Arañas de Rincón: Trophies of 2013

Today I’d like to commemorate the several Chilean recluse spiders who have died at the hands of Edwin or myself over the past couple of months.  After the one I blogged about in September, I’ve decided to document their tragic deaths, basically so that I can have the pictures as trophies.

Now, I must first say that I love spiders.  I had never been afraid of spiders up until this point—between living in Vermont and adoring Charlotte’s Web, I’ve never had a compelling reason to dislike them.  I’d never met a spider that could kill me before.

And then I saw my first araña de rincón, the Chilean recluse spider.  She was perched carefully above the doorframe.  She was quite large, maybe a little under two inches including the legs.  Edwin yelled, killed her, and then I became afraid of these Chilean recluses.

Meet the Chilean Recluse

Araña de rincón en el rincón!Why are they so scary?  First of all, they’re in your house.  Second, I’m not a huge fan of necrosis or possible death.

The spider’s names tell us quite a bit about its behavior: it is often found in corners (rincón) and is reclusive, meaning it usually won’t attack you.  In fact, a Chilean recluse probably won’t bite you unless it’s pressed against your skin.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is that, since they’re reclusive, they hide in dark, damp places, such as your bathroom cabinets, your closet, or that pile of clothes that you left at the foot of the bed last night.  And you don’t know they’re there.

The other bad thing is that if they bite you, your skin turns into a gaping, infected wound that either does not heal or else heals very slowly.  If you don’t believe me, just search “Chilean recluse spider bites.”  Not for the weak of heart.

Ways to identify the araña de rincón

Male Chilean recluse spider

  • Brown body and legs; the thorax is slightly lighter than the abdomen and often has a mark on it that resembles a violin (hence the nickname “fiddleback spider” in English)
  • About one to four centimeters in length, including the legs
  • Moves incredibly fast in comparison with other spiders and Spiderman
  • Has six eyes instead of eight

I love you, tiger spider!

Please note that this is quite different from the araña tigre, which cannibalizes the araña de rincón.  This spider has long, spindly legs that can be three times the length of its body.

Two things that come to mind when you see la tigre: 1.) O, blessèd spider!  Depart not from my bedside! 2.) SH***********OT WHERE ARE THE ARAÑAS DE RINCÓN???

Prevention and treatment of bites

The summertime is the busy season for Chilean recluse spider.  They reproduce and hunt more in the summer than any other time of the year, and so you should be especially wary if you’re here to enjoy the heat.

  • When getting clothing, shoes, or other items from a closet or dresser, make sure to shake them out before putting them on.
  • Check the bed sheets before going to sleep.
  • Don’t play in closets or under the bed… or anyplace you might go if you were a spider looking for a dark, quiet place to KILL.
  • Clean regularly!  Move your furniture and other things around to scare those suckers away.
  • DON’T KILL THE TIGER SPIDERS (see pic above): they eat the Chilean recluse and do you no harm!  Seriously, check it out.

If you are bitten:

  • If possible, catch or kill the spider so that you can bring it with you for identification
  • Usually there won’t be pain at first, but the bite will gradually start to redden
  • Apply ice to the bite to slow the process
  • Wash the area with soap and water
  • Get to a hospital for immediate medical attention.  This is very time sensitive!

And with that…

Happy New Year!

Stay cool!  Stay safe!  I, personally, will be heading back to the beautiful snow and ice of the Green Mountain State in another two weeks, so I will be recluse free!

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Winter Blues in the Summer: Chilenismos for sadness

Ok, so I don’t have the winter blues, considering I’m in the Southern Hemisphere and it’s summer here.  Also, I never get the winter blues; it’s more like a year-long fluctuation between bedridden and seemingly functional.  What’s that called?

The long and short of it is that I haven’t been posting as often as I want to.  Here are some of my excuses:

Ando bajoneada

gatito bajoneadoA bajón is literally a fall or sharp drop, and when you apply that to moods you get depression or something like it.  (When you apply it to substance abuse, well… that’s something else.)  Feeling “bajoneado” is like feeling blue.  You can also use this in verb form: bajonearse.  For example,

Después de que perdió Sfeir, me bajoneé demasiado.

