Buenos Aires

In order to renew my Chilean visa status, I had to leave the country sometime in October. I decided to link travel to a conference in Santiago to a long weekend in Buenos Aires, which it turns out is very close (only 90 minutes flight) to the Chilean capital. Thanks to recommendations from friends, I found a great hotel just across from the Recoleta cemetery, which is famous for Evita Peron’s grave but in actuality houses thousands of mausoleums for Argentina’s once-famous and wealthy. I wandered around the cemetery for a long time and found so many fascinating tombs, many of which are like small churches and other buildings.

The next morning I took a bus tour of the city in order to get a sense of the history and landmarks. We visited the neighborhoods most heavily promoted to tourists for their historical and architectural interest, including San Telmo (which has a weekly antique fair that spreads across its main plaza and down the roads radiating away from the plaza. We also drove past the stadium where the Boca Juniors football (soccer) team plays and saw fans posing for photos outside. The neighborhood of La Boca is full of colorful tin-sided houses and souvenir shops.

 

At the end of my bus tour, I was dropped off at the Tetro Colón, Buenos Aires’s opera house, which is magnificent. Although we were only allowed to tour the front of the house (the areas open to the public), we got to sit for a while in the most expensive boxes and watch while the company and directors went through a lighting rehearsal for their upcoming performance of La Boheme.

Then on the way back from the tour to my hotel, I stopped into the most amazing bookstore in the world. Built in 1919 as a theatre and later used as a movie theater, the Grand Splendid now houses the bookstore El Ateneo, which has converted the seating areas into bookshelves and the stage into a cafe. Knowing that I had to fit everything back into my carryon suitcase, I had to restrain myself, but I did buy a few books by Argentine authors and found a folktale in a bilingual Mapuche-Spanish edition (Mapuches are the native people of central Chile).

I also attended a very good tango show and took a bike tour of some of the same places I saw on the bus tour. The bike tour was fun in that it allowed us to stop when we wanted and look more closely at some of the things we had passed by in the bus. Even though I was only there for three days, I feel like I packed in a lot of touring and got a sense of how Argentina is different from Chile.

And I ate a lot of delicious pizza. I’m now halfway through reading the book I bought about Buenos Aires pizza and will definitely need to go back to try more of the famous pizzerias.

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Linguistic Landscape: Copiapó

In sociolinguistic research, a linguistic landscape is often considered the use of written language on public signs. Studying such language use allows us to better understand how languages are present or absent in a place, which languages are valued over others (as determined by their prominence in the signage), and what things people choose to write about in public places. A true linguistic landscape study involves systematic documentation of all the signs in a particular space; generally researchers limit themselves to a sampling of neighborhoods or to a particular type of signs, since it is nearly impossible in a modern city to capture all the words present in the public sphere. What I share here is not a linguistic landscape research study but rather a collection of photos of signs and words that I have found compelling in my walks around Copiapó, a city where Spanish is dominant. The signs convey a bit of what the official and unofficial feelings of the population are at this moment in time.

The first two signs are from the government. This first is a giant billboard promoting a dam upstream on the Copiapó River. These large official billboards are all over the city. I think the government wants residents to know where their tax money is going–in this case, to improving the dam so that the river won’t flood and cause as much damage as it did a couple years ago.

This colorful poster promotes an exhibit at the regional cultural center, a large new complex in the center of town that hosts art exhibits, concerts, and other events. Most include free admission.

These next photos are of commercial signs. Businesses use signage to convey a particular image of their enterprises and attact customers who will value their products. First is a set of signs on the front of a shop that sells uniforms for various professions and for youth sports teams. Here is a place to see some interesting appropriations of words from English into Spanish, such as the direct use of ‘short’ (shorts) or the completely different use of ‘jokey’ (which is also a misspelling; in Chile, ‘jockey’ is used for what Americans would call a baseball cap).

