Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Year Reflections

The past year was a good one, a difficult one, and a sad one.

Good because we are in Chile.

Difficult because we are in Chile.

Sad, for a multitude of reasons. Our treasured, dear, dear friend, Joe, died...only in his mid-40's, after a long battle with his soul. Another friend, a swarthy, mean, foul-mouthed and wonderfully lovely Canadian, Larry passed away. A former neighbor and beloved family friend, a young man of 17, drowned at a beach in Panama on Christmas. We put our dog, Max, to sleep at the young age of just four.

But there has also been joy, and fun, and hope. Our incredibly handsome grandson, Robbie,
entertained us for weeks in Florida...and we can't begin to say how that energized and filled
us with joy, hope and fun. Dessa is engaged to an incredible young man, Vaughn, who has two
lovely children, Blake and Katie. Chris is serious with Melissa, who is an absolute fit with
the family, almost like she was born to us, but that wouldn't be right...right? Our parents are
doing well, and are happy and secure.

We didn't really spend much time reflecting, as we had done on previous holiday seasons. We
spent one memorable Christmas day hanging on the edge of a pool in Costa Rica, too sweaty and
tired to do anything but spoon ceviche into our mouths. Another Christmas was spent in the
Western Highlands of Panama, rocking on the front porch of our little cabin, itching our coffee gnat bites after a day of harvesting coffee, listening to a Miles Davis CD, Kinda Blue. This past Christmas, we spent here in Futa, holed up in our rental cabin in town; Max, the psycho dog having just killed the neighbors cat, we were forced to keep all the windows and doors shut
in the stifling heat while neighbors cooked young lambs outside, the music blared and people danced and drank all night. This year, aside from our desire to be with family, was the best.

To sleep under the Patagonian stars on a bluff overlooking Lago General Carrera, watching
mysterious lights, a late-night asado with Pedro, a little wine, some Pisco (not a good combination in retrospect) and a sunny Christmas day floating in a dazzling marble cave in the
middle of the lake.

We did reflect a little. Mostly we were amazed we survived the temptation to just give up and
pack up. It was a very real, and very joint hitting the wall moment, so close we even started
looking for rentals back in Panama. I think the problem for me was I looked in the mirror
sometime around December 4th and almost passed out. Who the HELL IS THAT?!?! Greg, ever unobservant only noticed that I was no longer my peppy, go get 'em self, and finally when after two days of solemn behavior on my part, asked me if I was happy, and I burst into tears. Then of course, I wrote my earlier letter posted here to a friend back home. Then ensured the
almost disastrous decision to give up.

Life is difficult, and interesting, happy, sad, but for us, the last seven years have not been dull. I don't even know how to behave when we go back to the US and we are in a restaurant, or
in a checkout line, or especially at a Super Market. Holy crap! In a restaurant in the US in
September I ordered a salad. The waitress asked what dressing I wanted.

"What do you have?"

"Blue cheese, Italian, Russian, Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar and oil, Lemon Honey Mustard, BBQ

Buffalo Spice, Sweet Valdalia Onion...."

I sit there, mouth open, mind spinning in a gastronomic dream world, then Greg nudges me.


"Oh, I'll just have vinegar and oil, do you have that?"

She looks at me like I'm some fucking retard from the planet Volcan (which I am) and scribbles
with her pen.

I bought BOOKS! And soft cotton underwear that don't cut off my circulation. I bought good
pens and paper, and don't even let me loose in a hardware or craft store. I bought a bolt of
cloth and pillows and sheets that don't feel like burlap, I bought tubes of antibiotic cream
that I could pick up and handle and READ. I stood grinning in checkout lines, happy to have
been able to browse and look and handle the things I had piled in my cart. No stumbling over
words and descriptions. No drawing pictures of super glue or headphones to show to a clerk
behind a counter who would then look at me with a dull expression. One of my favorite
check-out experiences was at a discount store in North Carolina (Murphy...great small
town...stop if you are in the area) where I had found a nice bolt of flannel material.

"Look like yer fixin to make sumpin," she said.

"Actually, yes! I think I'm going to make a duvet cover for a feather comforter."

"Fethers! I looooovvvvveee fethers! I got me a cuple a fether pillers last year. I jus

looove my fether pillers! Well, gud fer ya, hope ya like the m'tarial!"

AND ANOTHER THING that just came to mind! You people in the US are SPOILED by customer service. Whine, whine, whine about waiting for Cable TV guys, or a call back for a complaint. I could kick your ass! Try waiting 9 months to get electric hooked up to your house! Imagine trying to buy varnish, only to have someone tell you that even if you pay up front when
ordering, "Nope." Imagine a store clerk just shrugging his shoulders when yo ask why there
hasn't been any fresh vegetables for the past week. And the post office. Oh...don't even
start with that one! It cost me a dollar a Christmas card, and I'll bet ya the recipients get
them by March. The old postal clerk was fired for doing god knows what with the mail and no one received anything for three months. The new postal clerk can't tell the difference between the number 7 and the letter L, so thinks my last name is 7ansen, and never thinks to look in the little "L" cubby hole. EL-AY, I tell her, EL-AY! AH EN-AY...and so on.

So, why, or why, didn't we pack it up...just say forget it and leave? I don't know. It's one
of those sick relationships I suppose. She's bitch but she so pretty! He's a selfish asshole, but god do we have a fun time!

Well, maybe, kind of. But I think through all the frustrations it comes down to four reasons we haven't given up...

1. It is the most stunningly beautiful place we have ever seen.
2. It is safe, secure and stable.
3. The people are wonderful.
4. We spent all our money so we have to make it work.

Mostly it is the people, the real, country people. Like Nono, who will make fun of me mercilessly, yet hug me tight and fend of the vultures. Ismael who kindly, and patiently will show Greg how to sharpen his chain-saw blade, or drag him off fishing for a half day (thank you Ismael!). Or Francisca, who always has a hot cup of coffee ready, and some kuchen with gooseberries on a plate when we stop by. Or Bosque, in his high, sing-song voice, dancing in his little living room next door to our rental house, a pan of fry bread cooling on the counter. Bosque, who shuts the drive gate when we forget, or shows me how to dry plums.

No matter. We stay. And I wonder what I will think and write next year? Will I look back and think what a whining ninny? I hope so. Because if next year I still don't have electric and can't buy a gallon of varnish without a Presidential Order, I think I just might start auditioning for survival reality TV shows and make it worth my while.

Night, Ladies and Gentlemen!

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