Estoy achacada

In normal people Spanish, achacar means to put the blame on someone.  In Chilensis, achacarse means “to get depressed,” and a person who is achacao is burdened with all sorts of problems, overwhelmed with stress, anxiety, or sadness.

When people remark on how I look so happy all the time…

Estoy depre

Awww, sounds cute!  It’s like depresión, but shorter!

I think we run a constant line between making light of depression and wanting it to be understood for the serious and debilitating illness that it is (as I am demonstrating with this tongue-in-cheek post).  Our inadequate use of the little vocabulary that we do have exacerbates this gap in understanding.  Andrew Solomon describes this phenomenon as

a strange poverty of the English language, and indeed of many other languages, that we use this same word, depression, to describe how a kid feels when it rains on his birthday, and to describe how somebody feels the minute before they commit suicide.

Estoy “down”

Un cachorrito que anda down.

Yup, another case of throwing around English phrases.  I don’t know that everyone will understand you if you say this, but most will.  If they don’t, just show them this picture of depressed puppy.  They’ll get the message pretty quickly.

Summertime Sadness or Sickness?

It’s unfortunate that these ways of describing emotions make it hard to explain my experience with an illness.  Usually, I tell people that I’m sick, that I’m stuck in bed, that I’m nauseated, achy, light-headed, fatigued, etc.—which is all true, and all of those are possible symptoms of depression.

Now, I don’t want you all to think I’m like this guy, but it’s important to acknowledge the sickness, to treat some of what I think and feel as part of the depression and separate from me.  Depression should be a sickness that you can talk about the way that you could talk about a cancer or something else that alters your daily life, but not who you essentially are.

How do you think we can improve conversation about mental health?

Chilenismos and Holiday Decorations

It might surprise you to know that even though it’s summer here in Chile, they are going to go ahead and celebrate Christmas anyway.  It certainly surprised me.  That’s the true Christmas spirit: overcome all obstacles for a little holiday cheer.  It’s heroic, really.

I love the fake snow.

I love the fake snow.

They don’t even try to cushion the blow.  In fact, Santas are still dressed in ridiculous North Pole suits, and “White Christmas” is still heard jovially in the streets.  In Spanish.  (It’s not like they don’t know what “blanca navidad” is about.)  My mother-in-law even told me it didn’t seem strange to her!  Poor soul.

The Christmas trees are up in offices, houses, malls, and the streets.  Poinsettias and wreaths hang from the lampposts.  Some people have even put out inflatable snowmen and reindeer in their front yards.

I just can’t get over it.

Halloween aND Christmas??This has all been more ridiculous considering Chileans have been milking it since October.  OCTOBER.  They don’t have Thanksgiving to break it up, so… why not set the Christmas stuff next to the Halloween stuff?

More interesting, however, is the amount of gringo culture reflected in these celebrations and decorations.  But I’ll talk about cultural transfer another day.  Let’s get to the chilenismos.

Pascua

This word is how Chileans say navidad or Christmas.  Kind of.  Because it’s also the word for Easter and Passover (you know, from the Hebrew pesach/פסח).  And Easter Island, which is part of Chile, is called Isla de Pascua.  Anyhow, here are some other things that contain pascua.

El Viejito Pascuero

Surfing SantaSanta Claus is known by many names all over the world, but Chile is the only place to affectionately call him “the little old Christmas man.”  The men who dress up as el viejo pascuero here really have hearts of gold—I mean, apart from systematically lying to children—it’s way too hot to be wearing that suit!

Pan de Pascua

image from kaminokultural.blogspot

A traditional bread that resembles fruitcake… but it’s generally more revered in Chile than fruitcakes are in the US.  Also, if someone has a ton of acne, you might mention that their face looks like pan de pascua.  If you were a jerk.

Cola de Mono

Monkey’s tail!  This is like a Chilean version of eggnog… Except it has milk, coffee, sugar, spices, and aguardiente (firewater! or “alcohol prepared with local ingredients”).  No, it doesn’t include monkeys, but there are some interesting theories about how the drink got its name.

Cola de mono is a very traditional Christmas drink, and if you’re interested in making a glass or two to go along with your pan de pascua, check out the cooking show below on how to make both.

Engañito

Knowing that this word comes from engañar, which means “to decieve,” you might not think you would like to receive an engañito.  But it’s actually the Chilean word for a little gift that may not be worth too much money, but it’s an expression of love and caring for the other person nevertheless.

