Chilean Chronicles, Part 54: Terremoto 1, Jeff 0

With Larry Geri before the Terremoto started its attack.

With Larry Geri before the Terremoto started its attack.

I had done all the preparations.

Enjoyed the Journalism Department’s celebration last Thursday.

Walked into a work party for El Diecicocho, Chile’s Independence Day, last Friday.

Dancing the cueca.

Dancing the cueca.

Traveled by metro, bus and car to Alejandra Matus and Alberto Barrera’s idllyic home nestled in the foothills of the mountains on Saturday.

Sunset at Alejandra Matus and Alberto Barrera's house.

Sunset at Alejandra Matus and Alberto Barrera’s house.

Taken pictures of teams caballeros herding cows into the wall at the rodeo at Parque Alberto Hurtado on Monday.

Two caballeros about to knock down a cow at Parque Alberto Hurtado.

Two caballeros about to knock down a cow at Parque Alberto Hurtado.

Evoked memories of Fenway Park circa 1990 by spending time with anticucho cooks and hustlers Patricio and Andres at the national stadium on Tuesday.

Andres and Patricio at the  fondo at the National Stadium.

Andres and Patricio at the fondo at the National Stadium.

Today was the day.

El Dieciocho.

And I was ready for the New York City of fondas, Parque Bernardo O’Higgins.

Or so I thought.

Patricio had told me yesterday that whereas the party at Estadio Nacional ended at 1:00 a.m., resuming at 10:00 the next morning, the fiesta at Parque O’Higgins never stops.

It’s also the site of La Jein Fonda, a venue for musical acts and performances.

La Jein Fonda.

La Jein Fonda.

Dunreith and I walked down the usually bustling Providencia Avenue to meet fellow Fulbrighter Larry Geri outside the Salvador Metro station.

With very few exceptions, buses, taxes and shops with steel gates announcing their closure greeted us.

Before leaving our apartment, we had heeded Alejandra’s instructions, delivered via email, to empty our wallets of all non-essential items that we might fear losing.

I didn’t bring my customary fire-red backpack or my notebook.

But I did have a to-do list.

At the very top: tasting my first terremoto.

Multiple sources had advised me to try the drink.

Juan, one of the doorman in the front lobby of our apartment, had thought seriously a week ago when I asked him what I should do during the week of Dieciocho.

“A terremoto,” he said after extensive deliberation.

He had repeated his recommendation last night when I observed that it was quite cold in the front lobby, as if the sweet drink with white wine ,ice cream and cognac could magically ward off freezing weather.

In our session last Thursday the students in our English conversation had also told us earnestly that we needed to try one of the drinks during Fiestas Patrias, the weeklong celebration that included today’s commemoration of Independence Day.

We took the Metro to Los Heroes and managed to identify that the Parque O’Higgins stop was the correct one for us.

We walked through the large gates, down the row of stands selling every conceivable kind of trinket, past the picture of “Hanoi Jane” that was drawn across the white tent that served as the venue for the musical entertainment, and into the sandy area where food was sold.

The smell of sizzling chicken, beef, veal and sausage being grilled on fresh charcoal assaulted me.

A stand from Arica, one of Chile’s northernmost communities, had a row of particularly juicy looking chicken that caught my attention.

I made a mental note to return after completing our quest.

Then I saw them.

Already prepared, the frothy white cream approaching the lip of the plastic cups that held them, six terremotos in three different flavors stood atop a wooden bar.

After determining that Dunreith was not going to have one, I invited Larry to join me.

He did.

I approached the woman behind the bar and delivered what has become my standard speech about how this is the first Dieciocho we had attended, that this was the first terremoto we were drinking and thus this was an important moment in which we needed to have success.

She listened patiently, then directed me to the caja, the place where nearly all Chilean purchases occur, the spot where you pay and receive a paper receipt that you pass to the server.

I went through the same speech with the man at the caja.

He listened with slightly less patience than the server, but said in a less than enthusiastic tone that he hoped I enjoyed myself.

I’ve found that at times explaining to people our purpose and the meaning of that particular moment in their country can elicit higher levels of service.

This time nothing of the sort occurred.

But Larry and I did receive our desired drinks.

He chose grenadine, while I picked mint.

We toasted and took our first sips.

The sweetness of the frothy substance at the top was cut by a beerlike taste in the body of the drink.

Dunreith pointed out that I was drinking on an empty stomach, so, after completing a lap around the food, entertainment and child amusement park options, returned to the spot with the tasty looking chicken breasts.

I tried to purchase the chicken directly from the woman working the grill, only to be told that I needed to go yet again to the caja.

I went inside the tent with signage that proclaimed its loyalty to Arica, located the caja and sought to take my chicken to go.

The lady at this caja told me that there was no take away option, that the chicken came with a salad and thus we had to sit down and wait for it.

This was just fine with Larry, who recently lost the heat in his apartment.

The waiting turned out to be longer than we had expected, as, compared with the flow of sausages and beef that were being served at tables near us, the chicken was taking a while to cook.

Larry and I contented ourselves with making our way through the terremoto, which was having no apparent effect on us.

A waiter with long black hair approached our table and asked us in English where we were from.

I kept answering in Spanish, and put special emphasis on our desire to have our chicken as soon as possible.

About a minute later, he walked through the tent carrying the chicken breast on the end of a long, thin, shiny fork.

The meat and the salad of green tomatoes in a salty sauce arrived shortly after that.

As opposed to much grilled meat we’ve encountered thus far, which is cooked to the point of resembling jerky, if not leather, this breast was piping hot, tender and succulent.

The conversation flowed amiably amongst us.

Larry’s taught about sustainability at Evergreen State for nearly two decades-a period during which he’s spent months at a time in South Africa and Japan before his present gig in Chile. We talked about our kids, our teaching and research projects, our his wife’s impending visit and their plans to dance the tango in Buenos Aires. (She’s been taking private lessons for months. He hasn’t.)

We finished the chicken and decided we ready to leave.

The crowds were streaming in to the park.

Although the sidewalks were not yet jam-packed with people, we could tell that time was not far off.

“That terremoto is starting to kick in,” Larry said as we neared the front gate.

Indeed it was.

My stomach and head were starting to get the same woozy feeling I remembered having with some frequency during my freshman year at Stanford.

My steps became more uneven, my pictures more erratic.

I weaved through the ceaseless wave of people entering the park and staggered onto the Metro that would take us back to our apartment.

Larry graciously allowed me to take a seat.

We parted at Salvador and made plans to eat dinner together with his wife and
him next Monday.

Dunreith, who was battling an upset stomach, and I walked the two blocks from Pedro de Valdivia in an unsteady gait.

The doormen greeted us.

Dunreith explained in Spanish that she had had enough of fondas.

I said that I didn’t feel that good and that the terremoto had won.

They laughed.

Loudly.

We made it back to our apartment and took an hourlong nap to recover from our wild adventure.

We woke up at 5:10 p.m.

The sun was shining brightly.

The terremoto was still rumbling away within me.

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