Saturday, October 15, 2011

Fiestas Patrias

We're now in October, meaning Chile's month-long national holiday is finally over. Officially, the Independence Day el dieciocho is, as the name implies, a mere day (the 18th, to be precise). However, the handkerchief-waving national cueca dancing (shown here at an interactive booth in the mall), the wearing of frilly floral-pattered traditional dresses (for the women) and ponchos, hats and silver-spurred boots (for the men), the asados (bbqs) chock full of empanadas and choripan, the proud displays of flags on every possible surface, and the chicha (a sort of weak grape cider) cheering lasted a full month. 
What a glorious time to be a gringa in Chile!

My school, like all others, was strung with banners of red white and blue and "felizes fiestas patrias!" posters. Classes were a bit disrupted for the preceding week, as my older students preformed cueca dances and traditional patriotic songs and my younger students organized themselves into group to present cuisine from particular regions of the country at a school-wide tasting. I tried humitas (corn mush tamales wrapped in corn husks, pasteles de choclo y papa y carne (casseroles of corn, potatoes and steak), a coconut/carrot cake from Easter Island, guava con leche (guava smoothie), ceviches, emanadas, and all manners of manjar (dulce de leche, or caramelized condensed milk) desserts.

On the big day itself, my lovely host parents (pictured below) kindly brought me along to Iquique, a beach town about a 6 hour drive North up the coast from Antofagasta, where they have a vacation apartment. Joining us were my host grandparents and host brother (who, in his hat, looks like Jason Mraz--see below) and sister-in-law, plus a cousin and her brooding teenage son.

From what I experienced, Independence day in Chile is more comparable to an American Thanksgiving than a 4th of July. Our weekend consisted mainly of a lot of family time coupled with even more eating, which was great for my Spanish (if not for my waistline!). The main even was a Saturday night Asado (barbeque) on the 27th floor roof of the apartment complex. Monino, my host grandpa, was our chef extraordinaire, and we stuffed ourselves full of his spicy choripan sausages, steaks, pastel de choclo, and homemade pebre (a spic tomato, cilantro and onion relish), as we sipped traditional chica (grape brandy), chilean vino tinto (red wine). We ate until we couldn't eat any more, retired downstairs to moan about how stuffed we were, then immediately started to nibble on the leftovers. ¡Que rico!

We even enjoyed some champagne, both in honor of the anniversary of the country as well as that of Monino and Mimi, who were celebrating 29 years together. I cheersed their union as joyfully as the real family, because I think theirs is one of the happiest and most enviable I've ever seen. They remain health and active and seem as adoring of each other as ever, they have raised three successful children and one granddaugter, they have a close-knit family, and they own beautiful apartments in Antofagasta and in Iquique. They also have rich independent lives and continue to be successful in their careers, using their savings to travel to exotic destinations every chance they can get. In short, as I begin to transition to the more authentically adult part of my adulthood, they are my inspiration, and proof that everything I want for myself is indeed possible.

The actual day of the 18th was cause for celebration--which in Iquique meant beach picnics and family kite flying! The sky along the shoreline was dotted with hundreds of rainbow tributes, which were charming but which proved difficult to catch on camera. Here are a few attempts:

Some of the kite flyers were even decked out in patriotic attire, such as this girl and her brother, who were both sporting traditional outfits in national colors.

As a random end for these post, here is a pigeon nest I found in our apartment's window box. I'd always wondered where pigeons go to make their babies. Now I know. I also found out that pigeons are pretty negligent parents, however--I perhaps saw the momma bird twice the entire weekend!

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