Tag Archives: Valparaíso

Easter and the Burning of Judas in Valparaiso

Hey all,

Happy Easter!

I’m not very religious, but I get nostalgic around holidays – any holidays – especially Easter where I recall memories of jelly beans, hiding the chocolate eggs around the yard where the dog wouldn’t find them, and shiny, green, plastic grass that lined my Easter basket. It was probably the quantity of sugar and food coloring that has forever burned Easter in my brain, but I missed being home with my family today.

It’s only the second Easter I’ve spent in Chile (despite the years I’ve lived here on and off) and it was the saddest. Not for the company, that was fine, but for my measly dinner that consisted of half a lemon Gatorade, a plate of salty noodles, and a microscopic fleck of chicken because I’m still getting over my stomach funk. I got to watch everyone else polish off their Easter chocolate, listening to the crinkly wrappers with more than a tad of envy.

One of the curious traditions I learned from spending the holiday in Vaparaiso this year is the burning of a giant Judas figure in what would be…effigy? Of course, this tradition is repeated in different countries throughout the Catholic world, I had never seen it before. Our Judas looked more like a bloated, basketball-headed businessman than sandal-sporting traitor but you get the idea. (Please excuse the iPhone pictures. I rarely carry my camera anymore.)

Judas figure in Valparaiso.

The kids who asked us yesterday for coin donations, then stuffed the coins in different orifices in Judas.

Tonight we went back to watch them raise him high above the street on a rope, douse him in highly flammable paraffin, while sucking back cigarettes themselves, and light him on fire. What followed, I can only described as a large ball of fire that they bounced above everyone’s heads as if he were on a large invisible trampoline. I could feel the heat of the flame on my face.

Burning, bouncing Judas.

Soon, the children ran out to collect the hidden coins from the smoldering ruins  of the figure. Some winced as their hands touched the hot metal.

Collecting the coins.

This is something you would never see in stoic Minnesota! Despite the lingering yuck, it made for an unforgettable Easter.

I hope you all had a great day in your corner of the globe :)

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Let’s Make Ending Street Harassment Go Viral

First, I think I owe many of you readers some back story. Yesterday, I went to have a late breakfast with a friend in Valparaiso. It was a warm afternoon (okay, so it was more like brunch) and she arrived in a cute, colorful, new dress. The first thing I said was “Wow. You look so colorful. I love it. Did you get that on vacation?” She nodded and looked around, “Yes, I did, but I wish it wasn’t so short. The men just can’t control themselves.” I could have practically finished her sentence at that point.

We experienced precisely that in the next few blocks as we wove our way through Valparaiso to get to the restaurant. Men wolf whistled, did the ever-irritating kissy noise, and spoke whispered comments. To our credit, we didn’t look at them and kept on our trajectory, but we did start discussing the piropo problem that we face on a near daily basis and why we must put up a stone wall as soon as we walk out on the street.

I have to admit that this is an issue that leaves me feeling a bit helpless – like I don’t know how to even begin to tackle it. I’ve brought up street harassment for women before on this blog and usually I receive a few comments from women who feel as uncomfortable as I do. Then, oddly enough, I also get some comments from a subset of people who believe these intrusive comments to be “compliments” and “cultural”.

To those who say it’s a compliment, it’s a rather flat compliment, as we are not being praised on anything we actually worked to achieve but rather a set of features we were born with. And when we are so cavalierly cat-called, we cannot turn around and say something like, “Thanks, mijito. I like the way you shake it, too.” Because that would be too brazen, hussy, and frowned on. Thus the cat call is a hollow, one-sided compliment.

As for the cultural argument: I do have to admit this one had me stumped for quite a while. I mean, after all, who would want to change something that is cultural? Right? If cat-calling is is part of Chilean culture then that puts it in the ranks of cumbia, cueca, pastel de choclo, the kiss-on-the-cheek greeting, the clipped but beloved “po”, and so many other legitimate cultural contributions. Those things are so charming! I wondered if maybe I just wasn’t looking at the ugly piropo issue from the right angle.

