In literature, as in life, I am fascinated by the city as a character.
Santiago is huge. There is what, about 7 million people here? And I can tell. It functions like a big city. It’s got the people and the traffic and the public transportation of a big city. It’s got the pace of a big city, the attitude. It is reserved but has no option to be anonymous. It is tired but has no option but to keep going, so it tries to make the best of it and stays spontaneous. It’s got so much depth, so much that it becomes too much and starts to flatten out in front of you. It sparkles and it sweats. It smiles and it steals.
It is unapologetic; it is impalpable.
It’s got the music of 7 billion people, living.
I leave my windows wide open at night; the sound of the traffic and the passersby below never stops.
So here’s a few things. A few things:
I learned early on not to smile at people on the street. Especially coming from a woman, this is seen as flirtatious. And 98% of the time, people look at you in that confused city-way. This was quite an adjustment for me–coming from a city that is probably, in many ways, polite to the point of passivity. Still, I miss smiling at strangers. Very much.
Eye contact, on the other hand, es muy fuerte. People are not afraid to look each other in the eyes. Me gusta.
The street dogs here aren’t actually strays, they belong to the city. The people here look after them, love them, and for the most part, they are all really well fed. They have freedom. Seems to me a better life than being locked up in an apartment all day. Well, I am going to miss the presence of dogs as inhabitants of the city.
Here, I want to talk about the racism and the classism I’ve grown aware of, but that is more than a thing, perhaps an entry of its own.
There is a lot of traffic. En Chile, se llama taco. I will not miss all the honking.
But the honking is part of the city’s symphony. As are the car alarms, as are all the street musicians. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I am going to miss, miss terribly, the amount of music I encounter on a daily basis. Everything from hip-hop free-styles to traditional Chilean music to The Clash to Michael Jackson to Yann Tiersen to Isaac Albeniz to sweet, original noise. Sure, sometimes it’s better than others, but true story: when it’s good, the city stops. It is a refuge.
And the street vendors (or the man selling water on the metro saying Aguita Aguita Aguita! Quinientos! Con gas/sin gas! so fast that it took me a week or two to figure out what he was saying). Needing things is a whole different experience here. When you see someone selling it on the street, you buy it. Because you don’t know if they will be there tomorrow. And even that stationary store that you got that one thing from once, well they probably won’t ever have it again.
People are out on the streets here, in general. And I am going to miss this as well. The city is engaging—there is so much activity happening at all times. Sure, sometimes, it is overwhelming. There’s a certain street in Bellas Artes that always makes me feel a little claustrophobic. It has heavy foot-traffic, but half of the sidewalk is occupied by people selling slices of cake. Yes, cake. And they don’t just sit there, they call it out. Cake. Pasteles. Thirty people all yelling cake at the same time on one street. Quite a symphony indeed.
So sometimes it’s too much, but I also love it, the people, everywhere.
And the dancing. The dancing! It’s a part of life here. I feel like the cities I have lived in are afraid to dance. No, not here.
Santiago has its virtues and it has its iniquities. It is a complex character—one that I am growing increasingly attached to.
Inside / Adentro
I think it was in my first post that I mentioned my internal debate about opting out of the homestay. Well, about two and a half months in, I have no doubts that I made the right decision. It is a different experience, for sure, but I guess I know myself better than I thought, because I am very grateful to be where I am at. Me importa mucho la independencia. And truth is, I adore my time alone.
I love my neighborhood. I love being able to walk to school everyday. Watch people. Listen. Take photos. Cook for myself when I need to feel nurtured.
So here are a few more things:
In the USAC packing list, a former student recommended bringing photos of family and friends. Even as a photographer, I wasn’t really thinking about this. One of the first things I did when I got here was put the few photos I brought up on the wall.
Somedays, it feels like my English is getting worse. I know that’s not the case, because learning Spanish is definitely making me think about English in new and exciting ways. But really, at times, I feel like I’m regressing. I have been adamantly trying to increase my vocabulary in Spanish, and I will find myself looking for a word, and then realize that I don’t even know what word in English I am looking for. My brain just doesn’t know where to go.
I’m not dreaming in Spanish yet, but writing in my journal often ends up a beautiful mess of Spanglish. I love that.
The language part is hard. There are days when I feel like I should be better at it, that I should know more. There are days when I can’t remember the basic present tense of a verb because I’ve spent the last month on the subjunctive, a “tense” we don’t really have in English. Somedays, it feels like I will never get a hold of this language.
Then there are other days when people ask me where I’m from, and then, finding out I am from the States and that I have only been in Chile for a little over two months, compliment me on how well I speak Spanish.
Thank you, I needed that.
Being outside of your comfort zone really forces you to look at what keeps you comfortable. Somewhere inside of all that, I am bumping up against my own judgements. All these things I thought I knew. It is important to remember that there is so much we don’t know, and to allow other people the space to show you something different, or perhaps something all-too-familiar, but in a new light. To allow people to show you a different way, a different angle, a different approach, and listen to them.