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. 

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