Then it hit me. If cat-calling is so cultural, then you might as well know that it was cultural in the United States just 30 years ago – where It is still cultural, but less so than in Chile. (I’ve been yelled at countless times while jogging outside in the U.S.). And, by that definition, and my own personal experience, it is less cultural in Chile than it is in Argentina, Venezuela or Mexico, but more cultural than in Costa Rica. It is also surprisingly cultural in Europe and Canada. Are you also feeling dizzy?

Essentially, looking at it as cultural boils it down to the lowest common denominator: Men. Boys will be boys. Men can’t be expected to control themselves. We must understand what a burden it is to be a man and live daily with these “feelings” that you can’t control and, frankly, society doesn’t expect you to. Poor primate-like men can’t be expected to reign in their baser urges. Women, by that cultural definition are objects for the viewing pleasure of men. Men, I would be insulted by the “it’s cultural” insinuation and what it implies about your nature. In fact, I’m insulted for you!

As my friend and I were venting about cat-calls, we began to classify them. To be fair, we are not talking about the traditional whistle, kissy noise (although, those are annoying and insulting in their own right), rather we are talking about the male narrative, the lecherous commentary that sounds like a line from your raciest Harlequin novel and a porn film birthed a weird breed of word vomit in which “I (the man) want to do (redacted) to your (censored) and then (censored) you up and down (redacted for redundancy).” Those particular comments we categorized as “rapey” because they imply sexual activity that you, as the woman, haven’t consented to nor would you ever consent to. Many times you and the man in question will be the only two on the block, or the man will say it in such a way that it makes your insides crawl and you feel dirty even though you just stepped outside.

My limited experience with calling the police after such harassment occurred two years ago when I was shopping inside a Tottus and a man followed me snapping my picture down several rows until I turned around and started screaming at him. It ended with me punching him twice in his generous gut and slapping him across the face. When the police arrived, one of the officers had the audacity to suggest that “Chilean men just can’t help themselves in the face of a beautiful woman. In fact, I had a similar case last week where another foreign woman misinterpreted the compliments of a Chilean man. Seeing as how you attacked him, maybe we should be brining you in?” *Stodgy male cackles* They might as well have broken out the brandy decanter and cigars, for all the help and protection they provided.

Then, a week ago, I was reading a blog and followed a link to HollaBack! a non-profit organization and global grassroots movement that started in New York City with the intention of stopping street harassment for women everywhere. They have chapters in Santiago and Buenos Aires and, if recent experience is any indication, they need one in Valparaiso. Go check them out.

Remember last week, how the world watched the Kony 2012 video go viral in 24 hours? Let’s make this movement viral. If you don’t believe in the cultural bullcrap argument or that men can’t be expected to control themselves because they have dangly parts, then share the link with women you know. Tweet it. Blog it. Facebook it.

Let’s take back the streets.

The Santiago Group’s Opinion on Piropos (in Spanish)

So Long 2011, Hello 2012 (in pictures)

I took a bit of a blogging break lately, but I’m back. Thanks. I’d be excited, too.

So as you may know, 2011 sucked a little. Okay, it sucked a lot. The good news is that it’s over now. Just like that. In one handy little countdown, my calendar opened to a brand new page untainted by 2011.

New Year’s Eve has never been my favorite holiday. I prefer Christmas. Maybe it’s the lingering anticipation of Santa Claus and memories of trying to stay awake with my brother to catch a glimpse, or the food. Oh the food!But, you know, the food wasn’t too bad this year ;) I even got a little snowman place saver. A snowman in the summer…It made sense to me.

No, New Year’s was always a night to have a quiet dinner with family, watch the ball drop in Times Square an hour before it was actually midnight in Minnesota, and turn in for bed by the time midnight really rolled around. Exciting stuff.