I pass this next sign every day on my way to the unversity. On the front wall of a preschool, it appears to be a song, but is written alternately in Spanish and in a local indigenous language (I asked some students, but they weren’t sure which language exactly). It is possible that the preschool teaches this language to kids in some way, but it is also possible that they are displaying the sign to indicate a positive attitude toward diversity and acceptance of the indigenous people.

After surviving 20 years of dictatorship (1973-1990), Chile is now a thriving democracy, where people are still strongly aware of the ways that the dictatorship oppressed protest. September 11 was the anniversary of the 1973 coup that killed the elected president, Salvador Allende, and allowed Augusto Pinochet and the military to take over. Even though the current generation of university students weren’t even born at the end of the dictatorship, their parents and grandparents still hold strong feelings. A spirit of social protest is strong and there are some permanent murals around the city, such as this one:

Lots of photocopied posters appeared around the city in early September as well. The next two point out that the struggle continues and the current government is no better than the dictatorship.

Chile also has a neoliberal economy where everyone is selling something. In the next two photos, you can see the protest posters juxtaposed with equal quantities of advertisements for various services. I also find the poster that says ‘Allende vive!’ (Allende lives!) interesting in its resemblance to a Kentucky Fried Chicken logo. I don’t know if that was done deliberately or not.

Not all protest signs are commercially printed, either. Below is a poster advertising a march to protest violence against women (put up a year ago, but still hanging because it hasn’t rained at all).

This is on the whiteboard in one of the classrooms where I teach. It was written in permanent marker; I’m not sure if the author intended for it to stay up forever or if they didn’t realize what kind of pen they were using.

Then there are less politicized and quirkier signs. The next picture is at Copiapó’s small zoo next to the Emu enclosure, warning people not to get too close. The emu is possibly the most dangerous animal in this zoo, which otherwise primarily houses farm animals like rabbits and llamas.

Finally, people also create signs to draw attention to lost pets, as in the case of Horus, below. There are so many stray dogs on the streets of the city that it’s hard to iamgine that poor Horus has been found, but I hope he is either back with his family or enjoying some wild times with the local hounds. (This is also an interesting misspelling–it says he is very small, like a ‘poddle’, which I presume should be ‘poodle’, but when you pronounce poodle in Spanish, it comes out sounding like ‘pod-lay’ so I think the sign-creator was writing the way it sounded.)

I will continue documenting the signs around Chile as part of understanding the culture. Perhaps I should consider making this a true linguistic landscape study and doing this a bit more systematically.

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Fiestas Patrias, part 2

Having already discussed the lead-up in my previous post, I will now describe the events of September 18 and 19, the two days of official holiday. Fiestas Patrias means celebrations of the homeland, in the plural because there are actually two national holidays back-to-back that are often accompanied by a third day off work if the two holidays occur in the middle of the week, as they did this year. September 18 commemorates the date in 1810 when Chileans first began organizing towards independence (the declaration of independence didn’t happen until February 1818, which means they celebrated their bicentennial earlier this year). September 19 is the ‘Day of the Glories of the Army,’ as Wikipedia translates it. For most Chileans, the 18th is the big day and the 19th is a chance to recover from the 18th or continue partying, sometimes while watching the Santiago military parade on TV. This year’s parade made social media news worldwide because it included a group of police dog puppies being carried by their handlers.

Like many national holidays, September 18 is meant to be celebrated among family and friends. I was lucky that my friend Andrea invited me to join her family for both Tuesday and Wednesday. Because her husband works for a mining company outside of town that required him to work his regular schedule this week, Andrea was on her own and took me to her mother’s house. Her teenage nieces were also there as their parents had gone on a very long-delayed honeymoon trip to the south of Chile (they sent photos back via WhatsApp, South America’s preferred social media platform). Andrea’s mother told me that she really didn’t know how to cook for vegetarians, so she was very apologetic about the delicious budín (crustless quiche) she made for me Tuesday. As usual, we ate a tremendous amount of food for lunch and then sat around drinking tea for a while.

