Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Flying to Valdivia

We are spending the long weekend of the 21st of May (the celebration of the Glorias Navales of 1879) in the southern city of Valdivia. 

Santiago is a large, smoggy city that sits in a caldera of mountains and stews in its own pollution. Valdivia is a small coastal city in the heart of the alpine region. In Valdivia, smoke from wood fires mingles with sea-mist and blows away by mid-morning, and daily rains melt away the scraps of fog caught under the eaves of houses and tangled in the fir trees. In Santiago we hadn't had rain for weeks, and we were living in a flat brown bowl of chemical soup.

Flying out of the city was both welcome and deeply disheartening. Above the smog layer, the flat airplane air tasted fresher than it had down on the runway - and we wondered how we'd lived down there, like that.

Monday, May 28, 2012


While I was walking to the metro this morning, I saw the most astonishing person.
She was a woman, on the hefty side of plump, wearing a big white down duffle coat.
The look could have almost succeeded as "snowball" except that she was wearing the coat half unzipped, showing off a black turtleneck sweater, and on her legs were orange gumboots.

If you're thinking "seagull", you're dead on.

I was raised not to stare at strangers, but this one was difficult.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Eurovision 2012: The One with the Unicycle

Tonight is the North American broadcast of Eurovision 2012. 
Last year's Eurovision wasn't worth much notice - being mostly populated by young men trying to look bad to the bone, but mostly succeeding in looking exactly like the sort of forward thinking yet wholesome young man you'd take home to meet Grandma. 
            And the winning country, Azerbaijan, won by being consistently not quite good enough to win the first place votes - but being just banal and non-confrontational enough to rack up the points as everyone's choice for runner-up.

However, among the rather drossy dross, there was one glorious pink flamingo.  I give you Moldova, Eurovision 2011, the One with the Unicycle and the Garden Gnomes:

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Gringo Walks into a Post Office…

Mr Tabubil is cranky.  He just called me from the post office, where he is trying to post a letter.
He queued for 10 minutes, got to the head of the line, asked for an envelope to put his letter in, and the nice lady behind the counter told him that the post office doesn't have envelopes and to go away.
He went outside and found an enterprising street-businessman right outside the post office door who was making a roaring business selling envelopes to people just like Mr Tabubil. 
So he bought an envelope, addressed it, queued again, for another 10 minutes, and when he got to the counter, the same lady took the addressed envelope, gave him a FORM to fill out (complete with national ID card number and address) and told him to step out of line and fill it out.
Mr Tabubil grimly thought RIGHT, and stepped exactly two paces left to an empty bit of counter and filled it out there, then stepped back to the front of the line. The counter lady motioned him to the back of the line and he stared her down.  The lady coming up behind him in the line tried to give him grief and he said "Lady, I have queued here TWICE now!  All I want is to send a non-registered stamped envelope to Canada!" and the lady melted and sent him forward.

But he's a little fratchety at the moment!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


In the middle of a street, in heavy traffic, my taxi driver slammed on the brakes and threw his head out of his open window and screamed. 'Ignacio!"
            There was a little boy running down the sidewalk.  He was maybe two years old, still unsteady on his legs, running with that forward headlong headlong gait of a baby.  Half a block behind him, a woman was running flat out.  She'd turned around and he'd gotten away. They were her screams that the driver had heard.
            "Ignacio!"  A command. "Ignacio!"  A shout.  "Ignacio, sweetie, darling, come to Mummy - Ignacio stop NOW!"
            Ignacio didn't stop - he was almost at the end of the block, laughing his little head off - he was having a grand time, a fabulous time, and he was running straight toward a heavy stream of moving cars.  I can't remember when I was last quite so frightened.
            "Ignacio!"  my driver yelled. "Ignacio, come and look at my pretty taxi!  Look at the pretty taxi!  Stop-" and then, in the next second, with a shouted curse, he was out of the taxi, his door swinging, and he flew down that sidewalk and scooped Ignacio up in his arms just as the child put his first pretty little foot off the curb and into the busy street.
            And then the mother was there - a moment too late - and she was shaking, and the driver was shaking and Ignacio was crying because the adults were shaking and all the good times had gone away just like that.
            The driver came back to the taxi and sat down heavily in the drivers seat, and he just sat there for a minute. While he talked about leashes for children. And idiot parents, and the luck of fools and all the things you say when you're absolutely terrified and don't need to be anymore.
            And the thing is, I've always looked down on parents who would do that - who would put leashes on their kids. Who clearly can't trust themselves to keep a proper eye on their own kids.  I've been deeply superior about lots of things.  It's hardly an original sort of epiphany, but how on earth do we trust ourselves to do this right?  That mother looked away for one moment - and if it wasn't for a taxi-driver passing on the street who happened to hear her calling, she'd have been a mother without a son.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Backing Up

Speaking of dogs, it is a splendid fact of nature that just as Mr Tabubil adores dogs, they adore him right back.  An evening stroll with Mr Tabubil is like walking with a politician out kissing babies - he advances and coddled moppets and furry monsters of all shapes and sizes smile and drop in their tracks and roll over for a belly rub.
On the rare occasions when the connection isn't one of brotherly hallelujahs, there is still a spark - instantaneous and fierce. 

