Friday, June 29, 2012

Certain Opinions on Gatorade

Physio  is going allright.  But they're onto me vis a vis the gatorade. 
            I loathe gatorade.  And powerade, and all the other permutations of the stuff.  Whatever flavor you try, it tastes like liquid metallic orange sick.  And it does really yuchy things to your teeth.
            However, the consultant physician in charge of the physical rehabilitation department at the Clinica Alemana is obsessed with the stuff. I'm under instructions to drink an entire bottle before I arrive, and to drink at least one more during the session and to refill constantly as I go.
            When I arrive and they ask me "did you drink before you came?" I nod and lie pleasantly through my teeth.  I'm all for keeping rehydrated, but there's no fun in doing floor exercises with a liter and a half of water sloshing around your tummy.  The stomach crunches turn out strange.
            As it goes, I conveniently 'forget' to bring gatorade once a week, on average, and putter along very happily with sensible amounts of plain water. But last Friday, after a muscle spasm at the end of the session that they attributed directly to a lack of gatorade in my system, they told me about gatorade powders that you can buy and keep as reserve in the pantry.
            "Buy some, Tabubilgirl!  Today!"
            So this morning when I was heading out to my session and realized I'd forgotten to put gatorade on the shopping list again, I grabbed an old packet of Australian rehydration salts, dumped it into a water bottle and sailed out of the house.
            At physio I proudly waved my bottle of cloudy-colored water at Soledad (my very own physical therapist) and sang out that I'd taken up her suggestion and was trying out the powders -
            "Isn't that NICE." She said sweetly - and pinned me to a floor mat with a laser glare.
            "And now you know what you can do?  You can bring a box in here and keep it in the closet for when you forget!!!!!  Isn't THAT nice?!?!"

Sigh. That's called being Busted.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Receptionists (A Pejorative.)

The receptionists at the Clinica Alemana seem to have some sort of special training that other people don't get.
            Right now I'm doing some physiotherapy at the Clinica for something uninteresting and muscle-related.  Wednesday last week I had to call in sick on account of a stomach flu.
            I rang.
            "Hola. I'm Tabubilgirl. I'm a patient with your department - "
            "Oh hiiiiii Tabubilgirl.  How are yoouuu?"
            "Um… not so good - in fact, I'm calling because I have to cancel for today.  Stomach flu.  Can you please put me through to my physio - Soledad?"
            "You're in Soledad's group?"
            "Yes.  Can you put me through to her?"
            "Oh noooo. She's in the middle of a session. Don't you worry about it. I'll let her know that you won't be in, okay?   As soon as she's done, okay?  You take care of yourself!  Byeeee!"
            So I hung up and went back to my basin.  Job done.

On Friday, when I did make it in to physio, Soledad just about knocked me off my feet. 
            "Where were you?!  I didn't hear anything from you!  You need to let me know if you're not coming!!  Are you okay?  Were you too sick to call?!"
            (Note: the physios at the Clinica Alemana are amazing people.  They work to a holistic model of care that is just… at a level I'd never really dreamed possible.  And they are seriously, seriously nice.) 
            "I called in sick - the receptionist said - she said she'd say - didn't she say?"
            Soledad looked at me and squinted"Nooo!  Nobody told me anything!"
            After the session I stomped out into the reception lounge and squared up in front of Senora Helpful. 
            "Yeeees?  Can I help you?"
            "Yes."  I said.  "You can.  I'm Tabubilgirl.  I called on Wednesday?  I called in sick?!"
            She looked down her nose at me.  "And?"
            "You told me that you'd tell Soledad I couldn't come!  She never heard from you!"
            She stared at me in amazement. And said - and I quote: "Why in the world would I do anything like that?  I have better things to do than run around carrying messages to physiotherapists. "
            I goggled.
            "But… but - you offered.  You told me you would."
            And she curled her upper lip - a very refined, genteel little curl, and she rolled back her shoulders, and she turned her back on me.
            And that was that.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I am deteriorating rapidly

