Friday, February 27, 2009

US State Department 2008 Report on Human Rights in Chile

This is the US report on Chile:

I found it interesting in light of 2008 YouTube videos of Sheriff's Deputies dumping quadriplegics from wheelchairs, that silly hoopla about the Guantanamo stuff, and mentally ill patients laying on floors for hours, not to mention incarcerated children being pushed to exhaustion and death in those boot camps that were so popular on Maury Povich and Jerry Springer Shows. Anyway...China, who really should just pretend they don't read English and let it drop, felt a bit slighted with their US State Department report (scathing)and not happy, published a "back-at-ya" report on the US. You can read that report here:

So far, it seems Chile is focusing on what it needs to do and accomplish, as opposed to writing it's own critique of the US. many years from a dictatorship is Chile? I recently watched a Michele Bachelet talk in California, and while I'm sure she has her shortfalls, I found her candor and forward-thinking ideas refreshing. I think she's been good for Chile. Navarro (prez hopeful) seems intent on making one of his campaign issues, the nationalization of Chile's waters, a carrot for the environmentalists. Maybe he knows Chile isn't just Santiago. (HELLO Hello hello....echo...echo...echo)

But that's just my thoughts.

Addition/Update: The Pew Center on the States report, released Monday, says the number of people on probation or parole nearly doubled to more than 5 million between 1982 and 2007. Including jail and prison inmates, the total population of the U.S. corrections system now exceeds 7.3 million — one of every 31 U.S. adults, it said.

Am I the only one who feels like something is wrong with all of this?

Will there be light?

This may be a big weekend. The installation of all the doodads and whatchamacallits down in the hydro-house situated on the Rio Desague. (She rubs her hands and suppresses a giggle)

I spent three entire days at our place in Sector Azul. Alone. Candles, good cross pen, paper, some beer and half-finished projects everywhere. In those three days I sealed the wood posts on the back porch, on the front porch, I finished scraping varnish drips off of 12 window panes. I picked at my broken guitar in an attempt to get Red Crows rendition of "Quiet Desperation" out of my head and only succeeded in replacing it with the Kris Kristopherson song, "My God they Killed Him". I posed a troll figurine with a mate cup and took a picture. I cut up vegetables to dry on racks in the sun. And I wrote off and on from 6 a.m. until midnight and when I wasn't dripping wood sealer on my head or dragging down a load of gravel from the road.

The river sang again at night, which doesn't bother's kind of interesting. But this spurt of time spent out there at the house birthed a story that has been rolling around in my brain for a month now and I sat down and wrote. If I described how it came to me and has developed, I'd be hauled off and put on Risperdol and the story would creep back into the gray spongy matter inside my skull forever. So, I won't say. It's a work in progress to be shared someday with my future great-grandchildren when they ask their parents to tell them about "the crazy grandmother".

Back to the house, and the hydro. We got very little ash in Sector Azul, though the surrounding glaciers and remaining snow are completely covered in it. The water supply appears clear and tastes the same. Rio Azul and the Desague both are amazingly clear and I saw large, fat fish laying up against the bank of the Azul. Encouraging. The small amount of ash however is deceiving, and creeps into join the sawdust and general disorder of the house lending a "taller" quality to the decor.

Earlier in the week when Greg dropped me off, I found that Ismael had run the rest of the water line through the steep, high forest, down to where it will drop off to the hydro house. The little casita was finished also, waiting for the doodads and whatchamacallits to be installed. Which brings me to now...waiting in anticipation for tomorrow when Patricio is supposed to come out, put all the stuff together and somewhere up the ridge line, Ismael will turn the paso de clave, or clave de paso (another doodad of sorts) and the lights will come on. I hope. Maybe? He also tells me there is a little gadget to regulate the power, something that will ensure the light bulbs don't all explode and the fridge won't dance across the floor. I am worried about this. And for this reason I will not plug in my computer or anything else that is a big ticket item until we have any potential 'lectric bugs worked out.

So with a mixture of joyful anticipation and fear, I wait pensively to throw the switch. If I appear next week, smoking frazzled hair doo, singed clothing, dejected and morose, it did not go well. Other scenarios which might cause my absence on here for a while:

1. Patricio did not show up; or
2. Patricio showed up but needed a part that must be manufactured in the Isle of Sky; or
3. Everything worked wonderfully and I am spending a week going crazy with my Dremel and dancing around the house at 2 a.m. with all the lights on; or fourth option..
4. Lights on, blah, blah, I'm going fishing for a week.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mom's New Dulcimer and my broken guitar

My mother bought a beautiful dulcimer, and signed up for lessons. I am not surprised, given her love of music. We used to have a piano when all of us kids were young, an old upright grand. I remember we decided to surprise our Dad so we painted it yellow one year...he was really surprised. Anyway, Mom had a beautiful organ for many years and sold it about 12 (?) years ago. I know she enjoyed it very much. And if you dig back into her youth, she once played a sax. This was a surprise, only that it was a stringed instrument. For such a music lover as she is, I am thrilled that she has picked a goes right along with her Celtic Music craze lately. I told her I expect some audio files soon!