Andrea and her niece Rocio then took me out for a walk in the park that was created when the region finally convinced the mining companies to allow some water to flow in the Copiapó River, which had been completely dry when I visited the city 5 years ago. Here we are in front of the humongous flag that was erected earlier this year for the bicentennial:

All month a truck has been driving around town announcing the arrival of Circo Americano, which it turns out is a US-style circus presented in a big tent set up near the mall. We didn’t go but instead continued our walk.

It was the first warm day of the year, so the park was full of families with picnics, kites, and bicycles. There were a few kids splashing in the river (it seems to be much less than a meter deep, and friends say that it probably still has plenty of icky stuff flowing down from the mines). The street dogs of Copiapó have taken a liking to the river as well:

There’s a path on both sides of the river, with seating areas, playgrounds, and a sand volleyball court. The green is a refreshing change from the beige desert all around.

Later in the afternoon, we got in the car and drove to Parque el Pretil, the large fairgrounds where the action was centered. I hadn’t realized until we got there just how similar Fiestas Patrias is to its US equivalent, the 4th of July: flags everywhere, food vendors, music, and entertainment for the kids. 

There’s a small zoo in the park, featuring almost exclusively farm animals and local creatures (other than a single emu, which has a large enclosure to itself). The llamas were hanging out threatening to spit at anyone who got too close:

In addition to being able to buy food from dozens of vendors, lots of families bring picnics and grill their own food. This video shows one of the areas where people hang out, as well as a set of horses you can pay to ride slowly around the area.

There are also vendors of crafts and toys. In the middle of this next photo is a stand where the Carabineros de Chile (national police force) has a community goodwill booth and provides information about how to join up.

People also decorate their cars with flags:

After wandering around a bit and drinking some leche de platano (bannana milk–a blend of banana and milk, with a little sugar added), we went back to Andrea’s mother’s house for onces (evening tea).

Wednesday afternoon, Andrea picked me up and we went back to her mother’s house for another delicious lunch. We went to visit Andrea’s in-laws briefly and then headed back to the park for the music concerts that started at 4pm. The show began with some local bands playing folkloric genres, often a blend of various Andean traditional instruments with European guitars and drums.

The crowd started to pick up when a cumbia band took the stage. I’m not sure why they were all wearing Hawaiian shirts, but the beat was great!

The headliners for the evening were the Chilean group Inti Illimani, a group that performs traditional Andean music and Chilean folk. This group has changed makeup over the years, but its original members played a role in resistance to the dictatorship in the late 20th century. Several of their songs were written by Violeta Parra, who worked to revive Chilean traditions that were being lost to modernization.

Although the concert was scheduled to run until 10pm, we left a bit after 9 in order to avoid the masses; unlike the majority of families, we had to go to work Thursday (but many students didn’t show up or came to class hung over… it might have been a better idea for the university to stay closed all week like the schools did!).

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Fiestas Patrias, part 1

The past week has been so full of activities related to Chile’s number one national holiday that I will report on it in two parts. This first post covers the lead-up or pre-holiday events.

The entire month of September is considered time to start prepping for the holidays. The city put up signs all around town:

And our department office was also decorated with patriotic doo-dads and streamers in white, red, and blue (you say the colors in that order):

La Fonda means something like homestead when referring to a place, although it is also used for talking about the many food stalls selling national cuisine during the holidays.

During the week before the holidays, university officials sent out greetings to everyone with a uda.cl email address. These usually included at least one flag and images of people dancing the cueca in traditional clothing. The picture below came from the UDA English Center, hence why it says “September” in English.

Captura Fiestas

Various entities at the university also prepared more elaborate festivities during the week before the holiday. I missed the one that happened on the north end of campus, but on Thursday (September 13) the Elementary Education department coordinated a show that included multiple cueca performances by students, professors, and a dance group from a local school. After the performance, the dean handed out coupons to all the audience members granting us a free empanada and anticucho (skewer of various processed meats) from the canteen. I didn’t bother waiting in line since colleagues who got there early said the empanadas were all meat-filled.

