Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Park When the Weather is Unseasonal

This weekend, the winter went on vacation. The temperature rose, and the skies turned blue, and Mr Tabubil and I took a nap on the floor in front of an open window, while a breeze blew air at twenty-four degrees celcius across our faces.
            And after that, we went to our park. With the winter somewhere else, it was a rather busy park. The children's playground was one big buzzing sea of primary-colored sweaters (chilean mothers dress their offspring to the season, not the weather*) and away from the pre-teen scrum playing cards and smooching on the benches, the lawns under the trees were practically standing-room only.  It was exactly like one of those cardboard picture books that you give to small children with fascinating and singular activities hapening in every square meter of green grass - 

            Here's a man walking a little Scottie dog on a leash with its white whiskers hanging down, and its long white tail standing up, and its white legs twinkling as it runs.
            Here's a group of little boys playing football with a big red ball almost as tall as they are.
            Here are a young man and a young woman having a picnic. They are sitting on a blanket and drinking wine from long stemmed glasses and smiling at each other, rather foolishly.
           And here's a baby, pushing along a plastic walker that plays Farmer in the Dell over and over and over, while his parents cheer him on and he makes enormous grunting noises with the effort of every step.
            Here's a group of girls with a life-size cardboard cutout of a singer, grinning wildly and taking selfies on their cell phones.
            And here's another baby -  a baby bulldog with great rolls of puppy fat around his shoulders and enormous puppy feet. He's as big as tank, and he's yanking his leash out of his owner's hand and  bounding about the lawn, tangling up the football game, desiring to bepetted by every single person in the whole park, all at the same time. Doesn't matter if they want to. He'll make them want to - he's bigger than they are.
            The baby with the walker is looking hard at the couple on the blanket.  Now, all on his own, he is slanting, unblinking, towards them across the grass, and they are sitting very still, side by side. The woman has put her glass down on the grass and is holding out her arms-
            One f the girls with a cell phone is knocked flat. The puppy bowls over her like a panzer tank, a cardboard cutout with a marvelous white smile goes flying andthe air fills up with screams. The baby with the walker loses interest in the man and woman on the blanket and angles away.  The couple sigh deeply and sit back on the blanket, like puppets whose strings have been cut and the woman reaches out for her wine and drinks, deeply, looking at the grass.
            Above them in a tree, red aerial silks are slung over the highest branch, and another man and another woman practice their twists and falls high above the ground -
           And a Canadian sits with an Australian on another blanket.  They are pretending to read books and watching every single thing -
           We watched until the sun went down, and then sometime in the night, I became cold and dragged an extra blanket up the bed.  And in the morning we woke to a chill, damp fog. The winter was back from vacation and we could scarcely see the building next door.

*Winter is winter and what the weather is actually doing in the streets is an irrelevance. The calendar says that winter starts June 21st, and on June 22, women push strollers filled completely by small humans wrapped in woolly hats and fleece vests and puffy coats and layered over of their padded trousers, hand-knitted woolen leg warmers. And after all that, the occupant of the stroller is buried under so many blankets that half the time you have to take the existence of the baby on faith.
            When Sarah and Miles were visiting us last year, little Laurie was going through a growth spurt. If I hadn't know them I could still have tracked their progress through the streets of Santiago following a chain of Chilean matrons giving them the stink-eye because it was cool enough for a cotton cardigan and when Laurie sat in his stroller his pants rucked up there was an inch of leg visible between the top of his sock and the bottom of his trousers.   
            Dearie me.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Curtains, Part Two

When I ordered curtains for our brand new renovated apartment, I ordered nice curtain rails to go with them. I wanted the sort of rail that has sliders and cords to winch the curtains in and out, not just a rod to hang rings on, with a wooden stick at the leading edge to pull the curtain across the window. I don't like that sort.
            When the maestro (workman) arrived to install the curtains, he knocked on the door and I saw him through the peephole with his arms full of lovely-looking rails. But as meter after meter of shining aluminium slid through the door behind him, it became clear that these rails were the cheap, jingly sort with noisy rattling hooks and a rod to drag the curtain along behind- the very sort curtain rail I had paid a premium not to have in my shiny new flat.
            "Are these our rails?"
            "Yep." The maestro smiled at me sunnily and dropped the lot of them in a rattling, clattering, jangling heap on my feet.
            "We ordered the other sort."
            "You did," he said, "yes, you did, but we're giving you a special deal. For exactly the same price we're giving you a much better sort of rail."
            I looked at him and he looked back. I cracked first. "Would you," I said "please explain to me why these other rails are much better than the ones we paid for?"
            He looked at his boots, and sighed, and then he looked at me, compassion writ large all over his face.
            "The fact is, you didn't pay for the other sort. I didn't want to have to say it, but this was all you paid for."
            "Would you mind waiting one minute while I go and get the paperwork?" I walked across the dining room to the table and picked up the invoice. I pointed to the relevant line.  "It says here-"
            He interrupted me. "No. This is what you paid for and this is what you've got! People are always trying to get something for nothing. Don't think you're going to get anything out of us!"
            He picked up a the end of a rail and dragged it toward the dining room window, electric drill in his other hand.
            "I'm going to call the store now." I said.
            "You do that." He said, and he whirred the drill once or twice, meaningfully.
            The nice folks over at the shop had  a copy of my invoice in their records and after we read it together, line by line, twice, they were reluctantly compelled to admit that what I'd paid for wasn't in fact, what I was having installed in my new flat. Even more reluctantly, they agreed to get the dear maestro and his shoddy rails out.
            "So I'm supposed to take all this away with me?"
            "But I brought it here."
            I was getting cross. "That," I said, "is not my problem."
            "Fine." He slammed an armful of rails into a noisy pile on the floor. "Fine. I don't have any of the other sort in the bodega (warehouse) right now. You wanted curtain rails- I gave you curtain rails! Now I'm going to have to go and find some of the other sort!"
            "You do that."
            He looked at me balefully.  "It's going to take time."
            "You won't have your curtains up till next week."
            "All right."
            "I can't believe I came all this way!"
            With his arms full of jingling rails, he stamped furiously out the door. He'd have slammed it behind him too, but by the time the tail end of the very last four meter length of rail has slithered out behind him, the momentum was lost.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sunday Brain-Fog Zucchini Slice

