Thursday, February 11, 2010

Santiago: Week One

I head to class in the morning wearing sunblock and sunglasses. Bikes and strollers pass me on the 20-minute walk up the tree-lined streets of the Providencia neighborhood to my language school. The five of us in the advanced class, two from the United States and three from Brazil, practice conversation in a small classroom on the third floor. The breeze rustles the trees and blows through the open window during the four-hour lesson with our profesora Andrea. I'm learning new things about my South American classmates (while trying not to stare at the hyperactive Brazilian-supermodel-with-an-attitude across from me who's always bringing up the "Latin fire that burns within her"), like how their families beg them not to visit the United States because it's dangerous -- too many news reports about mass shootings and terrorist attacks.

I come home to my room in the Munoz family's house. It's a small rectangle with blue walls, high ceilings and wood floors. I sleep in a vintage twin bed and my door opens to the patio. Nine family members live in the house, including two kids and a Cocker spaniel named Coni who likes to doze in my room. My first night we ate completos, hot dogs with avocado, tomatoes, and mayonnaise. Last night we had pastel de choclo, a Chilean version of shepherd's pie baked in a clay bowl topped with creamed corn and and filled with olives (have to watch out for the pits), beef, boiled eggs and chicken.

In the evenings the school has activities -- My first night was cooking class. We made cancon, salmon fillets with tomato, cheese, oregano and sausage, and terremotos, white wine with pineapple ice cream. The next night we went to a futbol match, La Universidad Catolica de Santiago versus Colón de Argentina. When a student asked if it was safe, the director said that it wouldn't be dangerous like the games in Italy and England.

The giant stadium sits at the foot of the Andes mountains that loom over the city of Santiago making for a dramatic sunset. The fans sang and barked chants throughout the game, spewing giant confetti and waving flags. I really tried to pay attention to the field, but the men still in their work clothes who jumped up and down and embraced one minute and nearly shed tears the next before spitting out a string of obscenities rivaling that of a delinquent adolescent were more entertaining.

Last night we had salsa lessons in a Cuban club with a dynamic teacher dressed like an Abercrombie model. I was getting into the steps in the wedding reception-esque setting and thinking how this was the coolest dance class I'd been to and how I'd finally gotten the hang of Latin rhythms after all these years. That is, until during a dance circle in which we exchanged partners every minute when one of the pros (invited to compensate for our group's lack of men) told me to stop jumping and move "más suave."

Today when we twisted into a deep and delicious stretch in my yoga class I had the same dreamy sensation I had earlier that afternoon, when I was biting into my empanada Napolitana and looking at the water shooting from the fountain that sparkled in the sunlight as I sat in a grass with my new friends from school. I keep reminding myself to savor this -- because winter always comes and school always starts and reality always sets in.

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