Dancers from the local school waiting their turn to perform. The traditional costumes for cueca include big fluffy petticoats for girls and ponchos and spurs for boys.

University students from the Physical Education department prepare to dance.

Cueca being danced by a few professors.

Campus dogs get involved in the performance as well. I didn’t capture the moment when this dog joined the schoolkids while they were dancing.

When we finished work on Friday, everyone went home looking forward to a 5-day weekend, time with family, and a lot of food.

I will describe my experiences over the weekend in my next post.

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Hiking, Chilean style

This past Saturday, my friend Andrea invited me to join her and some friends from a hiking group she is in on an excursion. Because I was so short on space in my suitcase, I didn’t have room for my hiking boots. Andrea suggested we go to the mall Friday and find me some new boots (I was willing to buy new boots because my old ones in the US are getting worn out anyway). It turns out that many Chileans are super into outdoors activities, so the mall has at least three sporting goods stores and several hiking/camping stores. I found a great pair of boots at a decent price (about the same as I would pay in California) at a store called Doite, which it turns out is a Chilean outdoors gear brand similar to North Face or Columbia (both of which are also available at the Copiapó mall).

My new hiking boots plus some neat lichen

Saturday morning, Andrea said she and her husband would pick me up around 8:30 so we could meet the rest of the group and head out of town. Then it turned out her husband had to return his company pickup truck and it might be more like 9 before they got me. Then it turned out that nobody had told him the office only opened at 9:15 on Saturdays, so we wouldn’t be leaving until more like 9:30. When we finally got to the gas station on the edge of town where we were supposed to meet our companions, they said they had overslept, so it might be 10:30 before they could meet us. Then it turned out they had to go to the store to buy extra gas for the camping stove, so it might be even later. This, it turns out, is totally normal timing for Chile.

We decided to hit the road and check out some sights in Caldera, which was on the way to our destination, rather than waiting any longer at the gas station. We stopped at a plaza on the edge of the city, overlooking the ocean, where the little church called Gruta Padre Negro is located. It’s not really a church but actually a ‘grotto’, or a small stone building with a shrine to the virgin and another to Padre Negro, the Black Priest, who is not yet a saint but has been credited with miracles. The inside was filled with little prayer plaques people had left asking for and thanking them for help. In the plaza outside, city workers were busy hanging Chilean flags on all the lampposts, and a high school marching band was practicing in the field across the street. The whole country is prepping for next week’s national independence holiday. We sat in the car for a bit drinking hot tea and eating hard boiled eggs while we waited for our companions to reach Caldera.

Gruta Padre Negro

We met up with them around noon on the highway north of the city and caravanned up to a park called Zoológica de Piedra (Zoo of Stone). The park is full of granite boulders of many different sizes, which with some imagination look like various animals. We set off into the rocks (there doesn’t seem to be any set trail), scrambling over some of the rocks and climbing inside a few that had been carved out by erosion. I don’t think we had any clear plan other than to enjoy each other’s company and get some fresh air. As we climbed up the slope, we could see across the highway to the ocean. The fog eventually lifted from the hills on the inland side of the park.

Hugo and Alfonso next to a giant snail

As with my visit to Caldera two weekends ago, this was another opportunity for me to really practice using Spanish to communicate. Andrea is an English teacher, but neither her husband nor our hiking companions could speak any English, so I had a lot of immersion in natural language. Because the talk was casual and about things around us and daily life, I think I did better at keeping up my end as well. It turns out that Delsy also studies yoga, so we talked a bit about yoga classes, learning the Sanskrit names of the poses, and how different teachers expect different things of students. Alfonso has a lot of high tech gadgets, including a similar GPS to the one my dad loves to carry around, so I could also talk about those topics.

