When you’re getting settled into a new country life is a series of small, discrete and related tasks that need to be dealt with and that remind you repeatedly that you are just far enough outside your comfort zone to continually bump into the things that usually take little to no effort at all.
These to-dos also have the result of taking whatever lofty visions you may have of transcendent moments and giving you firm and insistent reminders that we all live on Planet Earth and inhabit bodies that require constant monitoring, food, rest and bathroom breaks.
This brings us to today.
We needed to get Internet reception going and to bring toilet paper into the apartment.
I accomplished the former accomplished during the first of a pair of interrupted calls with Patrick, our landlord who is outside of Santiago at the moment and who continually rents the apartment through the website AirBnb.com.
In an effort to lubricate the conversational flow, I began by telling him how much we liked the place and what a fine job the cleaning woman named Marisol he hires had done getting it ready for us.
We met Marisol, an energetic, dark-haired woman with short black hair, shortly after we arrived. Javiera, Marisol’s bespectacled daughter who has shoulder length brown hair and a gentle manner, was with her.
I asked Javiera how old she was, and she answered that she was 13 years old.
She wants to be considered an adult, but she is still a girl, don’t you think? Marisol asked me.
I agreed with Marisol on a general principle of international parental solidarity more than rigid belief. The mother nodded vigorously in approval and repeated that our son, who was 20, is a young man, but Javiera is indeed still a girl. Upon learning that we would be here for five months, she even more vigorously urged me to call Don Patrick should we need any help with cleaning our place.
Marisol spoke quite rapidly, but I could understand her in part because I could see her facial expression.
Patrick was another story.
It is important to explain that reaching Patrick without the Internet working required some maneuvering.
We went downstairs to the security desk and spoke with Pablo, a left-handed, slightly heavyset man with a sly grin who called Patrick from his cell phone and then had him call the front desk.
In our initial conversation yesterday Patrick told me that was glad that I speak Spanish and spoke at a manageable rate.
Today, however, he was like Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon going into hyperdrive while I stayed in the previous galaxy.
Patrick spoke in a torrent that was so fast that my often reliable strategy of catching up at the next paragraph and then working backward to comprehend what he had said proved utterly futile.
My next step was to apply a tactic I’ve developed of repeating the key point and asking the speaker to repeat what he has just said over and over again until I actually understand what the information are trying to convey.
This was more successful.
I identified there was a button I had to press and some lights I needed to look at to see if they had worked.
Then the phone line cut off.
The second task proved more difficult after Patrick called back again and we resumed the conversation.
I tried to let him know that we needed more toilet paper, but did not have the words in Spanish. As a result, I told him that we needed “paper for the bath”. (I couldn’t look up the phrase because the aforementioned Internet was not yet working.)
I then said that I would go to the store and buy some of this material and give him a receipt for it that he could take off of our bill total.
He took this to mean that he had been wrong and that I wanted a receipt.
The line cut out again.
On the elevator Dunreith told me that the apartment had not in fact been clean and that she didn’t understand why I had such a need to exaggerate.
I went into defensive mode for about two comments before taking the low road and asking her if she wanted to handle the call the next time when I knew full well that was not possible.
She told me I didn’t have to get angry, at which point I responded that she didn’t have to criticize me.
Our Chilean idyll was rapidly evaporating and sounding remarkably similar to conversations we have with some frequency in the United States.
I brewed in silence for a while before giving myself what in essence amounted to a time out.
That is to say, I took a nap.
I roused myself an hour later after what Dunreith has called over the years “sleepitation.” During sleepitation I assert that I am meditating, but Dunreith assures me that my heavy breathing means that I am sleeping.
In either case, I felt more relaxed, apologized for my latest outburst and asked her if she wanted to go for a walk.
She assented and, about an hour later, we embarked on a journey to Cerro San Cristobal, a green, tree covered park that also houses the city’s zoo.
Although the calendar says it’s winter, the thermometer showed a balmy 68 degrees.
We walked along the Mapocho River whose bed, like the Los Angeles River in ‘Grease’ and other American films, is bordered at parts with cement. (The difference is that the Mapocho has water, however brown and dirty, while the Los Angeles in many places does not.)
Couples young and old, but particularly young, were publicly displaying their affection, as the riverside and the unseasonably warm weather brought out these behaviors in abundance.
Dunreith and I walked through the Bellavista neighborhood where legendary poet and politician Pablo Neruda had one of his homes, past the dozens of shops that sold all varieties of Lapislazuli, along the inordinately crowded street of Pio Nono, where college students mingled with families to fill the streets and toward the entrance to the park.
Advertised as having pine nuts and cheese, it actually contained onions and egg instead. After munching the tasty concoction, we walked up the stairs that allowed us to approach, but not enter, the park (We decided against it as there was only an hour until it closed.)
Dunreith noticed a path that went along where dozens of cars were parked in single file before shooting out back to the highway.
The snow-capped Andes loomed in the distance. A pair of cranes, and what appears to be Santiago’s signature architectural feature, a multi-story apartment building, stood in the foreground.
Dunreith and I managed to cross the four-lane highway without incident. Three bicycles whizzed by us, along with the cars.
We walked back along the Mapocho, past a father and son playing soccer and more embracing couples, and back to our place that is already starting to feel like home.
The Internet was working, and, when we went to buy food for dinner at the grocery store around the corner, Miguel the baker came out from behind the area where he bakes when I waved to him.
He asked how everything was going, gave us a tortilla, a new type of bread to take home and told us to come back in the morning when it’s truly fresh.
Dunreith and I prepared dinner, sat down to eat it with full glasses of Chilean white wine that made her a little tipsy.
We had forgotten to get the toilet paper when we went to the store, but somehow we knew there would be time for that tomorrow.