Overdosing on nostalgia

There’s something that is quite evident between Chileans who live outside of Chile, something that I too used to share with enthusiastic vigor. There is a tendency to idealize this country and recall with a deep sense of nostalgia all the memories ever created during the time spent in this narrow land. It wouldn’t be fair to begin this blog immediately removing myself from this since in reality I spent the majority of my life in the exact same state of mind as those I now observe as quite nostalgic.

Growing up as “foreigners” wasn’t an easy feat in the San Francisco Bay Area, especially during the early 80s when being Latin wasn’t necessarily celebrated. Sure, it could have been worse (we could have been living in the middle of Kansas or Minnesota) but it took a bit before being Latin was actually celebrated. Even as I recall high school and certain “movements” by the Latino groups, this was mainly centered around Mexican-Americans, who, let’s face it, far outnumbered the Chileans. As such was the case, the small close-knit group of Chileans who lived in the Bay Area had a reduced network of neighbors and peers who “got” what it meant to be Chilean and who understood firsthand all the idiosyncrasies involved with being Chilean. My thought is that the likelihood of building and sustaining nostalgia bubbles involving all things Chilean was much, much greater because the real thing was much, much farther (it’s not like we could walk down the street and hit up a Chilean restaurant just like that.) Everyone who surrounded you felt the same distance, the same void, the same yearning to be closer, the same awe, the same patriotism and much, much more. The result was always the same when groups of Chileans got together: it was as if celebrating the 18th of September each and every time. Cuecas (Chile’s national dance), wine, “ensalada a la chilena,” a good asado produced our own little Chile no matter the occasion. – birthdays, anniversaries, marriages and even 4th of July resulted in the creation of a little Chile.

The fact that we were greatly outnumbered by Mexicans and Central Americans only perpetuated the nostalgia bubble. It was as if being the cheese that stands alone meant that it was our duty, our calling, our right, to show the world “We’re Chilean, dammit! Not Mexican! We don’t eat burritos!” (Actually, neither do Mexicans.) And in feeling this national pride, we tended to migrate towards others who shared like sentiments and who would join us in talking about how great Chile was or who would take the time to comment with us on the breathtaking, majestic beauty of the Andes Mountains. If we came across Chilean tourists it was if we’d been reunited with a long-lost sibling and we bombarded them with questions about “la patria” – now I realize that in acting this way, I’m sure that the visiting Chileans pretty much surrendered to the fact that Chileans who lived abroad were weirdos. We stopped at nothing, even inviting them to our homes for an “asado” because LORD KNOWS they must miss it, right? I mean, we did!

The distance between San Francisco and Santiago meant that when you took time off to vacation in Chile, you went for at least two weeks. Some people, like my mom, rarely went for less than one month. ONE MONTH of vacation, can you imagine? But people did this and no one thought anything of it. During that time, you jam packed your days traveling from north to south, to the coast and back again and made sure to visit each and every family member and friend who ever meant anything to you, even if that meant having back-to-back asados. It was great to visit, especially during summer in Chile, because the family would usually try to coordinate their vacations with yours. You can imagine the nonstop fun that resulted with a handful of people on vacation, ready to let loose, go to the beach and have themselves a whole heap of fun. You’d spend Christmas and New Year surrounded by family, enjoying the hot weather, eating, drinking, dancing and being merry. All of this was quickly compared to the cold, gray, desolate life you returned to when you went back home to the San Francisco Bay Area and of course, you quickly saw Chile as the only place in the world where you could possibly be happy.

Immediately returning from sunny, warm, family-oriented vacations, it was easy to recall the memories of a short time ago, when you were setting the table for “once” (tea time), going to the grocery store to pick out the meat for the asado in the evening, opening a bottle of red wine so that it could breathe or sitting down with a “pucho” (slang term for cigarette and no, I don’t smoke) ready to discuss the latest happenings with friends or friends of friends.