Yoga poses on a boulder

After a couple hours of wandering around, we were starting to get hungry, so we found our way back to the cars and pulled out our picnic. But as I have noted before, lunch is a much bigger deal in Chile than it is in the US. Delsy and Alfonso had brought a full camping kitchen and a folding table and stools. Andrea had prepared rice and meat to reheat and had brought the makings for a fresh salad. We found a giant boulder that provided shelter from the wind and set up camp, heating the rice and meat on the camp stove and setting out a table cloth under our ceramic plates. After we had dined, Alfonso heated water over the stove and we had tea to go with slices of cake. We stayed at the table for at least an hour (this seems to be a minimum requirement for lunch), hearing stories of how Delsy and Alfonso had camped all around Chile.

Picnic lunch, Chilean style

We packed up the cars and headed back toward the highway. A brief stop at the park entrance led to a long tirade against how Chilean people don’t seem to care about cleaning up after themselves (there was garbage strewn all around, graffiti on the rocks, and human waste behind the bigger rocks) and it is a national shame when foreigners like me visit these sites. We then headed back toward Caldera a few kilometers and pulled off at the Santuario Granito Orbicular (Orbicular Granite Sanctuary), a beach park with some amazing and rare rocks. What makes them so interesting is that apparently they were little geodes that got drowned in granite millenia ago, and then the ocean erorded the granite to the point that now the geodes are showing as circles embedded smoothly in the larger rocks.

Orbicular granite and a sea star

We admired the rocks for a while, checked out the tidepools (they have bright red sea anemones here!), and then stood behind the cars to enjoy more tea and cake while discussing the difference between rock music and rock ‘n’ roll (plus blues and R&B). We finally headed back home just before it started to get dark.

When we were approaching the center of Copiapó, we noticed that they had closed off one of the main streets and set up a stage by the cultural center. We parked the car and walked over. It turned out that the event was wrapping up (the food trucks were all closed) but there was still another band setting up and a bunch of kids in Bolivian native dress waiting to perform. The band was a local group that plays folk music from across South America (picture Andean flutes and those little guitars called charango).  For one of their songs, a group of kids dressed in Bolivian traditional costumes with lots of feathers came out and performed a dance. The show ended sometime after 9, with the announcer telling us to stick around for the last band, but we were too tired and finally went back home. I slept very soundly!

Kids doing Bolivian dance

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Chilean lunch

As I noted in an earlier post, lunch is an important time in the Chilean workday. Because I didn’t really understand that my first week here, I missed out on an essential aspect of getting to know my colleagues. I could see that they all disappeared from their offices around 1pm and didn’t return until 2:30 or so, but I wasn’t sure where they went.

Then a couple colleagues invited me to join them instead of eating alone. It turns out that the department office building has a small room specifically dedicated to lunchtime. Professors who don’t have errands to run (banks are only open until 2pm, and not at all on weekends, so you have to use lunchtime to go to the bank, for example) will gather in the lunchroom at 1 and stay until 2:30 if they don’t have to teach at 2. There’s a microwave oven in the lunchroom, so many of my colleagues bring their own lunches to reheat there.

Because I didn’t have much lunch-appropriate food in my apartment at first, I was eating in the canteen where the students tend to gather at lunchtime. Morning classes end at 1, so there’s always a long line at that time. Someone had advised me to go earlier, but when I went at 12:30 one day, the food wasn’t ready. Then a colleague walked me through the process of preordering. If you go in sometime between 11 and 12, you can pay for your lunch and then pass the receipt on to the ladies in the kitchen. They will have your meal ready to go at 1, packed in to-go containers so you can bypass the lines and grab your food. The takeout containers cost an extra 100 pesos (about 15 US cents), but it allows people who don’t prepare food at home to join colleagues in the lunchroom.

