Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fiestas Patrias

To my loved ones!

Sorry for the long hiatus but I've been a bit busy celebrating Fiestas Patrias (Chilean Independence celebrations) this weekend. And when I say weekend, I actually mean the last 5 days. From the hype beforehand, I gathered that it would be a weekend of eating, drinking, celebrating, drinking and drinking. It should also be mentioned that this year was the bicentenario (bicentennial (2 n's or 1? I'm forgetting my English...) so everyone was extra excited and even more in the "celebratory mood". While I did enjoy myself (don't worry, not too much), there were some points of frustration and exhaustion; nevertheless, I survived and have lived to tell the tale. Unfortunately, my camera didn't. The batteries decided to die on thursday night, when every grocery store, pharmacy or anywhere else they sell battieres shut down for the weekend. But, thanks to a friend's pictures and the Internet, I can still give you guys a visual.

I don't want to essentialize the celebration in anyway but for me, the highlights were as follows:


Basically HUGE parties in parks all over the city which happen all day every day for the entire weekend and include traditional Chilean food, drink and activities, such as dancing, music, games and in one case, an amusement park (For all my elmhurst folk out there, think Elmfest). I visited four different fondas, each with a distinct flavor yet all were packed with people every day disfrutando el bicentenario (enjoying (perhaps too much?) the bicentennial).


Well, found out that empanadas are actually the national food here and there was a ridiculous abundance of them at every fonda. It should also be noted that these were pretty much the only type of food that I didn't eat off a stick the entire weekend. The fondas were lined with grills filled with steak and chicken kebobs as well as fruit stands, which offered strawberries, pineapples and bananas, all dunked in a red carmelized substance or chocolate. Just the way I like my fruit: sugary.

Other traditional foods are manjar (excellent) and mote con huesillos, which is literally peaches floating in juice with some sort of grain at the bottom. I think it looks like a shriveled up brain; tastes about the same too.

I also attended several asados (barbecues) which offered (you guessed it) MORE MEAT, the most popular of which is choripan, which is somewhere between a brat and hotdog in size and is probably one the only foods I've eaten here with an actual flavor.

Despite this triumph, after the second day of asados I had to decline the choripan since before this weekend I hadn't eaten a hot dog in the last 5 years and my body was not accustomed. It should be noted that this proved to be quite the difficult task as the food is handed to you right off the grill without asking if you have an appetite first. If you try to say "no, gracias", you'll receive one of two responses: A) You'll be ignored or B) You'll be openly mocked by the entire family and considered fome (boring). Needless to say, there was more than one occasion where I sneaked off to dispose of the food I didn't want in the first place.

To say alcohol was in abundance would be an understatement; everywhere I went, I was offered wine, beer, or terremotos (literally earthquakes, but the drink is a mixture of white wine and pineapple flavored ice cream). But the most popular was chicha, a wine-like drink but much sweeter and made with different kinds of group. The taste and color make is seem like a "girly" drink but I assure you that alcohol seems to be one of the few things in this language, and at times this culture, which has no gender assigned to it.

Traditional Chilean Games/Activities

The first fonda we went to on Thursday night advertised "traditional chilean games" as a highlight, so naturally I was excited to find out the true meaning of this ambiguous title. Yet, I'll admit, I was a bit disappointed when the first game we encountered was "Taca Taca" which is literally, fooseball. No cultural spins or twists. Just fooseball.

Another game we played called "Argollas" consisted of a pyramid of bottles of alcohol. For the equivalent of $1, we were given 20 small wooden rings which we threw at the bottles, trying to place one around the neck of one of the bottles. Know that this is practically impossible, I tried for the Malbec wine and was unfortunately unsuccessful.

Yet the most popular activity was dancing the cueca, Chile's national dance which originates from the Northern Region. Everywhere I went there were men and women in costume, waving pañuelos (handkerchiefs) to the ringing of the spurs on the men's cowboy boots and the bouncing melody of Chilean folk bands. Below is a picture of some children from the school I volunteer at dancing the cueca. So precious.

Special Events for the Bicentenario

There was un show de luces (yup, a light show) every night displayed on the front of La Moneda, which is basically the equivalent of the White House, although the president (Sebastian Piñera if you were curious) doesn't live there. We arrived Friday night an hour before it started to find roughly 40,000 people already waiting. Although being scrunched between a family of five and their stroller and a cozy (to say the least) couple was less than comfortable, when the lights finally appeared, it was more or less worth it. There were not only fireworks but 3D images projected on the front of the building, such as statues characteristic of Easter Island, Bernardo O'Higgins (George Washington of Chile) and at one point a whale (still flabbergasted by this). My friend got a couple good pictures, which are posted below:

Well, I'm proud to say that my language skills have improved immensely as I was able not only to understand but participate in conversations at the several asados I attended this weekend, although some of what I heard was feo (direct translation is ugly but is often used to describe a rude remark or someone who is acting in an offensive manner) or, at the very least, controversial. For example, I had a long conversation with an older gentleman who had no problem telling me all about his feelings about divorce (just legalized in Chile in 2005), homosexual relationships and how the two are a threat to the sanctity of the institution of marriage and the family, one of the most important constructions in Chilean society.
There were also several conversations concerning the huelga de hambre (hunger strike) of the leader of a group of Mapuche (the largest of several groups of indigenous peoples here in Chile). At one asado, the consensus was that these people are flojo (lazy) and a amenaza (threat) to Chile as a united nation, as, according to the people at the asado, one of their desires is to take back their land and form a Mapuche nation within Chile (the Mapuche were a group of indigenous peoples living here when the Spaniards invaded in the sixteenth century).

Although at times I wanted to scream and shout and pound my fist on the table, all I could do was sit and take it all in. I have opinions (that's for sure) but I wasn't about to get into a debate with people who are a) much older than me b) who I hardly know and c) who understand the complexities of Chilean society much better than I do. So, instead, I exercised a lot, scribbled angrily in my journal and have now blogged about it, so I feel like I've sufficiently vented my frustrations.

Funniest moment of the weekend: On Saturday, a woman asked me if I practice a sport. I said I used to play baseball when I was young and still enjoy it. She got an odd look on her face, cracked up laughing and then asked if there was another sport I liked, you know, something more normal? At first I was a bit put off but later thinking about the ethnocentrism of both her response and my reaction just made me giggle.

Shout-out goes to anyone who watched Glee last night! I'm so jealous, how was it??? Give me the deets in the comments please!


1 comment:

  1. Haha, thank God you didn't essentialize anything, Abby. I'm having Ireland flashback hives just thinking of the horror! :)