Important Aromas: Touring Cousiño Macul Winery


Wine has always fallen into one of two categories for me: ways that college kids embarrass themselves, and ways useless cultural capital makes some people better than others (See chart below). That being said, I’m twenty-five and began to drink alcohol a year and a half ago, so I never had much to work with.

Cousiño Macul Patio

I’m pleased to say that after touring the vineyard and winery Cousiño Macul and watching the documentary Somm, I now have enough knowledge to appreciate wine.  Theoretically.

After five years, three winery tours, and finally tasting wine, my wine knowledge has grown substantially and can be summed up by the informative video below:

Touring Cousiño Macul

Cousiño Macul Entrance

Since its founding in 1856, Cousiño Macul has remained under the complete ownership of the Cousiño family, which sets it apart from other vineyards established in the 19th century. Six generations later, the cultivation and production is split between the Macul site and another site in Buin.  However, the Macul site gets all the action, in part because of its beautiful and historic French construction.  (Side note, Macul is mapudungun for “right hand.”)

Our BFF, Matías Cousiño; notice Charles is "Macul," mapudungun for "right hand."

Our BFF, Matías Cousiño; Charles is Macul

Why here?  One of the great things about Chilean wines is that the weather and soil conditions are ideal for producing wine grapes:

  • vineyards receive a lot of sunlight;
  • the proximity to the Andes means a huge variation in daytime and nighttime temperatures, which helps maintain the grapes’ acidity;
  • it basically only rains in the winter, which keeps the grapes safe from many fungi and other threats;
  • there are plenty of sloped landscapes…

…the list goes on.


Wine barrels Cousiño Macul

Traditional barrels

And so, Chilean wine is increasingly popular worldwide: around 65 percent of Cousiño Macul’s wine production is exported around the world.

It is also because they keep their gender bias in tact.  You will be pleased to know that the grapes are hand-picked by women.  Because we are more delicate.  Which is also why there are more female surgeons than male surgeons… right?

For information on hours, directions, and booking a tour, check out the vineyard’s website here.  A tour costs $9.000, which includes wine tasting and a special Cousiño Macul wine glass.

 Drinking vs. Tasting: Story Time!

Wine barrels in Cousiño Macul

Edwin, Charles, and I chose the perfect time for a winery tour.  The weather was gorgeous, but apparently not too many people are interested in drinking wine at eleven o’clock on a Wednesday morning.

Consequently, we had Álvaro—chef, sommelier, and tour guide extraordinaire—all to ourselves.  And we were prepared to shamelessly ask more questions than he’d probably heard all year… I warned him that we knew nothing about wine.

We passed the time asking questions, “tasting” wine, and joking about wine culture (read: I was probably mocking more than simply joking).  At some point, Charles offered that a certain wine “smelled strong.”

Álvaro replied, “Yes, it has an important aroma.”

I couldn’t help but comment: the difference between a sommelier and your everyday wine drinker is that the former knows that wine has “an important aroma”—NOT a strong smell.

Our ignorance must have become painful to Álvaro, because he finally responded to one of our questions with, “Ustedes están tomando el vino, no lo están degustando.”  (“You guys are drinking the wine; you’re not tasting it.”)

He disappeared for a moment, returning with a wine glass, which he waved around until the cardboard smell was gone from inside it.  And then he did exactly what the wine snob in the video above had told me to do.

What I’ve learned:

This is science, I promise you.

This is science, I promise you.

Extra!  I recently published “The Sommelier,” a poem inspired in part by this experience, in RiverLit No.14.


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

Ten More Reasons Not to Drive in Santiago

Judging by the insane amount of traffic and the continued irritations I’ve suffered in the last couple of months, my post Motivation to Stay Off the Roads in Chile has not been effective.

So I guess I’ll try again.  Here are some more reasons to avoid driving in Santiago.

11.  Tacos: No, I’m not just saying that the existence of tacos means that you should be eating them rather than driving, although I’m sure I could make an argument for that.  Tacos are traffic jams.  During rush hour, you might get home faster walking than driving.  And with Santiago’s sprawl, that’s saying something.

As a side note, rush hour seems to be about 12 hours apart… but maybe that’s why you shouldn’t work here.  Also, you’ll note that basically all cars have only one occupant.

12.  It’s EXPENSIVE.  This article from 2010 says that the average Santiaguino pays about 4,000 USD a year to maintain and use a car, which could be more than the US average.