Chilean lunch is the largest meal of the day. At a minimum, there is a hot dish of some sort and bread. The canteen meals include a glass of some kind of sweetened drink (I’ve noticed that similar to Costa Rica, there’s a lot of powdered fruit-flavored drinks here). For an extra 350 pesos, you can add on a salad or soup, and with another 150, you get a dessert as well. Watching the students eating in the canteen, it seems that a lot of them go for the whole package.

I have’t taken any photos of our lunches at work, so here’s one titled ‘Chilean Cazuela’  (By G. Küppers (JordiCubero) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons)

In the lunchroom, I get to observe what my colleagues bring from home. Some have simple salads (but with homemade dressing–English teachers who have spent time in other countries have picked up a taste for salad dressing flavors that aren’t available in stores here), others have pasta with sauce and meat, and others have more elaborate meals that may be leftovers from an earlier meal. It is inspiring me to figure out how to cook other dishes that can be brought from home and reheated in the microwave.

Lunchtime has also become a good opportunity for me to learn more about Chilean culture. In general, my colleagues are able to compartmentalize and put teaching and university issues aside while we eat. They talk about family and travel and cultural experiences.

This week, a main topic is what people plan to do for Fiestas Patrias, the national holiday week that centers around September 18, Independence Day, which falls on a Tuesday this year. We will have Monday Sept. 17 off, plus Sept. 19 is another national holiday, so essentially we get a 5-day weekend that will be full of partying. Unlike Christmas and New Years Eve, both of which are considered evening events, Fiestas Patrias is all about daytime eating–meaning asados (barbecues) that last all day and into the night. (On a related note, the university just sent out an email including 5 attachments warning people to be careful over the holiday and not to drink and drive, as road accidents are the number one cause of death and injury during the holiday week).

Lunch on weekends tends to happen a bit later, run much longer, and include wine. Familes gather to catch up on the week and tell stories. Kids come and go, but adults stay put and keep talking.

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Language Immersion Weekend

I got into this whole business of language teacher education because I loved learning languages. This weekend gave me a good chance to revisit what it feels like to be truly immersed in a language I don’t know as well as I would like, and to remember the exhilaration of being surrounded by people talking with each other at a normal pace, but still including me in the conversation.

Katty, my friend and colleague at U de Atacama, invited me to join her for her mother’s birthday party at her parents’ house in Caldera, a beachside town about an hour’s drive from Copiapó. She and her husband picked me up Saturday afternoon (I rode in the backseat middle, between the car seats of their 3-year-old and 5-year-old, both of whom fell asleep soon after we hit the highway). The highway* follows the river north toward the Pacific Ocean, through desert hills and past olive orchards and vinyards, some of which were damaged in the massive 2015 floods that covered much of the city as well. The ruined farm fields are still just cracked, dried mud with nothing growing. We sang along to classic American rock songs as we sped along past memorials to people who had died in traffic accidents.

Katty’s parents’ house is on a rise a few blocks above the Caldera harbor. From the front terrace, you can watch the fishing boats and oil ships sailing in and out. Inside, the house is cozy (although still not particularly warm, except in the kitchen when things are cooking) and filled with mementos from her grandfather’s time in the Chilean navy. I think he’s in his 90s now, but still drives a car and spends his days writing up his memoirs on his own PC. When Katty’s mom was young, the family lived on the remote Juan Fernández islands, which at the time had no cars and little interaction with mainland Chile. Today, her grandfather complains, the islands are overpopulated and polluted, with garbage everywhere and no fish left in the sea.

Caldera harbor view from the terrace

From the moment we arrived, I was invited to sit at the kitchen table with Katty’s father and grandfather. The table already had a large plate of olives, nuts, and other pickles, and Katty’s mom set out more plates with crackers and cream cheese (one block topped with honey and poppy seeds, the other with soy sauce and sesame seeds). Then they added some more appetizers and set out a few bottles of wine. Dad asked me questions about Hawai’i, and grandpa starting telling some stories about Easter Island (following the Polynesian connection).