Have I mentioned that Dr Tabubil also has a theater degree?  When she's not feeling well, we all know about it.  Right now she has a head cold, and has begged me to skype her because she's feeling poorly.  Poor Darling.  
            “Hi, Dr Tabubil! How are you feeling?”
            A very very very small voice said “I am deteriorating rapidly.”
            “Oh dear – “I floundered, lost for words.
            “And my upper lip feels funny.”
            “Because of all the nastiness in my nose. It tickles.”
            “Yuck!” I said. “Why don’t you use a Kleenex and mop it up?”
            There was a sound like a very small mouse heaving a sigh. “Because I’d have to reach for it and my arm hurts because of the aches and pains, you know. I am deteriorating rapidly.”
            “Tell you what” I said. “Why don’t I hang up and you got get a tissue, okay?”
            A tiny, put-upon-mouse sigh. “Fine.”
            So she did.
            I called back. “Hi Dr Tabubil!”
            “My throat hurts.”
            “Have you tried drinking some tea with honey in it?”
            “I don’t like tea. And I don’t like honey either. And my nose is all stuffed up. I can’t breathe through it at all.”
            I tried being helpful. “You know what I do? I put some eucalyptus oil drops into a mug of boiling water and drape a cloth over my head and inhale. It really does help.”
            “Oh Tabubilgirl.” The mouse gave a little sigh. “Nobody in Queensland uses Eucalyptus oil. Eucalyptus is everywhere and it’s just so… common. ”
            “But it works.”
            “That’s not the point.”
            “And I really doubt that Australians are such snobs about something that works so well.”
            “Huh.” The mouse expressed doubt and gave a weak cough. “But I still can’t breathe through my nose.”
            “Why don’t you give it a try?” I coaxed.
            A long pause. “But I’m deteriorating rapidly.”
            I hung up.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Egg-shell Blue

Quail eggshells are pale blue inside.

I never knew.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ladies who Lunch (on celery sticks and slimming aids, apparently.)

Earlier this week I went to a luncheon with a LOVELY group of  young Chilean ladies, and I came home rather thoughtful. Gringo men in Chile, the ladies told me - earnestly, and with emphatic hands on my knee - don't stand a chance.  It doesn't matter if the men are married or single; there are always one or more Chilean women (slender, sinuous and raven-haired all) watching and waiting from the shadows.  Twenty-four hours a day.   Ready to pounce.

Mr Tabubil wants to know who his two are, and why he hasn't met them yet.  He peers penetratingly into the corners of every room he goes through, with a vaguely eager expression on his face.
He has suggested that I might go back to the ladies who lunch and sue for breach of promise.

The deeply altruistic follow-up to my tea-and-cookies warning was a darling lady named Claudia who called me to clarify that she takes it upon herself to warn all the Gringa ladies that she thinks might be in danger, or to put it more precisely, are putting on weight.  Because Chilean ladies NEVER put on the pounds as they get older and THEY keep their men.  (Older!  I'm barely thirty!)

I am assuming that Claudia is telling me all this out of friendly interest, as a sort of inconsequential in-passing thing, and NOT because she thinks I need a well-timed warning to hit the Atkins diet.
Possibly she is jealous my brownies.  It was a pot-luck luncheon and my baking excelled itself.  Nothing that I baked came out of an imported Duncan Hines box.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Pea-Soup Goodbye

We are spending the long weekend of the 21st of May (the celebration of the Glorias Navales of 1879) with four Chilean friends in the small coastal city of Valdivia.  