Chileans get a little more into their New Year’s Eve. These were the spectacular fireworks over the harbor in Valparaiso.

We had a nice view.

I’m sort of partial to the champagne colored ones. What about you?

After the fireworks, I wanted to walk through downtown Valparaiso and see everyone outside. I was told that there are so many people you think it’s daytime…except that it’s not.

And most of them are drunk and wielding confetti or silly string. I gotta say, I love me a good confetti-ing by a stranger – especially if the stranger happens to be about five and can only throw confetti at your knees.

Happy 2012! I hope it’s a good one. We deserve it. Am I right, blogosphere? Tomorrow is back to work, or if you are funemployed like me, then you might occupy your time trying to find a yoga studio or trying a new vegan recipe, so you can, uh, detox after the *possible* overindulgences of the last two weeks.

Tale of A Former Almost Vegan Making Pork Ribs

I want to tell you a story. The story is about a girl who used to be vegetarian, really almost vegan except for she drank milk. This went on for almost two years until she moved to South America and gave it up. It’s not that she doesn’t like meat, you see, it’s that she realized she didn’t understand meat. Oh sure, she can hack up a chicken breast, throw some veggies on a wok and call it stir-fry, but the sight of meat that still…er…looks like the body part it came from gives her the heebie jeebies. She also noticed that the only meat she liked was the kind that was made in a lab a la Franken-chicken or chicken nuggets from an infamous chain fast food restaurant. She still eats meat almost solely at a restaurant and rarely cooks it. She does so only under duress.

This is one of those cases. A certain someone tried a barbecue recipe in the US made by this girl’s father (who, I might add, does know how to cook meat) and fell in love with the red, saucy deliciousness. He implored her to *pretty please* make it in Chile. She accepted at first because she thought it would be just for the two of them when he informed her that actually it was for his family.

On cue, she freaked out. Several ingredients were brought from the US. Several more ingredients were found here. She may have had a small nervous breakdown in a grocery store in Valparaiso when she couldn’t find garlic salt and the stock boy told her it didn’t exist. (Note: That response annoys her more than anything because it’s the excuse that’s used with many things that are out of stock, aren’t sold in Chile, or they simply don’t want to find. What? We are out of apples? They don’t exist!)

She took a deep breath, calmed down, and assembled a team of  barbecue rib sous chefs (she assembled the sauce and is exceedingly pleased). Would you believe it? It worked! Go rib team! The sauce, the ribs, everything actually worked. It was a culinary miracle. In fact, people went back for seconds! They even spread on more of the sauce at the table, and picked up the ribs with their fingers–daintily at first, then with more gusto.  The same cannot be said of the ranch dressing which got passed around from person to person, but baby steps, right? Poor Ranch dressing.

She didn’t even have to handle the ribs when they still looked like the back of a pig because someone else took over that task. In the end, she learned that she can definitely handle cooking meat if she doesn’t have to buy it, cut it, or look at it, yet still have it somehow turn out tender and flavorful.

Photographic evidence:

Yes, the salad pictured has Ranch dressing.

Tune in sometime in the future when she tries to bake something new or doesn’t, whichever.

Adventures in Valparaiso and Chilean Cooking

I will remember this last weekend for a long time. First, because it was the first time I ever made pastel de choclo (note: I’m from the Midwest, so I would translate it to mashed corn casserole or mashed corn hotdish if you will). Second, I will remember it because it was when I finally noticed the lightning in my left peripheral vision, which I will get to later.

L and I went to Valparaiso this weekend to visit his family. It’s a common joke among us that I like pastel de choclo. The joke isn’t that so much that I like it (I do), but it’s that one time I was entering Chile and the surly looking immigration official was flipping through my passport trying to find an empty page, “Chile, Chile, Chile, Argentina, Chile, Chile, Colombia, Chile, Chile, Chile, Argentina, Venezuela, Chile…” He stopped and asked, “Why do you come and go so frequently?”

