Monday, 28 February 2011

A place to hang my hat

Officially this is the last day of summer here and at some point the clocks change and we’re yet to find out when this date is.  Not that it really matters as we all wake up when we please.  We have noticed in that the sun is setting earlier than when we first arrived.

Our lease runs out in ten days and we have been scouring the internet, reading the local newspaper and walking the streets in search of little posters in windows.  This is perhaps the best way to find an apartment as you can get a feel for an area while you’re walking and if you don’t like the area then keep on walking.  We've found the easiest way to take down numbers is to photograph the flyer and because there is such little rain here posters last for ages.

We often use Ascensor Reina Victoria when we’re bringing shopping back up the hill and we pass a yellow house and the other day was a hand written sign for an apartment to rent.  The definition of apartment can be sketchy but we rang the owner and went through today.  It has high ceilings, perhaps 12 feet high.  The house was built in 1901 and has survived all subsequent earthquakes.

The owner (dueño) is a German chap, Max, who was very generous when we said we’d have to find beds for the girls.  He asked us if we wanted a trundle or bunk beds for the girls.  The price was very reasonable but we had one more apartment to look at.  It turned out to be $100.000 dearer and with a kitchen so small you couldn’t even cook a cat... or is it swing?  I always get those two mixed up.   That's probably why Talluah never lets me cook.

I rushed back to the first apartment, where Max said we have to buy a contract and I pay the bond.  Buy a contract?  I thought I was about to buy a pig in a poke but we walked down to the local newsagent, which was brimming with mum’s getting their kids ready for the start of school.  For the equivalent of twenty cents Max bought a notebook of standard lease agreements.  We then filled it out and in a mix of Spanish, English and the odd German word, Max talked me through the contract.

We’re moving in on the weekend.  It all looks legit and thankfully this apartment comes with an iron so Talluah can put away the GHDs.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Dogs need church too.

Talluah and I have been to church often enough to think that we’d be abled to understand what was happening during a Spanish mass.  Oh, and the moon is made of cheese too.

The church bells ring an hour before mass begins.  The problem is that there are many churches around us and we can hear several bells from our apartment.  The exterior of the church is plain cement with fine mesh covering the stain glass windows.  Many of the large cement buildings here sport some cracks in their exterior.  I assume these cracks are from either the passing of earthquakes or the result of poor construction.

Once inside there was a stark contrast to the unassuming exterior.  The domed ceiling over the altar was complete with a highly intricate stain glass picture of a dove.  Stone, praying angels looked down from above and the entire ceiling was held up with stone columns, which would take two people to embrace.

Mass started at 12:30 so we understood the part when the priest said good afternoon.  From there on in it was each Harper for his or herself.

Most people in central Valparaiso have no form of back yard but it’s not uncommon for people to have a dog.  Dogs are allowed to wander the streets and subsequently do their business wherever they please.  This makes walking through Valpo rather tricky.  You have to keep one eye on the houses and the other on the footpath.

There are many stray dogs drifting about the streets and though none of them have ever appeared aggressive the girls are under strict instructions to not pat any dogs.

Half way through mass we heard the pitter patter of nails on the stone tiles.  A dog, with a collar, wandered into the church.  Which ever way you look at it, this was a place to either find God or dog.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Happy Birthday Mum.

Every Saturday and Wednesday the median strip of Avenida Argentina is turned into a giant fruit and vegetable market.  There would have to be at least 200 stalls all selling very similar produce.  The stores are back to back with no chance of any price competition. All store holders are spruikers through necessity.     

Stand in front of a stall for a second and you’ll have a free sample offered to you.

There is an art to presenting your wares.

Store holders have to set up early to trade for the whole day.

It's easy to get to Avenida Argentina as the trolley bus runs the entire length of both sides of the markets.  The produce is fresh and it's quite an experience for all the senses.  It's noisy, aromatic and busy.

But there's always time to stop and fill out a lotto form.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Pain, the international language.

As an English teacher I’m always on the lookout for non-verbal communication, vital for teaching new concepts or words.  The Chilean people have a fantastic method for telling people of all nations to keep off the grass.  We saw the same method used in Santiago but we have not yet seen the tree these spikes come from.  I assume that there is a shop stocked high with barbed branches.  Should we buy shares in Thorns and Stings?