My guitar is broken, and has been since we arrived in Chile in 2007. Those nasty baggage handlers are hell on things like that. It arrived with a big gouge in the body, and a broken bridge which I have not fixed...I bought the slim bone part in Santiago, but just haven't had the nerve to chip out the broken one. So, I've been picking the old beast as is...pounding out some John Prine and an old Country song "Storms Never Last", most famously preformed by Jesse Colter. Greg sings harmony with me on it.

For all the whining and bitching I do, there is nothing like a starry Patagonia night along with the river spirits singing, to sit on the deck, or in front of the fire and sing those words with the tune ( a crazy little unknown fact...Dr. Hook actually recorded this song too:

A Sunday afternoon whine...

This time I wanted to not haul cement blocks or bags of cement and no make trips to by nails and sweat and cry in frustration over misunderstandings in Spanish and carpentry (neither of which I understand much). I thought this time we would walk into our new house with groceries, clothes and furniture and began living. So what happened?

I find myself struggling with hundreds of meters of 2-inch tubing (which looks and feels bigger than two inches), unrolling it across a pasture and through heavily wooded areas with steep drops and downed trees, all the while wistfully thinking of my old dream:

"I like the coffee table there, and the reading lamp by that chair," Vicki says to Greg as she nibbles a piece of coffee cake she baked the night before, "What do you think?" They love there cozy new Patagonia home, listening to music on the computer as they leisurely unpack boxes into closets and cupboards.

But here I am, stumbling into a trench that has been dug, a roll of volcanic ash-covered tubing splayed out over me. Greg pulls if off me and we start again, meter by meter across Nono's pasture.

Today is Sunday. I met Nono and Ismael on the road with their wagon and oxen. They were coming back with sacks of sand they shoveled from the Azul. We have to mix the sand with the cement to rebuild the dam at the water source. Ismael showed us where the next 500 meters of tubing has to be unrolled and we were heartsick. It is utterly and completely impossible for us to do it. We feel ashamed for that but we simply cannot physically do the job.

It is after noon, and I am taking a break from filling the wheel barrow with split wood and hauling it back to stack under the back porch. I have five wheel barrow loads of gravel up by the road I need to bring down and spread on the dirt floor of the back porch.

Nono is growing tired of my weak city ways. It's almost as if she is saying, "Enough is enough, If you are going to live in Patagonia, GET WITH IT! Stop whining." Of course I don't whine to Nono. I would know how to whine in Spanish anyway.

Greg wanted to go to the Futa Fest Kayak event at Cara Del Indio rafting several kilometers away on the Azul. I don't know how to act around people any more and just not good company these days so I urge him to go by himself. It's odd to feel isolated and still wish to be alone sometimes. And I'm thinking that Nono is annoyed at me bothers me more than the fact I forgot to buy candles for tonight, or that so much more work is ahead of us.

That said, I will stop now and finish the task at hand. Stack wood, haul gravel and be done with it!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Valentina - My Hero and Winner of Thel Prize for Best Public Servant

There is a really incredible public servant named Valentina. She is the director of the Extranjeria Office, formerly in Chaiten, now in Futaleufu. She speaks no English (or at least doesn't give hint of it), but has helped us file our paperwork for our one-year visas, and now our application for permanent visas. Her home in Chaiten is near the river threatening homes in the town, but spared with the exception of an incredible amount of ash. Nevertheless, some things were salvageable. Today we had to go sign some final papers before she was to make the trip to Chaiten to work on retrieving furniture and other things from her house. Needless to say, she won't be making that trip right now. Two hours after the newest surge in the volcano today, instead of shutting up her office, or shunning her work, she called to make sure we would be coming in to sign the documents she had prepared. She also passed us some new masks and goggles from one of the many boxes lining the walls of her office as she dashed from office to office answering phones. Two of her colleagues were in Chaiten this week to recover items from their homes and repair windows and doors.

I find it absolutely amazing, that in the face of losing almost everything, that a civil servant, having lived out of boxes, between Chaiten, Puerto Montt, and Futa for the past ten months, Valentina remains dedicated to her work. She is by far, the most dedicated public servant I have encountered in four countries, including the US, Costa Rica, Panama and Chile.

Current Conditions and Updates

Current conditions are wind and swirling ash, temps dropping considerably. City officials report that there will be no interruption of drinking water and that the water is safe to drink (the new water system installed after the May 08 erruption is from a deep water well).

The border to Argentina is open and vehicles are allowed to travel out of Chile into Argentina without the mandatory Argentine Seguro. No vehicles, except those carrying verified Futa residents will be allowed in. Obviously no flights into, or out of the Futa airport. Periodic white-out conditions occur making travel difficult. The hospital is handing out masks (once again) and city officials are urging calm.

