April 19th

Little by little, and also in great leaps,

life happened to me…

~Neruda

Chocolates on my pillow, Santiago

Once considered a “world” traveler, I’ve been homebound for close to twenty years now–rooted on a dirt road in rural Vermont with two boys and a husband.

Imagine my surprise when I found a family-friendly, part-time job with an “international” organization in the small town just down the road.

Within months, this new position extracted me from snow and mud and motherhood, and transported me over the Andes into the vivid metropolis of Santiago, Chile–on the opposite side of the globe–where south is cold and spring is fall.

Within days of immersing myself in work and a foreign culture, I was completely taken aback by the appearance of a 10 year old boy on SKYPE who called me: “Mom.”

Behind this child stood a kitchen sink and an entire household which once had been my familiar.

My new life was made up of twin beds, a simple desk, a closet safe, and my own bathroom–in addition to 40 new friends from around the world, and extended lunches with bottles of local wine.

Like the tectonic activity of Chile, a week later, my reality shifted once again, as I abandoned the 4 star hotel, the 5 course meals, and the 16 hour work days to explore Santiago on my own.

Pablo’s Bed, by Kelly Salasin

I slept on a futon, ate on the street, and walked until I had blisters–even on the bottoms of my feet.

Each morning as I closed the gate on the small apartment lent to me by a new friend, I turned toward the Andes and made the mile-long walk out of this quiet neighborhood to Santiago’s safe and speedy subway.

Often cloaked by fog, and other times obscured by the tunneled vision of a traveler with map in hand, I was caught by surprise by the reappearance of looming mountainous beasts, who soon became my friends.

At night, in the cool mountain air, I drifted into sleep, alone, comforted by the full moon rising in the East, just as it would over my bed in Vermont–5,000 miles away.

Each day I was treated to new delights of sight and taste and texture…

It would be in poor taste to mention the dogs first; but I must. They were everywhere. On their own. Not bothering a soul.

I envied their independence when I thought about their fellow stateside “pets,” stuck behind fences, harnessed by leashes, and eating out of a bowl.

These friendly freedom lovers howled late into the night and slept through the mornings, just like the people of Chile.

It was pointless for an early riser like me to venture out before 11 am to find something to eat, just as it was pointless to try to fall asleep before midnight when Chileans were just finishing their evening meal.

However, if it’s something sweet I wanted, I need not try at all. Treats, of all kinds, abound in Santiago. From pastries and candies, cakes and cookies, chocolates and caramel fillings, the Chileans love confection–even in their drinks.

One classic (and confounding) every-day beverage was Mote con Huesillo: a drink of dehydrated peaches with stewed barley served in palm syrup.  This glass of floating debris, did not tempt me, but I did succumb to another infamous beverage of Santiago–the TERREMOTO.

This fermented wine based “cocktail” is accompanied by pineapple ice-cream served in a one-litre cup. It may be the strongest drink I’ve ever had (and I came of age at the Jersey shore.)

Terremoto literally translates as ‘Earthquake’ since you are left “with the ground (and legs) feeling very shaky,” before you’ve finished your first.  From the looks of the bar where it was served, many had indulged in even more.

Indulgence seems to be a Chilean characteristic; and I, for one, will miss the grand meals served with plenty of wine. I will also miss the warm greetings and single kiss on a cheek shared by all. I’ve had to restrain myself from continuing both of these traditions now that I’m back home.

Though I departed on the 18th, I didn’t arrive home until the next day. My husband met me outside of customs, and we made the drive from New York to Vermont alone so that we could enjoy the renewed awareness of each other–without children.

Paradoxically, Casey and I shared another significant journey on this same date, 18 years earlier. That ride home was from a birthing center, an hour and a half away, where I miscarried our first child at the three month mark.

A gorgeously sunny spring morning mocked that unbearable loss in April, while a gloomy overcast day belied the joy we felt in today’s sweet reunion, following two weeks and an equator apart.

On the long drive home from the airport, we stopped along the coast and shared a mid-day meal complete with wine. Over coffee and dessert, my husband wondered if I felt different from being abroad again. I checked inside, and Whitman’s words came to mind…

I am large. I contain multitudes.

At 47 years old (and young), my alternately expanding and contracting sense of self now includes… three backpacking trips to Europe, the love of two men, the loss of two pregnancies, the gift of two sons, a house to call home, and an enamoring trip to yet another side of the globe.

How all these pieces belong in the same story is as curious to me, as how Whitman’s words emerge from time spent in Neruda country–that is, until I discover that Pablo kept a photo of Walt on his desk; and how I, in my last hours of wandering the streets of Santiago, found myself standing in front of Neruda’s house…

Kelly Salasin, April 19, 2011

Previous post in the series: AWE

Follow up post: Palm Sunday

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2 thoughts on “April 19th

  1. What a gift your new friend in Chile gave to you! Add that to your list of angels–“unexpected generosity”. Can’t wait to see more pics.

    Liked by 1 person

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