On Monday morning, the fog rolled in, and where Lord Cochrane had sailed his ships, airplanes didn't dare follow.  The sea-fogs of Valdivia are pea-soupers; on two of our three mornings there we woke to classical white-out conditions and ate our breakfast and moved slowly about the town under a flat white light that obscured cars in the street and the houses across the road.
            Valdivians mostly heat their homes with wood-stoves.  On evenings where there is little wind, the ubiquitous nightly sea-fog mixes with the wood-smoke and makes a bank of dense, impenetrable smog.  The air is grey and tastes of ash and pine-wood, and the smoke curls around your ankles and your elbows as you walk about, while cars and buildings loom out of the dark at you as you pass.
Our hotel room was built mostly sturdy - but with the window tightly sealed, there was a quarter-inch gap all around the edges of the frame.  After an evening soak in the wonderful shower and eight hours asleep in our sealed hotel room, we awoke smelling pleasantly of campfires and wood-smoke, and our towels, laid out over the arms of chairs to dry, smelled like the leavings of a house-fire.
            That last morning our dreams of a last dreamy shower were dashed.  Completely. The hot water was out - everyone in the hotel was going home after the long weekend and we were all showering at once. We settled for a hasty lukewarm-ish brush-and -scrub, no songs, and scurried for the airport, and spent our last morning and most of an afternoon in the dank tile-and-concrete chill of the airport terminal, sipping interminable cups of hot chocolate to keep warm, and going on arm-swinging, chest pounding walks in circles about the parking lot while we waited for the fog to lift.
            At mid-afternoon the fog lifted, and our plan home took off from Santiago to come down to us.  And two hours after that, we went home.
            And settled gently down onto the tarmac of a city that smelled like aviation fuel and motor oil.  No rivers and no rain.  But it was home.
            Welcome home.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sea Lions in 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. 

Sea lions don't just hang out around the fish market in downtown Valdivia.

They hang out EVERYWHERE - taking their Sunday ease Monday through Friday, all over every place where humans thought they'd go ahead and build themselves a jetty.

Or a pontoon.

Sea Lions are enormously photogenic.

With a regal presence.

Force of personality

And a gravity of purpose

That lends their every activity an air of noblesse-oblige and patronage.

But to be deeply, bitterly frank, they mostly don't do all that much.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Fort Niebla

We are spending the long weekend of the 21st of May (the celebration of the Glorias Navales of 1879) with four Chilean friends in the small coastal city of Valdivia.  

Once upon a time, Valdivia was the most fortified city in Spanish America.  Valdivia was where sailors stopped for the last fresh water before the Horn, and where they found the first fresh water after the Horn.  The city was prized accordingly.  Everybody wanted it.  And the Spanish were determined to hold it.
            On Sunday we visited the ruins of Fort Niebla - a twelve-gun battery on a cliff, one of the ferocious teeth in a network of fourteen forts that the Spanish built in the 16th century to defend the mouth of the Corral Bay against any and all comers.  A map in a small museum  on the site showed us the overlapped fields of fire - that narrow stretch of water was bracketed fourteen ways from hell in a net of batteries that would - and should - in theory - turn that narrow stretch of water into a charnel ground.
            Valdivia was never taken - I'm not certain that it was even attempted - until the Corral Bay was breached by Admiral Thomas Cochrane, during in the Chilean war of Independence in 1820.
            After 300 years of secure martial superiority, the Spanish were complacent and overconfident, and simultaneously - what with the whole of their South American viceroyalties trying to pitch them back across the ocean - deeply short of morale. In high contrast, Lord Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, was riding on a high -a naval hero who had just come off the Napoleonic Wars in a cloud of splendid notoriety, and Bernardo O'Higgins, the Great Chilean Liberator, had hired him to head his embryo navy.
            On his own initiative Cochrane decided to take Valdivia as a prize for the Chileans.  Which he duly did - at night in a pea soup fog, with two ships sailing under Spanish flags.
            Lord Cochrane was a man of such splendid naval prowess that he has been inspiring sea-writers for the past two centuries.  Jack Aubrey and Horatio Hornblower are two of his namesakes.  Reality lives up to fiction: flying Spanish flags, Cochrane waited for a fog, took the shore-most batteries on the south side of the bay from the direction that the guns were not aimed - in a land assault. He couldn't avoid a head-on assault of Fort Niebla, but when he arrived he found the fort deserted. The Spanish had fled.  And that was that.  Valdivia belonged to the Chileans.

Lord Cochrane took seven of Fort Niebla's twelve guns away with him as booty, and rendered the rest inoperable, and left them there to moulder there, next to their ovens.