Tonights forecast is for temps in the 30's, with a "feels-like" temperature of 20F. Some wind and a possibility of rain and intermittent snow tomorrow.

This information was gathered from the Futa website, and accuweather. I have not verified the border crossing info in person.

Mitch Sasser from H2O rafting/kayaking company reports on another blog that the Kayaking events and festivities are on for the weekend.

Here we go Again...

For any of my regular readers, you might be interested in this...the volcano has blown again, and we are engulfed in complete darkness at one oclock in the afternoon.

UPDATE: Updates from various volcanism blogs seem to indicated that the event was a collapse of one the the volcano domes. The skies have lightened and the ash fall has decreased considerably (almost 2 pm). It is still overcast with a bit of ash swirling in the winds which seem to keep changing direction. Maybe we've dodged the bullet.

4 PM- There is no new significant ash fall which is very good. The temperature has plummeted and is now about 45 F with forecast of colder temps tonight and rain. Futa is quiet, garbage collection went on as usual, the workers wearing masks and goggles. I haven't been out yet, but will go later to get some supplies.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Let's Do Ted

I would like to introduce you to Ted Talks. Here is just one of thousands of "less than 20 minute" talks by the best and brightest in the world. I chose Isabel Allende, and her talk on passion, because she is from Chile, and so entertaining.

These "talks" span brains, and books, and bees, and hope and technology and bio-engineering, and medicine and evolution, love, disability, diversity and ideas and themes that will cause you to think and wonder differently about the world.

Visit the site here:


There is something lovely, yet sad about a dried flower. A wisp of what it was, a hint of scent. I cannot help but cut and preserve what I know will die anyway, but in a way I will have a memory of what it was. And I was thinking tonight, it's raining again, and I have bread in the oven...Greg is feeling bad, or is he not feeling well...and I thought about all the times we have, in four different countries, danced. Not the disco stuff, but the kind of thing where we have some music on a CD player, or radio, and we just move from our chairs, and slip into each other, and dance. And with all that, this came to my mind. No matter where our lives take us, or what fate will do with us, we will always have our dance.

Are you dancing with your love?
In the wispy evening with the wheat field swaying
Are you dancing?
In the cold, and drizzling night, with june bugs
buzzing around the back porch light
Are you dancing?
The snow has fallen, the stars are out
the river runs and the trees are budding
Are you dancing?
With that last bite of dinner
with that last sigh of day
Take your loved one's hand
and lead them to the closest place
where four feet can move, and dance.
Hold them close, and sing in your mind
or out loud if you are brave
Are you dancing?
Because tomorrow you might not have the chance
To dance and sing and love
Like today
And in that dance, that sway and touch
you may hold the most precious memory
Are you dancing?
You might wish you had.

A Chicha Shed and Re-prioritizing to-do lists...

Ismael remembers how much I admire Nono's chicha shed, a large, tall, naturally hollowed-out manio tree trunk in which he chain-sawed out a door which he then hinged and attached. Hers is ten feet tall and maybe two-feet across. Somewhere in the vast forests and meadows that is Nonolandia (not to be confused with Futalandia, which is...well...confusing) Ismael has come across another hollow manio tree that has fallen, smaller, a little more manageable, and he's drug it back to his farm and made me a china cabinet of sorts. My chicha cabinet will only hold chicha if Nono gives me some. More likely it will hold dishes.

I am thinking that Ethan Allen and Architectural Digest will not be knocking on my door for a photo shoot, but we love our warm little Hobbit-style house. I have a curly-haired cow-skin rug on the living room floor, a rock wall behind the fireplace, baskets I made from Saucey (a type of tree) branches which I filled with dried flowers and herbs, and my favorite, a salvaged old wood box, turned upside down and garnished with pieces of pounded copper and old varnish. I think that is somewhere in a post about me being manic.

Some people collect salt and pepper shakers, or owl figurines. I collect rocks, and animal bones and feathers and dried flowers, and an occasional ancient farm implement and hand woven tapestries (just to soften things up). When I am finished, the house should have the look and feel of some forgotten Smithsonian museum storeroom.

I sat around in my flannel pajamas and sagging wool socks and peeled apples, pitted cherries and plums. The sun is not out enough to dry fruit, so "conserves" it is. That's what they called "preserves" here. I woke up to pink clouds through the trees, grateful for a break in the three days of rain which raised the Rio Azul several raging feet. As I was stoking the hot coals and coaxing a morning fire, it occurred to me that instead of fretting oveer painting my walls and making end tables, I should be worrying about how I am going to keep my ass warm and my stomach fed this fast approaching winter.

Where, and how to store the sacks of flour, sugar, salt (I'll need lots of it for the pig we will butcher in late June) and the 35 kilo sacks of potatoes and onions and tubs of butter and trays of eggs. Come winter, the snows will make it foolish to "skip" to town for some forgotten item. Time to re-tool my thinking. I feel a list coming on.......