I was actually on one of my border runs to renew my tourist visa at the time, but I couldn’t say that, so I knew I had to think of a good excuse. I couldn’t. Instead, I replied, “I just really like pastel de choclo.”

He looked at me like I was joking, but all I did was shrug my shoulders like, “What can you do?”

He laughed. I laughed. Then, he stamped my passport and I went on my way. Now, I’m not saying everyone who has to make Chilean border runs should use the pastel de choclo excuse, but let it be known that it worked at least once!

That’s why when L’s family found out I was coming back to Chile, they offered to make it for me, but I ended up helping. By helping, I mean I used a machine that we estimated to be older than L’s grandma (We think it was close to 100 years old). I joked that it looked like a medieval torture device and he told me to be careful and watch my fingers instead of talking. He has this habit of worrying that I’m going to cut off a digit or something because I did come close once right after my surgery when I was trying to open an English muffin and nearly stabbed myself. I digress…

(All photos are unedited and from my iPhone that I still use as my everyday camera).

These are my hands with the device. A corn grinder, I think we would call it. You can see my medical alert bracelet if you don’t believe me that they are my hands.Here is a bigger picture of me. He snapped like 20. I asked him if he was going to use it as evidence later that I could actually do something domestic. He just reminded me again to watch my fingers. I guess when I got distracted they would enter the corn grinder danger zone.

I’m not sure where the hat came from, but he disappeared for a second, came out with this hat, put it on my head, and said I looked right out of the 1960′s. I said, “No, I look like I’m part of the Inquisition and I’m forcing the kernels to confess to their heresy or DIE! Mwahaha.” The corn water you saw running off in the previous picture is added back to the ground corn and basil and then boiled. I was a little worried about that because I thought since I was outside there was a good chance little bugs had fallen into my grinder. If they had, then they definitely met their buggy doom during the boiling phase. The traditional way to eat pastel de choclo is in little single portion sized bowls made of clay (Cultural note: single sized here is relative. I find I could easily share one). In the bowls you place the beef and onion mix, chicken chunks, egg pieces, and raisins if you so wish. Oh, and nothing is complete without an olive or two–pits and all!

Then you have to put the mushy boiled corn on top of your casserole bed.

After that, it bakes for 30 minutes and comes out steaming hot. Enjoy! But not until after it cools or you might burn your tongue like I did and that kind of sucks.

It wasn’t difficult to make. There were no complex cooking directions, but it was quite laborious. It is not a meal where you can say, “Gosh, I’m starving and I have 30 minutes. I’m gonna make me a pastel de choclo.” Nooo… I think it took us around 2.5 hours from start to finish, and that was with our army of helpers.

I would describe what happened after lunch as what it looks like in the US right after Thanksgiving dinner, everyone sprawls out on a couch or chair and sleeps off their indulgence. I told L I wanted to see the ocean because it had been months, so we sneaked out.

We walked to the Muelle Baron and took in the sun as it was just starting to set.

Another view from the dock.

We sat there for a while, talking, and eating ice-cream, when I told him that I was seeing lightning out of the corner of my left eye. He got concerned, “What does that mean? Are you okay?”

“I’m more than okay,” I explained. “That’s exactly what happened on the right side when my vision returned seven months ago.”

If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, then you know that because of my tumor’s size and location, I was woke up with what can sometimes be described as significant vision loss. Although, it has slowly been recovering. The left peripheral vision has taken the longest to come back. I did recently start seeing color pixels on that side, but for the most part, the left side of a room does not exist for me.

When I told him that, he said we should go celebrate. I can’t drink too much alcohol, yet, but I would definitely raise my sparkling mineral water to that!

We went to a bar where I had never been before in Valparaiso. It was still empty because it was rather early for going out in Chile. We had our choice of tables. As we sat there, toasting my recovery and our successful pastel de choclo adventure, we saw this:

The top line says: ALL YOU NEED IS (MAKE) LOVE(S).

