Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Spring in the air

Well the holidays are over and both girls are back at school and nursery as of yesterday. We all had a break from the punishingly early schedule only to find we were quite glad to get back to it, especially now that spring has most definitely sprung. Now it is practically sunrise by the time DD1 gets to school and the days are longer, brighter, warmer and more pleasant. Last week the girls and I made the most of the weather and spent as much time as possible outdoors in parks, gardens and the obligatory playgrounds. Perhaps too much time... The girls picked dandelion seeds and we all breathed in the heady and quite literally intoxicating scents of the Chilean flora surrounding us until suddenly the familiar feeling of losing one's senses took hold...of me I hasten to add, thank goodness, though DD2 is showing some light symptoms such as reddened eyes... Hayfever is a cross some of us have to bear every year at this time though usually the warmer weather and the pleasure associated with increased outdoor pursuits outweigh or at least partly soothe the suffering. Or used to... Here in Chile as expected the smells, sights and pollen count are magnified a thousandfold which causes in turn more dramatic allergic reactions. Suffice to say I reached immediately for the antihistamines though am still waiting for any appreciable effect.
Meanwhile during the last ten days whilst still in the midst of Fiestas Patrias we passed the first anniversary of our faltering arrival in Chile without even realising it. Progress most definitely has been made on every front: the girls are settled and entirely integrated into their school and nursery respectively. DD1 speaks fluent Spanish and has made satisfying friendships within her class, gaining respect from peers and teachers who marvel at how many languages she apparently effortlessly speaks. Even DD2 has completely lost her initial ambivalence and waltzes happily and willingly in through the door at her nursery in the morning, parking her bike at the entrance and waving goodbye with nonchalance. She too has now started producing some Spanish, mainly at the word or simple phrase level but generally spouting more and more even in her play. All very satisfying from the point of view of cerebral development and the number of synaptic connections taking place though I still wonder about their sense of self and cultural identity...

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Fiestas Patrias- the main event

Well if September has been filled with the slow but steady build-up then last weekend witnessed the long-awaited festival we had all been waiting for... Friday afternoon and there was frenzied party shopping going on at our local Jumbo (supermarket). Aisles were looking empty, faces ashen as contents were swept off the shelves in anticipation of the big two-day consumer shutdown (18-19 September) during which time it was not possible to be a functioning public business due to national law declaring two days of state-enforced festivities. Hence the crowds, many of whose trolleys were actually full of raw meat, beer and/or fizzy drinks in preparation for goodness knows how many barbecues or "asados" not just across the city but nationwide to mark the festival of "Chilenidad" (being Chilean) as well as heralding officially the slightly earlier than usual advent of spring.
There was a rare hush in the streets as people enjoyed their long weekend, in or outside the city, partaking in the aforementioned barbecues in private and public while also seizing the opportunity to fly kites in the light but capricious spring breezes prevailing over Chile's beautifully verdant landscape. By far the most popular pastime was that of the "fonda" or special fair in the numerous parks and green spaces, huge events organised and promoted by the city's town councils offering a veritable multitude of delights for families, young and old alike. We saw and participated in pony rides, boat rides, funfairs and food whilst also admiring mock battles, rodeos, parachutists, traditional dancers and farm animals including a litter of one-day-old silky smooth piglets... All-in-all a feast for all the senses, a reason to be jolly and a sense of what Chileans consider and celebrate as their own.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Fiestas Patrias

Last Saturday morning as DH, DD1 and I took our seats in a draughty theatre, waiting for the thick velvet curtains to open for DD2's nursery's show for Fiestas Patrias, it struck me that this was the Chilean equivalent of the nativity play. Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles had turned out in their droves to witness the annual rite of passage for their little one. Only this time the subject of the show was not a child born in Bethlehem, but the birth of a nation... We were treated to a narrated history of the first explorers and settlers arriving in the Atacama Desert and bringing light in the form of Roman Catholicism to the natives. Thus began the story in the north of Chile, gradually working its way down and recounting the origins of this long thin country from an untamed wilderness to the beacon of modern civilisation we see before us today. The organisation and preparation with which the nursery staff had planned the event was quite impressive, with scenery, props, music and of course the direction of acting by some very small children, all dressed up in traditional costumes from different regions of Chile. As DD2 had been given the part of a "chilota" or southern Chilean woman, we had an apparently interminable wait before she finally appeared, clad in black shawl, skirt and headscarf, busily and very seriously stirring a huge pot with a long wooden spoon... It was obviously a proud moment for all of us and one that DD2 enjoyed tremendously, even singing Chile's national anthem with the rest of the (wholly Chilean) children at the end.
Two days later and it was DD1's turn to have her moment of glory, this time in the indoor gymnasium within her school's vast sports centre. This time all the children of Year 1 were dressed identically as northern Chileans, the girls resplendent in striped skirts and hats while the boys sported a traditional Andino woollen hat and belt over their school uniform. The children filed in, smallest first (DD1 was third to enter) matched with a same-height partner of the opposite gender and began singing a hauntingly melancholy chant about life in the Andes... This was followed by patriotic poems recited by the individual classes plus traditional dances which had been meticulously choreographed by the PE department. Great fun to watch actually, although listening to six- and seven-year-olds declaring their unswerving loyalty to the Chilean flag was slightly over the top. Especially from DD1, who says she even feels Chilean now...
All the flag-waving, patriotic fervour and extreme national pride are elements we don't usually employ back in Europe for fear of being exclusionist though here it seems to be a genuinely heartfelt blanket sentiment which encompasses all ages, social classes and political persuasions. Apparently...

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

September song

Thank goodness August is over and September has arrived. August was a hard month here, more like February than the August we used to know. Grey and cold, no respite from work and school, no hint of the holidays...
September by contrast has arrived along with early blossom on the trees, distinctly warmer air and the promise of a break coming up soon. Yes September is of course the southern hemisphere's equivalent of March, the beginning of the end of winter with the rebirth and renewal we usually associate with Easter. Here though the big holiday coming up soon is Fiestas Patrias, a huge patriotic bonanza to celebrate Chile and everything Chilean to mark Chile's independence and its military glory. Last year the girls and I had just staggered off a plane two days before the country closed down for four days to celebrate two hundred years of Chile's existence as an independent republic. Obviously the significance of that event was somewhat lost on us at the time as we struggled to focus on where we were, what time it was and where to buy household essentials. Almost one year on and it is now clear to us that this is the biggest event in the Chilean social calendar. DD1's school closes for a ten-day break between terms 2 and 3 next week while both girls are busy practising traditional songs and dances dressed up in national costume for shows and parties to be shared with parents and teachers alike. Supermarkets have been full of the aforementioned national costumes as well as balloons, paper plates and other party equipment including barbecue materials in the colours of the Chilean flag. Clearly for us this is all extremely interesting from the point of view of culture, history and folklore which doesn't belong to us in the slightest. Not sure how I would feel about it if I were Chilean; presumably things would be a good deal more complex in that case. At the moment I've just had to kit my children out in the appropriate gear (some of which I am still unsure whether I actually have correctly understood or not) and listen to them singing about how beautiful and wonderful Chile is. Quite endearing in a way, especially to an outsider... DH's ardent students meanwhile have decided to postpone all major decisions such as whether to lift their boycott on this term's lectures and seminars until after Fiesta Patrias is over. Quite right too... evidently like all students since the dawn of time the would-be revolutionaries don't want to miss a good party.