Yes, gas is expensive.  Yes, parking can be quite expensive.  In fact, Esto No Tiene Nombre recently did an exposé on the “abusive charges” for parking here in the capital that cited the average daily spending at about six thousand Chilean pesos, or twelve U.S. dollars.  And then there are…

13.  The tolls.  The toll system here in Santiago is a little too complicated for me to get into in this post.  Maybe that’s one reason not to drive.  You have to either buy a TAG, which is a chip that records your monthly toll use and charges you at the end of the month, or pay for daily toll passes.

To the Chileans out there: what are the costs of buying and maintaining a TAG?

snuggling streetdogs14.  Dogs in the street: Sometimes they are chasing cars and biting at their tires, sometimes they are running around simply being dogs,  and sometimes they wait patiently at crosswalks for the light to turn green before crossing with the pedestrians.  How can you drive with that kind of distraction?

15.  Cyclists that don’t use their lane or helmets.  Oh wait… what lanes?

The funny part is that men pass me on the sidewalk in spandex.  Really?  You can’t go that fast.  You’re on a sidewalk.  The girl with the bike basket and the skirt is gaining on you.

16.  Running red lights.  Red Light/Green Light is a child’s game.  In the adult world, we have yellow lights.  And it’s so that the teacher can’t catch you when she says “Red light!”  Either that or something about keeping people from dying.

The video below is what happens every day without fail.  That’s why I only had to record one time to catch people in the act!

17.  Getting lost: road signs are optional.  Sometimes, the name of the street is painted on  the side of the street’s corner house… in the shape of a road sign.  Of course, after living in Boston, it’s not so bad.

18.  Stop signs after pedestrian crosswalks.  What?  Below is a tricky situation where there’s a yield, but not until after the crosswalk.  Message: yield to cars, not pedestrians.

Crosswalk where cars don't have to stop?

19. Protests and marches.  Chileans are all too eager to have protests, demonstrations, or strikes (Read more on these “traffic hazards” in my post Sea Lions on Strike?).  And this can cause some serious traffic problems for the entire day.  Below, you see Santiago’s main street closed as students push for free education.

20. Did I mention the potholes yet?  Oh, I guess I did.  Here’s a new one that showed up in front of our house a couple of weeks ago.  People began to desperately throw anything into the gaping hole that threatened to swallow their car.


But how will I get to work??

I’ve not only given you some reasons to stop driving, I’ve given you some reasons to start walking, cycling, taking public transportation, or to try a combination of walking, biking, and public transportation–whatever works for you.  You will be surprised at the time you’ll save and the stress you’ll avoid.

Of course, Santiago still lacks much of the infrastructure that would allow it to be a more efficient and navigable city.

What are some ways we can change our thinking about transportation in Santiago?  What do you do to have a more enjoyable and efficient transit to work etc.?

Pueblito Los Dominicos: Artisans at Work

Art in Pueblito Los DominicosQuaint, narrow alleys lined with traditional adobe buildings, straw roofs, artisan shops, and the irresistible smell of pastel de choclo—this is the enchantment of Los Dominicos, Chile’s largest artisanal center.

Many people say it’s a must-see for tourists, but Edwin and his mother had never visited.  (The life of a foreigner is so different from that of a local!)

So in hopes of amending the fact that we had forgotten her birthday, we took my mother-in-law on a day trip to Los Dominicos.

A maze of shops

Narrow streets Los DominicosThe Pueblito de Los Dominicos has some 160 shops and unquantifiable amounts of talent.  We enjoyed watching artisans in their workshopschipping away at wooden statues, heating metal for jewelry, or weaving wicker baskets.

Condor in LapislazuliI found the prices to be very reasonable, even in comparison with markets like Santa Lucía.  It’s important to remember that Los Dominicos has a wide range in its quality of work.

There’s a difference between works of art by master artisans and smaller, touristy or utilitarian items.  In Los Dominicos, you can buy both: beautiful artwork to cherish for your whole life and unremarkable souvenirs for your nephews, nieces, or friends at work.

In addition to handicrafts, you can buy plants and pets, or explore art expositions and plays.  We bought a lemon tree and some tomato plants as a gift to my mother-in-law.


The food is a little pricey considering it’s the kind of food that you can find in picadas, the Chilean “hole in the wall” food joint.  If you want to buy the pastel de choclo, it’s probably worth it.  But for other vegetarians out there, it’s slim pickings—salads, cheese empanadas, french fries or maybe mashed potatoes.


Did you know? The Iglesia de San Vicente Ferrer was printed on the back of the 2000 peso bill from 1997 to 2010.

Did you know? The Iglesia de San Vicente Ferrer was printed on the back of the 2000 peso bill from 1997 to 2010.

The Church of Los Dominicos, officially named la Iglesia de San Vicente Ferrer, was built during the first half of the 19th century in the skirts of the pre-Andean foothills.