The other night (all good stories start like this) we passed by a little corner store.  Outside, tied to a lamp-post by a stout leash, was a dog.  It hunkered at the bottom of the post, staring sullenly out at the world, and there was a species of mean, sordid, pissed-off-edness of disposition in his eyes that said his owner was in for a barrel full of trouble when he came back out.
            "Oh look at the poor thing!"  Mr Tabubil said.  "All tied up and abandoned like that!"
             The Poor Thing gave him a black look, and a low rumbling started deep in its throat.
            I backed up. "He looks like a mean one to me."
Mr Tabubil gave me a reproachful look. "What are you talking about?" He said.  "Look at those sad little eyes! Listen to that pitiful little moan!"
The Poor Thing bared a tooth.
            "Er."  I said.  "Er.  I don't think-"
            "Hey buddy." Mr Tabubil coo'd.  "Are we feeling lonely?  Are we all alone out here?"
He hunkered down and stretched out a hand, and the Poor Thing lunged at him with a snap of teeth that came within half an inch of taking Mr Tabubil's hand right off.  He jumped back in a hurry.  The dog shot him a look of pure filth and started shouting:
            "Oooh!  Look!"  It barked. "I've found a bastard!  Bastard, Bastard, Bastard, Bastard, Bastard!  Call the Carabineros!  I've caught a bastard!"
            People were starting to stare.  Me - I stepped smartly around the lamppost and left  them to it.  Half a block later, Mr Tabubil caught up with me at a run.  Behind us, the dog was still barking - loud and self-righteous, and all of it lies.  If he'd been human he'd have been the sort of sod who starts fights in bars with bottles, and afterwards, sits in the gutter with a nasty expression on his face saying "Who, me?  He was the one that said-" while they cart everyone else away in an ambulance.
            "I knew I shouldn't have touched him."  Mr Tabubil panted. "That dog had crazy eyes."
            "I think we should move a little faster now.  He's still barking."
            We ran.  
             Three city blocks later, the dog was still going:
            "And your Daddy is a bastard, and his Daddy as well - !  Bastards all of them!  And you, mate - you come back here and try that thing with your hand again!  Oooh, yes!  I'll show you-!"  
            Three blocks after THAT, he was still shouting at the top of his range, telling the whole damned evening world all about Mr Tabubil and all his antecedents, going back all the way to the flood, and before that as well - as far as that dog was telling it, there was a Bastard in the Garden of Eden alongside the Snake, and he looked just like my husband. 
            We were walking more slowly now.  Slowly and just a touch ostentatiously, with the faces of those whom butter never melts in the mouth and of those who would never stoop touch somebody elses' doggie, no matter how it begged and wheedled.
            "Crazy eyes."  Mr Tabubil sighed, shaking his head.  "Tabubilgirl, a memo: Never touch the crazy eyes."
            In the far distance, we could still hear the Poor Thing shouting. "Bastards all!"

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

We Meet a dog who Likes Us.

Yesterday evening we went for a walk and met a big shaggy, very friendly, golden retriever.
Mr Tabubil is helpless in the face of a friendly dog and stooped to pet it and the dog promptly went beserk and treated him like her long lost best friend and while they wriggled (the dog) and coo'd (Mr Tabubil) in mutual rapture, the owner smiled and mumbled "You've opened a real can of worms there."
And we giggled because the dog WAS super friendly and had gotten just a little bit excited.

Just a little, yes.
As we walked away I saw the dog (feeling abandoned, presumably) rear onto her hind legs and throw herself bodily onto her owner, knocking her into a wall.  Having suitably established the strength of her ardor in that direction, the dog turned around and threw herself onto the first pedestrian who passed by - an elderly woman who reacted with impressive "eyuuuugghhhhhh!" noises and flailing tentacle limbs at the dramatic surprise of enormous doggie paws around her neck and a soppy doggy kiss on her forehead.

