Monday, April 12, 2004

8 April, second day in Santiago.

ok, so maybe my understanding of chileno is not all that crah hot after all. Stopped in the Plaza de Armas near a big crowd watching two guys doing comic street theatre; I vaguely followed it, but every time everyone laughed I had a completely blank expression. Mind you, I was behind five rows of people, and their voices were muffled. Later, I watched the evening news and, though I followed the stories, I missed quite a few details. This is annoying, because when I watch CNN en espanol I understand it pretty much word for word.

Another new food word: "manjar", which is a kind of dulce de leche. I bought some buns from a bakery, on impulse while I was out walking, and didn't really know what I was getting. I asked the woman who served me, but by then I had already paid for it. With the already sweet bread, manjar is overpoweringly cloying. I don't think I'll get it again.

Oh, for a telescopic lens. I walked down to Cerro Santa Lucia, which is a hill in the middle of the city with rocky steps leading up it, a couple of leafy plazas and a "torre mirador", a kind of turret lookout point. There are great views towards the Andes, and over the city to the hills and mountains to the north, west and south. The massif and soaring peaks of the cordillera inspired me, and pretty much everyone standing in the torre to whip out our cameras. The sense of being awestruck by a landscape - artificial or natural - is one of the principal pleasures in life, and a reason to go travelling and seek out new places. The first time I came into Paris and was struck by the sheer magnificent scale of the Hotel des Invalides, for example, was such an experience. In time it fades, and you become blase. Unfortunately, as soon as I got the mountains into the viewfinder, they were diminished. The whole vista - city, foothills, cordillera and peaks - has to crowd into a small rectangular box, and you just know the photos will be a disappointent. A flow-on effect was that, looking at the mountains with naked eye afterwards, my brain couldn't help referencing how they looked through the view finder, and they seemd already less impressive. I felt a little cheated, as though I'd short-circuited the becoming-blase process.

Coming away from the Cerro Santa Lucia, I was accosted by two students who were seeking "donations" in rereturn for a (truly awful) poem printed on a slip of paper, and a hard-luck story about how fees had become exorbitant since Pinochet privatized the universities. I'm still eager enough to talk with just about anyone, so I gave them a small donation in return for an enthusiastic discussion of New Zealand, Lord of the Rings, etc. They made out to be offended at how token it was - "this is for our university studies!" but I pointed out that, bloody hell, yo tambien ando medio pobre, I'd saved four years for this trip, and fees in New Zealand were also substantial (they'd assumed university there was cheap or free). Anyway, the poem was crap.

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