Friday, May 18, 2018

The Path from Drought to Shinrin-Yoku

My husband and I watch in disbelief the televised scene on the evening news: an occasional cow roaming cracked, dusty, desolate terrain, a dusty bowl that until recently held the blue waters of Laguna Aculeo.

We’d enjoyed going there to the lakeside home of friends, our country escape from the sizzling heat of the city. Along the way we saw farmers selling watermelons piled high in roadside wheelbarrows. Handmade signs advertised fresh, homemade bread. We spent refreshing afternoons savoring the barbequed fare and relaxing on the wide lawn where kids romped, followed by a swim in the lake. For decades the small lake attracted enthusiasts of water sports: skiing, sailing, speed boating. Growing numbers of vacation homes began to populate its shores, each surrounded by lush lawns and aquamarine pools.

 Now there’s no water for gardens, pools or boats. No water for watermelon vines.

I read in the newspaper the politicians’ and experts’ speculations regarding the causes of this disaster: years of scarce rainfall, over consumption on farms and vacation home and illegal commercial use of subterranean waters. To me it smacks of lack of planning originating in the general belief that the earth’s resources are there for the taking. Aculeo’s dry lakebed is climate change thrust into our faces.

Now people are paying attention.

I see glimmers of hope beyond the dark gloom of drought and careless overconsumption. This week local supermarkets will no longer hand out plastic bags to shoppers. Other cities throughout Chile have already adopted the no plastic bag policy. The newly passed Law of Recycling proposes to regulate the use of plastics and move Chile towards a circular economy. Perhaps a turning point in attitudes here have been the shocking newspaper photographs and televised scenes of massive islands of plastic floating in the ocean

Neighborhoods are actively looking to create more parks and green areas. Residents of three residential downtown towers are dismayed by the filth and graffiti of the elevated pedestrian walkways connecting the towers. The disgusting sight has motivated students and architects to create a group dedicated to the restoration of this space using the High Line Park of New York City as a model. I’ve walked the elevated Highline Park, marveling at the bees and butterflies visiting the lush gardens there in midtown Manhattan, and would love to see it replicated in Santiago.

I’ve long known what research now shows that access to green areas improves the overall quality of life for residents. I have access to several city parks, though barely within walking distance. Besides, decades living in a big city plagued by smog, congestion and noise make me want more than a park. I want a forest. I yearn for place to practice the Japanese tradition of shinrin yoku, forest bathing, where I can sit below a tree and inhale its fresh, pungent breath, soak in the silence and allow my body to acquire a forest rhythm. Now for a good rain.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Soul Music

We’d bought the last tickets for the concert and our seats were in the back row. The program didn’t matter. This was Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw hall famous for its unparalleled acoustics. At first, all I could do was marvel at the splendor of the concert hall. Teardrop chandeliers sparkled throughout, illuminating the high-ceilinged, rectangular space. Red upholstery, rugs and curtains contrasted beautifully with the decorated pale beige walls and gilded pillars.

When the conductor raised his hands and the musicians readied their instruments, the chandeliers were slightly dimmed, leaving the hall in a glittering tenuous light. And the music. Oh, the music. It soared and rose, taking me with it, transporting me to a place of light and beauty.

Afterwards, I regretted we hadn’t remembered a program. With my mind brimming with travel impressions, I couldn’t remember the name or the composer of the violin concert that had cast its spell over me.

Today, two years later, I turn up the volume on our kitchen radio. A magnificent violin concert strikes a chord within me, but I’m at a loss to identify it. The notes penetrate my core, triggering a sense of splendor and euphoria within. Why is this concert so familiar?

At the end of the piece, the announcer identifies the orchestra as Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw and the piece as Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Opus. 64. Suddenly, I know why the concerto is familiar and moves me so.

 I’ve recovered something precious that I’d thought lost to me.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Fiddlesticks and Beyond....

