Tag Archives: Santiago

Yoga as a language lab

In 16 years of living overseas, I have often lamented my monolingual brain. Sure, I picked up a pretty good amount of Turkish, Mandarin, and even Lao (then I totally dropped the ball in English-saturated India and learned almost no Hindi). Despite the inner glow of success that radiated confidence when I chatted with waiters, haggled at markets, booked hotel reservations, asked for directions, ordered food at restaurants, and understood signs around town, I always knew the cruel fact: It wasn’t enough. There’s no way to fully integrate into a host country’s culture without a deep dive into the language.

Since arriving in Chile, we’ve encountered less English than in any of our other four postings. Suddenly, learning the language feels urgent. It was actually a big reason we moved here. I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish. Now I just feel like I need to learn Spanish.

In general, I am an eager, inhibition-free language learner. I embrace mistakes and laugh at myself. I pay attention to the language around me and try to adopt it. A total grammar dork, I love identifying false cognates. “Estoy embarazada” does NOT mean “I’m embarrassed,” for example. (Yep, I said that to my fifth graders last semester.)

Tony and I took three weeks of intensive Spanish during the semester break, but it feels like nothing stuck. Now we have a hard-core tutor coming over once a week with piles of vocabulary and grammar assignments. Still, I know what I have to do. Get out of the apartment and talk to Chileans! Why is that so scary?

Barely able to babble in Spanish, I feel caught in a frustrating cycle: I can’t learn Spanish until I am forced to use it, but I’m too nervous to put myself in situations where I’m forced to use it.

Today, I finally decided to stop being such a wuss. I decided it would be best to immerse myself in an activity which I know well. Then I wouldn’t have to start from scratch. I would already understand the concepts, so I would only have to learn the Spanish vocabulary. I rolled up my yoga mat and walked to the nearby studio, Yogashala.

On the way there, I practiced saying in Spanish, “Can I try a class, please?” So far, I only know present-tense verbs, but I knew they would ask about my yoga background and physical issues. I had an answer for them: “I practice yoga many years, but now I have a bad knee.”

I was so nervous.

As I explore Santiago, I am discovering that you can’t guess what lies behind the fence in many neighborhoods. From the street, Yoga Shala looks like a three-story house. I rang the bell and was buzzed through the gate into a tranquil, shady courtyard with a bamboo-lined flagstone path. I entered the building and greeted the receptionist. In Spanish, she asked me to leave my shoes outside on the shelf. (I understood! I understood!) After ditching my Chacos, I recited my practiced phrase about trying a class. She said si, told me the price (6,000 pesos, or about $9 U.S.), asked for my Chilean ID number, and then directed me to the room. Whew! I felt immensely proud to have come this far.

About 10 people had already staked out spots in the room, so I followed their lead by unrolling my mat and grabbing a cushion and folded blanket from the cubbies on the wall. I whispered hola to the woman next to me, but we were obviously meant to stay quiet, so I spent the next few minutes trying to relax and prepare for class.

I glanced around the room. Caribiners clipped stretchy bands with plastic handles to one wall, while the opposite wall featured horizontal barres, like you see in a ballet classroom. The shelves and cubbies were filled with yoga props, including several racks of folded chairs. I don’t have much experience with Iyengar yoga, which is famous for its use of whatever it takes to correct your alignment, so that realization suddenly merged with my language anxiety, and I felt my face go warm with stress.

When the teacher, Polly, arrived, she scoped out the room and identified the newcomers. She gestured to a man and asked if he had ever come to the studio before. No, he hadn’t. Then she asked his name. Felipe. OK, now it was my turn, and I was totally ready! She asked if it was my first time at the studio. Instead of responding, primera vez, which means “first time,” I said, primavera vez, which means “spring time.” Polly looked a little confused, but she must have made the leap because she calmly asked for my name and then began the class.

Polly talked a lot. I tried to focus on what she was saying, but mostly I just used the environmental cues (that’s education-speak for “copy what the other kids are doing”). We started in a cross-legged sitting position with our hands in namaste. We chanted “om” three times, and then she led a choral-response chant in Spanish that I couldn’t follow.

Once we started moving into asanas, Polly’s directions were pretty clear. She would model a sequence first and then talk us through it. I found I could understand many of the directions, especially when she used the sanskrit names for the poses. However, the Spanish names sounded familiar, too: downward dog was el perro, and child’s pose was el niño. I was feeling pretty optimistic.

Then, as I lay down on two wooden blocks – one under my head and one under my torso, Polly said, “Sharon, blahdeblahdeblah.” I sat up to see what she meant, and she huffed a bit in frustration. In English, she said, “Move your block directly under your shoulder blades to open your chest.”