Last night, reeling from the revelation that our hydro will cost twice as much, we drove back to our home in Azul in silence (except for the snap of a beer tab on the passenger's side) and sliced up left-over steak and heated it up for steak and cheese sandwiches. We got the fire going when the outside light left and Greg read a John Grisham novel out loud to me while I made some salsa Nono makes...finely chopped green tomatoes, finely chopped aji, a little salt and a dash of olive oil. It's wonderful stuff. I lit a candle on the kitchen counter and stuffed a few jars with the salsa, and sealed them in a hot-water bath on the counter top propane stove. We closed up the wood stove for the night, and with our wobbling tin-can candle holders, climbed the stairs to dream good dreams.

John Prine song for the Day:

Monday, February 16, 2009

God looks after fools, but sometimes he kick them in the ass for being stupid...

A short entry here...we are back in town after many days at our place in Azul. It is raining sideways (which is why we know our chimney leaks) and our hydro project has ballooned to twice the original quote. This is because I DON'T FREAKIN UNDERSTAND ANYTHING!!!!

The micro-hydro project was quoted, and while materials were in the quote, not ALL materials were included. As in ONE THOUSAND METERS OF TUBING to the tune of $2000 US. Got it. Check. Did not include the casita to house the whole jumble of what-the-hell-ever goes into the hydro system (but which I ordered and paid for the what-the-hell-ever). Ok. Check. Ismael has begun construction on the casita, and I will pay him for his work. Bought the materials during an all-day fiasco trip to Palena (but also got all the gas tanks filled and huge bags of fruit which I made "conserves" with). Check.

(Above: My new choncha, La Gringa, which I also bought on the way back from the trip to Palena. She is very humiliated by her new necklace which was necessitated by her escape expertise - which we discovered on her first full day with us. The "necklace prevents her from scooting under the fence.)

Aaaahhhh, back to the hydro fiasco - who will dig the trench to lay the tubing? No Check. A quick trip to Patricio's house where his mother-in-law is baking bread in the wood stove and his wife is nursing the baby. Nono goes with me and we explain that we were under the impression that his "obra de mano" fee included ALL the labor. He laughs. "Where is the paper?" he says. I pull it out of my nifty rain-resistant folder and plop it out on the table. I point to the part that says, "Obra de Mano". He agrees, reaches over, turn the paper over and points to this little scribbled note:

"Ademas deven instalar la manguera y hace la casita para la luz (something, something, something)."

Translated: You are an idiot, I don't lay pipes, dig dirt, or build little tiny houses for a hydro...that's your responsibility.

It is snowing on the mountains, but driving winds bring the rain at a 45-degree angle. If it was sunny today, this wouldn't have been so painful. Feels like the time I insistently insisted that an electronics store honor the warranty on a TV set that failed, went right up the chain of command, only to find out that I bought the TV at another electronics store that sold me the warranty. Oops. Nevermind. Slink out feeling like an idiot. Wouldn't have felt as rotten if the chimney wasn't leaking. Or if the bathroom door wasn't swollen shut, or if I HAD FREAKIN ELECTRICITY!

It is what it is here in Patagonia. I had some delusion that it would be easier than Panama. Not the weather, or the remoteness...I had no illusions about that. But the way things get done, business...I even thought since we'd built a house in Panama and lived there, that this time would be easier.

Then Nono asked on the way into town if we cleaned our chimney yet? Huh?

Such is life in Futalandia
(p.s. it's cold...I'm digging through some boxes to dig out long underwear I had packed and not expected to need until June. Go figure.) And in honor of our bonehead selves, I submit this John Prine-Iris Dement performance...I think he met me and Greg in another life.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Note to Missionaries

While I don't doubt the good intentions of missionaries, I can't help but side with Red Crow in this song about the damage missionaries do to indigenous cultures who love their god in their own way.

A Greyhound Memory

Fifteen years ago, or so, I traveled by Greyhound bus from Florida to Colorado, traveling through Tallahassee and Biloxi and everywhere in between, to re-connect with my wonderful father. It was an incredible time, but I want to revisit the experience of traveling on a Greyhound bus for two days, stopping in little places where Sheriff's cars pulled up, un-handcuffed someone, and put them on the bus, and women sat with sticky-faced babies feeding them bottles of koolaide and people sipped from brown paper bags watching wistfully out the windows as the States rolled by. I like this song by Blaze Foley. It embodies the people I met on that trip, and I'd do the trip again.

