Saturday, June 28, 2014

Football Days

Chileans’ patriotism has been at its peak these past weeks of the World Cup, fans following, cheering and suffering for “La Roja”, the country’s national team. (Roja for their red jerseys.) The team sadly lost today’s match with five-time world champion Brazil, but just by a hair, specifically by one overtime penalty kick. La Roja played valiantly.
Besides their great playing, most impressive was the singing of Chile’s national anthem at the start of each game. The Chilean players and the fans sang their hearts out in their first two matches. Today became a virtual competition of national anthems, the yellow-shirted Brazilian fans attempting to outdo the previous Chilean performances.
The days of the games all hearts in this small country beat as one, each goal celebrated with cheers, whistles, shouts and horns honking in every neighborhood. It is times like this when I identify closely with my adopted country. I sense what it feels to be Chilean.
The local media has brain-washed me, not usually a fan of soccer. I now know the names and nicknames of the most outstanding players along with their identifying haircuts and tattoos. The television cameras took me into their modest homes, interviewing family members, next door neighbors and former school friends.

Soon the news will return to its usual menu of student protests, strikes and political wrangling, while newspapers advertise the latest model imported cars and packages to the Caribbean in full page ads. Is it only sports and earthquakes that are capable of unifying this country? Consumerism and political ideologies leave little space for the growth of civic mindedness.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Soup Days

June 21st marked the winter solstice here in the Southern Hemisphere. A look up at the grey sky and my cold hands confirm the fact. On the positive side, our shortest day and longest night of the year are now behind us. Cold days are a time to turn inwards… to reading (finally finished Cien Años de Soledad), tweaking and organizing my writing and watching the World Cup on television.

While nibbling on a chocolate bar, I observe the birds foraging for seeds outside. The liquidambar next door, its branches bereft of its burgundy leaves, is laden with round prickly seed pods – a tasty bird banquet. First arrive the gregarious green parrots, which in their gluttonous fever, knock the pods to the ground. Then, the doves take over, waddling and pecking at the perilous pods. Returning from my Pilates class this morning, I stepped carefully through the mass of lethal-looking pods on the sidewalk.
Yesterday, arriving to the house, we saw a band of doves dining below the tree, closely watched by a crouching grey cat, its body flattened below the curb. Seeing that the doves were oblivious to the lurking feline threat, I jumped out of the car.
My hubby said, “Wait. Let’s see what happens.”
“No! It’ll catch one!” Doves are slow movers and no match for a cat. I wasn't willing to let nature take its course. Besides, the cat looked well-fed. I think it was Señora Teresa’s cat. She feeds her pets too well. Besides her very fat cat, she has a fox terrier that resembles a large sausage about to burst.
This morning I spotted a fluffy white cat drinking water from our bird bath! Not very clean water as the robins are frequent bathers there. I wonder if the cat noticed the scent of birds. Will the birds pick up the smell of cat? I’m curious and Google for information. Just as I thought, except for some specific species, birds’ sense of smell is the least developed of their senses, thus facilitating the hunt of the hungry cat.

I feel justified interfering with nature yesterday, defending the doves from the cat menace.

Friday, June 13, 2014


While stalled in heavy traffic, I noticed a vendor on the corner selling Chilean flags. The passengers in the car ahead bought two. Football (i.e. soccer) fever is upon us. In a few hours the Chilean national team plays their first game (against Australia) in the World Cup in Brazil. The entire country is holding its breath. Hubby is going to a friend’s house to watch the game with the guys. It’s not much fun watching a game alone, so I’ll head to my sister- and brother-in-law’s down the street to watch with them. Soccer has never excited me, being an American football fan, but championship games are more riveting, so I’ll be there rooting for Chile.

Although football has filled entire TV news hours and newspapers for the past few weeks, another item of news comes in a close second. RAIN! Two storms, last week and this week brought us a wonderful, wet gift from the clouds. The city is ringed with snow-covered mountains. The newly-washed city trees and my garden plants have recovered their intense colors, and I smile in gratitude and relief.

Rain was predicted for last Wednesday, also the day our gardener was due. I prayed the rain would hold off till he could finish. While he trimmed bushes and turned the soil, I joined him, scattering fertilizer and manure, already picturing the lush green growth of spring. We finished as the first drops fell.