It’s like saying, “Here, I got you a little something for your birthday.  It’s nothing big…”

It could be something that didn’t cost the other person much.  For example, we have some wonderful tíos who came to our Vermont wedding and bought us little souvenirs from the locale.  They told Edwin to give them to me for our first anniversary.  That’s an engañito—it probably only cost them a couple bucks, but it was really special.

Happy holidays to all!

What’s your favorite holiday phrase?  Any chilenismos that I missed?

Trámites: Elusive Carrots on Strings (Part 2)

Carrot on string

I have finally procured residency.

As you’ll remember from Part 1, we went in circles for quite some time before we figured out what was required for me to get residency as the spouse of a Chilean.

This post is about the second round of blunders, which eventually results in obtaining residency.

First stop…

Departamento de Legalizaciones del Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores

After a couple of phone calls, we were told that these folks could do all the paperwork to get our marriage certified for us.  So we headed to Agustinas 1320.

The woman we talked to first told us that it wasn’t possible to do what we were trying to do.  But we had already confirmed that this department could do all the paperwork to legalize our marriage in Chile.

She then told us, “Well, yes, you can; but it is a complicated process and will take between two and four months.”

We opted to do it on our own and called up…

Uncle Paul and Phil at the Chilean Consulate in Boston

Paul and Phil Garber are honorary consuls that operate out of their house’s basement in Brighton, Massachusetts.

I called and explained my situation.

“Let me get this straight,” came the snarky Bostonian voice, “you just showed up in Chile without a visa and hoped for the best?”

I paused and muttered some sheepish affirmation.

“That was a good idea.”

He went on to explain that I needed to get the certificate signed by my state and then brought in—in person—for them to sign the certificate.

Vermont’s Secretary of State Continue reading

La Sebastiana: Neruda’s Whimsical Valparaíso House

Looks shipshape to me! (Image from travellersplaces.wordpress)

Neruda’s houses are some of the most whimsical national monuments you’ll see in most countries.  It is very fitting that amidst collections of shells, coins, bottles, whosits and whatsits galore, La Sebastiana’s living room boasts the poem “Oda a las cosas,” or “Ode to Things.”

Amo las cosas localocamente,” says Neruda.  Some roughly translate this to, “I have a crazy, crazy love of things.” …But I prefer, “I’m cookoo for Cocoa Puffs!

Pink and Azure Walls that Dance for Neruda

When Neruda began looking for a house in Valpo, he said he was looking for something that was not too high up, but not too low down; private, but not completely isolated; and obviously, it needed to have a view of his beloved ocean.

Something about the view says “Write a Nobel Prize-winning collection” … (Image from fundacionneruda.org )

When his friends found him the perfect house, an abandoned, four-story tower of sorts, he set about to remodel it immediately.  After three years, it had adopted the ship-like qualities of a Neruda house, along with his collections of things, a writing desk with a phenomenal view, and a huge picture of Walt Whitman.  (Neruda was a great admirer of Whitman, who he claimed was the most influential poet in his life.  For a little more information on this, check out this article.)

But the best addition to the house, in my opinion, is the crow’s nest that served as Neruda’s office, pictured above.

“Entonces la pintura llegó también lamiendo las paredes, las vistió de celeste y de rosado para que se pusieran a bailar.”

He later wrote a poem about the house, in which he describes the house as a growing, dancing, and generally living entity, with pink and blue walls that fit perfectly in the context of Valparaíso’s vibrant hills and views.

It is evident that Neruda wanted the house to be filled with life.  Whenever he threw a party, the view that La Sebastiana offered couldn’t be beat.  Moreover, the house features a small bar meant only for Pablo so that the poet could serve drinks to his guests.

And the La Sebastiana museum continues to be the most exciting and stimulating Neruda house to visit.  It’s the only house that you can explore at your one pace.  In La Sebastiana, you can wander from room to room and linger as long as you want, guided by an audio tour that you can pick up when you enter.  In Isla Negra and La Chascona, on the other hand, you must follow the guided tours in order to see the house at all.

Getting There

As with most trips in Valparaíso, visiting La Sebastiana is best done on foot.  The website shows a map of one route you could take.  You can also arrive via public transportation, either on the ‘O’ bus or on a colectivo (it’s a shared, cheap taxi) from the Plazuela Ecuador.