John Prine singing Blaze Foley's song, Clay Pidgeons:

Lyrics to Clay Pigeons :
I'm going down to the greyhound station
Gonna get a ticket to ride
Gonna find that lady with 2 or 3 kids
And sit down by her side
And ride until the sun comes up and down around me about 2 or 3 times
smoking cigarettes in the last seat trying
to hide my sorrow from the people I meet
And get along with it all
Go down where people say ya'll
Sing a song with a friend
Change the shape that I'm in
And get back in the game
And start playing again

I'd like to stay but I might have to go to start over again
I might go back down to Texas I might go somewhere that I've never been
And get up in the morning and go out at night
And I won't have to go home
Get used to being alone
Change the words to this song
And start singing again

I'm tired of running round looking for answers to questions that I
already know
I could build me a castle of memories just to have somewhere to go
Count the days and the nights that it takes to get back in the saddle
Feed the pigeons some clay
Turn the night into day
Start talking again if I know what to say

I'm going down to the greyhound station
Gonna get a ticket to ride
Gonna find that lady with 2 or 3 kids
And sit down by her side
And Ride until the sun comes up and down around about 2 or 3 times
smoking cigarettes in the last seat
trying to hide my sorrow from the people I meet

And get along with it all
Go down where people say ya'll
Feed the pigeons some clay
Turn the night into day
Start talking again when I know what to say

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Illustrious Micro-Hydro Project begins

Sufficiently exorcised of my mean-spirited demons and the hydro materials having arrived in Futa, I can now focus my obsessions on the electricity project. Materials list with prices:

2 monster truck batteries 273,000
Alternator 50,000
Transformer/Gen. 564,000
1000 mts. Tubing 1,400,000
shut off valves/misc 64,000
(including connectors)
Misc. matl./Elect Wire 100,000
Labor 500,000

This is a horrendous amount of money, but the three quotes we got for hooking up to the grid were just under the total amount this project will cost(3,900,000 and 4,000,000). It has to do with the remoteness and current electric lines (or lack of lines and transformers) in the area where we have our home (due to distance, terrain and permissions). The good thing is we will never pay an electric bill again, and when the grid is down, we will be up. I realize that this is not financially feasible for people who can just "hook up" and we certainly wouldn't outlay this kind of money if there had been another reasonable option. I get lots of "kudos" from people who think it's just wonderful to not hook up to a traditional grid, and I understand the mindset...I am slightly ashamed that the truth is we didn't do hydro to be environmentally correct, but simply because it was the only way in the foreseeable future we could have reliable electricity. The grid quotes and projects required five pounds of documents and was three months out in the best case scenario.

It will work like this...the origin of our water is a massive arroyo (I think that's what a huge waterfall is called). We already have forceful water to the house from it. We will split off the water line and run one tube down a very steep drop to the bank of the river where the water will hit a turbine, turn the alternator which is wired up to batteries then electric runs through a converter/transformer thingy into the house. Or something like that. My only concern is regulating the power...I'm thinking we may need to divert some to a tank of water....or have some way to control the speed of the water flow. I have no clue...but I am reading up and working on it with my neighbor. I won't be plugging in my computer or electronics until we work out the kinks. I can replace a few lightbulbs, but don't need to be buying a new computer or washing machine anytime soon.

I was advised early on when hiring someone to do a job, to do up a little independent contractor contract to avoid labor disputes. I buy materials, we agree on the job, along with specifics. Only on the house did we have the contract for everything, with the contractor buying the materials...and that one bit us in the butt. The shittier and cheaper the materials, the more he made on the contract. So, not a good idea.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

It's a Love Affair of sorts....

My relationship with Chile began in September of 2007, a three-week initial courtship taking me from Santiago to Futaleufu and back again. I sat in an outdoor cafe on the Plaza del Armas staring at the wildly eclectic crowds passing, and the magnificent architecture. This cannot possibly be Latin America, I thought. I've accidentally flown to Europe somewhere. Where are the police hustling for bribes, where are the bands of little children begging from tourists, where is the hot, relentless sun? There is, however, an old man, one leg shorter than the other, badly in need of a bath and clean clothes who bums a cigarette from me, and then will not leave me alone. He sits close and blows me kisses but is generally non-threatening. Finally, the waiter shoos him away and practices English. "How are chew?" he bows slightly.

From Santiago, where I have managed blisters the size of quarters on my heels, to an overnight bus ride to the wonderfully Bavarian-Wisconsin town of Osorno, I find people kind, slightly curious and handsome. On to Isla Chiloe, a different country almost, as if a piece of Ireland has broken off and drifted somehow to the Chilean coast and sat quietly undiscovered until I arrived. Rolling hills, leprechaun-like icons, stone stoves, sheep and mist. Quellon, harsh and rainy, with rough sea-faring men eating from plates of charred meat, washing it down with pints of beer for breakfast. My first real ferry ride, five hours on a dilapidated ship across the mar to the heart of Patagonia, disembarking at Chaiten.