From that point on, she occasionally switched to perfect English to correct my form. I thought at first she might be annoyed to do so, but she soon softened and served up encouragement in both Spanish and English. At the end of class, we chatted a bit. I told her I would love to use as little English as possible in future classes, and she agreed to help me build my yoga vocabulary. “I only spoke English because I told you to do something, and you didn’t do it,” she laughed. (Story of my life.)

I realized the yoga lexis set includes body parts and directional words, as well as a few basic verbs. For example, I understood the Spanish instructions when she told us to lower our arms to transition out of Warrior or to make sure our legs were straight in Revolved Triangle or to lie down for Savasana.

Sometimes I think about young, crazy, risk-taker Sharon. She wouldn’t have balked at a yoga class in a foreign language. What changed? Why does 50-year-old Sharon have to muster up so much courage? It’s yoga, for god’s sake. I was pretty much guaranteed a kind, compassionate group of people.

Anyway, I feel great that I did it, physically, emotionally, and linguistically. My goal for next time is to strike up a conversation with another member of the class. I’ll practice some key phrases ahead of time, but she will probably say something I don’t understand. And we’ll laugh. And I’ll learn. And that’s what it’s all about.

Santiago Summer Staycation – Week 4

Mucho calor. Mucho, mucho, mucho calor. And the Dents have no aire acondicionado. It’s often cooler outside than it is in our apartment, so that’s where we spend a lot of time. I’m not complaining! I keep thinking back in horror to July, when we landed here in Chile and froze our buns off. I’ll take calor over frio any day.

This week included more bike riding on our beloved hill, Cerro San Cristobal, and more intense Spanish classes. The course moved at such a quick pace that we really couldn’t keep up. Friday was our last day, but I plan to dig through the materials again and refresh my memory once the dust settles. My parents visit this week, and then I’m heading out of town for a few days. So for now, the Spanish books are shelved.

Our staycation has lost a little steam. Initially, we tried to poke around the city a bit every day, but I found myself more often than not sitting on the balcony with a book and a cold drink the last few days. (a) It is stinking hot! (b) I’m on vacation! I don’t know why I feel the need to justify being lazy during my break … I guess it’s because I so rarely kick back and chill when there’s the option to do something active. However, I have to admit I kind of like this balance of exercising, learning, exploring, and relaxing.

La Moneda – Changing of the Guards
We did manage to play tourists on Wednesday with a visit to Palacio de La Moneda, the seat of the Chilean presidency, for the changing of the guard. Our friend, Caira, arrived a bit early and secured a shady spot right at the railing. It didn’t stay shady for long, but it was nice to have a front-row view.

Smart people watched from the shade, but it was harder to see the action.

The parade, music, and ceremony were typical of changings of the guard around the world.

A dash of Chilean flair came in the form of flags hanging from the trumpets and happy street dogs yapping playfully at the horses and weaving through the marching band.

After the ceremony, we met up with a few more friends for breakfast at The Blue Jar. When Caira mentioned Craig’s recent birthday dinner (see previous post), the waitress perked up and later brought him a plate of brownies with candles.

Random Wanderings
One morning, we walked about 20 minutes to the Parque de las Esculturas, a sculpture park next to the Mapocho River. Unfortunately, it was closed for clean-up following a jazz festival. Anticlimactic … but it made me feel grateful to live in a city that has jazz festivals in a sculpture garden!

On our way home, we passed an antique show in the plaza of Palacio Falabella, which houses the offices of the Providencia municipality. We stopped to check it out. Santiago is a ghost town on Sundays, so we were among a handful of browsers. Many of the vendors sprawled out on their antique furniture for a snooze. Nobody even tried to get our attention.

We peeked in the door of the mansion, where someone was leading a tour in Spanish. The place was gorgeous, but we weren’t sure if we were even allowed inside, so we decided to do a little research and return another day.

To see what it looks like when it’s not blocked by an antique show, here’s an image I found on the website for Closer Magazine.

Summer Reading
Fellow bookclubber Beth told me about bookbub, which sends a daily email with deals on amazon kindle books. I may have gone on a book bender, but it’s pretty forgivable when the books are mostly free or under a couple bucks.

I finished My Invented Country by Isabel Allende, which gave me a whole new perspective on Chile. I appreciated that she fully embraces her tendency to mesh reality with her imagination.

Now I’ve switched gears. Just read a bookbub freebie, Gone the Next by Ben Rehder, a light little mystery, and I’m having trouble putting down another freebie, Maids of Misfortune, by M. Louisa Locke, which so far seems to be a mashup of historical fiction, mystery, feminist literature, and humor. All good!

Life threw us a few curveballs this week.