There are two dome-roof'd brick ovens behind the gun emplacements, built to heat cannon-balls red hot before they were fired.   More sporting raiders than Lord Cochrane would have attempted the bay in broad daylight or under a full moon, and they would have faced a two-phase attack.  First a volley of chain-shot - two small balls linked by a stout chain, to tear down the yards and masts of their ships, and then a barrage of cannonballs heated to a glowing cherry-red heat, to set fire to their decks and hulls and leave the raiders floating in a charred wreck, picked off easily by the smaller guns.
            Today the place is sunny and serene and Fort Niebla drowses in the sun, habituated only by the wandering tourists who clamber over the cliffs and scratch their names in the cliffs of mud-stone rock that the fort was built out of.  The stone is so soft that thorny weeds down on the gun emplacements have cut circular grooves in the rock as the branches are blown about by the wind.

In the afternoon we found a small boat to take us out to Isla Mancera - the master-fort in the center of the bay that for 300 years commanded the whole lethal panopoly.  We'd heard rumors that there was an underground dungeon there - still complete - dank and solid and explore-able.
            Isla Mancera today is sleepier even than Fort Niebla.  Only 52 people live in the island, in wooden houses painted in bright colors behind low rail fences. 

The little boat left us on a landing and promised to be back in an hour.  We walked up a grass lane, unmarked - no tires had passed this way in months, if ever - with a narrow paved sidewalk along one edge for when the lane was wet and muddy.  

At the top of a hill we found a small church and a high stone wall:  the wall of the Castillo de San Pedro de Alcántara.
            A door in the wall took us down a passage through the stones and out onto a plateau.  The edge of the island had been leveled and we stood on a grass-paved stage that faced out across  the mouth of the bay.  It was a splendid fortified position - almost all of the bay's defenses would have been directly visible from this place.   And it was a Place: a place of tremendous serenity - there was a palpable, forceful, and unbudgeable placidity there - a seated presence with a spine of iron and a lifted chin and a repose that a Buddha could have wrapped steel bars around and used to build walls. 

There were only us - and it. The building were ruins, studded with moss and crowned with grass-flowers.  The dungeon was barred by a solid modern grate, and a small flock of white sheep cropped at the grass.  We stepped quietly, and then, when we'd learned that we couldn't disturb it, we ran and hooted and climbed the walls to walk the ramparts and the place flowed around us like water.

After a time, the light began to dim and turn purple.  A pair of teenage girls came to collect the sheep and took them away.  We circled the place on foot, and made our goodbyes, and we walked back through the wall into the island. Out in the water, our little boat was chugging toward us.  

It wasn't as cold as the previous nights had been.  We went home.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

On the Rio Valdivia

We are spending the long weekend of the 21st of May (the celebration of the Glorias Navales of 1879) with four Chilean friends in the small coastal city of Valdivia. 

After sharing lunch with the sea lions (our fish was as fresh as their fish, but scaled, cleaned, seared on a grill, and served up with vinegared tomatoes and a side of root vegetables.  Sea Lions have no sense of the fitness of things.) we went out on one of the excursion boats that traveled up the Rio Calle Calle.  We boarded the boat and snagged ourselves prime real-estate on the top deck (is there a nautical term for that?) at the stern - a row of seats that had been unaccountably left empty.  The boat's engine fired up and covered our prime-real estate, and we who sat upon it, in a greasy cloud of smoke and cinders, and the first mate passed out life vests for everybody.
            We passed up the Calle Calle and turned into the Valdivia. The Valdivia is fat and slow and loops its way up a long valley through reed beds that spread out a kilometer wide on each side of the river.  The reeds were yellow and rattling.  It was full autumn - almost winter here, and the light on the river was thin and white, almost sere -

Not all of the reed beds were here 50 years ago.  In 1960 Valdivia was badly damaged by  the strongest earthquake that has ever been recorded - 9.5 on the MMS.  A friend who was a child when it happened said that  he was in a car with his mother and the road moved in waves higher than a man's head. The tsunami that followed the quake funneled up the Corral Bay  into the Rio Valdivia and flattened the city.  More than 5000 people died.  The strawberry fields along the river sank and became 50 kilometers of reed beds.  

