My trip to Chile happened over the New Year, so as I reconstruct the trip from piles of paper and various now artifacts, I want to pay close attention to any lessons I should have learned.
The Chilean expedition happened last minute and came to me in an almost-whisper (not really, I just needed a vacation).
The long stretch of land that hugs South America’s Pacific coastline seemed to have all that I craved: Warmth, beaches, mountains, wine, and markets. Chile also happens to be in the same hemisphere while not overly tread upon by tourists.
My image of Chile was, of course, completely wrong. I thought it would be much like Peru with the developing-world prices and aggravations that make that kind of travel exciting. Chile is very much so a developed country with only 6.7 percent unemployment and a female president.
I also thought it might have an air of post-military dictatorship as all I ever read about Chile had to do with Augusto Pinochet and his 1973 coup d’etat.
What I found (in my very brief two-week stint in and around Santiago) was a place that can’t really fall into any category -- in a good way.
But, if you are looking for Brazil, don’t go to Chile.
Although beautiful and picturesque, like in places such as Valparaiso and Vina del Mar, the water looks better than it feels. Some people were swimming, but I can get icy, stop-your-breath cold water in Rhode Island. I think I saw a few people donning sweat clothes actually; there wasn’t string anything.
Bars and restaurants in Santiago seemed to close precisely at midnight, and even lingering around a bar clearly in need of another drink had no power of persuasion. I didn’t catch any dancing in the streets, but I also didn’t see much (or any) homelessness.
This kind of staid collective persona actually worked just fine for me as I am an early to bed, early to rise kind of gal and also happen to avoid the sun like a vampire.
Not so much for my friend Dana who met up with me. As a chef, her day starts and ends significantly later, and she may be the last American who actually sunbathes. If we were countries, I would be Chile and she would be Brazil.
I would act all annoyed that places were stacking chairs on their tables at the stroke of midnight while she had a good four more hours in her. “What the hell,” I would say, while secretly psyched to curl up with my book, “Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean”.
Maybe it doesn’t have the extremes of other more exotic locales (although it is home to the driest desert on earth), but I think it is this balance that creates its charm, stability and maybe even its great wine.
My friend and I visited several vineyards on a beautiful day and drank lots of wine and cheese and I felt really sick afterwards. ( I drank the entirety instead of dainty sips). The wine was delicious (too good) and visiting where they are created really brought home the poetry and science of wine production.
Chile also unexpectedly introduced me to the poet and architecturally eccentric, Pablo Neruda. I have to admit I didn’t know who he was before my arrival, but I won’t ever forget his homes that are now museums. All designed around the ocean, literature, entertaining, politics and light, it makes you want to live like an artist and have the guts to create a home like one.
Then, of course, there were the markets. Finding what I wanted wasn’t easy. Most of the tables were full of underwear, T-shirts, sneakers, perfumes etc… I had to get very lost, walk in circles and look ridiculous asking directions to finally come across the more antique areas. Eventually my market scouring produced some nice finds.
Since Lapis Lazuli is mined mostly in Afghanistan and Chile (Afghanistan not ideal), I decided that I would buy as many interesting pieces of Lapis that I could. I chose stones with swirling pyrite and other inclusions that make them look like tiny Earths.
The foraging also brought about some interesting keys, keyholes, prayer cards and other odds and ends.
As I sit here in the rear of my store, in my studio, in front of my bag of notes, wine corks, stones and other people’s keys, I am strategizing how to make my pieces somehow resonate with what I found in Chile: A place that balances of the acidic political and historic past with the sweet lure of nature, a clip-pace in the streets from high employment rates with the air of a slight quirk produced by a population that celebrates its artists.