This evening I used the slicing plate on my food processor (a lovely instrument!) to grate some veggies, but I sort of forgot to take the food processing blade out of the bottom of the bowl.
            Carrot soup is a wonderful base for any sort of dish, right?

Like zucchini slice muffins, perhaps.
            A zucchini slice is a wonderful dish, but in a fit of Sunday-afternoon brain-fog, I doubled the vegetables, halved the flour, 2/3'd the eggs, swopped the cheese in the recipe for something i found at the bottom of the fridge, spooned the mix into cupcake shells, forgot the spices until I dumped them on as a garnish when the muffins were half-way done.  In the oven I undercooked 'em, then compensated by sticking 'em back in the oven until they were scorched -
            And none of it should have mattered!  A zucchini slice is a recipe that takes whatever you throw at it and comes up roses and zucchini-scented violets.  Heck, I've done it once with exactly three ingredients - zucchini,  carrot and one egg -  and it was divine.
            But these  little muffins?
            They taste... blue.  There's no other way to describe it - they taste like a flavor would smell when it goes wrong, they taste like a bell would feel when it's struck in the wrong key. They taste... absolutely appalling.

Anyone got a good recipe?

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Right now I'm watching a movie called Trapeze! It was filmed in 1956, and stars Tony Curtis and Gina Lollobrigida and another fellow with a jaw like a ball-peen hammer. 
            Trapeeze is Technicolor and CinemaScope and dancing girls on elephants! It's about two trapeze artists trying to perfect the triple somersault, and the scheming woman who wants to be a star and comes between them. 
            The woman has a chest like the front of ship and a waist you could pour through a hose - even when she’s wearing leotards. When she walks, her hips sashay like she's a hula dancer going for the All-Hawaiian-Islands trophy and her eyes roll about like they're on gimbals pointed due man-flesh. 
            Nobody speaks. They declaim. Crouched like boxers in a ring, the men square their jaws and stretch clawed hands up to the heavens: 
            "I'm tryin' to give you somethin' pure! Pure, you unnerstand? A flying act like the woild's never seen! But for you it's all about the money! You've got no soul - no soul, I tell ya!" 
            At the top of the circus tent, the Woman wriggles her hips and rolls her eyes and purrs "come fly with me, love" and whispers to the love-sick trapeze artist at her feet that "you don't-a need 'dat man down 'dere. In here -" she presses her palms to her voluptuously corseted chest, "you 'ave all the talent you need!" 
            Far, far below, the cynic is scrunching his face and roaring "Dames! All of ya the same! Born to destroy every thing and every man ya touch! Born cold, born to break a man and destroy his woild!" 
            The cynic is on to something, all right. High above, his puppy-eyed partner rolls over on the platform and wags his tail and you, the viewer, are waiting, just waiting, for Her, a dreamy smile on her painted lips, to reach out one pointed toe and push him off. Off of the side without the net. 
            Any man over the age of twelve who lets himself fall for all that cantilevered engineering (anyone who'll wear a corset on a flying trapeze is clearly planning something not in the training manual) deserves everything he has coming.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Park

Tonight I am wandering. Mr Tabubil is stuck at work in a late meeting and I am out wandering in the early winter twilight - down our street, through the tunnel of platano orientale, still shedding its awfulleftover summer fluff, past a collection of tall and modern apartment buildings with the apartments all laid out in rows like shoeboxes - and into a park.  

            On the paths in the park there are kids on bicycles, on the lawns there are grown-ups on blankets, and in the sunken rose garden there are dogs greeting other dogs and running in happy circles when they meet. At the other there is an enormous  playground, and it is always full of children.
            There are lots of parks and squares in Santiago, but as play-places go, they can be pretty sterile.  Children play separately, on their own recognizance, while their grown-ups sit on the sidelines, nodding guardedly to other grown-ups and encouraging their charges not to play with les autres. In our park, matters are different. Around the edges of the playground, parents sit in companionable knots and chat while their children run and shout and inflict social justice upon each other, and always, the children are playing with the other children. When Mr Tabubil and I first began to come here, the grown-ups and the children would look us up and down and smile and nod - decisive nods. Welcome to the neighborhood. Our neighborhood.