This stretch of river is a wildlife sanctuary now.  Our boat put in at a small town called Punucapa.  Onshore, it began to rain and the sere light gave way to a light that was a thick and vivid green.  We walked up a hill between fruit orchards and houses selling artesenal chocolate and marzipan and bottles of home-made chicha - a lightly fermented apple cider.  I find it delicious - thin and sweet and fizzy, with just enough alcohol to put a little extra bubble on the bubbles.  Mr Tabubil is not so fond - to him it tastes like apples that have been left in the back of the pantry until they're spoiled from the core on outward.  We bought chocolate and marzipan instead.

At the top of the road we were shown a 250 year old church. The church was notable mostly for its antiquity, but outside the sun was gold and slant and fell through the wet in rainbows.  

We all took shelter under a cypress tree that had been planted when the church was founded - it was wide around as a house.  A very small house, but venerable for a cypress tree.  When the rain stopped we walked back down the hill to the dock and motored further up the river until the sun dropped behind the mountains, and docked again for Onces (Elevenses - which Chileans eat in the late afternoon, just to confuse anglo-gringos) in an abandoned farmstead at the top of a hill.

The path to the top of the hill swung wide around the hill in a long shallow loop.  It was a slow route to the top.  The evening was cold and went and muddy, and Mr Tabubil and I, being suspicious sorts, shadowed a man from the boat who was carrying a tupperware bin full of bread rolls and followed him up a vertical cut through the shrubbery.  He took it at a run, so we took it at a run.  At the top he looked at us very disapprovingly and said that the shortcut was NOT for passengers.  We shrugged, and waited until our law-abiding Chilean shipmates had filed their long way up and around the hill, most of them still wearing their life-vests, because none of the boats crew had  issued any specific directives to take them off. (Chileans are very good at following established protocols.)
            The view from the hill was tremendous, and the sunset was deeply colorful, but it was awfully cold when it got dark.  The passengers with the life-vests on looked rather smug - they had an extra two-inches of insulation on their torsos.  Mr Tabubil and I stopped feeling quite so clever.
            We sailed back to Valdivia in the pitch dark.  It was icy-cold and river-bottom-damp and everyone, passengers and first mates and all, crowded into the little saloon under the top-deck (is there a nautical term for that?) and we worked up a good fug and warmed up a smidgen.  Just a tad.   Back in Valdivia it was raining steadily, so we walked back to the hotel and climbed into the heavenly shower again and sang Sloop John B (The Beach Boys) and Fly Me to the Moon (Bart Howard) and only came out when the onces had worn off and it was keep steaming or starve. 
            So we ventured as far as the Dream Casino Buffet, then went back upstairs and had another shower.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sea Lions and a Fishmarket

We are spending the long weekend of the 21st of May (the celebration of the Glorias Navales of 1879) with four Chilean friends in the small coastal city of Valdivia. 

Just above where the Calle Calle meets the Valdivia, there is a river-front promenade with a row of excursion boats, a moored submarine, and a fish market:

The fish market was built with a row of steps leading down into the water, but a second stage of construction put up a stout rail fence:  the steps below the market - and a floating pontoon just beyond - have been colonized by a harem or two of sea lions - or lobos marinos (sea wolves) as they are known here:

In real life they are enormous- huge floating bellies and necks of solid muscle and long white teeth and terrible monster fish-breath.  The fishmongers toss fish heads and entrails to them over the fence, and they loll about and huff, and belch occasionally, and the tourists go mildly ga-ga and fill up the memory chips on their cameras.

Wandering through the fish market, Mr Tabubil and I were approached by a fishmonger in hip-waders who looked left and right and said out of the corner of his mouth : "You want to take a picture of me feeding a sea lion?"
            "Sure!"  We said.
            We followed him down an alley of fish-scales and fish-guts between the stalls.  The man picked up a two-foot silver-colored fish from a stall, and a moment later we were nose to nose through the fence with a big bull sea lion.
            "You want to do it?"  He said to Mr Tabubil.
            "Me?" Mr Tabubil looked at him.  "I want the photo!" 
            So the man handed me the fish and told me to put my whole arm over the fence, and praying that the sea lion was smart enough to remember the old saw about biting the hand that fed it, I did - and the bull, who out-massed me 8:1, reached up and took that big fish in one delicate clash of long white teeth.