First, forest fires are burning out of control in the hills around Santiago. The air is thick with smoke, and the air quality is reminiscent of our time in New Delhi. That kept us inside more than usual. I feel anxious for the residents of the burning areas, human and otherwise. After seeing an online plea, Tony and I will deliver bottled water to the firefighters at a station near school this afternoon.

Secondly, our cat, Ella, fell ill. Usually extremely vocal and playful, she stopped eating, talking, and interacting with us. We took her to the vet clinic, where they diagnosed a severe bladder infection. She had to stay there for the weekend, but the vet says we can pick her up today.

Third, we got word from our property manager that our Michigan lake house is leaking. Apparently, water is seeping in to the basement, despite the recent foundation work that cleared out our savings account. All we can do is hope Foundation Systems of Michigan will follow up and honestly respond to our concerns.

Finally, my parents were scheduled to arrive for a weeklong visit today, but United Airlines canceled all flights last night after the computer system crashed. Fingers crossed, they’ll make it here tomorrow.

So… Rats. Rats. Rats.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to playing with my parents if/when they get here! And we’re still on vacation for another two weeks. So I’m still smiling!

Santiago Summer Staycation – First 2 Weeks

It’s January. It’s January. It’s January.

I have to keep telling myself that because it’s almost 90 degrees F outside today with gorgeous blue skies and a gentle breeze. I’m sitting on our balcony sofa, listening to the neighbor kids playing in their pool. School is on summer break for seven weeks. It should be July.

But it’s January.

We made no plans for this vacation, other than enrolling in Spanish classes. Although I get pangs of jealousy when I see friends on Facebook frolicking at beaches in Asia, hiking in southern Chile, or hanging out with family wherever home is, I am cherishing this time as a way to really get to know our home, our neighborhood, and our city.

Here’s what we’ve done so far as tourists in our new hometown:

We like to move it, move it.
Every day, we either take a long walk or hit the bike trails – or both. Sometimes we stroll through our residential neighborhood, occasionally stumbling upon a café we hadn’t seen before or a hidden little park. Sometimes we join the throngs of commuters and tourists in the busier parts of town, window shopping and stopping for ice cream or beer. We bike up Cerro San Cristobal several times a week with Tony going for distance and me going for time (we both beat our personal records yesterday!). On one of our bike rides, I was determined to reach the mountains. They looked so close! But after a very long time on a trail along the man-made Canal San Carlos, the mountains continued to elude us. (“They don’t even look any closer,” Tony said, as we finally turned around to head home.)

In addition to our walks and bike rides, Tony and I continue to sweat our booties off twice a week in our neighborhood park, Plaza Las Lilas, with trainers Anton and Andrea. Here, Anton helps me with my form as I struggle with the suspension training exercises.

Hop On Hop Off.
My friend Brie and I spent Dec. 27 exploring Santiago with the Turistik Hop On Hop Off Bus. Maybe a bit overpriced, the tour nevertheless featured well-marked stops and an informative audio tour in English (as well as Spanish, Portuguese, German, and French).

We first hopped off in Bellavista to catch the funicular up to the top of Cerro San Cristobal. As I mentioned, Tony and I cycle that hill regularly, but Brie had never been there and I had never ridden the funicular. So up we went after a short wait in line at the Pio Nono station, which was inaugurated in 1925.

At the top, 820 meters above sea level, several painted crosses line the path up to the statue of Mary, but I couldn’t find any information online about who painted them.

I never get tired of this.

The funicular station at the top.

Heading back down.

As soon as we exited the funicular station at the bottom, we saw the Turistik bus approaching and we hopped back on. Our next stop for disembarking came at Plaza de Armas, the original city center established by Santiago founder Pedro de Valdivia in 1541. I look forward to coming back here to tour the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago, the Central Post Office, and the former Royal Palace, which now houses the National History Museum.

At the base of this Christmas tree, there was a life-sized nativity scene. Tourists kept inserting themselves in it for photos, which just seemed wrong.

Among many vendors in the plaza’s park, this photographer snapped pictured of kids posing in costumes on the stuffed horses. Soooo tempting…

Again, it was easy peasy to catch the bus, but we hopped off after a few blocks at Plaza de la Constitución to see the Moneda Palace. The palace was originally a colonial mint; “moneda” is Spanish for coin. It served as the presidential residence for a short time. During the military coup of 1973, troops surrounded and bombarded the palace, where President Allende ultimately took his own life after broadcasting his last speech to the country. Moneda Palace presently serves as the seat of the president and houses several government offices. I’ve since learned about the changing of the guard at the palace, so I’ll be sure to return for that.

By now, Brie and I were getting peckish. Google Maps showed us a nearby restaurant, The Blue Jar, which turned out to be a great choice. We had a nice lunch and even ran into a family from school, who were also touring the city.