During the late 1970s, artisans started setting up shops in the small adobe buildings that had made up an hacienda-style pueblito.  In 1983, the church was named a National Monument, and the “little town” next to it was dubbed the Pueblito de Los Dominicos.

It is now owned by the Cultural Corporation of Las Condes.

Visiting Los Dominicos

If you want to learn more about Los Dominicos before visiting, check out this gallery of photos or this video (Sorry, the chick’s pretty awkward).

Summer schedule (October to April): Tuesday to Sunday 10:30 to 20:00 hrs.
Winter Schedule (May to September): Tuesday to Sunday 10:30 to 19:00 hrs.
Phones: 8969841 – 8969842 – 8969843
Theatre phone: 8969840
Avenida Apoquindo 9085, Metro Los Dominicos

Mixed Signals of Spring…

Today has marked three important signs of a coming change in weather.

  1. The first bloom has blossomed on the almond tree!
  2. I heard Edwin swear*, which meant…
  3. An araña de rincón was not far away.

Somehow, in spite of the recent frigid weather and several days of rain, the almond tree in front of my in-laws’ house pushed out dozens of precious green and barely pink buds last week.  And then pop!  The first dainty flower appeared, waving the still distant spring closer.

First almond bloom


No sooner had I snapped a picture of the flower than I walked in to the house to show Edwin… and that’s when I heard it.  Something about mothers and shells followed by a swift butterfly kick to the wall.  What you see below is all that was left of the Chilean recluse.

Squashed Chilean Recluse

So there you have it!  Spring must be on its way, what with the flowers and the spiders and stuff.

(*For those of you wondering, the last time I heard Edwin use that kind of colorful language was when we returned from our trip south and had a huuuuuge Chilean recluse waiting for us above the bathroom doorframe.)

Persa Biobío: And they told me not to bring a camera…

Books in La Persa Biobio

The first time I came to Chile, I was told to steer clear from El Persa Biobío because I would be robbed many times before I knew what hit me.  When I had acquired a fanny pack and a Chilean boyfriend, I decided it would probably be safe to give it a try.

Whozits and whatzits galore

Locale of of Calle Placer The Persa Bio Bio is basically the biggest flea market you’ll ever see.  On weekends and holidays, the streets to the northeast of the metro Franklin slowly fill with food stands, blankets or tarps overwhelmed with goods, and endless streams of people.  Around 10 a.m., vendors that begin to open their sliding metal doors seem to transform into hungry hands that peel back their shops’ sardine-can lids, revealing merchandise that is equally as cramped as that cluster of canned fish—and much more diverse.  It is a bustle of everything I can imagine anyone would sell: antiques, toys, books, clothing, furniture, electronics… you name it.  But don’t take my word for it, check out the testimonial below of loyal Persa customer, Mario.

Books: Persa Bio bio

I am a lover of used books, and it’s something of a tradition for me to buy cheap used books on the Fourth of July.  It was this tradition that first brought me to the Persa Biobío.  Unfortunately, books in Chile are expensive, and there’s no way to get around it—even pirated copies and smutty books are usually not worth the 4,000-8,000 pesos that vendors might charge.  But it certainly is fun to root around in the stacks and stacks of yellowing and worn books.  For those of you interested in finding specific books or books of better quality, check out some of the shops near metro Manuel Montt or the Calle San Diego, which is where I celebrated my Independence Day tradition this year (I’ll post about it soon!).  While I was disappointed by the availability of books, I was satisfied with the many opportunities to grab a delicious empanada or listen to some live music.

Street musicians in persa biobioAll in all, the Persa has proved to be a very entertaining place, and I would recommend it, even if you are as notably gringa as I am.  It’s always hard to visit some of these local markets as a tourist—simply because you have no idea where you are or what you’re getting yourself into—but I don’t see it as an unsafe place.  I think some of the warnings I had heard about the Persa were extensions of stereotypes that have stuck around from this area’s history (What history, you ask?  Just keep reading!).  Moral of the story is, the next weekend you’re in Santiago, you should grab your fanny pack, hop on the yellow line (línea 2) to the Franklin metro stop, and enjoy exploring!

History of the Persa

Buildings in the Persa Bio bio

What is now most popularly known as the Barrio Franklin, home to the beloved Persa Biobío, used to be known as the Barrio Matadero—the Slaughterhouse District.  As you can imagine, the Barrio Matadero was historically outcast because of disease, poor living conditions, delinquency, and relative geographic isolation.