I was part of all this, an active part of all this. Nothing was better than Chile. Chilean wine was better, Chilean seafood was better, the Chilean way of life, the fact that people knew how to balance work and life, the proximity you had to others, the way people knew their neighbors … I would be in awe just standing in line at the supermarket, listening to the Chilean accents all around me. Each and every single vacation abroad was to Chile and when I returned, I’d immediately calculate when I could return again. Back home, I had an entire wall in my apartment dedicated to Chilean artisan crafts. I had a sticker on the back window of my Jetta with the Chilean flag on it. I had a notebook that I carried with me to all meetings, in SF or elsewhere, with a panoramic view of Santiago. In short, I was obsessed with my “patria” and made sure to say it loud, say it proud, every chance I had – “I’m Chilean!!!!!”

Then, I moved to Chile and began building my life here.

There are so many great things about this country, it would be unfair to say that I was completely wrong to idealize it when I lived back home. But it would also be unfair to not acknowledge that living here is considerably different than visiting. One of the first things I realized is that there really isn’t a work/life balance. People work a lot and they work constantly. Vacations are usually reserved for 1-2 weeks in February and a week in August – that’s it. It just so happened that when I would visit in December/January, family members would coordinate their vacations with mine. The food is good, but honestly, there is much more variety and richer tastes elsewhere – notably for me, in the U.S. Wine is amazing but then again, I miss not having the option of a California wine, New Zealand wine or Australian wine. It’s just Chilean, all.the.time. Also summer here is suffocatingly hot and most of the time, you have to endure it in Santiago because an escape to the beach is 1) expensive and 2) requires reservations far in advance during the peak summer months. Also, I don’t really see any difference in the way people live their lives here in that, most of the time, people go on their merry way, following the routine of their lives and rarely weaving in and out of other people’s lives. In short, it’s not all that neighborly as I once thought it to be. One more thing: we don’t do “once.” In fact, I don’t even LIKE “once.” There was once a time when I truly longed for it. Now I just find it utterly mundane to repeat breakfast a second time around. Finally, unfortunately enough, I take for granted the fact that my entire family is here and that, as such, I could pretty much see them more often than I ever could. If not more often, at least, much more easily than before. I’m as much of an “ingrata” (ungrateful or, in this case, absent) as everyone else in my family and because of this, we never see each other! And it’s a damn shame.

When it comes to Chile and the nostalgia it promotes in Chileans who live abroad, I’m on the other side of the looking glass now. I see them and I hear them talk about Chile with a sense of longing and a sense of pride that I no longer share. I see their pictures of the September 18th celebrations that were held back home, and they enjoy it with 100% more patriotism and passion than I’ve seen in the two dieciochos I’ve spent living here. Their Chi-chi-chi, le-le-le’s are louder and more heartfelt, especially compared to mine, which haven’t been uttered in well over a year. When I see these people on Facebook or in person, hear them over the line or in front of me, I no longer recognize those sentiments – ones that used to define me as a person! It’s like I’m looking at a picture of a great-great-great grandmother and trying desperately to find a nose-hair of resemblance.

I don’t recognize myself in them, or in their sentiments anymore, and I can no longer relate.

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2009 Year in Review

All right folks – the hoopla of Christmas is now safely behind us and thankfully we can now lend our attention to more important matters at hand: the upcoming close of yet another year.

You know, I remember when I was a kid and August rolled around… the thought of Christmas and the first time I’d get REAL time off from school, seemed SO – FAR – AWAY. Now that I’m older it seems that I blink and all of a sudden it’s fall (well, spring here now) and then hello, it’s Thanksgiving. And from there, it’s a sleigh ride into Navidad and all its commercial glory. After New Year’s it’s Valentine’s before you even have a chance to double check your resolution list and well, from there it’s just a matter of seconds before you’re planning your Memorial Day bbq’s. I mean, the space time continuum has significantly shifted to high gear since I was a kid. I don’t know. Maybe the 80s were just a slower decade… perhaps each decade before that was even slower! For all we know, maybe the 1930’s took an entire 20 years to complete! I’m just sayin…

For this reason related to the speeding up of time, I’m especially glad that prior to my adventures in blogging, I kept a diary, a detailed account of my days really, ever since I was 7 years old. Just as I started to slack off on my diary entries, I started to blog. Somehow, somewhere, there is a full account of my life, should the case be that I ever become famous and a highly controversial public figure (as this will prove to be QUITE the arsenal in my life – either for or against me.)