Guests started arriving with gifts for mom, and each time new people arrived, we all stood up to kiss on the cheek (the Chilean greeting even for people you don’t know). I was introduced to many people whose names I didn’t catch. We then sat down at the table again, scooting over and fetching more chairs as the numbers increased. Everyone asked me a few questions, but then as they all seemed to know each other, they picked up conversations that had been started long ago. At one point, grandpa went back to his room and returned with a few typed pages which he proceded to read aloud. This it turns out is part of his memoir.

This party wasn’t meant as a big dinner–everyone had eaten their main meal in the afternoon. The purpose was to have a few snacks with a lot of wine and to share camaraderie and then cake. I think I sat down at the table around 4:30 in the afternoon. By the time the guests started leaving, it was 10:30. The stories had been flying all evening.

As an outsider who didn’t know the family and a language learner still struggling to keep up with Chilean Spanish, I think I managed to follow about 60% of the conversation that evening. Sometimes I thought I understood, and then everyone started laughing at something I had missed. Sometimes I thought something was going to be funny, and everyone looked sad and shook their heads. At one point, I apparently missed the entire story of how Katty’s mom and dad fell in love. Maybe it was also the wine followed by mango cocktails later in the evening, plus vast quantities of olives, cream cheese, and cake, or maybe it was mostly this total immersion in language, but by the end of the evening, my head was spinning.

I slept well that night and the next morning had a nice conversation over coffee with mom about work, art, and politics. Well, I maybe spoke for about 10% of the time. She kept up the rest of the conversation. I walked to the pier with Katty, Manuel, and their boys, where they bought some fresh fish and the kids got to jump on a big trampoline in the central plaza of the town. I realized that Caldera looks a lot like Monterey, California, in the off season, when there are few if any tourists and the locals can walk freely around their city. There are even signs warning to stay away from the lobos marinos (sea lions), just like in Monterey.

The fishing boats are like in Monterey. The moai gazing wistfully at Easter Island less so.

When we brought the fish back, grandpa prepared ceviche and mom prepped the rest of the fish to bake in the oven. Katty’s uncle and his wife came back over, and we all ate a nice dinner of salads and fresh fish, with more wine. Grandpa, however, was unhappy with the bottle of merlot on the table and brought out a bottle of cabernet sauvingon from his own stash, going on a rant about how it was a much stronger wine. He wasn’t wearing his hearing aid, however, so it was almost impossible for anyone to get a word in edgewise with him. He also scolded me for being vegetarian and not eating the ceviche he had prepared.

After lunch, we moved to the front terrace, where grandpa opened up the Sunday newspaper and the boys started a game of soccer. The 5-year-old is learning numbers, so the game had a running score count. At one point I got drawn into the game when all the other adults disappeared, and I discovered that even when playing with a 5-year-old, I was getting competitive and debating the score-keeping approach (great numbers practice for me, too!). At another point, Grandpa turned to me and told me that he was surprised I was not born in Chile as I spoke castellano so well and fluently. I know that he is hard of hearing and really couldn’t have heard my halting, error-filled language, but it was flattering nonetheless.

By the time we drove away, back to Copiapó and another day of work, I recognized that this had been an amazing weekend for my own language learning. Not only did I get hours upon hours of natural input from native speakers not modifying their language for learners or delivering scripted dialogues (as on TV), but I also had to communicate my ideas to people who didn’t know any English in order to accomplish any kind of communication. I haven’t had this kind of experience since Peace Corps (although at that time, I was using Russian, a language I already felt quite comfortable with) or even earlier my study abroad semester in Russia. It’s exhausting, but exhilarating at the same time.

* The highway between Copiapó and Caldera is Ruta 5, the Panamerican Highway, which I like to imagine running all the way up the Pacific coast of South America, through Central America and Mexico, and into the US, where it becomes Interstate 5. In a way, it’s a link between my current home and my family in California.

* * I also want to add a shout-out to the Two Writing Teachers blog, whose ‘Slice of Life’ Tuesday challenges are what get me writing.

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