Back on the bus, we felt too hot and tired to hop off again, but we both felt the tour offered us a glimpse of Santiago’s hot spots. I’m looking forward to a longer linger.

Masters of public transportation – sort of.
Jonesing for some cherries, I decided we should visit La Vega Central Market. In my quest to master public transportation, I also decided we would take the bus. It was so easy! There’s a bus stop right at the corner of our block. We each have a rechargeable Bip! card, which works on the bus and metro (and, weirdly, even lets me make copies at school), so we caught the turquoise 517, found seats, and cruised straight to the market.

We have also bopped all over town on the metro, with only one peculiar experience. We were waiting for a train, and when it arrived a few people got on and the others in front of us made a solid blockade so nobody else could get by, even though there was plenty of room still on the train. The next train arrived, and it happened again! The third time, we walked around them and boarded the car, which was crowded but not packed. Perplexed, we tossed around some theories … Maybe they were waiting for a train with open seats so they could sit down? Maybe there had been some announcement in Spanish that we didn’t understand?

Anyway, we prepared to exit at our station, but the train zipped right past it.

At the next stop, we jumped off and rode the escalator to street level feeling completely confused. On the walk home, we paused at the pet store to buy cat food. One lady there speaks English, so we told our story and asked why the train didn’t stop at Cristobal Colon. She explained that during certain hours, this metro line runs express trains – red and green – that stop at alternate stations, so you have to get on the green train to stop at Cristobal Colon.
“That’s confusing,” I said.
“It is to us, too,” she said.
“Why do you think those people were blocking us?” I asked.
She shrugged. “There are just people like that, I guess.”
So, mystery partially solved.

Soaring over Santiago.
The same day we bused to the market, we met up with friends, Stella and Ian, and their kids, Mane and Berlin, to master yet another mode of transportation at one of our favorite places in the city. Yes, you guessed it, we were heading back to Cerro San Cristobal, our urban mountain. I have walked, biked, and funicular-ed up this hill, but there was still one way to reach the top that I hadn’t tried: the newly reopened Teleférico Parque Metropolitano, or gondola lift. The gondola opened in 1980, but a series of mechanical malfunctions in 2008 and 2009 shut it down. After an expensive renovation, the system reopened in November.

I stood in a short line to buy tickets, and then we all climbed into a gondola for the 2-kilometer ride.

Without a doubt, the gondola offered the best views of Santiago.

Despite many previous visits to this hill, I had never entered the tiny chapel at the base of the Virgin Mary statue. The little girls and I ran up the steps and sat on the benches in the chapel for a few minutes until the other adults showed up. We tried to figure out the Spanish Bible verses painted on the walls. I can see how this would be a peaceful place of prayer if you weren’t accompanied by two giggly goofballs.

So much museum, so little time!
On Friday, Tony and I took the metro to the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights). Everything was labeled in Spanish, but the English-language audio tour was excellent. In fact, it was so informative that we lost track of time and had to rush through most of the museum or risk being late for our Spanish class. We realize now that this place would take most of a day to appreciate. We’ll be back.

Estudiamos español.
We started Spanish classes on Tuesday at the Goethe Institut, just a 15-minute walk from our apartment. It may seem odd to study Spanish at a German organization, but we had heard good things about the teachers there. In my fantasy world, our class would include fun, outgoing professionals who lived in Santiago and wanted to be our new best friends. In reality, the group comprises mostly shy Chinese businessmen and a couple shy Asian students. However, the teachers really are great, and I already feel more confident using Spanish in our daily life.

Spanish is essential in this city. Here’s an example. Tony took our car to Portillo, the Toyota dealership, Friday morning for routine maintenance. He picked it up Friday evening. On Saturday afternoon, we decided to drive across town to our favorite supermarket. On the highway, a motorcyclist honked and gestured at the back passenger-side tire. I looked in the sideview mirror, and the tire did seem wobbly … but I had never looked at it that way before so I had no basis for comparison. We decided to skip shopping and drive straight to Portillo instead. When another driver honked and pointed, we worried that we shouldn’t continue on the wobbly tire. Tony pulled in to a gas station, and we pondered our options. Obviously, the mechanic at Portillo had screwed up. I wanted them to come fix the problem. I used google translate to write a text, which Tony sent to his contact there, Jorge. He never responded. I called a couple Spanish-speaking friends, who all recommended an English-speaking mechanic, Julio. I called him and interrupted a family party. He was very kind but said he was heading out of town after the gathering. I beseeched him to call Portillo for us, which he did. They refused to send help! Julio must have sensed our desperation because he offered to fix our tire on his way out of town, two hours later. As we waited, feeling guilty and stupid, Tony decided to take a stab at solving the problem himself. He pulled out the car’s manual, figured out the complicated jack, took off the tire and re-attached it – properly this time. I texted Julio to say he didn’t need to come, but thanks anyway, and we resumed our shopping expedition.