Below it reads: ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE(S).

Because I want to try and keep this family friendly, we will pretend that the word in parenthesis does not exist. So, that is your advice for this week folks: All you need is love(s). Grammatical issues aside, it’s still pretty good advice ;)

First Weekend Back

I was telling fellow blogger friend Lydia today that being back in Chile is a surreal experience. Part of that is because my vision is blurry and distorted. The edges are softer. The colors are somehow more intense. Another part of is is me, but I mean inside of me. I’ve changed. I find myself being a little more patient with everyone around me. If someone rushes past me without so much as an “excuse me”, or the waiter doesn’t notice me right away when I raise my hand for the check, I don’t feel the need to complain about it. Much. Okay, so a little complaining is normal…I think.

It’s like I’m somehow seeing a different country; I’m seeing Pablo Neruda or Isabel Allende’s Chile which is much more romantic and poetic. It makes me sad that my trip is so short (who knew a month would feel short?). But, then, I think it’s also a sign of how far I’ve come in the last few months.

This weekend (it was a long weekend because of Columbus Day), L and I went to a tiny, hippie, fishing town called Horcón. We went there for the first time about two years ago on the first trip we ever took together and then went back about a year after that. We always stay at the same hotel and I swear the proprietor remembers us.

Image from www.revistatc.com

When we got there, we ate two clam and cheese empanadas. See, it doesn’t sound as nice in English, but they were delicious. Then, we walked along the beach. I brought exactly zero useful clothes on our trip. I saw the weather on my phone before we left and it said something like 75 and sunny. So, I was like PERFECT and packed beach friendly clothes and sandals. Mistaaaaake. It was cold and cloudy. L was delighted, being born and raised in Valparaíso he loves cloudy days. I on the other hand – who was just in a very gray and rainy Minnesota fall – was a little bummed and… and cold. I did manage to confiscate a sweater of his to wear though.

The wind made the day perfect for body boarders. And we even saw a few surfers give it a try, but not for long. At one point as we were walking, I stopped L and told him that I had just seen a suspicious looking boy jump out from behind a tree on the hill above us. We stopped and shortly after that, I saw a girl come out from behind the tree. She had mussed up hair and both of the teenagers were quickly trying to straighten out their clothes because they realized they had an audience. I told L and we looked at each other for a second and then burst out laughing which made the teens scramble even faster. I’m not really an outdoorsy type, but you’ve got to give them points for creativity, you know, slopes, deciduous trees and all.

At night we made another slow stroll around the town and looked at some of the art of the local venders. I didn’t buy any though because the first time I bought earrings at night I ended up with one green one and one purple one. So, if you have the partners, tell me. We should get them together sometime.

Last year, we ran into a very drunk group of students from Michigan. They were going to the same beach as us – Cau Cau. In fact, they were still carrying the very large box of wine they must have recently downed and were stumbling around in flip flops. If any of you have been to Playa Cau Cau you know the walk down is treacherous – unless you live in one of the newly built condos then you have your own private stairs which look very sturdy and safe. Anwyay, the public walk down should have been repaired two years ago. Needless to say, it’s just more and more washed out every time I see it. The students decided to follow us and we all made our way down to the beach. Somehow, they managed to descend faster than we did…and we were sober! Once we were on the beach, we moved to a private part with some natural shade. One of the male students came up to us and asked L in Spanish if this was the nude beach he had read about. I could see the mischievous glow in L’s eyes and before he could answer something like: “Why yes, it is”, I intervened. “It WAS. Before they built all those condos.” I motioned to the new buildings who would definitely see any drunken striptease. The guy thanked us and walked away before walking into the water with all his clothes on.

Now, I’m back in Santiago gearing up for another intense week of writing papers and then more traveling next weekend.

What did you all do this weekend?

