Now, I have to be honest and say that sometimes my awareness that listening to her is a good idea occurs only in retrospect.
On Friday night, though, I acted promptly, and, in so doing, added to aline of examples that stretches back to September 4, 2000, the day we wed for the first time.
It began with a simple nudge to help a couple at the next table.
It ended with a two-hour conversation, a cup of coffee, and an entry into an entire world courtesy of two new friends.
The place was largely empty, and, of the eight customers, eight of us spoke English.
Dunreith noticed that the couple at the table next to us was having some difficulty communicating their order to the waiter.
“Help them,” she told me.
The assistance I gave was meager.
I told the waiter, a gentle black-haired gentleman whom we had learned in previous visits manages the place that and who is the brother-in-law of the restaurant owner, that the señora would like her carne media, or medium.
It turned out that he had understood.
Dunreith and I turned back to our our pisco sour peruanismo, a delectable lemony concoction with a deceptively strong punch.
We clinked glasses in memory of helen and talked about how she would have stayed with us here for a month, soaking in every morsel of language and art and culture she could.
We were preparing to leave and asked our neighbors if the steak had indeed been medium.
This part wasn’t, said the wife, pointing to a bloody section of meat she had left on an otherwise clean plate. But it was a big enough piece that I had plenty, she added.
And with that we met Brian and Chris Beaton, a down-to-earth Australian couple who were just in Santiago for the day before returning home after a two-week jaunt to Peru. We started talking about their trip to Macchu Picchu, the glorious train ride they took to arrive at the Incan ruins and our plans to visit there in December.
The pair, who exudes an easy comfort with themselves and with each other, were married in England in the 70s.
Just 11 people were there-a number that included Chris’ parents, who wrote and asked permission to attend after learning of their daughter’s plans. (“I did all the cooking,” she said with a wry smile.)
Since then the couple has raised their two boys in their home about 30 minutes outside of Perth, the capital of Western Australia. The place is in the bush, with kangaroos walking or jumping freely around the area. Two of Brian’s brothers lived nearby for years and had children of similar ages, so the cousins grew up together in a safe environment full of natural wonders.
Living there had its dangers, too.
The bush fires that have caused so much damage in many parts of Australia nearly got their home, too.
Chris, who conveys a steady strength and was wearing a light blue sweater over her white turtleneck, told us about filling their car with all the pictures and mementos they had agreed she should take in case the house burned to the ground.
You can replace a house, she said, but you can’t replace photographs.
She packed everything in 15 minutes.
And she did it more than once, sometimes leaving the possessions in the car.
We talked about our boys, each of whom are young men who are making their way in the world. Chris glowed with quiet pride and anticipation when she talked about their oldest son getting married in February to his fiancee, a broadcast journalist in Perth.
The couple met at college in California while they were both scholarship swimmers. He proposed on the same spot where he first met his eventual soul mate in Malibu, California, but not before he asked her parents for their daughter’s hand in marriage.
We talked about our time here in Chile.
I told them about my having watched the great Dennis Lillee bowl in the late 70s when I spent a year in Oxford, England.
That was a good time to be Australian, said Brian, who’s tall and genial and was sporting a scarf and a black leather jacket.
We talked and talked, Dunreith and me standing all the while as if we were about to leave any second. (This had, in fact, had been our original plan.)
After about half an hour, Brian and Chris asked us to join them for a coffee.
Which we did.
The two of them, along with Dunreith, ordered a cortado, heavy on the milk.
Brian told us about his work as a documentary film maker.
He’s been doing it for more than 30 years. In 1999, Brian merged his company, Reel Images, with Cecilia Tait’s Tait Productions to form Artemis International.
In recent years the company has made the Australian version of “Who Do You Think You Are?” Originally a project of the BBC, the show traces famous people’s family history. In England, this meant digging into the roots of people like Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling. The United States version has featured celebrities like Lisa Kudrow, Spike Lee and Chelsea Handler.
It has gone on to include other notable Australians like Olympic gold medalist Cathy Freeman, legendary wicket keeper Rod Marsh and actor Michael Caton, who played Darryl Kerrigan in the classic Australian comedy, “The Castle.”
They’re extensive productions.
Brian said research can take several months and involve a team of as many as 15 people.
The show has had a life-changing impact on many of the people who participate in the program, and has also helps pay the bills for the company’s other projects, he said.
They’re on a wide range of topics, many of which involve critical historical moments or key issues in Australian society.
Like the bombing of Darwin Island in Feb. 19 1942. that led to more damage than Pearl Harbor but had rarely, if ever, been talked about openly in the country.
Brian explained that the Japanese military had learned from their errors in Pearl Harbor and made the attack that much more deadly.
Or the film about Harry Carmody, who was one of the “Stolen Generation,” those aboriginal children who were taken from their parents to live with white families.
Or the movie about three refugee children as they venture outside of the shelter of an intensive English language primary school and into mainstream Australian society.
The cups of coffee had long been drunk.
While we could have talked longer, Chris and Brian understandably wanted to go to their apartment to rest before their long journey home the next day.
We exchanged contact information, pledged to keep in touch,hugged goodbye and went our separate ways.
Dunreith and I had not eaten dinner, and the supermarket we had planned to visit was closed. But somehow that didn’t matter as we walked down Andres Bello Avenue and back to our apartment.
Listening to Dunreith had unlocked a chance meeting that led to a shared evening, a slightly smaller world and broader horizons.
I’m glad I did.