So you may be saying, “Well, hey, you got out of that pickle without using Spanish!” But the thing is, I want to be fluent enough to storm into the Portillo office and go bananas on them. I mean, they freakin’ attached the tire wrong! It could have flown off the car in the middle of the highway. And then they refused to help us? Are you kidding me? For now, I can only speak in present tense, and I pretty much only know the vocabulary for describing my family members. But I promise you this: Whether it takes months or even years, I will eventually give Portillo a piece of my mind in Spanish.

Anywho… the staycation continues, and we have plenty of fun on our Santiago bucket list, including a visit from my parents just two weeks from today!

Christmas 2016 – done and dusted

We decorated.

We shopped.

We listened to Christmas music.

We exchanged stockings and a couple gifts.

It was nice and everything, but just a little … anticlimactic.

Possibly for the first time ever, we both wished we had some kids around. Not our own kids, of course, but maybe a few nieces and nephews. We missed seeing their excited little faces when they wake up at the crack of dawn to realize Santa had visited and then their disappointed little faces when they’re not allowed to open presents till after breakfast (cinnamon rolls … Dickinson family tradition). We missed playing with their new toys and hauling out our Nerf guns (Christmas War … another Dickinson family tradition).

Anyway, we enjoyed a sunny rooftop brunch with views of the Andes Mountains. And we got some good laughs watching Ella terrorize our Christmas tree. We watched “A Christmas Story” and ate a rotisserie chicken on the balcony for dinner. Really, it felt like just another day – albeit a slightly more special day – in our seven-week staycation.

The mall was a nightmare…just like malls in North America!

Brunch at Hotel Noi.

Ella attacks a Jolly Rancher from my stocking.

She had fun with the wrapping paper, too.

Leading up to Christmas day, we discovered Santiago Starbucks serves up all the traditional holiday coffee treats.

And Santa paid a visit to school on horseback while the preschool kids sang Jingle Bells. Pretty adorable!

Tony’s birthday: Unpacking Christmas

For years, we celebrated Tony’s birthday, Dec. 8, by hauling out our boxes of Christmas decorations and transforming our home into a winter wonderland. From Kansas to Turkey to China to Laos, we unpacked our huge Rubbermaid tubs to fill our hearts with festive cheer.

That tradition stalled in India, where our holiday stash never emerged from the storage closet during the five years we spent in Delhi. I can’t explain why we didn’t bother to Christmas-ify our apartment there, but nevertheless, we decided to get back on track here in Chile.

On Tony’s birthday morning, we went for a walk so he could test out his birthday present – new sunglasses. Good thing it was a beautiful sunny summer day! We stopped for breakfast at a little café near our house and enjoyed some chirimoya juice (my latest obsession).



Then it was time to get down to business. Tony uncrated our Christmas tree, while I started digging out the decorations. Ella was keen to help.

As young, broke newlyweds, we filled these stockings (stitched by yours truly).

But they really couldn’t hold the volume of candy and presents we required, so I picked up these beauties when we lived in China (designed by a fellow Shanghai American School teacher out of Chinese silk and maribou).

Since 1995, Tony and I have exchanged tree ornaments every year. Of course, this was my idea, and the intention was to track our lives through representational ornaments: home purchases, vacations, pets, etc. Tony was slow to embrace this new tradition and failed to think about it prior to the holiday season, so he dashed out on Christmas Eve 1995 to pick up this winner at a gas station near our home in Lawrence, Kansas.

Over the years, he has put a little more effort into his ornament selection. Unpacking the holiday boxes, we reminisced about the stages of our life together.

We bought a house in Lawrence in 1995. Tony set up a workshop in the garage to play the role of resident handyman.


In those days, we loved seeing neighborhoods decked out for the holidays, especially the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City.

We sold that house when we prepared to move overseas, but we later purchased a rental property in Albuquerque and a summer home in Michigan (our Michigan Christmas ornament is actually IN Michigan).

In 2001, we hit the road. Our ornaments continue to bring back memories of those wonderful places we were lucky to call home around the world.

Istanbul, Turkey

Shanghai, China

Vientiane, Laos

New Delhi, India

And now, Santiago, Chile.

Other ornaments evoked some of our fantastic trips in the States and abroad.

My sister, Kate, and I traveled to Alaska in 1999 and fell in love with the musk ox.

We visited my sister, Megan, when she and her family lived in Korea in 2013. I couldn’t find a tree ornament, so I gave Tony a luggage tag that year.