Little Daily Culture Shocks

The first of May is May Day, or International Worker’s Day, and even though it was already a Saturday here, EVERYTHING was closed (even things that would normally be open). Oh, yes there were your typical sandwich restaurants open but one can really only stuff so many large rolls, topped with a small mountain of avocado and chicken with some of the bones conveniently not removed down one’s throat. And heaven forbid you would have, say, a tiny medical problem that involves a pharmacy run because yes, they are all closed.

Then, hopefully you wouldn’t expect the website with the farmacia de turno information to work because the link to find the emergency pharmacy in Valparaíso (which is where you happen to be) is broken. Oh, you could go to Placilla because that link works, but that town is pretty far away especially if your car happens to be parked in another city.

Fortunately, for you, there is this thing on your phone (directory assistance) that your boyfriend knows about (but of course you wouldn’t) and they even send you a text with the information you requested–that emergency pharmacy which is located across town, but who really cares when you have those speed racing Valparaíso buses?

Voilà! Problem solved. Crisis averted…. for the most part.

I’m surprised on a daily basis how many things can either be put in the category of “works like a charm” or “wth happened here and when will they get around to fixing it?” For example, I would put all the pharmacies being closed and the website link being broken in the “wth?” category, however the directory assistance plus text worked marvelously.

This sort of polarity has made complete cultural adjustment for me difficult. I feel like even after all this time I still encounter some form of cultural shock every day. Take today for example when I went to get my haircut. I walked into a generic mall salon and asked if there was someone available. The two men behind the counter eyed me suspiciously and one of them was like “Dang. She’s Chilean.”

Er?

No.

Then, the same man fist pumped the air and said “See? I TOLD YOU SHE WASN’T CHILEAN!”

While on one hand it was nice to be mistaken for someone from here, one the other hand it was awkward that they were openly betting about me.

I suppose props to me for my stellar Spanish skills, if that’s what I can even call them, which is quite shocking it itself because on other days I’m handed the English menu or told rudely that “No hablo inglés” after what I considered a nice attempt in Spanish.

I wonder when this rollercoaster ends? Because honestly I don’t know if I feel nauseated or if I’m having a blast.

Weekend In Valparaíso

This weekend L. and I went to Valparaíso. I may be happy to be back in Santiago for certain obvious reasons, but that doesn’t mean that the constant grind of the city doesn’t wear on me. I feel like Santiago is a city best taken in small doses, which is probably why I like where I am living now because I have to deal with less Santiago drama.

What leads me to my next point. Where I am living now, you can barely tell there was an earthquake just a few weeks ago. It’s like earthquake? Oh was that what that annoying rocking and shaking was? Besides maybe a few missing paint chips, all seems to be in order. That was not the case in Valparaíso where it seemed like most of the old buildings that the port city is famous for suffered some type of damage no matter how small. And in some of the more extreme cases, we saw buildings where the roof had collapsed or the entire front wall seemed to have disintegrated.
I took this picture at L’s grandma’s apartment. He says that it’s a good sign that you can see the iron bars through the wall. It means that they are sustaining the wall. I’m not an architect nor am I an engineer so I’m not going to offer an opinion, but there were cracks like this on the entire floor.

This is the view from the apartment where we stayed. It was amazing in the morning. You could see the sun glinting off the water and the boats getting ready.

This is a night view. I’m not sure how well my camera captures night shots, but you get the picture. Hah! The picture…get it? Bad joke, I know.

This is one of the damaged buildings. And another one.

This one looks as if it could fall off at any moment.

It seemed like the city was littered with buildings that suffered a similar fate. There were still piles of debris in the street. However, despite that, people seemed to be adjusting and going on with their lives. I hope that the city can rebuild quickly, but like L. was telling me, some of those buildings hadn’t been changed or repaired since they were built 100 years ago because the city simply lacks the resources for the repairs. It doesn’t seem fair that some areas seem like nothing happened while others sustained damage that might forever alter the face of the city.