Lugging our packs, my husband and I took the first cheap hostel room we could find at each stop. We had no plans along the way, only a starting point, and a departure date. We found our way onto a small clacky bus from Chaiten and made the four-hour journey through Lord of The Rings scenery to the little town of Futaleufu. On this trip I saw for the first time, Glaciers, water turquoise blue, and snow-capped mountains and freakishly giant rhubarb plants called nalca. The scenery so incredible I failed to notice the hideous gravel road and the fact that my shampoo bottle cap had come off and a dark, wet strain was spreading on my backpack.

Futa, with rose bushes every twenty feet on every street and avenue (all, eight or ten square blocks) and little wooden houses with wood shingles and an occasional sheep, or horse nibbling an unfenced yard. Futa was so quaint, so charming, and beguiling, we fell for her hard. Everything was sweet, and again, quaint, and funny. That a town whistle blew at noon and everything shut down until four in the afternoon was charming. That chickens clacked and roosters crowed just before sunrise was sweet. That they wrapped your butter in paper and tied it up with a string was interesting. And plums of red, purple and yellow fell off the trees and artichokes grew along fence lines...all of it a world beguiling, and within days of arriving we were hopelessly in love with it all.

Falling in love with Chile, Futa specifically, is a little like real falling in love. Everything, I mean everything is giddy and sweet and charming. Leaving Santiago three weeks after arriving felt like saying goodbye to a teenage boyfriend, that feeling like you will die of heartbreak and loneliness just to leave him behind (or her). Even before we left, we made plans to come back, soon, and for a much longer stay. We knew we would come back to Futa and find our perfect little plat of dirt and make a life here.

Much like that first love, leaving Futa behind was sad, knowing we would be coming back made us frantic to make firm plans, and we did so, sort of. Five months later in March of 2008, some half-assed plans for a three-month stay and plane tickets in hand, we returned. This time it would be a working, fact-finding, land-buying trip. It was, and we did. This time we got to know people, lived with them as neighbors, learned a bit about daily life as a non-tourists. And, as often happens, some of those quaint and sweet little quirks became a little less quaint and sweet.

Our three months went quickly with a mad rush towards the end to tie up loose ends with our property purchase and a crush of realizations about what it really was like to live in Patagonia. Walking down to stand in line and pay the electric bill at the electric company which might be closed because the one person who manned the office was out helping his brother round up cattle. Or going to pay the water bill only to find it closed because the gentleman manning this office is also the meter reader and everyone knows (except me) which days he walks around reading meters. Or that there is no gas station in Futa, or that the civil registry and notary office is four hours away in Chaiten, or that even though almost no one is a practicing Catholic, the town is shut down for a Catholic holiday. Or that you have to go to this tienda to buy one grocery item, and to another to buy a different grocery item, not because one tienda is out of that item, but because they simply don't carry it. Now, our new love interest has become just a tad bit annoying, but we love her still, and are sad to leave on a hard-frost morning at the end of May 2008 even though all the pipes in our rental house have frozen and there is no way to flush the toilet or run water for coffee.

We set a goal for ourselves...five months....wrap up everything in Panama, sell the little coffee farm and drag our shabby mementos to Patagonia, Chile. And we did. We had our engagement time, and now we were going to marry Futaleufu. Much like most marriages, there is an adjustment period. You know, finally spending everyday with someone whose little quirks and idiosyncrasies were once cute....the honeymoon is almost sure to end.

We've accepted those idiosyncrasies now, we've grown past the difficult times when we thought we couldn't stand another cutesy, funny thing without screaming. In fact, we almost divorced her once. It was after the volcano blew and involved a series of her wildly selfish behaviors. Damn that Futa. Now, that crises having passed, almost, we are getting to the good part of the marriage. Real love, commitment and acceptance. I'm still annoyed out of my mind when the bus station changes from one place to another with no sign telling me so, or when I go to pay a bill but the clerk is "on vacation" with no prior notice and no one filling in. Or the fact that they are always running out of propane because no one has thought to start ordering MORE to accommodate the new 500 Chaiten residents who have relocated here. I'm settling in though, and now am right up there with all the locals when the vegetable truck pulls in on Friday afternoon. I get it all then, because by Monday all that will be left are black-spotted tomatoes and dry-wilted lettuce.

Ah, my Futa, that crazy inexplicable social maze of patience and the under-humming of wood-stoves clinking with aluminum pots and sheep in the backyard. An old man trims the grass between his fence posts with a hunting knife, and people save for years to be able to pay for someone to weld a metal frame for over a loved one's grave. At Christmas time, when fresh sheep skins are thrown over the fences and saddle makers pick and choose the right skins, tapping on a door to slip the owner a couple of luca's for his selection. The mostly quiet streets with handsome Carabineros nodding to old women working in their gardens and tousling the hair of school children gathered loose meandering packs. Dogs chase cars, but not people. Fiestas and rodeos happen out of nowhere. The ash swirls, and is damped down again with sideways rains. It's 85F one day, and the next day 39F and we wake up to discover it has snowed in the surrounding mountains.

It is Futa. And I am in love, once again.