Valparaiso is by no means a harsh city.  I believe that if you lined all the taxis and buses of Valparaiso end to end you would be able to see it from the moon.  Some of the streets slowly narrow to a point where it is impossible for a car to go any further.  We haven’t noticed any air pollution and imagine that this is because of the proximity to the ocean and there doesn’t seem to be any factories churning out great plumes of black smoke.  As mentioned in other blogs the array of house colours seems to make up for the lack of natural colours here.  I have always been fascinated with trees being able to take root in the strangest of places.

Talluah embarked on her own walking tour today.  She wanted to walk at a pace faster than a three year old.  When the first steam trains were being tested it was imagined that the speed would suck the air out of the passenger’s lungs and send them to the choir invisible.  I warned Talluah of the dangers at walking normal speed and not having to slow down for steps.  She foolishly ignored my warnings and while the girls and I went to the library (our favourite new haunt) Talluah went on a photographicaxpedition.  (worth 49 points in Scrabble)   

Thursday, 24 February 2011

In search of drudgery.

English schools come and go here and finding them can be a bit tricky.  I walked most of Viña del Mar and had to back track a few times as what was once an English school now sold LP Gas and had moved to the other side of town.  I prefer to walk than catch a taxi or bus as I can see things better and make a mental note of what’s worth visiting again.

I don’t know if the Valparaiso Tourist Board wants to know but I created the walking tour of Cerro Playa Ancha’s longest and most boring street.  Which, by the way, does not have an English school at number 852 as the internet suggested.  Cerro Playa Ancha is off our map and is life in the burbs but not as we know it.  We could certainly find a cheap place there but it’s just too far out.

Finding a job is a two part process.  There’s visiting the institutions and schools then there’s making flyers for private lessons and hitting business and asking if they want their staff to learn English.  I walked into the first workplace with confidence, charm and flyer in hand.  What I did forget to take was the phrase for, “Can I leave my flyer here.  It’s for private English classes.”  Better luck next time.

Every body has something to say in Valparaiso.  Some do it by putting art on their front doors or by painting their entire house with vibrant colours.  The last couple of days we’ve really noticed people who whisper their individuality.  These next photos are taken of ground floor windows.  The foot paths are narrow here and when we walk we’re only inches away from someone’s private retreat.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

A book on Spanish, por favor.

Everywhere we go people have been more than patient with us and happy to listen to our version of the Spanish language.  Yesterday I went out job hunting and Talluah went down to El Plan (the flat part) to do some grocery shopping.  She was sitting on the fountain at Plaza Anabel Pinto and two middle aged business men got up from their seats and made a real effort to strike up a conversation with Talluah and the girls.  They tried to fill any gaps with English and Talluah was reminded how welcoming Valpo is.

My work clothes have been rolled up in the bottom of the suitcase for the past three weeks.  As yet we don’t own an iron.  Talluah, beautiful and ever resourceful pulled out the trusty GHDs and ironed my shirt and pants.

Up the road from us is the children’s library.  A typical grand old building with a front door that has been patched as old locks are removed and new locks installed.  We’ve walked past it a few times and Karen has told us about it too.  Talluah needed to inspect the inside of her eyelids so we decided it was a good time for Indiana, Truce and I to go for an expedition.  

Somehow, the lady who opened the door for us gathered that we weren’t Chilean and asked what language we spoke.  I told her English but also asked that she only spoke Spanish to us, especially the girls.  There were three other parents with their kids there.  There was a box with about twenty English books in it for kids and the rest is Spanish.  Fair enough.  The front room held the books and the rear had puzzles, a railway set and other toys.

The mothers there engaged me in conversation and I managed to offend the librarian’s granddaughter when I asked her if a particular child was hers.  She replied in English, “I’m sixteen.”  Yes this was a perfect opportunity to claim my meaning was lost in translation but I had asked the question several different ways that there was no way to back out of it.  Open mouth – change feet.  I think the only thing that saved me was that I hadn’t resorted to mime.

It turns out, this two roomed library is the children’s library for Valpo.  I think I could have done a stock take of the books in an hour.  Part of the reason we came to South America was to learn to appreciate what we have in Australia.  One thing we have learnt on this trip is what is truly important to the children.  When we were preparing for this trip we told the kids that Christmas would be a “doing Christmas” because we didn’t want to have to pack or store any presents.  The kids have only been allowed to bring a few colouring pencils, a colouring book and a packet of Bendaroos (Google them – they’ve kept Indiana busy for the last three weeks).  The girls love this trip – not because of the sights or food or any toys.  They’re happy because they’ve had us solid for the last few weeks.  Valpo can’t compare to having two parents on tap all day.