Is it possible? It’s been fifty years since the assassination of Martin Luther King. Fifty years. And fifty years since Richard Nixon was elected U.S. president. And half a century since: Yale decided to admit female undergraduates; the first color photograph of earth “Earthrise” was taken by humans in orbit aboard Apollo 8; the musical “Hair” opened on Broadway; Rowan and Martin’s “Laugh-In” debuted on television. 1968 was also a year of multiple anti-Viet Nam protests.

            I’m propelled into a state of disbelief as I read the news from 1968. I was a young woman working at my first teaching job then, after two years serving in the Peace Corps. The realization hits me that I’ve been living a long time. I’m a senior citizen now and dealing with the well-known ailments, both physical and cognitive, of advancing age.
            My oldest hometown friend, Paula, in California and I were sharing our aches and pains over the phone. She’s just a year younger than I. Although she suffers from disabling arthritis, we can still relate and laugh over our multiple old-age frustrations: difficulties retrieving words from memory, tripping, energy loss. Frustration with a capital F is dropping things because then we must PICK THEM UP. Our bodies don’t appreciate the bending position.
            I tell her that I’ve taken to swearing when these frustrations interrupt my life. And I’ve advanced from lady-like swearing (fiddlesticks, darn, damn) to more hard core vocabulary. I confess that the F word is my chosen swear word now. “I know,” she laughs. “Sh__t just doesn’t cover it.”

We howl in laughter.

Sunday, March 11, 2018


Hunched forms move through the mass of dripping gray-green foliage, alert to a movement, a crack of a branch, weapons raised forward. An earth-shaking blast. Bodies fly. Screams.
Back in camp, a damp, disheveled young man bends over a typewriter, tapping the keys with urgency. “He’s here as an observer,” a soldier comments.

Names surface in my memory: Daniel Ellsberg, Robert McNamara, Ben Bradlee. Katharine Graham. Viet Nam. It was the late 60’s and early 70’s. A political science graduate, I was living in Berkeley, center of anti-war protests. Here in the theater, the events on the screen begin to come back to me. I’m surprised at how little I remember now. More than fifty years have passed, but the suspenseful unfolding of the story of the Pentagon Papers in the movie “The Post” grabs me.

Lies. Lies. Lies. The American public hoodwinked. There’s a good word: hoodwinked. Duped. Bamboozled. Thousands of young soldiers sacrificing their lives for what? I am angry.
And now? Tantalizing tidbits of information leak out to the public. In a few years we’ll learn the truth about the machinations of our current administration. How we let ourselves be hoodwinked once again. Have we lost the capacity to demand transparency? To be shocked or indignant at the constant flow of lies?

With the movie jungle scenes still fresh in my mind, I watch a “Sixty-second Vacation” feature on CNN. Tall buildings brightly lit up with neon signs. Solid masses of cyclists flow down a broad boulevard. I’m invited to enjoy the attractions of Viet Nam.

I imagine the faces of an American family sitting in their living room watching this latest vacation destination – where their son lost his life. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

History in the Making

The signs are subtle. Shadows fall at a different angle in the backyard. The sun has taken up a more northern position. Scattered clouds drift across the sky. Today it is refreshingly cooler – only 85 degrees. In this last week of February I savor the summertime quiet of the city. Next week the onslaught of vacationers returning from ocean and mountains begins. Children will don their uniforms to return for another year of school.

The earth follows its orbit, slipping us here in the Southern Hemisphere into fall. School days. Cooler days. The seasons according to schedule. We pull on sweaters. Leaves turn brown and orange and yellow. Flowers make way for seeds. These events are so totally predictable that they don’t make the headlines or the history books. They just are.

I’m outside cutting dead flowers when with the new guard on our street walks by. “Buenos días,” we say. I think from his accent he might be Colombian or Venezuelan. I ask. “Venezuelan,” he tells me. He arrived five months ago. “It’s so much easier to get into Chile than the United States.”

