Chilean Chronicles, Part 55: El Dieciocho Continues in Providencia

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Naval Military Academy Band

It’s the day after El Dieciocho here in Santiago, and the celebration keeps on coming.

After yesterday’s defeat at the hands of my first terremoto on the actual Independence Day, I was looking for something quieter.

But there was nothing quiet about the band from the naval military school band that marched past a still-empty Providencia Avenue this morning.

The brassy sound of the horns accompanied by the steady beat of the bass drum reached our apartment from blocks away.

I grabbed my camera and rushed out into the street.

Row after row of dark vested, young midshipmen with gold buttons, white slacks and the black strap from their hat snugly tucked under their necks stepped in unison.

Their lean faces adopted a hard, emotionless look as they walked stiff-backed and staring straight ahead.

A host of proud family members walked alongside them, recording the moment with cameras of varying lengths, IPads, and cell phone.

They weren’t the only ones showing pride.

A father with his son on his shoulders clapped as the midshipmen went by.

A white-haired man with a scruffy beard who looked as if he could have been homeless saluted.

So did a man with a stern expression and short cropped brown hair.

The students walked and beat the drums and played the clarinets and flutes and even a bassoon until shortly past the Manuel Montt Metro stop.

There their leader told them to relax for five minutes and spend time with their families before boarding the orange Pullman buses that would take them to the first of their many destinations for the day that would end with a trip to Valparaiso.

The young men’s faces relaxed.

They returned for a few minutes to adolescent bodies and energy as their parents and grandparents hugged and congratulated them.

A young naval student who had been leading the group talks with family members on Providencia Ave. on September 19.

A young naval student who had been leading the group talks with family members on Providencia Ave. on September 19.

I started talking with Jorge, a middle-aged stocky man with thinning black hair, a mutli-colored sweater and the rumpled look of someone who had been sampling and enjoying all that Dieciocho has to offer.

He explained that he was a family member of one of the students, and that their itinerary for the day included a stop at Parque O’Higgins before the early morning trip to the Armada’s home base.

I asked him what he and other Chileans thought about this show of military might just one week after the flurry of commemorative activity that culminated in last Tuesday’s observances of the fortieth anniversary of the Pinochet coup.

That was in the past, Jorge said. The people aren’t afraid of the military. They’re proud of them.

Based on what I had seen, he might have been right.

But I wondered.

The students finished loading the buses, which pulled out into the street and rumbled off their destination.

Uncertain about the accuracy of Jorge’s assessment, I walked back to our apartment.

Parque Ines de Suarez: The Whole Foods of Fondas

A few hours later, we were ready to take on my fourth and Dunreith’s third fonda of the week.

This time we were going to Parque Ines de Suarez in our Providencia neighborhood.

We walked down Antonio Varas Street before taking a left turn and following a crowd that was streaming calmly into the nearby park.

The first thing we noticed was the smell.

Or absence of it, to be precise.

Whereas Parque Alberto Hurtado and Parque O’Higgins each had had the distinctive odor of searing flesh being cooked over charcoal on one of dozens of grills, the air in Ines de Suarez held none of that.

Instead, we discovered a stand where you could purchase veggie burgers, or, at another spot, a slice of quiche.

The anticucho did not have thick chunks of meat and sausage doused in hefty portions of salt.

It had thin cubes of chicken, beef, and pork interspersed with neatly cut slices of onion and red peppers.

No salt on this anticucho at Parque Ines de Suarez on September 19.

No salt on this anticucho at Parque Ines de Suarez on September 19.

Rather than people walking around with a bucket-size container filled with terremotos, the cups were smaller and the major entertainment was a puppeteer drawing cries of delight from the dozens of children seated underneath the tent where he performed.

A little girl watches a puppet show at Parque Ines de Suarez in the Providencia neighborhood.

A little girl watches a puppet show at Parque Ines de Suarez in the Providencia neighborhood.

While the stands at Parque O’Higgins featured all manner of kitschy tchotchkes, the Providencia gathering had stands with five flavors of organic pisco, refined olive oil, Ceylon tea or an anti-Monsanto sign.

An anti-Monsanto sign at Parque Ines de Suarez on September 19.

An anti-Monsanto sign at Parque Ines de Suarez on September 19.

Nearly all of the owners had business cards, and many, if not most, of the owners, accepted plastic.

Dunreith and I took a look around, accepting samples of high-end chocolate and apple pie, taking a look at the lapislazuli jewelry, and finally settling on empanadas made by a Mapuche owner that Dunreith later declared were the worst we’ve had.

We gathered our food and ventured under the tent where lines of people were waiting obediently to purchase terremotos that were advertised on a white board in both English and Spanish as “the best.”

We found a table that had three empty seats and a woman sitting there.

After securing permission to enjoy our meal at the table, we met Charo, and, a little while later, her husband Guillermo.

They’re Peruvians who have just moved for his work in IT after living in Spain for three decades.

She’s got brown hair, white earrings and an easy smile.

For his part, Guillermo has a firm handshake, a grey beard and a pair of round glasses.

We chatted for a while.

Guillermo and Charo spoke in English, a language she is laboring to master.

Dunreith and I spoke in Spanish, a language that Dunreith is working hard to learn.

We talked about the pleasure he and his son-in-law take in cooking and the joy their grandchildren give them.

They told me that in Spain I would be called “Jose,” or “Pepe.”

Guillermo explained that he doesn’t know what to answer when people ask him where his residence is.

He’s lived and raised his children in Spain, where his grandchildren still live.

He’s got family and a home in Peru.

And now he’s living in Santiago in the Los Condes neighborhood.

I think of myself as a citizen of the world, he said.

I concurred, noting that national boundaries can be arbitrary before Dunreith pointed at her chest and said, “Corazon.”

That’s where home is.

Where the heart says it is.

Guillermo nodded in agreement and complimented Dunreith for taking the conversation in a deeper direction.

I unfortunately took it in a hazardous direction when I asked how many years they had been married.

Guillermo Montes and his wife Charo at Parque Ines de Suarez on September 19.

Guillermo Montes and his wife Charo at Parque Ines de Suarez on September 19.

Guillermo faltered for a minute, then turned red as he turned to ask his wife what year they had wed. (The answer appeared to be 1977.)

I tried to explain that I had wanted Charo to flex her English muscles for saying numbers.

Too late.
Dunreith sought to throw Guillermo a lifeline by saying that we had it easy because we had married in 2000.

Smart man, Guillermo said.

Charo said they needed to go, so we hugged goodbye after exchanging numbers and plans for getting together on an upcoming Sunday afternoon.

Dunreith was ready to leave, too.

We traced our route back along the still empty streets to our apartment, grateful that our objective of a relaxed, but still expansive, day had been accomplished.

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