un BUEN dia -" HAVE a GOOD day!!! Liquid, golden laughter threaded through the wall.
"Con QUE le puedo ayudar?!" HOW can I help you?
"HASTA esta tarde, entonces. Me ALEGRO de oir - " Until this afternoon, then. I'm so HAPPY to hear -
The receiver was replaced again, and this time, there was silence.
A moment or two later, there was a soft shuttering sound, and a door opened in the wall that lay between us and the golden voice. Just a crack. A woman slipped through. We looked up, eager to know the body that went with the voice, and there she was: middle height, middle age, slender, sleekly dressed in a pale blue suit, and her face -
She was scowling. Her face was set - locked, nailed and bolted into a scowl as inexorable as a standing stone, and her eyes were cold.
She swept them slowly across us, and fixed them solidly onto the wall above our heads.
I saw Mr Tabubil turn slowly in his seat, tracking her gaze. He lifted a finger, wonderingly. RIGHT above our heads, then. Exactly three inches.
She pinched her lips together, and with her eyes still fixed firmly on the wall above our heads, she closed the door sharply behind her and SLID, with her back against the wall, around the corner to the second door. Fumbling with the door handle, she forgot herself and dropped the ice-queen act, just for a moment. With a wide smile, she opened the door, just enough to slip through, and closed it behind her with a decided clap.
Mr Tabubil puffed out his cheeks and let his breath out with an audible whoof.
We looked at each other.
And two minutes later, she came back. The same way - the scowl, the sidle, the intense absorption with the drywall -
The door closed behind her, and shortly, we heard her pick up the phone, and the golden, grandmotherly voice began again.
A tinkling, fairy chime laugh. "A SU consideracion, Senor. Estamos aqui TODO el dia - cuandoquiera tenga tiempo -" At YOUR convenience, Senor. We are here ALL day - whenever you have time -
We looked at each other.
We pulled our our iphones and began a game of scrabble.
Three times in the next hour, supplicants buzzed at the doorbell. Three times they were chastened and, eventually passed through. Four times she sallied forth, putting us all firmly in our place with lifted chin and twisted lip and every single nerve and sinew in her body twanging to convey her personal disdain for ourselves and our petty diplomatic problems.
Itchily, I was remembering the things that I had found enormously frustrating about living in Chile the last time around. Why Oh why, can there never be a civil servant who chooses to display her rank and indifferent omnipotence by expediting and solving peoples problems really really quickly?*
Looking for diversion, I studied the photograph of President Pinera on the wall beside the door. Draped in a tricolor sash, he posed in front of a range of high Andean mountains, and beamed happily at the camera.
My appreciation was critical. We western European exports rather tend to expect our heads of state to show a somber, serious appreciation for the weights and balances and honors of their office.
To what, in contrast, seemed our rather dour anglo-saxon standards, his transparent enthusiasm appeared almost indecent. Awfully… latin, in fact. I decided that I rather liked it.
* "I know all. I see all. Your petty desires are as naught to me, and being so, I shall grant your visas as swiftly as rice is scattered before the wind."**
It's been a reasonably busy weekend. We baked several dozen gingerbread cookies. I forgot to add the eggs to a recipe for peanut butter bars and now we have ziploc bags full of chocolate peanut butter crumbs. Mr Tabubil smashed two bowls. I smashed a wine glass. We made more gingerbread cookies, and Mr Tabubil whipped off a run of fresh- raspberry sorbet. Your regular two-weeks-before-christmas baking frenzy, basically.
We may or may not actually be in Chile. But for the purposes of the narrative, we're in Melbourne, at the Chilean consulate, applying for our visas.
I am an Australian architect, married to a Canadian who followed me home.
In September 2011 we relocated from rural South Australia to the bustling metropolis of Santiago, Chile, where it's warmer than Canada, but less insect-y than Australia.
How's that for a compromise?