Introduced Species

The tales of a Colombia RPCV who lives the life of an “introduced species” in Chile.

1
Getting Past August
2
Graffiti
3
Story
4
Addiction
5
Travels with Benjamín
6
Santiago’s Green Dilemma
7
Rereading Gabriel García Marquez
8
Contraband

Getting Past August

August thirty- first is a day of celebration for many Chilean seniors; small towns and senior clubs throw parties; congratulations are in order; our dinner guests last night joked to each other: “Well, we made it past another August.” The reason? Here in the Southern Hemisphere the worst days of winter are past, and we survived, not succumbing to pneumonia, still alive and kicking! I asked our Chilean friends last night: “Do you know where the saying ‘Pasando Agosto’ comes from? No one knew. Everyone repeats it but has no idea how the custom originated. From Internet this curious gringa investigator learned that the saying originated in colonial times when the Spanish, particularly in Chile’s rainy southern latitudes, faced the severe winter cold and damp with no means, other than fires, for heating their modest homes. For those getting on in years to have survived the winter months was reason . . .

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Graffiti

The topic came up yesterday as we were heading toward the freeway to visit friends out-of-town. We were passing through one of those grey, seedy neighborhoods. You know the kind surrounding freeway on- and -off ramps. My husband pointed to a long graffiti-covered wall depicting a large, brightly-colored hummingbird sampling a flower as well as a red-headed giant woodpecker, like those found in southern forests here. The artist wasn’t a simple street gang kid. Hubby asked if I’d seen the giant rat painted on a retention wall of the Río Mapocho. He thought it was pretty cool and well-done. From there the conversation turned into a discussion – me defending the artistic value of some graffiti, he claiming all graffiti defaces public and private property, except the rat. I reminded him of the wall murals of Valparaíso, which decorate the stairs climbing the city’s hills – outdoor galleries depicting history, . . .

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Story

“Tan linda tu historia,” he said. I leaned in closer to hear him over the strident, pounding racket. On the dance floor, dozens of young people jumped and shouted, flinging arms in the air. “What story?” I asked. “How you gave up everything – family and country – for love. To come here and live at the other end of the world. How were you able to make such a decision?” His words wafted on waves of wine-scented breath. I doubted he’d remember our conversation tomorrow. How much effort did I want to invest to answer these heady questions? Besides, I was tired after sitting at this wedding banquet for over nine hours, carrying on small talk in Spanish with the other guests at our table. Once the loud dance music started, I caught only words and phrases in the din, smiling and nodding as if in agreement with whatever . . .

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Addiction

We’re hooked. We just watched another episode of House of Cards. I could sit and watch it for hours, but I’d feel guilty spending so much time sitting on my duff watching television. The thing is – we just signed up for Netflix, but the story of addiction began a couple of months ago before the start of the World Soccer Cup. My husband bought one of those “smart” TVs, the better with which to watch the soccer matches. With the World Cup behind us, my TV life returned to normal, which is an hour or so a day to keep up with the news on the Chilean channels and CNN, and “The Big Bang Theory” if I happen to catch it. When I heard our three granddaughters were coming to spend the day this week, I suggested to my husband we sign up for Netflix. The girls, on their . . .

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Travels with Benjamín

Colombia. 1966. Twenty-three and, seasoned by our two year Peace Corps stint, we were cocky, confident and keen on adventure.  Barbara, Noel and I decided to wend our way back to the United States via Central America and Mexico.  My friends were posted together in the interior; I was on the coast.  We wrote back and forth. “I’m not sure I’m ready for the U.S. yet — after this.” “Me, neither.  I have no idea what I want to do when I get back”. “Let’s just take off.  We can stop to visit Faye in Costa Rica.” “I’ve heard Guatemala is fantastic.” Unburdened by timetables, itineraries or reservations, we would first fly to the island of San Andrés, a Colombian possession in the Caribbean off the coast of Nicaragua.  From there we’d travel by any cheap means available. We gave no thought to political unrest, lurking terrorists or precarious modes . . .

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Santiago’s Green Dilemma

I heard them before I saw them. From the upper limbs of the towering araucaria tree came a strident clamour. There. In the tree’s prickly top notch. A blob of intertwining branches, like a giant, roughly woven basket. From several holes peered green and grey heads with beady eyes. It was a parrot condo. In the forests of southern Chile I’ve often seen the emerald flocks of the choroy parrot. But parrots in Santiago, Chile’s capital? This was a first. A closer look revealed they were not the native choroy. These were invaders. Identified as Argentine cotorras (myiopsitta monachus), in English they’re known as Quaker or monk parrots. Locals speculated. How did they get here? Surely not by flying over the Andes from neighboring Argentina. Perhaps offspring of escaped pets? When first sighted about 20 years ago, they limited their habitat to the trees of a golf course and a . . .

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Rereading Gabriel García Marquez

I first read Cien Años de Soledad [One Hundred Years of Solitude] in English. The Spanish version was assigned reading for my Latin American literature class, whose kind Chilean professor, Fernando Alegría, would have forgiven me if he’d known. What I didn’t know was that within two years I’d be living not far from the mythical town of Macondo as a Peace Corps volunteer. The recent death of Gabriel García Marquez motivated me to read his epic novel again – this time in Spanish. Fifty years after my posting in Colombia, García Marquez’ wild, extravagant tale stirs up old memories entangled in cobwebs. Faded smells, flavors and feelings come alive. Barranquilla, in northern Colombia, across the Magdalena River from the province wherein lies Macondo, greeted me with a blast of heat, humidity, squadrons of mosquitoes, decaying buildings and the stench of rot. The marginal barrios where I lived and worked . . .

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Contraband

As nervous as a novice drug courier, I handed the Chilean customs agent my sworn statement declaring I was carrying no plants, seeds or fresh foods into the country. The agent waved me through. Outside, I patted the bulge in my parka pocket-a plastic tube containing a ten-inch California redwood seedling. Greater than my concern for breaking the law was my need to bring back to Chile a living keepsake of what I’d left behind. Those were times of relative ecological innocence. Biodiversity was not yet a word in my vocabulary. In my walled city garden I chose a protected spot to plant the seedling and gently placed it in the hole I’d prepared, uncertain it would survive in this dry climate. A towering avocado tree started from seed twenty years ago by my younger son, Nicolas, flourishes in one corner of my garden. Avocados, originally from Central America, thrive . . .

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