This is history in the making. Peruvians. Colombians. Venezuelans. Dominicans. Haitians pour into the country. Word gets around. In Chile there are jobs. The country is stable. Skin tones on faces on crowded downtown streets are darkening. In this insular country most surprising are the growing numbers of black faces – janitors in the supermarket, gardeners in public parks, truck drivers, and construction workers. Others attempt to eke out a living on the street selling black market purses and scarves made in China.

How brave and how desperate the Haitians must have been to find a way to reach this distant country where a different language is spoken. Television reports show classrooms in the modest sectors of town sprinkled with children with big brown eyes gazing out of round black faces. Chileans joke that in a few years, the national soccer team will be a dream team of tall, dark immigrants’ offspring.

I'm considered an expat, not an immigrant. Is that because my skin is lighter? Because I speak English? Because I have a profession? Perhaps it's due to my reason for coming to Chile. When can an immigrant be considered an expat? A look at the big picture reveals that all history has been shaped by movements of populations. Thoughts worth considering.

I like seeing this increasing diversity and smile at the black man I pass on the street. It is a smile of welcome. I hope he knows that. 

Monday, January 29, 2018


Ricardo, my physical therapist, presses his strong hands into my lower back, rubbing in cream with soothing circular and up-and-down motions.

“That’s where it still hurts,” I say. “Is it normal that I still feel pain after seven weeks?”
“Of course,” he answers. “You had major surgery. “They made an incision in your skin and then pulled you open. In my experience, your recovery should take about 3 months.”
“I’ve been feeling kind of low,” I tell him.
“Perfectly normal.”
My step is lighter as I leave.
In spite of my doctor’s reassurances, I need validation for what I am feeling. My family treat me like a queen – breakfast in bed, morning checks on levels of pain, hands to help me up –  for about the first month. I think they expect that I should be better now. Yes, they still ask daily how I feel, but I sense they are losing patience. At the dinner table one night, they claim to feel frustrated that I can’t describe in detail the intensity and location of the pain.
“How does it compare with before surgery?”
“You’re healed on the outside so should also be healed inside.”
“Then the surgery did no good.”
“That doctor keeps changing your medication.”
I tell them I have complete confidence in Doctor B. who reminds me of a big brown teddy bear that I want to hug. We actually do hug each time I leave his office. I can send him a WhatsApp which he answers immediately or calls me on my cell phone.
At home, I report on Ricardo’s comments. That should keep them at bay for a day or two. But doubts prevail in my own head. I pull out the long sheets of information on the two meds I’m still taking.
Adverse Effects: Drowsiness, weight gain, puffiness, weakness, depression, irritability, (and “fondness for doctors.)
That just about covers it. I spend half the day in a stupor, can only walk 4 or 5 blocks, my face is swollen, I feel ugly and find solace in reading and swear like a drunken sailor when I trip over the vacuum cord.

Two days until I see Ricardo again. He reminds me of a ...

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas eve in Bed

‘‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse….

Late, lazy afternoon day. It’s very warm as I lie on top of the bed. A dog barks. Robins tweet.  A strange way to spend this  Christmas Eve. I’ve been bed bound for the past  4 weeks as I recover from back surgery. It doesn’t seem that long, but certainly longer than we expected. So I watch the news, read , answer phone calls and check the multiple WhatsApp dinging into my phone.

Based on the volume of my WhatsApps, I picture the entire city whatsapping and texting this Christmas Eve afternoon : digital Christmas cards. Santa and reindeer jokes, photos, video of glittering Fifth Ave. NYC. And digital hugs. I haven’t checked Facebook yet.  It might seem like I’m quite busy yet all those activities  are interrupted by long, morphine-induced naps and mind explorations. I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed thinking so much. If only I’d have the energy and clarity of thought to jot down those illuminations and pursue those rabbit trails.
Oops, I’m dropping off…
This is my first attempt. AT least it’s a start. Meanwhile, I’ll just sit back and enjoy the view🌈🌎