As we turned the corner, the owner was wrestling the dog into some semblance of "four legs on the ground at the SAME TIME, PLEASEEE!!!" and I was sort of screaming with laughter.

I'm not very nice, I guess.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Moving In

Moving Out:

Moving In:

When you end a day of moving wanting to hug EVERYONE involved, the process has been a complete success!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

McLeod's Bookstore, Basement Edition.

Here is McLeod's Bookshop again - the biggest firetrap in Vancouver, literary edition.  It is the most bookish bookstore I've ever been into, and comes complete with a crotchety bookstore-keeper, who sits behind an old wooden desk in the center of the maze on the upper floor and snarls when you ask for a price-check or worse, and cheekily, approach him with a title search.
            There's something about a really bookish used bookstore that inspires presumptions of magical powers in the proprietor.  And the worser and more impenetrable and zoo-ish and Escher-esque  the interior of the shop, the harder you presume an inverse relationship between the crumbling chaos and a level of arcane omnipotence on his  part - of course he knows the name and location of every single book!
            In revenge, he will, entirely fallaciously, direct you to the basement, where the books are stacked two-and-a-half-thousand to the cubic meter, in dusty towers as tall as you are.  There are handwritten subject catalogues pinned to pointing to the bottoms of  the stacks.  The lights are dim and the air is close and uncomfortably warm.  One stray spark off of the ancient polyester carpet underneath your feet and the whole place would go up like a bomb. 
            You flee for the dusty daylight of upstairs, and leave in determination, intending to return directly with a fire-proof suit and a scuba tank full of sensible ventilation in case of crisis.  You'd gotten almost lost down there, and in the warren of obscure academic subjects, you'd scarcely made it past the letter B.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Capilano Suspension Bridge

We found somewhere to live so quickly that we had to wait almost a month before our personal effects arrived and we could move in. So I flew up to Vancouver to spend a bit of time with Mum and Dad. And they took me to Capilano.
             The Capilano Suspension Bridge, in all its verdant redwood wilderness, is actually only 15 minutes from Downtown Vancouver. And it is a terrible thing.
             The Capilano Suspension bridge is a terribly wobbly bridge.  Being a terribly wobbly bridge has been its claim to fame since 1889. The bridge is terribly wobbly and the gorge below is terribly deep and there is always some sadistic monster child in the middle bouncing up and down to make it swing and tip from side to side until everybody on it is in terrible danger of falling off.  And down.  And further down until there isn't any more down and you get hurt.

             Mr Tabubil swears black and blue in engineering parlance that the thing can't tip over or snap and spill me off.  But I prefer hearing all about shear ratios and steel strength coefficients on solid ground where everything is hypothetical.
             But that bridge is the only way across, so I go.  Swearing under my breath all the way across. By way of prayer.

In the redwood forest on the other side, the trees are vast and out-scale trees and a tree-top walk runs a ten meters above the ground at the level of their knees.  

The leaves are huge because the trees are huge.  They go all the way up to the sky and when dusk comes (if you are still on the far side) the stars get hung in their upper branches.

It's wonderful in those trees.  But to get home you have to go back across the wobbly bridge again. 
There may be tears.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Ice is Nigh!

We are suddenly in winter.  We had no autumn; we went from skirts and t-shirts to 15 degrees Celsius - with rain-  between Monday and Friday.  And now we are freezing. The concrete buildings  here are cold-sinks, and we're not allowed to turn on our central heating (gas fired) until we've had it officially inspected (to avoid surprise explosions).  Now we're sort of scrambling to have it done… everybody in Santiago is scrambling to get it done, and there are only so many gas inspectors to go around!
            But it is so pretty at the moment.  The rain has cleared the air, and the mountains are full of snow and the leaves are.... well turning brown and dropping off. It's not exactly New England with its burning autumnal forests (I have a friend here from New Hampshire who is pining) but there's just enough color to keep the streets pretty.  What I do miss is being able to crunch the leaves as I walk through autumn streets - here the building concierges are so conscientious that they sweep up everything as it falls - four times a day and at least twice during the night, so that when people leave for work in the morning, the verges are spotless.
            Which leads to some highly contextual frustration - on Sunday, as I was walking to meet said friend from New Hampshire at a coffee shop (for purposes of pining), I passed a building where the concierge was outside raking.  It was a gusty day and the leaves fell as fast as he raked and as I passed by, he hit his limit- he had both hands around a big sturdy branch of the nearest tree and he was shaking that tree with everything he had - he was going to get it all over with at once, by damn!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

