Category Archives: Culture

Boredom! Four related words


Penca – Chato/a – Fome – Pesado/a = Four more Chilean words you will hear all of the freakin’ time in this country. I must say I’m a fan. Conveniently, they’re all related so we can use them to describe a similar situation or person.

Fome: This word is most closely akin to “lame” or “boring” in English (not “unable to walk”) such as “This party is so lame. I’m gonna bounce.” “Qué fome el carrete. Ya me voy.” It’s used by people of any age to refer to a situation that is dull and uninspiring. It’s not insulting, however, you could call someone fome if you don’t want them to leave the party.

Is it clear that the “carrete” is the Chilean version of fiesta? No one says “fiesta” much here. The weekend, late-night drinking and dancing fest often accompanied by food or snacks is referred to as a “carrete”. Rrroll those Rrrrs!

Estoy chata! I use the “a” ending version, being on the female side of the sliding scale. If you identify as male, you’d use ‘chato’. If you identify somewhere in-between or neither, the Spanish language is not gonna give you any convenient options. This phrase means “I’ve had it up to here” or “I’m sick of it.” I have been heard to say “Estoy chata de esa música cola.” The “cola” part in this phrase is slang for “gay male” and it is not necessarily derogatory. Música cola refers to the Kylie – Rihanna –  Beyoncé style of tunage.  Elsewhere, people say “Estoy harto/a”. This version is understood here, but not used too much.

Penca: This word is in the “fome – aburrido – lame” family, but I’d say it’s closest to “sucky”. “You have to work on your birthday? That sucks.” “Tienes que trabajar en tu cumple? Qué penca.” “Cumple” is clearly short for “cumpleaños.” Fun bonus: Refri is to Refrigerador (nevera) as Fridge is to Refrigerator.

Pesado: The pure meaning here is “heavy”, but it’s used in Chile to talk about someone who is being a downer. Mind you, in this country the label of being a downer could simply be handed out if you tell someone a truth they don’t want to hear. Here is an example:

“Maybe you’d get more work done if you didn’t party so hard.” Response – “You’re such a downer.”

“Capaz que seas más productivo si asistieras a menos carretes.” Respuesta – “Erí pesado.” If you recall, erí is Chile’s ‘tú’ form version of eres. (third paragraph down) Of course, Chileans would pronounc it “pesao” or “pesá” because they eat the ‘D’s.

When friends tell me I’m pesada, I just say it’s honesta and if they don’t want my opinion, don’t whine at me repeatedly about the same thing! Je je.

Lastly, people use the English word “Heavy” to refer to a situation that is serious, deep, incredible, dramatic or in some way hard to wrap the mind around. If I hear a story of some impact or true import on someone’s life, I may say “That shit’s real” especially if I’m not talking directly to the affected party. Here you could say “¡Qué heavy!” Be sure to pronounce it as if it were a Spanish word though. Something like hay-a-vee with a good moment’s linger on the ‘H’.

Well that was more than four words, but it sure was fun!

I always appreciate questions, comments and feedback.


Volunteer Opportunity (Reading) in Chile


If you live in Santiago or really, anywhere in Chile and you are looking for a volunteer opportunity, this one is great to do from home. The Biblioteca Central Para Ciegos needs books recorded in Spanish. They have a library full of texts from fiction to nearly any topic in non-fiction, mostly in Spanish, but some other languages, too. The idea is that you pick up a book, record it at home to a CD in mp3 format which is very easy to do with programs that may come with your computer or the free Audacity audio recording program. The recordings are checked out of the library by the users who are visually impaired, and they do not use the audio in any commercial way. It’s really a win-win for everyone. You get to practice your Spanish (you need not be a native speaker), learn new vocabulary and topics while going that extra step to make your time more meaningful by making it available to others. If you don’t have the time, you could always donate money if that’s your preference. Patricia Soto is in charge of the library. She really is a funny and charming lady, so stop by and and chat with her to find out what books they have or if they are in need of a book that’s already in your collection. They will close the office in February, so get yourself in there if you want to grab something before the whole country goes on vacation!

