Summer Christmas wishes

Just a couple of days ago we received a wonderful piece of California by mail. From some good friends who love Disneyland and--apparently--also enjoy dressing up in Hawaiian print shirts for photo shoots with Mickey Mouse. This is the second time I'm receiving hilarious family picture cards in the mail all the way to Patagonia. The cards always a funny allusion to summertime. I love it so much that we've been thinking how sappy good it would be to send our family and friends something similar. Though we are way too late to do anything in time for Christmas and don't really have people's addresses to send real mail, something may be in the works. Stay tuned...

Summer has sprung, mostly. The mornings have been sunny and calm, with gusts picking up before noon, when the gray moves in and moves out fast as the wind sometimes with rain, sometimes without. Temperatures have been in the high 50s, sometimes low 60s, you know, T-shirt weather. As I write this the guy with the weed whacker is grinding down our forest of weeds with a tremendous buzz. (The organic grasscutter sheep deal fell through.) Lawnmowers aren't here yet, so if anybody is ready for a career change, I'm sure you could come down here with your John Deere and make a small fortune mowing weeds.

Serkan and I leave tomorrow to Torres del Paine where we'll be working together. We'll spend Christmas eve there, but hope to be back in time to make a some phone calls to the motherland on Christmas day. Happy holidays & love.

Los blue jeans

The days have been beautiful here, sunny, almost windless and warm enough to go outside with just a sweater. Because of this I’ve been walking around a lot instead of taking the colectivo type taxis, which pick up various people and drop them off in the center or wherever the passengers want along the colectivo route, for only .60 cents! On election day, which was Sunday, the town was eerily quiet. The only cars around were those of carabineros. Two police officers parked alongside a long grassy walk nudged at a drunk (passed out in a fetal position near an unbroken swingset) with their feet similar to how one might pet a mangy dog or test to see it's still alive. I guess this is a pretty typical sight. Though today--with the blue skies and emptiness, and the fact that nobody can buy liquor on election day until the last vote is cast--it felt somehow more poignant and ironic.

It was one of those days. Feeling simultaneously far away from home and at home. Flashes of home swoop in on me often. When I look and I am surrounded by sky, whose multi-layered cloud texture has the most character of anywhere I've ever been. The mountains, yet snowcapped, jag into it, jutting up straight from the sea. On a clear day on the right hill, you can see all of this. And I think, wow, I live here. Cool. But the distance is wrought with ambivalences. Sometimes I can describe them perfectly, to myself at least. Other times, like right now, I can’t even imagine my way back inside of them. Liquid flighty moments. Drippy and on air at the same time.

Maybe the other side of the flux is a pull to usefulness, which has something to do with how at home I feel. I'm a bit of a vagrant. This is a vagrant land. People come and go (including us), so developing close friendships proves rather difficult. Finding my niche of purpose would raise my comfort. Of course, right now I'm in between jobs. Relieved to have ended one and not sure which basket to put my eggs in for the next one. It's a tentative space. For the most part Americans feel defined by their jobs. I mostly refused to let this happen to me in the States (especially in my early years of employment as a administrative assistant or glorified secretary). What made this refusal easiest though was that I was always working to pay for school. In that way I still identified myself with some role: that of a student. Each part of living, a means to an end. Just living and being--outside of roles--well... it's still a struggle.

In the mornings I try to write my way back into an old niche. It's like putting on an old pair of jeans. They still fit and sometimes they are surprisingly comfortable. Other times, they're too big and I need a belt or they are recently laundered and I can hardly button them up. It's impossible to tell how they look.


Shortly after 5 a.m., the clouds seem higher than they are, and more dispersed. All orange-bellied with neon-bright underscores. I steal peeks of it through the big bedroom picture window and jump back under the covers to try to sleep some more, but it’s useless. Instead I squeeze some sunniness into a cup and drink fresh grapefruit-orange juice for a pre-breakfast snack.

We have been busy getting the house in order. Making it livable. Serkan had found this furnished place for us to live before I arrived. Of course, when we returned to Natales from Ushuaia about three weeks ago, I was excited to see our new home. It is by far the best place I’ve lived in Puerto Natales. But that first night my nerves were on edge and I actually cried to see the condition of our new place—which if you compare it to other houses here, it really wasn’t bad at all. We arrived here around midnight after 15 or so hours on a bus with a long snowy delay at the Chilean-Argentine border because of Chilean government workers being on strike (again). We hadn’t eaten for the last 10 hours, so we were pretty much starved and exhausted.

So I lacked imagination that first night, while Serkan with his infinite patience, comforted me. I’m sure being back in the super comfort of the U.S. didn’t help me feel less overwhelmed about all the work this place would need. But we woke up the next morning, ready to tackle house work. Sanding, painting, scrubbing, spraying insect killer, unpacking boxes and bags. It’s been an ongoing project, but it finally feels like home. No more salmon pink walls in the bedroom or diarrhea yellow in the bathroom. No more horrifying lace curtains stuffed with earwig eggs and exoskeletons.

I’ve been pretty obsessed with insect prevention. When we first arrived, hundreds of Patagonian pill bugs would appear inside the tub just about every morning. And elsewhere of course, but not in such huge quantities. Luckily, these insects don’t creep me out that much. But getting rid of them and vacuuming up their dried-out shells was a daily affair for a while. Their colonies have dwindled though we have not obliterated them. I’ve vacuumed and cleaned places in this house that haven’t been cleaned in years, if ever. I’ve scrubbed with bleach and worn through several sponges and gloves and practically erased my own fingerprints.

All this in preparation for the tijeretas (earwigs) that are sure to arrive around February. These silly little bugs have me in a panic. I have nightmares about them, even though I’ve only seen one live one since we got here. When they come, they get into everything. They show in the food containers, in the teapots, in the mate bombilla, in the washing machine, sometimes even in the bed. When sipping mate during a major tijereta infestation, the critters get sucked up through the metal straw, and suddenly a skinny wiggly thing is crawling on your tongue. Thank goodness this hasn’t happened to me yet! But, yes, I am mildly obsessed. They’re not here yet, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure they don’t come. Now that the inside is clean, we have a pretty big yard to tend to. Some friends bought a little black lamb, an organic lawnmower, so we’re hoping to fatten him up for a few weeks. (And, no, this lamb is not going to be eaten for Christmas dinner.)

It may sound weird to have to do all this to a place that we are only renting for probably less than a year. But that’s how the houses are here. We are really lucky to have found a well-furnished house with heaters in every room. Some places you rent here might not even come with a kitchen sink. The fridge, stove, kitchen and bathroom sinks are still considered furniture, something that renters supply themselves. That said, I haven’t seen a rental that didn’t come with at least one heater. And it’s cold enough here to live without a fridge. I hope it doesn't sound like I’m complaining too much, because really I just want to give some context.

After all the poison, paint and love we’ve put into this place, it truly feels home. It’s our little nest and I love it. I have a sturdy writing desk where I’ve started to work in the mornings. I rough sanded it to get rid of the pink paint splats and to give it a rustic look, filled it with family and travel photos, and topped it all with a square of glass.


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