A visit to the Cementerio General of Santiago produced a mix of emotions. Surprise at the toll gate at the entrance. One thousand four hundred pesos (3 dollars) to drive in. Curiosity at the names on the tombs, old-fashioned first names like Zunilda and Berta and last names of mixed nationalities. Disgust at the stand offering candy bars and bags of potato chips for sale. Sadness at the concrete galleries of stacked columbarium niches, paint peeling, looking like public housing, poverty even after death. A chuckle at the niches sporting tiny, faded awnings.
We picked up the urn containing my mother-in-law’s ashes and carried it to the grave, where her husband and his five sisters are buried. Two workers pried open the heavy lid to the flat tomb. We all peered down into a deep dark concrete bunker. One worker climbed down iron steps encrusted in a wall and received the urn lowered down to him. Another worker then carried down a plastic bottle of water and a container of cement to seal the space containing the urn. A stray cocker spaniel lay on the grass watching the process. Mr. S. and his brother recalled those buried there and decided to have their names engraved on the lid. Mr. S announced he did not want to be cremated. I felt uncertain at the moment. I’d always thought I’d like my ashes to be dispersed partly in Marin County soil and the rest here in Chile. “Where?” my son asked. I’d often imagined a lush southern rainforest, but then I turned to Mr. S. and said, “Next to you, and I want my tombstone to read “Native of California”."
Leaving the cemetery, Mr. S. pointed out a grungy bar on the corner called “Quita Penas”, roughly translated: “Drown Your Sorrows”.