Address: Rafael Cañas 165, Providencia Santiago (typical public office hours are 11 – 3 Mon-Thurs)

Land line: 2235 6891


A Contrast of Two Quiet Secrets


The other day I fancied a wander. – I think I should increase my use of the word “fancy” as a verb. – Having had such fancy come over me, I packed a bag o’ stuff for the afternoon including a camera, water and some tiny oranges. I had a head full of ideas of where to go, but nothing set in stone and wandered off through the hot Santiago sun in the direction of downtown, eventually following my footsteps to the Paris-Londres Barrio. It’s really just two lovely streets that wind around each right smack in the middle of the bustling city center off of the main street Alameda. As I approached I noticed the Museo de Arte Colonial de San Francisco (Alameda N. 834) calling me in, having passed it on foot countless times. I was in for a treat. This place is a giant, unexpected space of peace, tranquility and creepy art from the 16th through the 18th centuries. The center is a large square with benches and plants that happens to be home to cats, chickens and peafowl. I heard the male squawking in a tortured way before I saw him. Who knew such a lovely thing to behold makes such an ugly squeak?


Three of the four sides surrounding the central square are filled with paintings and sculptures, many of which feature the typical church fare of centuries gone by including decapitated John the Baptists, disembodied baby heads that are likely angels plus all manner of virgins, Biblical scenes, strange miracles, floggings and self-castigation. This particular church being dedicated to San Francisco de Asis has a large hall filled with 44 paintings of his life that were commissioned in the 17th century and done by a Peruvian artist. Each is about 2 by 3 meters in size and have descriptions of the scene in an older version of Spanish. One small room is dedicated to Gabriela Mistral, the Nobel winning poet who was also a schoolteacher and later in life an ambassador for Chile.

The ‘saint’ statues dressed in multicolored robes provoke both the heebie-jeebies and the uncontrollable desire to laugh. The wooden choir benches were hand-carved in the 18th century out of Chilean cypress trees.

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In addition to viewing the art and relaxing in the oddly peaceful plaza, they also frequently offer religious concerts. A mixed vocal choir was practicing as I roamed about. I asked about going to the second floor and they informed me that it is the monks’ convent. Still! From here I took an immediate left when exiting the church and found myself on the beautiful street called Londres. Currently it houses a large number of boutique hotels, coffee and tea shops, a couple of educational institutes and a few government offices. I thought I’d have a beverage when I noticed these little squares on the cobblestone street.DSC_0525

I saw that after all the names – a fairly 50/50 mix of male and female – they all said either MIR or FP after the Movimiento Izquierda Revolucionaria [Revolutionary Left Movement] and Frente Patriotico [the Patriotic Front] respectively. They were leftist groups that were working against the government post-coup d’etat of 1973 and it was pretty clear that the names on those squares are for people that were disappeared intentionally and never found. It was then that I saw the entrance to “Londres 38”, a memorial center that opened to the public in 2010. It housed detainees who were tortured for information and then killed and either dumped into the sea or into mass graves, many of them in the endless Atacama desert of the north.


Side note: Nostalgia de la Luz is a fascinating documentary film that contrasts and compares astronomists’ search for the origins of life in the northern skies with family members still to this day looking for – and now finding – shared graves where there loved ones bodies were dumped throughout the military dictatorship. Initially the link between the two searches is unexpected, but the piece unfolds elegantly. Another interesting film is called La Ciudad de los Fotógrafos and documents the experience of photographers in Santiago right when the ‘golpe de estado’ was first news.

There are a number of memorial centers throughout Chile, which are mostly just former homes that were turned into extra-judicial holding cells where thousands of people were tortured. This particular location also undertakes social activities such as protest art creation groups, photo exhibits, short documentaries and provides space for reflection. They are currently involved in an effort to get thousands of secret documents made public. They are part of a larger conglomeration of groups marching at La Moneda [the equivalent of the US White House or Argentinean Pink House] this Wednesday December 10th, 2014 at 1 PM calling for open documents and respect for human rights.  DSC_0534 DSC_0527 DSC_0538This last image is script taken from a letter written by one young woman named Muriel Dockendorff Navarrete to another named Sandra Machuca who were both detained at Cuatro Alamos. The letter was dated October 1974 and the author was disappeared after its writing. It says “Me recuerdo cuando te conocí en la casa del terror… En esos momentos en que una luz era un sueño. O un milagro, fuiste luz en esas tinieblas. Fuimos una en un revés. Hoy miles de reveses. Más tarde te veo como entonces como sé estarás hoy, en Algún sitio, siempre mirando al frente. Nos encontraremos a través de la niebla que despejaremos. No me olvides.”

In English: “I recall when I first met you in that house of terror… In those moments in which light was only a dream. Or a miracle. You were light in that place of darkness. We were one in that tragedy. Today, thousands of tragedies. Later on I’ll see you as I did then, as I know you will be today, in some place somewhere, always looking straight ahead. We will find each other through the fog that we’ll dispel. Don’t forget me.”