Wow, sometimes I can’t believe how much of this incredible planet we have explored together over the years! Here are a few glimpses into our vacation history. Can you guess where they came from?

In addition to the purchased ornaments, we still have shoeboxes full of handmade decorations that adorned our Christmas trees early in this journey. Jingle bells tied with red satin bows, small pinecones with gold glitter, iridescent wrapping paper ribbon curled with scissors … we used whatever we could to create a little Christmas.

We added a new tradition to our Christmas decorating this year. As we settle in a new hemisphere where the holiday season falls in the summertime, it felt right to prop up Santa next to a vase of fresh flowers.

No matter where you are, what you celebrate or which traditions you embrace, may your season be merry and full of joy!

Feeling full on our first Santiago Thanksgiving

Like most people in and from the United States, (a) I ate way too much in the last few days, and (b) I found quite a few reasons to count my blessings.

Our school gave us only Thursday afternoon off to celebrate Thanksgiving, which created widespread crankiness. That abated later in the day when we joined some wonderful people for a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner. Hostess Michelle roasted the most delicious, juicy turkey I’ve ever had (she said the secret was an overnight soak in brine – what?!), and the table overflowed with all the traditional fixin’s. It’s spring here in Chile, so we sat outside in the garden under a big sun umbrella.

Tony and I both felt deeply grateful for new friends who reach out and share such heartfelt hospitality.

Saturday, I headed back to school for Kermess, the annual international festival. Nido de Aguilas International School parents showcased their home countries with more than 30 decorated booths selling food and drinks. Children paraded in their traditional costumes, and performers gave us a tour around the world through music and dance. In my enthusiasm to visit all the places I’ve lived, I made the mistake of kicking off my food frenzy with a big Turkish shwarma. I hardly had room for anything else!

No booth for Laos, unfortunately. I would have happily scooped up some larb with sticky rice. It was fun to chat with families from my other overseas homes: Turkey, China, India, and Chile, plus I picked up a beer at the Germany booth (ahhh… high school memories).





Looking around, I felt thankful for the opportunity to teach abroad and work in a community comprising more than 50 nationalities. This is our 16th Thanksgiving overseas, and I know immersion in other cultures has broadened my mind.

After four hours of snacking, I hauled my distended belly to meet Tony for another food-centered social event: Nido Newbie Thanksgiving.

We met at the home of fellow newbies, Travis and Laura, who live in a peaceful hillside cabin in the Arrayan Canyon. We ate more tasty Thanksgiving treats, sat in lawn chairs and chatted in the shade of a huge walnut tree, went for a short hike with false historical narration by Craig, ate some more, drank a bit, and shivered to watch some of the kids – and later, some of the adults – jump into the chilly pool.

On our little hike, looking down at the house and pool.

For the millionth time since moving to Chile, I felt grateful for a group of fun, smart, adventurous people sharing this newbie experience. It’s reassuring to know there are others who get it, who will laugh with you and cry with you and eventually laugh with you again.

We were meant to attend yet another function Saturday evening, but Tony and I had overestimated our social stamina. We both hit the wall and had to send our regrets.

It’s always hard to be away from family during the holiday season. However, our first South American Thanksgiving filled our tummies and our hearts.

MOVInight: the making of a wine snob

You may think all I do in Chile is ride my bike and drink wine. Not true!

Well, OK, it’s mostly true.

MOVInight on Nov. 11 introduced me to a whole new world of Chilean wine. Up to now, I was more than thrilled to fill my supermarket cart with “cheap and cheerful” Chilean wines. (I have read that phrase on several websites, but I don’t know who said it first.) Ten bucks gets you a pretty great bottle of wine in the grocery store – conveniently located next to the cheese aisle! That was good enough for me.

And then I went to MOVInight, a wine festival featuring independent artisans who shared wines crafted by their own hands and poured with love. These innovative producers comprise MOVI (Movimiento de Viñateros Independientes, or the Movement of Independent Vintners in English), an organization of 32 winemakers committed to making wine “on a human scale.”

According to a 2015 article on the website Grape Collective, three huge winemakers sell four out of five bottles of Chilean wine. MOVI was formed to help the small family winemakers access resources and manage marketing.

MOVI is an important addition to the overall Chilean wine industry. There is something very underdog about them in a country where the big dog is very dominant. How can a wine lover not embrace passionate family winemakers making heartfelt artisanal wines from old vines. Now compare the story of the mass produced industrial “value” wines – which is sexier David or Goliath? When we met with Chilean wine pioneer and President of Wines of Chile Aurelio Montes, he was glowing in his praise of MOVI. While they are not fee paying members of Wines of Chile, Montes was keen to point out that they are invited to press events as their story is an important part of the narrative of modern Chilean wine.

