Monthly Archives: May 2013

Hipsters Making a Living


Marcela sometimes mentions to me that we could sell the things we make in our house (food, clothes, vinegar, etc.) on the street in the US when we go to visit to make some extra cash. I have to explain that you can’t just set up shop anywhere and sell stuff on a whim due to government restrictions. You can do it here. It’s not impossible to get permits, and even if you don’t get a permit for non-food items, there is little fuss kicked up. At every event there is someone hawking an appropriate item: lemons at protests (for the tear gas trucks – prevents tears), blow-up animals at kids’ events, tee-shirts at the Cure or Iron Maiden shows, underwear, tweezers, band-aids, sweaters, bags, purses, hand-made earrings, knit items, artisanal anything… and I could just keep on going. When people want to take a vacation, especially college age folk with low-paying jobs, they frequently make soy burgers or empanadas and infiltrate street concerts. All parades are awash in people carrying ice-cold beers and sodas. No opportunity is missed here to make a peso. None.

I was listening to an old podcast of Planet Money wherein they mention that in Brooklyn it seems people are selling artisanal goods on the streets. I thought, Yes! It seems we could pull it off. Then they called the people who do so “hipster”, and I thought, Do I quality as said hipster? laughing to myself all the while. What on earth is a hipster anyway? That word has made its way to Chile in the last two years, but no one anywhere seems to use that term in a good way and it doesn’t seem many people really know what the heck it’s supposed to mean. Of course, I had an idea but decided to look it up on Urban Dictionary. They give a definition that is not much at odds with my philosophy of life. It seems the real issue would be over-identification with a style or a “sub-culture”. Let me paint a picture of my point. Life philosophy: Buy used things. A. Cheaper B. Environmentally friendly C. Less participation in possible sweatshop conditions. Life philosophy hijacked as style issue: Buy things that look used, but are priced high because they are new so one looks as if they were (example of the subjunctive in English) environmentally friendly, etc. So maybe what we’re dealing with is a variety of hipster types.

All I really know, aside from the word hipster being thrown around as some vague, lame insult, is that Chile seems to have old grandma and grandpa hipsters, Peruvian hipsters, college-age hipsters, even little kid hipsters selling fruit juice slushies in the park. Ha! My point is, the word is tired.


Raining on the Parade


It’s been raining for two days, which the government and the education minister decided was cause to close the school doors. Being from Wisconsin, this tickles me so. But when two of the Unis where I teach followed suit, I decided to take advantage and catch up on some sleep. I then had to drag my butt to the bank to send money to the north to pay back a student loan from a bank that rhymes with Shitty. I – like many others – feel like I got taken for a ride on student loans. You definitely don’t want to get me started on that. I’ve noticed a lot in the news lately about interest rates rising soon if congress doesn’t act! Mine are already at that rate. I called my bank to ask why. They gave me no real answer.

With this backdrop in mind, I set out to the bank to give away more of my money (when the interest total is the equivalent to the principal sum, I do feel I am gifting my pesos) I came across a student march in progress. Universities here are supposedly non-profit by law, but that is so laughably untrue. I had thought for years they were for-profit to explain the abundance of crappy schools that have set up shop to rake in cash. Anyhow, most students and their families cannot afford the education here. Many are forced into high interest rate loans, which leads into debt servitude in a place where minimum wage is 375 bucks a month. So they march, the government heads talk, the schools pretend they’re accountable and it continues on still.

Standing in the median of the main Alameda Avenue downtown, I watch helmeted baton-twirling ninja turtle look-alike officers scrambling down the sidewalk, some go down into the subway train below. The real march has long been over, and only the anarchists remain. They can often be found stirring up something at the end of all political protests. The tall, thin 7-storey pines sway from side to side as the carabineros astride their motorbikes glide down the road during this brief rain respite. At the next block, there is a whole other team of police officers with sticks and shields and guns. I don’t see who they could be defending themselves against for a few minutes. Then I notice a ragtag crew of encapuchados near the park entrance tossing pebbles toward the police, who are rolling in with a tear gas truck. You know, being big strong men, saving the citizenry. It’s like a stupid game and both sides are in it to win it. The president wants to make a new law against the encapuchados who cover their faces, saying they are cowardly to hide behind them. And the ninja turtles? They are in head to toe body armor with all the big guns on their side. Is the status quo anywhere so wonderful that it must be protected so forcefully?

