Wake-up Calls


An explosion of purple sways outside my window – our jacaranda tree. Tiny goblet-shaped blooms blanket the ground below. Some call them “messy”, but why not just enjoy the burst of color while it lasts? It’s a matter of perspective and choice. Choose to notice the wonder of these fleeting purple weeks – or focus on the work required to sweep away those fading velvet petals.

The hot days have descended upon us, the hills now singed brown, and the local supermarket bulges with gaudy, Chinese-made Christmas wreaths, snowmen, reindeer, Santas, elves and plastic trees. This in-your-face inducement to buy and consume, this blaring excess, sickens me.

Late yesterday afternoon we went to a wedding, much like the many we’ve attended here over the years. The four hundred and fifty plus guests filled the old San Francisco Church, a historic national monument, situated on the Alameda, the main downtown thoroughfare. In this wedding of Chile’s upper echelon, I was distracted from my examination of the church’s old stonework by the young ladies in the row in front of us, dressed in black miniskirts and shorts, and teetering on spindly-heeled, platform shoes. One tugged during the whole ceremony at her very tight stretch miniskirt which insisted on creeping up over her ample bottom. The choir sang the same familiar hymns while women patted at their salon-coifed hairdos and looked about for familiar faces. A few passersby straggled in from the street to view the famous church, wandering along the side naves.

Pedestrians in their worn clothes stood and stared as the elegant crowd emerged from the church into the late afternoon sun. I wondered how we must have looked to them, we, the beautiful people, the privileged, laughing and talking, as we made our way down the cobble-stoned street to the reception where a banquet awaited us. Perhaps I’m judging harshly this gathering, among whom are friends of ours, but the contrast between the crowd, dressed impeccably in black and shimmering wedding attire, and the sidewalk onlookers suddenly struck me.

The city’s metro jumbles up the population like a giant cement mixer, producing a rich, enforced diversity. A massive breakdown in the metro’s electric system last Friday morning disrupted the city’s inhabitants’ normal routine, forcing them to look for alternatives – walk with the masses, grab or share a taxi, squeeze into a bulging bus – creating an atmosphere of “we’re all in this together.”

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