As far as wine festivals go, MOVInight felt particularly whimsical and lively, maybe because the winemakers were so eager to share their stories. At the entrance, we received a wineglass for the myriad samples of vino. Food trucks, peppy music, a backdrop of mountains, and well-appointed port-a-potties contributed to an evening of tipsy laughter.

Look at the setting!


We waited a very long time for dinner at one of the food trucks, but it was worth it. Yummy gnochi.



Posing with a rep from Casa Bauzá.

My favorite wines of the night were Villard Syrah 2015 and Flaherty Red Wine (a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo) 2014. But, hey, it’s a pretty rare wine that doesn’t make me happy.

The only bummer about being a wine snob is that I can’t find these MOVI brands at the supermarket. However, I just discovered La Vinoteca, where I can shop for wine online and get free delivery with orders over 19,900 pesos (about $30). Whew!

For more on MOVI, check out this short documentary.

Soaring over Santiago at Costanera Center

Wherever we go in the world, there’s an irresistible urge to climb to the highest point for a bird’s-eye view. I started to make a little collage of all the sky-high places we’ve visited, but there were too many! Check out this small sample.

Here in Santiago, I’m guessing the surrounding mountains hold the key to ultimate panorama photos. I’ll let you know when I finally get out of town to check them out.

In the meantime, we rode to the top of Latin America’s tallest building Monday afternoon. The 300-meter-high Gran Torre Santiago, a 15-minute walk from our house in the Providencia neighborhood, is one of four skyscrapers comprising Costanera Center. It offers a 53-second elevator ride to the observation deck on the 62nd floor.

Compared to other skyscrapers we’ve visited, this one was a bit … well … short. However, the 360° view of Santiago really helped me understand the city’s layout. On land, we frequently seem to drive circuitous routes to get from Point A to Point B. Now I realize we are navigating around those gorgeous hills.

From the observation deck, we could pinpoint some neighborhood landmarks but couldn’t identify our apartment building. Later, I compared my photos with our apartment’s location on google maps and found it.

Providencia cools off in the building’s shadow.

Compulsory cheesy selfie with our new friends, Pi, Laura, and Sara.

A half-hearted attempt to research the building revealed few interesting facts other than how the financial crisis of 2008 stalled construction for 10 months. But a poster at the observation deck said construction of the Gran Torre Santiago involved 6,000 workers, 350,000 square meters of concrete, and 105,000 metric tons of steel.

The Skyscraper Center websites describes the building this way:

Torre Costanera’s design comes from it’s close proximity to the Andes, and the need to distinguish the tower against this dramatic backdrop. It has prompted a simple and clear form. Rising from the northwest corner of the development next to the Mapocho River, the glass-clad tower has a slightly tapered, slender form that culminates in a sculptural latticed crown. The four corners are indented to accentuate its slenderness. The glass surface of the tower strikes a delicate balance between transparency and reflectivity. At the top of the tower is a dramatic steel and glass structure, providing a unique and elegant silhouette. This is a 21st century building, both technically and aesthetically. It is designed with state-of-the-art structural and mechanical systems, including a highly advanced outrigger system to account for Santiago’s high level of seismic activity. The cooling tower draws its entire water supply from the adjacent San Carlos canal.

A visit to the 105th tallest building in the world? Check! Cross that off my bucket list.

La Vega Central offers up Chile’s bountiful harvest

For the first couple months we were in Chile, I thought disfruta was Spanish for fruit. You see it on posters and billboards everywhere, so I just figured these were people who loved their fresh produce. I now know disfruta means “enjoy,” so it makes more sense how often it featured in ads for restaurants, concerts, and festivals.

I was right about one thing, though. Chileans love their produce, and for good reason. This stuff is top notch. Many locals and expats have told me La Vega Central is the best place to get the freshest fruits and vegetables for the best prices in Santiago. I heard about the market even before we moved here, but the recommendation almost always came with a disclaimer: Hold on to your bag because the crowds are insane!

Shopping mobs + insecurity about haggling in Spanish = anxiety. So as much as I wanted to get my hands on those big juicy strawberries, I chose instead to buy the overpriced underripe fruit at the supermarket.

Finally, my Spanish-speaking friend Sarah and her Chilean friend Ariel invited me along to explore the market. Although some stalls were closed for Monday’s Columbus Day holiday, there was still plenty of mouth-watering produce for the picking. Best of all, we didn’t encounter the nightmarish crowds of weekend lore.

Right off the bat, I saw an old man selling pumpkin on the sidewalk and felt myself drawn to the bright orange glowing in the sunlight. I snapped a photo, and he promptly barked at me, so I apologized and bought some pumpkin. (Back home, I roasted it with some other chopped veggies and ate them over couscous with goat cheese. Yum!)