In short, I can sum up this year of my life, from Jan 1, 2009 to these last few days remaining in December 2009, as having been full of love, growth … and technology.

Leaving aside the egocentricity of my blog, right now I’d like to remember (as well as capture in writing) the love that bloomed for my dearest friends this year. Beginning with Amanda and Adam, who were married at the New York Botanical Garden on May 24th, 2009.

Followed by the marriage of my friends Corey and Chris on August 8, 2009…Happy, happy, happy couple!

And on December 25th (or 24th, not sure since I don’t have the full scoop yet) my dear friend Lauren received the much anticipated proposal from her boyfriend (now fiancee), Mark. To say that I’m beyond thrilled is a fierce understatement and I won’t even THINK such an inappropriate sentiment… I’m over the moon happy for them both and no words available to me in either Spanish or English can adequately sum up how happy I am for them.

Somewhere in between all the love my friends were getting (and giving) I myself got the proposal I thought I’d never, ever receive. I swear, there were times in my past life when I’d sit in my room, hearing story after story of college classmates who were dropping like flies into the realms of marriage. WHAT ABOUT ME??!!!, I used to think. What was wrong with me? Was I not lovable? Was I forever destined to be with men who didn’t appreciate me, respect me or regard me? Or was I forever meant to be with boys who were about a mile short of becoming men? For the above-mentioned two type of guys were the only ones I seemed to land! So I spent time and again feeling sorry for myself regarding men and wondered if I’d ever have a husband and a family of my own … until finally I came to terms with being alone and I was actually relishing the new found contentment about being single when LO AND BEHOLD, when I least expected it (as cliche as that sounds) in walks destiny.

June 7, 2009 – the day I wondered about for about two decades, the day I feared would NEVER, EVER come… finally came… :o)

Note that the first thing I said to my mom when we called her (about 15 minutes after this picture was taken) was “OMG mom someone wants to MARRY ME!!! Can you believe it?” That caused a good chuckle from her and him alike, but trust me, there was a part of me that was kind of in awe with this concept. Grateful, but in awe nonetheless.

But none of this love shmlove stuff could have POSSIBLY happened without the other two things that are prominent about my 2009: technology and the move.

Technology could only take Gonzalo and me so far. While he lived in Santiago, Chile and I lived near San Francisco, CA I’m not sure how long our relationship would have ultimately lasted with such a distance. However I do know that it lasted as long as it did despite being apart thanks to mobile communication devices (i.e. cell phones), Skype, email, Facebook and the Internet in general. I can’t imagine it now, but my life pretty much evolved around my Skype time with him … did I make plans after work with girlfriends? Yes I did. But trust me, they were far fewer than my life prior to Skype time. And well – what woman doesn’t appreciate lugging herself up the steps to her apartment after work only to find a box from 1-800-Flowers containing tulips, or roses, or what have you, sent from her boyfriend living thousands of miles away?

Ultimately though, the only way our relationship would survive was for one of us to transplant themselves to where the other one was … that person ended up being me since 1) I don’t have kids and he does and 2) I speak both languages fluently, thus the likelihood of my adjustment being faster was greater. That move was well documented as it gave rise to this blog … for more details on that part of my life, check back to past entries. Notably, those from July. Hence, one of the major marks of my 2009 was the move from the U.S. to Chile to be with my one and only. Obviously something so maje rightfully takes center stage this year.

