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Preparations: Books

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The recent snowstorm has made reading under the covers or with a cup of tea all the more appealing, so I am preparing myself for Chile in books.  I still have a stack I’m hoping to peruse in the next few weeks, but so far, here are two that I’ve enjoyed:

Marcela Serrano, Antigua vida mía (1995).

Thank you for the recommendation, Lonely Planet, and for the interlibrary loan, Ipswich.  Here are reasons this book was great:

1. Spanish (I read it in Spanish).  You know how the first chapter of a novel you always feel a little in the dark, as you’re trying to figure out the characters, etc.?  Well, for me, at this point, it’s more so in Spanish, but once I settled in, I was cruising, remembering words, enjoying words, feeling good.  After all, my only Spanish since May has been in books (three?) I’ve read, and I am hankering for speaking it again!

2. A little Chilean twentieth century 101: unrest (1960s), Allende (1970), Pinochet (1973-1990), what now?! (end of Cold War).  Also, the plot encounters the death penalty (legal until 2001), and divorce (illegal until 2004).  Wow.  Also, abortion is still illegal.

3. Geography.  I just can’t get over the reversed seasons thing.  For example, a character moves from Chile to Antigua, Guatemala and comments, “It’s so great, it’s like endless February!”  February?!  Oh right, you mean summer, i.e. August.  Turns out New England isn’t the international standard of normal weather, but I have to admit, it sure feels like it.

4. Women, Relationships, Work, Family.  Basically, this book was asking all the questions I’m always asking, except, in Chile.  What makes a satisfying relationship?  What changes when you have children, and how can you hold on to who you are?  How do class and gender manifest, together, in our lives?  So exciting.

Sarah Wheeler, Travels in a Thin Country (1994).

Wheeler is a British journalist who tours the country over six months, mostly north to south.  Though I usually don’t skim, I did shamelessly sift through this one looking for her accounts of the region I’ll be living in.  Of course, she glows about Chile in general (does anyone write a travel book about a country they didn’t like?), but she is particularly gush-y about the my future province: “It touched my soul.”  I also enjoyed her account of the road in this part of the country: “It was a concept, the Carretera Austral, not a road.”  Basically, the north-south road that runs all of Chile pretty much stops in Puerto Montt, so dictator Pinochet built the Carretera Austral to connect the south with the rest of the country, in attempt to encourage migration to the area, and to defend it from annexation to Argentina.  The road is still not complete and is not paved.  Lonely Planet warns travelers to pack jugs of water in your Jeep rental in case you get stranded.  If you ask Google for directions from Puerto Montt (A) to Palena (B) it takes you through Argentina.  The other options are to fly further south (to Coyhaique, as I will be doing), then backtrack north, or take a ferry.

Wheeler’s metaphor for emotional survival far from home resonated for me.  She writes, “I could go for weeks without feeling lonely… I lived off emotional reserves like a hibernating animal lives off its fat.  But a small thing could provoke a fit of grief…”  I love this!  Living at home and being surrounded by friends these past five months has been one long, tasty meal.  I often think about how grateful I feel to  have such nourishing relationships in my life, and I know I will be able to enjoy that sense of connection, despite physical distance.  Emotional reserves.  But a small thing sure can provoke that sharp pain of sadness, like when the sight of brownies made me cry at Camp Betsy Cox when I was ten, because they made me think of my dad.  Oh, the wild ride to come!  Of course, hopefully with time I’ll begin to feel that nourishing connection with Chileans, too.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. jane woodman permalink
    Monday, January 17, 2011 5:19 pm

    Hi Meg – I’m nourished as well by the “long tasty meal” we’ve enjoyed with you being home. And I’ll be thinking of you cooking meals on your wood stove, with much vicarious pleasure. ADVENTURE ON!

  2. Wednesday, January 19, 2011 1:25 pm

    Antigua vida mía sounds great. I’d like to check this one out in English.

    • Wednesday, January 19, 2011 1:51 pm

      I’m glad! The title in English is Antigua and My Life Before. The Spanish title makes use of the double meaning of “Antigua”– it means “old”, and is also a city in Guatemala where part of the book takes place.

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