Friday, February 6, 2009

My Mother is Mad at Me

My mother, who has tried really hard to understand why I would leave the comfortable confines of the US to travel with my husband to the hinterlands, and eventually Futalandia, is extremely upset with me after I sent her an email just a few days ago. The spat started like this....

Everywhere I post online, the forum I enjoy, the blog, Yahoo Messenger, my mother is all in it. There is not a morning, or evening I sign into YM that she is not on, waiting for me...."DING! DING", little cutesy messenger rings, "I KNOW YOU ARE THERE!", "I CAN SEE YOU!" Then she says, "Did you see what so-and-so said on your forum?!?!?!?!", or "Why didn't you tell me about the electric...I saw what you wrote on your blog," or "I saw the youtube video of your house, you should burn the sonavabitch down!". "What did so and so say to you in the email?!?!" Hostage, I am hostage, and no movement I make is my own online.

She is recently widowed, my beloved father-in-law passed away November 2007 after a long battle with cancer, leaving my mother dwindling in the wind. She is smart, and strong, and has always loved books, and history, and music....and her dogs. It is my opinion that she is now living in a very small world of her computer, her dogs, and me.

She says she is lonely, and depressed. I say, "Go join a book club Mom. You love to read." No. Don't feel like it. She hates thinking up things to eat everyday. "Start a dinner club Mom. I'm sure there are a lot of people who hate doing dinner every night alone." No, weather is too bad. Don't feel like it. It's cold, she has to drag wood up and into the house for the fireplace and she says it's hard, and she too old to be "doing this shit!" I tell her we will pay to have someone to do it for her. "I CAN DO IT MYSELF! I'M NOT HELPLESS!" she says. "I don't need anything," she says. I don't need your money, she confirms.

I chat with her online, while she is chatting with another friend. She copies me his posts, and mine to him. WTF?!?

"Take a trip Mom, go somewhere, have some fun." "I can't leave these dogs," she says. "We'll (my brothers and I) will pay for someone to care for them, Mom." "I don't need anyone to pay for anything. I'M FINE."

My mother has an extensive list of online friends to which she delivers copies of anything I write, anywhere...emails to her, posts from forums, my blog, photos. She says she doesn't, but people write and say, "Hey, your mom sends me everything you write, I know all about......" Don't do that Mom, I say. Please. I would like to choose whom I send stuff to, whom I share stuff with. If people want to visit my blog, fine. But please don't inundate them with my adventures. They don't know me. She want's all my friends info. Who are they, how would she get in touch with them if she needed to. She has my shutterfly account info for pictures and copies all of my photos into her account. She prints out all my emails and saves them. Right now she's probably deleting them all, and burning all of my printed emails.

So...recently, I shut off my blog to anyone while I thought about how to have something, anything private, or while not private, just something of my own. I will be turning FIFTY YEARS OLD in March. Not only should I have a life of my own, but my mother should be living her own life.Not living vicariously through me. Not holed up in her house bouncing between instant messaging with online friends all day, watching for me, cataloging my posts and blog and feeding and letting out her "kids". But she has "her babies", the dogs, all four of them. I might have mentioned that in my email to her, and now...

She has removed me from her Instant Messenger list on Yahoo and informed me that she has done so. She will no longer read my blog, she will not read the forum, she will not call me, nor will she inform me of information about family, ("I hope you have a way to learn news of your family, as I will no longer be providing such information,") and she will "not be a part of, or intrude in my life anymore." She left me one last message on my computer phone, "bye!".

There is no way to tell a parent that they are too clingy I guess. If they are, they are. Telling them only crushes them and the hurt feelings explode like a mad boil. She tells me her life is lonely and she's depressed and nothing has much meaning except her dogs. I point out to her that she needs to go out and make a life, and she shoots back, "I'm perfectly HAPPY with my life!"

Bye, she said.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Weekend in Azul-February 1,2009

It has been a year now since the first posts went in the ground for the house. But that's another rant entirely...

Greg and I loaded a small crate with food and some clean clothes and headed out to the house to cut wood, varnish, paint and sleep in our lovely Hobbit Bed with the chilly Patagonia wind blowing in the bedroom window, and a singing river down below lulling us to sleep.

It was a blue, warm weekend with evenings and nights chilly with a new sliver moon rising from the west (it seems) and the sky never really getting dark. Ismael and Nono have begun the new roof on the back of the house. It will protect the back of the house and give us storage room and an area to use as a mud room. Saturday morning, Greg begins hauling up downed trees and cutting them up in a pile to split later. I sweep, organize, and start taping off windows to varnish. We work throughout the day, stopping to have some good, cold arroyo water from the tap, and watch the Rio Azul roll low and crystalline down below. Nono and Ismael, along with nieto Francisco come down to visit and check on our progress with ordering the micro-hydro electric materials.