Tonight a man and a woman have a slackline stretched between two trees. They are winching. Climbing up, taking a step – or two – balancing, checking tension, dropping down to the grass, and winching again. A small girl stands with her skirts pressed against her fathers legs. Her eyes are as big as the moon. The man with the slackline lifts her up, and he and the woman - one on each side of her - walk her slowly all the way up and down the line.

            There is a public recycling station in our park.  That is why i wandered this way. Aimless winter happiness feels too foolish and ephemeral for virtue. I need utility, please, thank you, but either Thursday is the official neighborhood recycling night, or everyone else has felt the same urge- the row of recycling bins overflows into sacks - and stacks - of plastic jugs and aluminium cans. Piles of  milk bottles. Pyramids of glass bottles. There's no city-wide recycling program in Santiago, so those who choose to recycle must make these little pilgrimages to the neighborhood stations. It's heartening that so many in Providencia want to, but there clearly isn't capacity to meet the demand.
            Lamps are coming on between the trees. There is a dandy sitting on a park bench. He has mutton-chop whiskers on his cheeks, and an electric-yellow unicycle leans nonchalantly against the bench beside him. The dandy is reading in the dark; a kindle on his lap, and his brow furrowed in concentration as he poses with a book of which he cannot possibly be reading a word. I salute him, gravely, in the night.  He cannot see me either.
            In a pool of light on the lawn, a little golden spaniel and a beagle dog are running in circles, faster and faster and wider and wider - and stopping, every few passes to stand nose to nose, breathing deeply and smiling. A man is trying to photograph speeding dogs and unicycles (the man with the book has stopped pretending to read and is wobbling sideways and hither along the path) and snorting with frustration when the dogs come out as blurs the unicycle lurches out of frame.
            It is too dark to see my hands now. The man and woman on the slackline are a pale smear of white between the trees, winching it down. At the top of the park i turn left, past the local catholic church. It is the hour of evening service. The church is full, and there is a crowd in the courtyard. Yellow light spills out the church doors, and the service, loud on loudspeakers and megaphones, comes out into the night.
            And I go home in the winter dark. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Curtains, Part One

On Thursday last week, the curtain company that had done the curtains in our old flat sent a maestro (workman) to visit to our new flat. As per previous discussions with the company, he was there to measure our new windows, and to look at the measurements of our old curtains and decide the best way of using the old curtains and how much new material we'd need to buy.
            He was a lovely fellow - very professional, very understanding, and we had a nice long talk, the upshot of which was that he wanted to take both the old and the new measurements back to the shop with him so that his fellow curtain-people could help him how best to maximize the material that I had.
            He'd call me Friday - or Monday at the latest, because the best option might take a little thought. I heard nothing, so today I called the curtain company. And this is what the manager said:
            "What on earth are you talking about? The maestro came back and said you wanted all new curtains and that you were coming out to the shop to choose materials. We've been waiting for you."

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Today I saw...

- A young man with an expansive walrus mustache attempting to drink a tub of yogurt.  The dear soul was doing his best.

- A small child lying on the tiled floor of the lobby of an apartment building. She was flat on her face and her arms and legs were spread out wide. A slightly older boy launched himself off the front stoop and began running in circles on the sidewalk. The small girl lifted her head- infinitesimally, and slumped back. She was absolutely, determinedly paralytic. You couldn't have shifted her with a bulldozer. 
            A mother appeared. Hands on hips, mouth tight, she regarded the small child.  Two small slitted toddler eyes regarded her back. Regretfully, I walked on. Regretfully, because the pyrotechnics were going to be technicolor, surround-sound, sword-and-sandals, gods-in-the-desert epic.

- Passing a coffee shop, I saw a gentleman in a Savile Row suit. He was bandbox span-and-spic, with silver cufflinks and a mirror shine. His beard was trimmed and pressed, his trousers broke perfectly across his instep, and his jacket sleeves hung to  a precise 0.8 inches above his cuffs. 
            He had an iced coffee in his hand - one of those enormous iced creations that come in tall plastic cups, with cream and syrup under a domed lid, and ice-cream on top of that, and on top of that more cream -
            Stealthily, he looked to his right. And his left. And right again, and then he lowered his head and positively inhaled that mountain of cream. He slurped, he licked, he dug into the cream with his straw and used it as a shovel, and his face was pure unadulterated glee. I think I loved him a little bit, right then.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Final Contractor Visit

Our team of illustrious construction maestros is  back in the apartment for Last Fixings and Sweeping Up - a door that won't close, an electrical socket that isn't live, a closet that needs painting, a wall whose paint is bubbling suspiciously - all that sort of thing.

And the following advisory is now in effect:
The next young man who attempts to use a clean ironed pillowcase as a drop-cloth for plastering is in immediate and specific danger of a thick ear.

Just saying.