INCONVENIENT – A Poem by Humberto Costantini


Translating requires different things, depending on the text. I translate a lot of technical documents, which requires research and an understanding of the subject. Poetry is an entirely different beast. You have get into the person’s head, match their tone and style in another language which will likely not have a direct equivalent for many words and phrases. It’s entirely fun, so here is a poem by Argentinean author Humberto Costantini. More information on him here in Spanish. The original Spanish poem follows.


Written by Humberto Costantini
Translated by Sharlene Newman

I am not going to say that I was in the best possible world
but at least I had an archive
with all of its moons perfectly sorted,
the primrose folded four ways in the center drawer
here and there absurdities rest
off to the side of the bureau.

I do not claim to have been in the best possible world
but at least three or four friends delighted in my wine,
and three or four lovers delighted in my bed,
and my publisher truly believed in my novel,
and at a quarter to six
the timid ghosts quietly returned to chat with me.

I will not say that I was in the best of all possible worlds
but my future went on for at least a week out
wherein one could foresee one hundred and twenty lines written,
at least one insignificant inebriation,
as well as five minutes of daily exercise.

I was not, I will admit, in the best world possible
but generally things were reasonably clear;
fireflies did not hang from the roof as they do now,
nor did trains keep a wakeful vigil until dawn,
nor did September arrive declaring its presence
the wind did not show up in order to laugh to death at my face.

I do not wish to say that I was in the best of possible worlds
but this giant, trembling moon,
this unusual smitten moon,
this terrible red stop light of a moon,
this moon made of insomnia and small verses…
how maddening Lord,
how barbaric.


Escrito por Humberto Costantini
Traducido por Sharlene Newman

Yo no voy a decir que estaba en el mejor de los mundos
pero al menos tenía un bibliorato
con todas las lunas perfectamente clasificadas,
la primavera plegada en cuatro en el cajón del medio
y alguno que otro disparate
a un costadito del bargueño.

Yo no digo que estaba en el mejor de los mundos
pero tres o cuatro amigos apreciaban mi vino,
y tres o cuatro amantes apreciaban mi cama,
y mi editor creía firmemente en la novela,
y a las seis menos cuarto
dócilmente volvían a platicar conmigo los fantasmas.

Yo no diré que estaba en el mejor de los mundos
pero tenía un futuro hasta de una semana
donde estaban previstos ciento veinte renglones,
alguna intrascendente borrachera,
y hasta los cinco minutos diarios de gimnasia.

Yo no estaba, lo admito, en el mejor de los mundos
pero en general las cosas eran juiciosamente claras;
no colgaban luciérnagas del techo como ahora,
ni velaban los trenes hasta la madrugada,
ni septiembre llegaba con nombre y apellido
ni el viento venía para morirse de risa de mi cara.

Yo no quiero decir que estaba en el major de los mundos
pero esta enorme luna estremecida,
esta insólita luna enamorada,
esta terrible luna rojo stop de semáforo,
esta luna de insomnios y versitos…
qué trastorno Señor,
qué cosa bárbara.

Museo de Chocolate, Lima Perú


ChocoMuseoIt was clearly a lure to get us in the door at the chocolate “museum”, but it’s a sweet enough, innocent lure. My partner is a chocolate junkie so we had to go. I’m usually pretty immune to the stuff, but this chocolate was on a whole ‘nother level. When you enter La Casa del Chocolate at Calle Berlin 375 in the Miraflores neighborhood of Lima, it’s a cute café set-up to have snacks and coffee. Off to another side is the shop with kitchy chocolate items [Save the Planet, it’s the only one with chocolate!], bars and beverages. Cocoa tea. It’s taste-tastic! It’s made of cocoa bean shellings and a touch of sugar. It is quite amazing how much it tastes like chocolate without any dairy or fat additives – not that I am against some yummy fat, to be sure. The lovely women who work there are fully equipped in Spanish, English and French. Very friendly, helpful and informative.

There is a mini-museum that holds some over sized cocoa plant replicas and some posters and pictures. Another area shows the chocolate-making process. They also have workshops to learn how to make the chocolate delights. I bought a dark chocolate bar filled with espresso beans. Hands down, this was the best chocolate I’ve ever had in my life. I say this without exaggeration. It was quite silky, not too sweet with a distinct fruit overtone to it. I have to get some more! The first sign of addiction.

You can find out about their tours, classes and other locations (Nicaragua, Guatemala, Dominican Republic and Cuzco) on their webpage. Perú: Good coffee, great chocolate.