Her words cut through me and slice up my heart into little pieces.

Outside there are people wandering, leaving work on a Friday evening and meeting friends on the patio cafes. I snap some more pictures of these harmonious streets and I’m amazed by the fact that during all of these centuries this convent with its monks was right there in the middle of downtown maintaining their daily life in the midst of political tumult, a darkened detention center only a two minute walk away.

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Wanna Join Me on a Plastic Bottle Raft?


A former Chilean student of mine was preparing her presentations for a week-long seminar in Palestine working with kids who have cancer. I was helping her, and nonchalantly asked if they were paying her for her time. She looked at me and said (kindly), “You Americans, you think everything is about money.”  She sort of chuckled and smiled at me. I thought about what she said quite a bit, and am still thinking about it years later. She is so right. Don’t get me wrong, I have always enjoyed volunteering and money has never been a strong motivator for me. But we as a nation are raised to believe that anything worth doing is worth profiting from. The up side I suppose is being able to see opportunities when they show themselves, but it seems we take it too far and look for cash around every corner.

Take for example the parking situation in Chicago. When I left there six years ago they were busy implementing a new concession for the meters. A private company paid a way too small sum to the city and were granted years of control over the system. They extended the evening parking meter hours to much later, included Sundays – which had never been acceptable before – jacked up prices, installed complicated credit card machines that force people to stand in line on the sidewalk as well as hand out their personal information, (which also handily prevents good Samaritans from dropping a quarter in a nearly expired old-fashioned meter), and installed meters in neighborhoods that are either experiencing high levels of poverty or are on the brink – some of which get spray-painted in black paint by the locals, rendering them useless. The city is also forced to pay the company if and when they have to shut down a street for road construction due to LOST POTENTIAL INCOME! What exactly is the benefit to citizens? There is none. Soon enough they’re going to start to tax bike riders and force you get a license to ride and insist that you pay for insurance.

That was just the first example I thought of. I’m sure you’ve got plenty more you could name if you come from that country. Hand out food to the homeless? The horror! Public internet? What is wrong with you! Affordable higher education? You must be a commie.

I recall writing a song when I was eight about corporations or government plans in the future to cover up the sky with a giant, metal dome and we’d have to pay to open up segments of it to get a glimpse of the sky. Pretty sad thought for an eight year old kid, but doesn’t seem too far off to me these days. You may soon find me constructing a recycled bottle raft island complete with a garden and mini solar-powered desalination processors setting myself adrift at sea.

Odd Peruvian Songs


What’s up in Perú? There are some strange songs being recorded that seem to blend sex and innocence in a way I’ve never seen before. I don’t live there, but I’ve visited and I’ve met a lot of amiable Peruvians. I’m not at all suggesting there’s something wrong with them. Some of these songs are just plain weird to my particular cultural perspective. Let’s take this most recent one I’ve seen. It’s called “Metelo Ya, Sacalo Ya.”

That’s right. Put it in and take it out. Hmm. What could that mean? Well, I’ll tell you the visuals in the video so you don’t have to watch if you don’t want to. I wasn’t warned. It would have been nice. The nice lady Virginia Segura basically sings that refrain over and over again while twirling about a field in a bulbous, colorful and modest dress with a hat on. She almost looks like a grown-up, plump doll. The camera zooms in around her waist area and she does a little more bouncing. Granted, it’s not overly sexualized and she is fully clothed. She then sings “Somos solteritos para gozar.” So that’s the gist. Put it in and take it out. We are single so we can enjoy it. In case you are still  unclear, they put a whole plethora of copulating pairs of primates scattered throughout the video. Horses, monkeys, pigs and more. It’s all so innocent and yet not innocent at all. The animal close-ups are just creepy. Do people really enjoy that in their music videos?

And then there’s Wendy. Oh, Wendy Sulca. In this video she is 8 years old and sings about how much she enjoys breastfeeding. The camera shows her in a sort of traditional dress accompanied by a bunch of boys. “Day and night, I drink from my little breast. How delicious!” “De día y de noche, tomo mi tetita. Qué rico! Rico, rico, rico!” I don’t know if 8 year-olds in Perú are fed this way. The video shows several mothers feeding their very young children, which as a public service announcement makes sense I guess. Also, a pig mama feeds her little piglets and Wendy bounces up and down on her bed in her pink bedroom. The weirdest part is then a pretty young lady walks through the scene, two guys notice her and make motions signalling that they like her breasts and the announcer calls out that the “tetita” is also enjoyed by males aged 18 and over. But Ojo! They must be 18. The juxtaposition of breast-feeding-as-delicious with older males enjoying it too is the part that gets me.