Ariel taught me how to ask first before taking photos, which allowed me to connect a bit with the vendors. Puedo sacarta una foto, por favor? Everyone responded with a kind smile, and some even posed.



I found my precious strawberries and bought a whole kilo for less than $2. It’s not customary to haggle here, Ariel explained.

I also bought these beautiful little potatoes, which Ariel had never seen. We found out they were from Peru. (Tony cooked the potatoes for me, and I’m sad to say they tasted pretty much like soil and had a strange gag-inducing texture.)

Sarah found celery almost as tall as she is.

Pretending to choose tomatoes.

There was so much more than just fruit and veggies. At one point, a vendor walked past us pushing a trolley towering with toilet paper while I stood next to drums of cat food and dog food, waiting for Ariel to sample almonds at a nut shop. I saw ladies selecting fresh fish from a tray of crushed ice next to a stall hawking spices and tea. Refrigerated meat cases held every cut of every animal you could imagine. Some tiny shops were bursting with a little bit of everything, including the ubiquitous cats.

I liked this cool sign.

But the same stall had a creepy display of naked Barbies and baby dolls. I asked Ariel about it, and he said, “I have no idea!” I was relieved to hear it wasn’t a cultural thing.

Sure it was a holiday and less crowded than usual, but we were all impressed by the cleanliness of the market. Even the public restroom was pleasant with TP, running water, and soap.

Now that I understand the lay of the land, speak a few useful Spanish phrases, know to pay the posted prices, and realize the power of a smile, I feel less intimidated about shopping at La Vega. It’s still much more intense and time-consuming than a trip to my local supermarket, but it is worth an occasional visit.

A few more shots from our recon mission…




2Cellos: 2Good2Be4Gotten

When our new friends here in Santiago get excited about the nightlife, Tony and I can only nod supportively. We’re unlikely to ever see the other side of midnight again. And yet, this extrovert’s need for belonging sometimes leads to unexpected choices, like saying “yes!” to a cello concert.
Starting at 9 p.m.
On a Wednesday.

The invitation came from one of Tony’s colleagues, Michelle, who is one of our favorite peeps here. We just couldn’t say no.

Tony and I arrived at Teatro Caupolican about 10 minutes early. The line snaked down the block. Surely these were people waiting to buy tickets, I thought. I confidently pulled Tony out of the line and up to another entrance, where we were told to get back in the line. Slowly, we inched our way inside and up to our seats, which were the equivalent of plastic folding chairs bolted to the concrete floor. The concert had already started. Gentle classical music wafted up from the stage, where Luka Šulić and Stjepan Hauser sat in the spotlight with their cellos.

Michelle and her posse soon appeared, although we didn’t get a chance to say more than a quick hello before the concert took a turn for the crazy.

I had seen this YouTube video of the duo – known as 2Cellos – and expected their music to be a little edgy.

But I hadn’t properly researched them. I was unprepared for the crowd to rush the stage at the first notes of “You Shook Me All Night Long,” and I hadn’t anticipated the strobe lights or strap-on electric cello that enabled Hauser to continue rocking out while he danced across the stage in blinking red devil horns. One lady tossed her cardigan on the stage, which Šulić grabbed and swung overhead sexily. Tame for a rock concert, maybe, but I would bet few cellists can claim such displays of adulation.

When the house lights came up between songs, we could see the 4,500-seat theater was packed.

Fans waved their phones the way we used to wave lighters, almost in a trance to the beat of the music. Women screamed and shouted, “I love you!” At one point, there was a chant that reverberated through the crowd. “What are they saying?” I asked my seat mate, Kristen. She didn’t know either, but we soon discovered it was a plea for a particular song, and the cellists responded. The crowd went wild.

2Cellos interspersed their playlist with a few classical pieces, but they mostly stuck with rock favorites by AC/DC, Michael Jackson, Guns N’ Roses, U2, Nirvana and Sting.

I had wrongly assumed the two guys were brothers. According to a November 2014 interview in The Strad, the two Croatian cellists met when they were about 14.

“When we were in Croatia, the people following our careers considered us to be big rivals,” says Hauser. “We were always great friends though – as soon as we met we felt a strong kind of camaraderie. There’s still some rivalry, but in a healthy way: we push each other to be better and better. On stage we make each other play to a higher standard.”

The duo’s website, 2Cellos, says their 2011 YouTube rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” opened the door to fame. They scored a record deal with Sony MasterWorks and an invitation to tour with Sir Elton John, who says in a video testimonial: “I was absolutely astonished! I said, oh my God, I’ve never seen cello players play like this. I’ve never seen cello players rock out. And I said, God, I’ve got to have them in my band straight away.”

The show was incredible, totally worth staying out late on a school night.