The morning begins by donning my shoes and jacket, and trudging to the store. The still-warm marraquetas are firm beneath my touch as they tumble into the yellow bag before being weighed by the same woman who serves me everyday. To them I´m known as ¨vecina¨, one of many who frequent the store when something – anything – is needed.
I toast the bread on the oven before spreading avocado mixed with oil, salt and lemon, purchased in bulk the day before from the feria, from one of dozens of vendors competing with their palta at various degrees of beauty, ripeness and pesos.
Around me, the day is cool and the hill that dominates my daily view is smeared with grey fog, the air thick with sound. Car horns beep incessantly and their alarms sing a lullaby to my children. I hear engines humming, the chug of buses in the distance and music sounds from every direction. I hear cumbia, mournful flamenco, bachata, salsa and somewhere someone is blasting my daily dose of reggaeton. The noise is everywhere, bringing with is echoes from another life. I hear their tears and their joy, and with time I come to listen for it.
There is a routine when I speak to the people. The same gestures, same questions, the same answers. With this there is monotony but also comfort. I embrace it as a lifeline while also standing apart – my skin, eyes, hair and voice ratting me out to the crowd that I am not one of them. There is distrust too, a lurking shadow that is often hidden but always there, that makes its presence known in the constant chatter of the street.
Sometimes there is silence. I hear it at that moment right before the goal when all of Santiago takes a breath and crosses their fingers. I hear it on the feriado (national holiday) when everyone is too hungover to shout, venturing out only to buy an empanada (cooked filled pastry) someone industrious has sacrificed. Sometimes the noise is so much that I don´t hear it, and then the silence becomes deafening.
Santiago is my home now. It is not always a place of comfort – is anywhere? There are days when I wish to curl up in a ball and hide my face, and other days when I feel like nothing can touch me.
But the city has touched me. I butter my bread with avocado, I douse my sopaipilla with pebre and cilantro is a central component in every cazuela that I make. But I also can´t help longing to throw the manjar the window – the milk too while I´m at it.
Sometimes I find myself listening to – and joining in – the gossip that peppers the conversations. Even though sometimes I know that the gossip is about me.
That is the Santiago I know.
What The Words Mean
Marrequeta: type of bread
Empanada: oven baked or fried snack similar to a Cornish pasty
Manjar: milk-based spread
Cazuela: type of soup
Pebre: spicy salsa made with tomatoes
Sopaipilla: hot fried snack usually served in winter
If you enjoyed this blog, then you might like to read:
Notes from the Street: Made in Recoleta, about my interactions with the neighborhood children and the story of Diego;
Notes from the Street: Santiago´s Children, which is my most popular blog post;
Essay on Poblacion La Pincoya which I wrote for university about the class elements found in a local poblacion;
Essay on The Milk Chain, where I research some of the factors influencing why Chile only sells UHT boxed milk.