This last little gem I’ll leave you with isn’t quite in the same vein, but now Wendy is a bit older and announces that she has become hardcore. The song is actually called “Me Pongo Hardcore.” It’s mostly the title that’s funny. She is clearly trying to copy Today’s Teen Pop Stars.

Chilean Television – Some Standouts


Television in Chile has all the crap one can find in most places like “reality” TV, game shows and celebrity shite, but there are some stand-outs worth checking out online. One is called En Su Propia Trampa or Caught In Your Own Trap and is so classically Chilean. It is about people who make a living out of estafas or trampas, which are bullshit stories used to sucker money or other gain out of unwitting folks. I catch it every once in awhile and every time I do I find myself maybe a little too excited to watch the hustlers fall. The most recent one featured a woman who made up a story about having cancer, being a psychologist and helping other children with cancer and receiving a lot of  donated cash through her website stuffed full with tall tales. The show producers typically set up a scenario in which the liars are publicly called out and made to answer to their lies. In this recent episode they brought out a mess of witnesses who she’d lied to or representatives from the universities she’d supposedly attended or hospitals where she was allegedly seeking treatment who all unequivocally stated they had no record of her ever in attendance or that they in fact do not treat cancer at their hospital, so she could not possibly be their patient. Then the liars usually kick it into high gear but there is nothing more than can really say. There is something thrilling about watching the shysters squirm.

My personal favorite is Recomiendo Chile hosted by Chilean chefs. It is about food, drink and travel throughout Chile. How could you go wrong? Aside from the capital with half of the country’s population, the rest of the country is fairly rural. There are several mid-sized cities of course, but thousands of small towns that are simply gorgeous and inspire one to leave the city behind. The show features a lot of scenery and recipes from the Mapuche people in the Araucanía region, to the Italian families of Capitán Pastene, fisher-families on the sea, Easter Island [Rapa Nui], the various indigenous peoples in the northern highlands or even the sizable German population in the south, and so on and so forth. It makes me want to hop in the car that I don’t have and just go! It’s best to watch this show after eating, or you will just suffer through it. It is, however, a slower-paced lazy stroll through the nation. There is nothing adventure sport about it. They have a lot of clips on the ‘tube. Here is just a minute of season 3.

An excellent drama now in it’s final season is called Los 80’s [ochentas] about living in Chile through the dictatorship during the eighties. It follows an average family as their lives are affected by the changing political situation and strife that was life for many during that time. The characters are well-written and acted and really draw the viewer in. It’s quite helpful to paint a picture of life that is beyond the bare facts and figures of that era. The show successfully captures the style, fashion and imagery of that decade. Again, a great snapshot of Santiaguinos casual speech. This is the first part of the first episode, first season.

Lastly, 31 Minutos! This show is loved by children of all ages. It’s a sarcastic and hilarious, puppet-based fake news broadcast and features music by all kinds of Chilean bands who make funny songs specifically for the show. The original program ended in 2008, but it was recently revived to the delight of grown-up kids everywhere.

Film Festivals in Chile


We’ve made it through August as they say here, the deadliest winter month, and are moving on into Spring. A lot of events are starting to kick off from the Feria de la Mujer Indígena [Indigenous Women Festival] to Ecological festivals and soon everything Dieciocho de Septiembre related – aka Independence Day. Santiago a Mil comes to town in January and a lot of film festivals are happening throughout spring and summer. The Department of Cultural Affairs in Chile has this handy link that directs you to the various festivals throughout the nation. Many take place in Santiago, but there are a number of them in the south, north and the coast. From cartoon, animation, women-made films, shorts, full-length, documentary, national, international, and social commentary, there is a lot to choose from. One I have yet to attend, but sounds interesting is all about the environment and sustainability in Antarctica. It takes place over three events in southern Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales and Puerto Williams. Many are free, several are not. There are usually volunteering opportunities that will provide you with free screenings and a chance to meet the filmmakers if that’s your thing. If you are learning Spanish, movies are a great way to practice. If you need a language break, there are always plenty of English titles on offer as well. Happy screening.

For more of what’s shakin’ up and down this skinny strip of a nation, check out the tourism board’s page.