In a previous post, I praised New York’s community gardens. There is a slow-growing movement here to plant sidewalk vegetable gardens. One determined soul has carved out a vegetable garden in the median strip park of a major thoroughfare in our neighborhood. The city needs more people like him.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Culinary Solitary Confinement

Michael Pollan in his article “Why Cook?” discusses the undeniable trend that Americans are cooking less and buying more prepared meals, freeing housewives from kitchen slavery in order to go out to produce in the work place. I heartily agree with his arguments on the importance of the shared family meal and the power of cooking to transform us from mere consumers into producers.
            I learned to cook from my mother and, later, living on my own, I expanded my culinary skills. Arriving here in Chile, I discovered that most people had maids do their cooking. At first, we hired a daily maid, but after the birth of my second son, I reluctantly gave in to my husband’s pressure to hire a live-in maid. I did the grocery shopping and planned the meals, but the maid did the major cooking. I returned to full time teaching.
            By the time I retired, I’d lost interest in cooking, or, to be honest, I’d become lazy, accustomed to having Carola, our sweet-tempered, part time maid, do it for me. Now multiple other activities vie for my time: gardening, reading, writing, anything that frees me from that kitchen isolation. Because that’s one factor Michael Pollan didn’t take into consideration: the size of the kitchen and its location in the house plan. Most kitchens around the world were not designed as places of social gathering. Chilean kitchens, even in new, modern apartments, are the size of a closet and separated from the other living areas by doors (because originally that was the exclusive domain of the maids). The kitchen in our fifty- year- old house is long and narrow, though the addition of a small breakfast nook by the previous owners makes it more inviting. But, it has doors that cut me off from the activity in the rest of the house when I’m doing last minute preparations and serving meals in the evenings and on weekends. Once kids were older or gone altogether, the kitchen became an even lonelier place. Hubby has zero interest in cooking and only descends from his second floor office when I call out, “Dinner’s ready!”
            As the supply of women willing to work as maids declines, Cocinas americanas, American kitchens, meaning the kitchen is incorporated into the sitting or dining room, is now a big selling point for many new homes here. I’ve fantasized sledge-hammering the wall separating my kitchen from our den, but it would be a giant mess (and where would I put the cabinets from that wall?). The kitchen in my childhood home had a sunny breakfast nook incorporated and, while washing the dishes, we faced a large window that looked out onto a grand old oak. For the past twenty-five years, the wall of our next door neighbors’ has been my kitchen sink view.

 No wonder I’d rather be in the garden.

Monday, June 2, 2014

My New York State of Mind: Snapshots

GREEN: All around. Spring foliage shouting overpowering green-ness, a refreshing sight to these sore eyes coming from a grey and brown drought-ridden city.

Commencement at Columbia University: a vast sea of euphoria among powder blue-clad graduates and proud family members, few dry eyes among us. The speeches encouraging graduates to go forth and make this world a better place spoke to all present. I felt a graduate once more, eager to do grand things with my days. (In October I’ll be attending my 50th reunion of my Berkeley class!)

Metromania: Descending the stairs into the mouth of the monster, the pervasive odor of metal, humidity, rotting garbage and urine and the rhythmic clackety-clackety-clack invade my senses. Read the signs, find the blue line, the R car, “stand clear of the closing doors”, scramble out to find the red line, up the stairs, cross the hallway, down the uptown stairs to the opposite platform, wait for the number 2 express and watch for rats scouring the tracks, then transfer at Times Square to the yellow line, get off at 14th Street, find the southwest exit. Uptown, downtown, across town, our days are constant movement. At night faint rumblings from that subterranean world ease us into sleep in our basement apartment.

Grand Central Station at six p.m.: a maze of humanity, a swarming anthill, crisscrossing, colliding, hurrying-hurrying and, in the midst, bewildered me searching for a U.S. mailbox.

Garbage: Shocking and discouraging was the sight of the mountains of non recyclable garbage produced at The Shake Shack where we dined in Grand Central’s food court. Add to that the garbage from the thousands of fast food enterprises and one wonders if home recycling can ever make a difference.

Parks: Central and Riverside Parks and community gardens are green, leafy gems inserted throughout the city providing respite to us, the birds and the squirrels. We spot blue jays, robin redbreasts and bright cardinals who treat us to their song – a walk in the woods – in the city.