I explain that I cannot transfer the funds for the hydro materials from Banco Estado to the ferrateria account at Banco Chile without a special tarjeta (bank card) but that we can deposit the funds in the account of our attorney who will in turn withdraw it and deposit it in the appropriate account. But not until Monday. Nono and Ismael are still cutting and bringing in “pasto” (alfalfa, in this case) and should finish in the next day or so. They will, however, be down to do some more work in the morning on the back roof.

Greg and I are hesitant to be hopeful, but hopeful nonetheless....the fact that Nono and Ismael have been a continuous source of efficiency...finding someoneto do the micro-hydro, offering to get materials lists which are far below the quotes we have gotten for materials we need, and just plugging if they really want us to be neighbors. Ismael has made us a tall, but small “Chicha Shed” as a gift. It is a two-meter high, naturally hollowed-out tree trunk. Ismael cuts out a door in it, cleans it all out, hinges the trunk and it is a Hobbit-like hutch for dishes, or storage. I'll put a copper top on it, and varnish it to match the furniture.

Sunday morning Ismael makes two steep trips down with tools, and begins to work on the roof frame. Nono and Francisco trek down and Francisco wants to know if he can play with the magnet. I have a little tub of things that he likes to play with. A ball of string, a magnet, some thin nails, washers, bolts, an old fork, a pencil and paper, a pair of scissors, and tape, a marble and some interesting rocks. He goes straight to the kitchen shelf where I keep it, ans stands with his little hands behind his back, “Tia Vicki?” he asks. I pull out the tub of “toys”, his box of juice and a small tin cup that is his and put them on the table. Then we adults all go out to do our tasks.

Throughout the morning, Greg cuts wood, Nono and Ismael measure and affix cross-beams and climb up and down the ladder with nails and tape measure. I sweep, cook, straighten the house before going out to carry rocks, rake and toss cut wood to a wood pile. Francisco creates various magnetic creatures, and a prince hat, a couple of paper airplanes and pouts when his Grandmother tells him to help stack wood, but he does. Midday comes and Nono and Ismael pick up tools and head up the hill to go have lunch before cutting alfalfa (pasto) with Francisco not to happy to leave his magnet. Later in the afternoon, Francisco appears at the door, and joins Greg at the table for something to eat. He does not want the hamburger green pepper onion gravy but is interested in a bowl of mash potatoes and requests his roll be cut and smeared with mustard. He devours both and he and I head up the path, down the road and further up another wagon path to the field where his grandparents have loaded a hay wagon behind two incredibly majestic oxen.

It continues to be one of those wonderfully surreal Patagonia days; warm, blue skies ringed with glacier-capped mountains. Francisco lunges in the tall alfalfa for grasshoppers which he promptly amputates, leg by leg before dropping them. Field moths and other insect are victims of Francisco's typical boy curiosities. Ismael waves me away from the oxen's field of vision (they don't like me) and with a long cane pole and quiet clicks and soft words, turns the beast around with the fluffy load on the unseen wagon following behind. Ismael leads the procession, Cocho, Nono, me and Francisco following. Francisco decides he doesn't want to push his bike through the soft, freshly cut field, his face grows red and he lets out a wail. Nono responds with a long blade of alfalfa to the back of his legs, takes the bike and we leave him behind us pouting. Four seconds later he catches up sniffling beside us. By the time we reach Nono's farm, he's forgotten his snit, and joins Nono and me in the loft where she takes the heaps of pasto with a pitchfork and tosses them up towards the back of the barn. Francisco and I are to tamp down the pasto and make more room. We do this by making running leaps on the mounds, dodging Cocho and Nono's pitchforks.

The barn is a relic in itself. How it stands, I have no clue. In one corner stands the apple smashing machine, patched and ancient, but used every season, even now, and probably forever if anyone generations on decides to oil it and repair worn parts. The loft itself, patched with wishful boards and pieces of tin, is an OSHA nightmare and personal injury attorney's dream. Thankfully one of those categories don't exist in Patagonia.

This next-to-last wagon load of pasto thrown up and packed down, we sit outside on various pieces of old farm equipment and logs, light cigarettes and pass around a two-liter bottle of Nono's chicha. Not too sweet, not too bitter, just enough fizz and buzz. No one wipes the rim of the crinkled plastic cola bottle before drinking. I decline Cocho's cigarettes in favor of my own, not because I'm picky but because I don't want to use up his...and then realize as I pull out a Marlboro that I may have offended him. Just a little. The brief rest is over and we all hop on the wagon behind the oxen and slowly creak back up the road for another load with hilarious Mitch, one of the family dogs beating his little legs to keep up behind us. If Mitch were a person, he'd be Mickey Rooney.

I beg off where the oxen enter the northern part of Nono's farm, on the left side of the road, to go paint and varnish more. It is almost eight o'clock in the evening and there is no sign the sun has given up yet. Back home, I finish part of a wall with paint, and Greg watches the river. We still can't imagine what it will be like when this is all done, but we are willing to give it a go.