The final element of 2009 that I mark with great significance is that of my job/career. I sadly watched as many of my coworkers were laid off earlier this year due to the flailing economy and our company’s reaction to such a decline was that of self-preservation. This makes sense and when my coworkers left, I was (thankfully) left to step into roles that were left empty … and these roles helped me learn a great deal about 1) being thankful to have a job, 2) adjusting to (corporate) emergency situations 3) appreciating that one’s company has such confidence in the abilities of the (remaining) employees and 4)turning on auto-pilot and just getting things DONE. When I realized that it was time for me to leave California and move to Chile, once again my job showed me that life could go on with them in tow too, as they allowed me to keep my job even after I moved. Maybe it was because they need me as much as I need them but either way, it was a great moment in 2009 when I realized that my company really did like me. I like them too. Oh, I have my grrr moments (and definitely had them earlier this year after all the lay offs) but in general, it’s been a good 2009 job-wise and I’ll be forever thankful that I was one of the people that could say that about 2009. I realize that many people can’t.

So now that the Christmas bit is over and I’m about three days away from welcoming 2010, I’m sad to see a pretty good year come to an end. Each year on December 31st, I’m anxious about the upcoming new year especially since past years haven’t been as great as this one has. I hope 2010 is even better (hi, the year I’m getting married and the year I start my Masters program!) but even if it’s just as good as this one, I’ll be more than happy and equally as grateful.

So until 2010, fellow bloggers and blog readers, I’ll leave you with all my best wishes for a happy, healthy and successful 2010, in all ways! And don’t drink and drive. :o)

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People like me!!! (an overwhelmingly joyous discovery)

I literally just spent about an hour freaking out on skype with Gonzalo about not being able to find “American” friends in Chile…what if I NEVER find someone who GETS “I totally paused” or “I can’t believe this, they f*^king forgot my birthday?” Call me crazy, but this kind of understanding among my social networks is CRUCIAL to me.

And then I decided to google bikram yoga in Chile… and I am directed to a blogspot of a woman who – get this – married a Chilean and relocated to Santiago from New York City. What, what, what??!! Did I stumble into a miraculous pot of Expats who will feel my pain??!!
Yes. Yes I did.

All of a sudden this move is no longer filled with paranoid thoughts the likes of “OMG I’ll be the only person who misses the salad bar at Whole Foods.” I realize now that there JUST MIGHT be a possibility of finding a social network (dare I say, friends) who GET what I’m going through. And right then and there – full speed ahead doesn’t feel so scary.

My Tio Pato and Tia Lucia came over to help me get rid of the “For donation” pile of stuff that doesn’t make sense to take with me to Chile (i.e. kitchen appliances, etc). My apartment is slowly becoming a skeleton of a home, with just a few remnants of the former single life I am now willingly leaving behind. My once

amazing apartment, which I personally think should have been an example to all single women everywhere, has been dismantled as of about two months ago. So though I’ve been living a hobo-ish existence for some time, now it’s in the most pathetic state ever. Boxes have become my nightstand, dresser, tv stand and kitchen table. It’s pretty hot.

In short, my life has been either donated, sold on Craigslist or packed into 18x18x24 boxes. Today I spent the good part of the afternoon boxing the plethora of random Target buys I realized yesterday. I think I’m taking about 7 boxes of toothpaste because, it would seem, I think I’m going to a country where people brush their teeth with a little spit and a side of mint for taste. I also bought three of the SUPER SIZED Tylenol fast action! Those were indeed key buys – call me crazy, but I think I’ll appreciate it come two months from now when I need something and can’t make heads or tails of the Cruz Verde’s in Chile (have you BEEN to a pharmacy there??!! I’m just saying: there’s a learning curve with the meds.)
Anyway, my point here is that after complaining to the point where I am pretty sure that Gonzalo was about to ask for the engagement ring back (I kid), I stumbled across a blogger’s site and it was like the answer fell from heaven – THERE WILL BE PEOPLE LIKE ME IN SANTIAGO!!! It’s the little things that make me go ’round and believe you me, this was a HUGE little thing. The sequence of events that followed are 1) I found this blog spot and 2) I may have found a wedding photographer that suits our “urban/sharp/modern/simple” wedding plans!!

ALL THIS from simply typing “bikram yoga santiago chile” in the Google search bar.
I almost feel that all of you should type this miracle phrase in the search bar… I mean, who’s to say that the lottery numbers won’t fall in your lap? What what?! ;o)

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