Photograph inside the Santiago slaughterhouse/ matadero

It all started in 1847, when a slaughterhouse was opened on Franklin Street in the southern periphery of Santiago.  Poor laborers, often immigrants, moved to the Barrio Matadero seeking work.  They made up most of the barrio’s population and lived under terrible conditions.  The picture to the right shows slaughterhouse employees who started their day at 2:30 a.m., working barefoot so as to not contaminate the blood that would be later collected and used in other products.

Entrance to the Matadero -- Barrio MataderoNear the beginning of last century, there were several state initiatives to build better housing for the workers in the area.  Along with this construction came the installation of various shops, including those that would take advantage of the flourishing leather industry, such as tanneries, shoe shops, and the National Glass Factory.  To this day, Franklin Street is associated with the shoe industry and has many locales to buy shoes, although they are no longer made in that area.

During the Great Depression, vendors took to the streets.  This began the tradition of informal and improvised markets in the sector.  By the 1950s, when countryfolk or campesinos began to immigrate en masse to the “big city,” there was plenty of work to be found in the Barrio Matadero.  Furthermore, as Gran Santiago expanded, the Barrio became more and more integrated into the life of the city.

Street vendors at the Persa Biobío

Spare parts at the persa biobío

The informal markets grew to the point that when the slaughterhouse closed in 1979, shoppers continued to frequent the ever expanding informal stores that offered a cornucopia (haHA!  I used cornucopia!) of products at low prices.

Financial crisis in 1982 solidified and formalized the Persa’s place in Santiago.  The tannery and slaughterhouse’s huge warehouses were finally ceded to the street vendors and shops that make up the Persa as we know it today.  Over the following two decades, the Persa was extended all the way to the Calle San Diego, establishing the Persa as one of the most important commercial centers of Santiago.

La Chascona: Neruda’s House and Favorite Pelirroja

*Update: La Chascona now has audio tours!

Pablo Neruda is a big deal.  Redheads are a big deal.  Being on a boat is sometimes a big deal.  And so it is no surprise to me that Neruda brilliantly combined this trifecta in his Santiago house, La Chascona.

Get it?  Because I'm a chascona?

When I first visited La Chascona in 2010, I instantly became fascinated with it.  A couple of weeks ago, my friend Emily, an accomplice in many misadventures of 2009,  made her way back to Chile, and I seized the opportunity to shamelessly pull out my camera at every Chilean-flavored photo op—considering the fact that we exude gringonda, I might as well embrace looking like a tourist while we’re together.  To Neruda’s houses we go!

Peeking into Matilde's Dining Room Window

Stealth picture: you’re not allowed photos inside the house, as in all Neruda’s houses.

Here’s what you need to know about La Chascona:

  • Chascón/chascona: a Chilean adjective to describe tousled, messy, crazy hair; also, anyone with a habit of keeping unkempt hair… i.e. your friendly pelirroja peligrosa.
  • The Two Faces of Matilde Urrutia: Diego RiveraThe house was built and named for Neruda’s third wife, Matilde Urrutia, who was a Chilean singer and writer with a crazy mess of red hair.  Oh, also, she was eight years younger than Pablo… anything sound familiar?  The house displays Diego Rivera’s famous portrayal of Matilde with two faces: her public persona and her private self, the woman who shared her life with Pablo Neruda.  While her relationship with the poet was still hidden at the time of this portrait, Rivera found a way to hide the outline of Neruda’s profile in his lover’s tousle of hair.
  • At the time it was built, Matilde was Neruda’s mistress, and so the house served as a hidden love nest for the two.  In 1955, Neruda left his second wife and moved into La Chascona with Matilde.
  • La Chascona: looks like a boatNeruda was a passionate man who loved many things, but probably top on his list were collections and anything nautical.  As in Neruda’s other houses, most notably Isla Negra, his collections are displayed throughout.  More intriguing is the house’s unique construction: it is made to look like a boat.
  • Not only does the house look like a boat structurally, but Neruda took the added trouble of directing a stream through the middle of the yard so that guests would feel they were actually on a boat as they ate in the dining room.

    La Chascona patio

    A path replacing where a stream once was

  • Unfortunately, during the military coup of September 11, 1973, the military raided the house, destroying the contents of Neruda’s library and causing damage to the building.  After Neruda’s death, which was two weeks after the coup, Matilde began restoring La Chascona, bringing items to the house from Neruda’s other two houses.

Pablo designed a sort of trademark for La Chascona.  Pablo and Matilde’s initials are imposed over waves, a symbol which covers all of the exterior windows.La Chascona SymbolLast but not least, the precious view that Pablo had in mind when building the house… oh, wait… that hideous building in the background was built to look like a cell phone.

Stay tuned for posts about La Sebastiana and Isla Negra!Neruda's words outside of the house