And that was a very good morning.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A School Painted Magenta

We are spending the long weekend of the 21st of May (the celebration of the Glorias Navales of 1879) with four Chilean friends in the small coastal city of Valdivia.


The next morning the rain kept coming - but between showers the air was bright and clean and full of rainbows, so we decided to step out of our showers for an hour or two and go for a walk.
After an autumn in Santiago, where the air is so thick and full of dust and gasoline that it piles up in corners and silts up in the alleys behind buildings, breathing Valdivia's morning air was a little like being drunk - we were walking around with our arms wide open, taking it in by the bucketful. 
            Valdivia is a pretty, primary-colored town.  Schools are painted magenta, or in royal-blue-and-yellow stripes.  Houses come in turquoise and apple-green and apple-red.  The Plaza de Armas is less martial and more brass-band-stand-y than most Plazas de Armas in Chile - the European settlement here was mostly German, and the dominant aesthetic is one of gingerbread fretwork and gables, rather than heroic plinths and fountains.

A blue-and-yellow school:

A School painted Magenta:

A Painted House:

Men drinking tea on a painted street:

A house in a state of repose:

Friday, June 1, 2012

Hotel Bathrooms When They're Done RIGHT.

We are spending the long weekend of the 21st of May (the celebration of the Glorias Navales of 1879) with four Chilean friends in the small coastal city of Valdivia. 

Valdivia is a small city an hour by air south of Santiago, and only an hour's drive from Lago Ranco where we spent the New Year.  Packing for the trip, I pulled my hiking boots out of the bottom of the hall closet, where they'd sat since our last trip to the south.  When I tied the laces, a cloud of soft grey volcanic ash puffed out into the air and billowed out across the floor of the apartment.
            Valdivia is a water city.  Several large rivers meet right in town:  the Cau Cau, the Cruces, and the softly named Calle Calle, which flows west past main street and joins the Rio Valdivia, which runs out of town and  empties into the Corral Bay, a net of fjords and more river endings and one single narrow mouth onto the ocean. 
            We arrived in Valdivia at night, in a rainstorm, and saw nothing but patches of fogged-out lights and their reflections on pools of big water.  It was extremely cold - the chill of a humid winter, and when we checked into our hotel and were sent up to our rooms, we six thin-blooded northerners decided that our weekend in the south could go hang- we had discovered our bathrooms.
            We were shacking up in the lap of southern luxury - the Dreams Casino of Valdivia.  And the architects had done one thing spectacularly, incandescently right: in a place where fresh-water is neither scarce nor rationed, bathroom designers can pull out all the stops, and the designers for this place had installed showers out of Shangri-la and tropical fever dreams - the shower was its very own little glass room, with a massive rain-head falling ten feet from a marble roof onto  a marble floor.  There was a second showerhead-on-a-hose exactly at chest-and-face height, there was a bank of water jets mounted on the wall, the lighting was soft and recessed, the walls were glass and etched prettily with tall grasses and bamboo fronds, and the acoustics were made for singing -
            Stories shared over breakfast the next morning indicated that what happened in the other rooms was about the same as what happened in ours:  I elbowed Mr Tabubil out of the way and turned up the heat and barricaded myself inside and gave in to the acoustics -
            I stood under the water and sang Zip-a-dee-do-dah (Disney), Going to the Chapel (the Dixie Cups) and Sound the Trumpets (Purcell) and the songs came out in double and triple harmony, and then I hollered out to Mr Tabubil that I was going to stay in there until I grew moss.
            But before I grew moss  I ran out of songs and came out and let him have a turn.
            Because I am nice that way.
            And because the silicone grout around the bottom of the shower walls didn't seal properly and I'd flooded the toilet.