House Hunting

We had a few requirements. We wanted to live no more than 20 minutes walk from Mr Tabubil's Office.  We wanted to be close to the shops and to the metro. We wanted trees around us.
            And we wanted a decent, gringo-friendly kitchen.  Most kitchens here are dark and ergonomically illogical galley kitchens in the bowels or the backs of the apartment.  Sans natural light even, sometimes. They're for the maids, not for people.
            On day 4 of Being in Chile, Mr Tabubil's company relocation people - a lovely lady named Beatriz and her minion - came to meet with us.  Sitting in the living room of mi suegro's apartment, they looked around the pretty, tidy room, and shook their heads and set about disabusing us of finding anything pleasant - or even habitable.
            We told them the rent we hoped to pay, which we'd researched and should have been sufficient for a comfortable place, and they got very dour and told us that we had two options: We could live in an ultra-modern apartment -with all mod cons, but a shoebox, or we could live in a larger apartment, but it would be falling apart. Literally,  Beatriz told us, her eyes wide.  Larger apartments are in older buildings and the owners don't want to do anything and the walls are all falling down.  She and her minion both nodded solemnly.  And as for a decent kitchen, forget it.  Kitchens are for maids. In the back -out of sight, out of earshot - You'll just have to adjust your lifestyle - cooking is a chore, not a pleasure!
            We felt rather despondent and said to just show us everything they had and they suddenly became rather perky and told us that in the following 48 hours they'd show us 12 apartments and we'd be very very happy and could choose one of them.  If we didn't mind crumbling walls and bathrooms that maybe didn't work much.  At all.
            Then they left, smiling,  and we had a small emergency meeting and calculated by how much we would have to increase the rent in order to get something we could live with.

So we started house hunting in a state of some perturbation.  The first place Beatriz took us to was a 12th storey penthouse.  It was old and it was rickety and it was shabby and it was falling apart with crumbling walls and floor paneling that bucked up almost  to knee level in the middles of the rooms, but it was enormous and full of light and the kitchen may have been 30 years old but it was a proper kitchen, not a railway galley, and the owners were engaged in necessary maintenance and nailing down the floor at that very moment.
            After that we were driven to another building on the very edge of our walking radius.   We took an elevator to the third floor and walked into - space, and light, and... charm.  The owners were Spanish and didn't think much of Chilean apartment lifestyles, so a year and a half ago they'd knocked out half the walls and totally rebuilt the kitchen to suit a lifestyle that didn't involve a maid exiled to Siberia, and because they didn't want a live-in maid they'd knocked out the maids bedroom room and added on to the kitchen with pantries and a breakfast nook and.... have you ever walked into a space and just felt good?
            And it was five minutes walk from the subway and the shops, ten minutes walk from my in-laws' place, and when we looked out the widows, we saw trees .
            We walked all over it, and loved it, and made friends with the owners, and when we finally left, I finally drew breath.
            "I want to live here."
            "Me too."
           "Did you see the man sitting in the living room?  He wasn't a friend of the family - he was waiting for another real-estate agent!  And did you see the two men going up in the lift when we came down?  They're going to see it as well!"
            And because we couldn't imaging seeing anything nicer in the whole city, Beatriz pulled her car over to the side of the road and called her real estate agent to draw up a letter of offer (Chile is very formal) and because we'd taken the time to get to know the owners, they decided that they liked us and the same night, Beatriz called us to say yes.  The apartment was ours.

We spent all of the next day filling out forms, and early on the day after that, Beatriz hustled us into a notary's office to sign the paperwork and make it all official before anyone else came through with a better offer on the apartment.
             A notary's office in Chile is a very special place.  Signing the lease took two and a half hours.
The office proper was an enormous room filled with queues and electric typewriters.  Beatriz found us a conference room because she knows everybody and everything (she's the Original Fixer) and we all sat down - Mr Tabubil, Me, the dueno (the landlord) the dueno's daughter and the real-estate agent.  At intervals the agent would appear with paperwork that we'd pore over and mark up all the typos, then he'd vanish back into the scrum and, after half an hour or so, reappear with it all typed up again - and we'd check it again and send him back.  Eventually we signed things.  The signatures had to be ratified and counter-signed in the outer room, and at length we were all given receipts - which had to be ratified and photocopied and counter-signed - it was something of a zoo.
             Our stupefyingly swift success  in finding a home has made us the Mr Tabubils' company's poster children for rapid assimilation.  Two days to find a place to live? The usual process can take two months!  They think we're wonderful.
And as we couldn't move in until our personal effects arrived - five or six weeks later, I flew up to Vancouver and spent three lovely weeks with Mum and Dad.