We, of course, walked, taking a long route to enjoy the beauty of Valparaíso.  Along the way, we experienced all the best that Valparaíso has to offer: phenomenal views, statues of famous poets, eclectic architecture, and stunning graffiti.  (And, of course, parks of outdoor exercise machines.)

We were fortunate enough to go on Neruda’s birthday, July 12, which meant free admission!  Wooohooo!  Otherwise it’s 4,000 Chilean pesos; 1,500 for students with IDs.

Just do it…

Valparaíso is the perfect city for the poet’s quirky side—the side that loved to host costume parties and collect bizarre bits of the world wherever he could.  La Sebastiana is a must see if you are anywhere near Valparaíso, as far as I’m concerned.  (Just remember that museums are closed on Mondays!)

If you’re interested in more about Neruda, check out some of my other posts on him and his houses: La Chascona: Neruda’s Santiago House and Rumors around Neruda’s Death.

For more posts about Valparaíso check out Valparaíso: A Canvas of Hills and Walls and Palacio Baburizza: Valparaíso’s Museum of Fine Arts.

There’s death in Neruda’s bones, but is there poison?

Ever since Pablo Neruda died suddenly only twelve days after Chile’s 1973 coup d’état, the public has speculated as to the real cause of his death.  The influential Nobel Prize winner, who had withdrawn from the 1970 elections as the Communist Party’s presidential nominee, supported Chile’s socialist president, Salvador Allende.

Last Friday, for the first time in 40 years of speculation, we had new information to consider: Neruda’s remains show no signs of foul play.

Death of the Poet

According to the official report, Neruda died from “cancer cachexia” while being treated for advanced prostate cancer in the Clínica Santa María hospital on September 23, 1973.  This was just days before he had planned to flee to Mexico.

Around the same time, Chile was in violent upheaval—people were killed, arrested, and sequestered during the dictatorship following the coup.  The Chilean military ransacked or occupied all of Neruda’s three houses, and many of the people who attended his funeral, which was overseen by police at the Cementerio General, were taken into custody afterward.

Nothing could be done at the time to further investigate Neruda’s death.

After the end of the dictatorship, on December 12, 1992, Neruda was finally exhumed and buried at his house in Isla Negra.  There, next to his third wife, Matilde Urrutia, he had rested until April 2013.

Graves of Pablo Neruda and Matilde Urrutia

“Death comes to shout without a mouth”**

The world has continued to question the cause of Neruda’s death, until finally, in 2011, the Chilean Communist Party decided to open a lawsuit based on the claims of Neruda’s ex-chauffeur, Manuel Arraya.  Araya claimed that Neruda had been injected with a lethal substance, which led to his death.  And so it was decided that the great poet’s remains would be reexamined in April of 2013.

On Friday, November 8, 2013, a statement was released asserting that the team of 13 experts—from Chile’s Medical Legal Service, the University of Chile, the United States, and Spain—had found no chemical agents that could have caused Neruda’s death.

There was evidence of the advanced prostate cancer he had been suffering and the presence of typical medications used to treat such cancer.

Restlessness and Continuing Controversy

While many organizations, including the Pablo Neruda Foundation, stated that these results confirmed their beliefs about Neruda’s death, other parties, including Neruda’s nephew, Rodolfo Reyes, insist that the examinations were not exhaustive and that there are still tests that need to be run before ruling out assassination.

To this, Fernando Sáez, director of the Neruda Foundations, says that those who wish to believe that Neruda was assassinated will continue to speculate.

At the end of the day, it is still up to the judge to take all of the results into account and release a verdict.  But what will it take to have a definitive answer?  And how will that answer change how we understand history and Neruda’s life?  Time will tell.

**Take a look at an interesting poem in which Neruda discusses death and bones: “Solo la muerte

Chile: 7 Things I Like About You

Honorable mention: this ice cream

Honorable mention: this ice cream

When I was a kid, if I called my sister “stupid” or my brother “ugly” or whatever, my parents would make me say seven nice things about the other as a consequence.

I must confess that sometimes I give Chile a pretty hard time.  I’ve been really frustrated for the past month or so, and I think I owe it to Chile to say seven nice things.

Here are some reasons I love you, Chile.

7.  Almacenes or corner stores:

In most neighborhoods, you can buy fresh bread daily by walking to an almacén within five minutes of your house.  The owner, who will probably call you mi hija, usually runs the almacén out of part of his or her house.  We have three of these within a five-minute walk of our house.

Almacenes are much preferable to a convenience store or gas station on the corner, which is what we typically have in the States.  And the funny thing about those is that they frequently aren’t really “around the corner.”  And nothing, nothing, is fresh there.  What up, food deserts!

On a related note…

From our local feria6.  Fruit and veggies!  

I love the fruit Chile has to offer.  Of course, for those of you from warmer climes, maybe this isn’t so impressive.  I’ve spoken with Colombians that feel Chile has a small and expensive selection of fruits and veggies.  But for a Vermonter, this selection is phenomenal.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, you can buy fresh produce at the weekly ferias that happen on a weekly basis in most neighborhoods.  Some highlights for me: lúcuma, chirimoya, avocado, strawberries and all of the exotic fruits I mentioned in this post.

5.  Political discussion:

While the US has tabooed socialism and communism as the most “un-American” things you could possibly discuss, Chile is a highly capitalist state whose next president will probably be socialist Michelle Bachelet.  Bachelet is running for the Nueva Mayoría, a political coalition that includes parties such as the Socialist Party, Christian Democrats, the Social Democrat Radical Party, and the Communist Party.

In the US, the moment someone begins to talk about something like socialism, a forcefield of caution begins to flicker up around the listener.  Even if the listener is a young, educated, liberal, the fear is there: is this person a nut job?

4.  People are affectionate.  

I know that in other places in the world, particularly other parts of Latin America, Chileans are considered cold and distant.  But for a gringa, the people are much warmer and more affectionate than the typical Usonian.

This makes some gringos uncomfortable.  However, I am in constant need of physical contact, and so it helps that it’s perfectly natural to touch someone’s arm during conversation or hug and kiss a person in greeting.  Back home, I’m notorious for invading people’s personal bubbles; here, I’m considered to not be as awkward as other cold gringos.

3.  Chilean poets:  

What more do you want to hear?  It’s the land of the poets—such as Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, Pablo de Rokha, Vicente Huidobro, Nicanor Parra, to name a few whom everyone should know.

Go read them.  And check out my posts on Neruda’s houses.

2.  It is beautiful.  

I know I complain endlessly about life in the city—the smog and the lack of green and the ugly buildings—but Chile is much more than Santiago.  It is one of the countries with the most diverse, rich, and breathtaking landscapes in the world: the desert, the beaches, the forests, the lakes, the mountains, the strange and otherworldly Patagonian terrain, even down to Antarctica.  Unparalleled, in my mind.

And along with the diversity of terrain comes an explosion of endemic flora and fauna.  Seriously, there are almost three thousand plants unique to Chile.

Finally, and most importantly,

1.  Its people: 

Where to start with this vibrant and quirky people that I’ve so come to love?  The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Chileans is their humor.

There’s something inherent to the rapid fire Chilean Spanish that lends itself to humor.  Chilean Spanish is full of opportunities for double entendre and dripping with character.  On top of that, when telling stories, my husband’s family showcases a range of the human voice that rivals that of Mariah Carey.  That kind of expression is simply funny.

Chileans are quick to laugh at almost anything—even things they probably shouldn’t laugh about, like the numbing terror of living through the golpe militar and subsequent torture and disappearances.  Or talking about living in extreme poverty and becoming malnourished.  In these situations, Chileans use laughter as a way of connecting with others, a way of being able to express difficult times and be assured that life goes on.

My in-laws with their English class

In less serious occasions, Chileans are equally ready for a laugh.  This morning, for example, I was waiting to make a transfer in the metro.  Since it was rush hour, there was a huge mob of us waiting for the next train, which was very slow to come.  As it approached, metro workers told us to step back, as the train was going to another station.  Several people started to jokingly boo the worker, as if it were her fault, and then the majority of us began to laugh at the situation.  Granted, sometimes people really get angry with workers, but that wasn’t the case today.

So Chile, I’m sorry

…for calling you stupid, ugly, and hopeless at times; there are many things that make you special, and many things that I can learn from you.

Alright, readers; what do you appreciate about Chile?