Senora DeFarge

arpillera protest 2I went to Chile hoping to see textiles in action, to visit women who spun wool and practiced traditional weaving and carved their own crochet hooks. This I found, but also something more.

The world’s most famous knitter is probably Madame DeFarge, of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Via her stitch code recording wrongs perpetrated by the autocracy during the French Revolution, many an innocent (if irregular-looking) scarf doomed someone to the guillotine. Portrayed largely unsympathetically until the end of the novel, she is herself a victim of the crimes she records.

In the aftermath of Pinochet’s Military Coup in Chile, Senora DeFarge emerged. Several Latin American cultures have a tradition of arpilleras. These are a combination of applique and embroidery depicting a typical scene from everyday life. In order to understand how they became a central fixture of a protest movement, you need to know that in 1973 Pinochet took the country by military coup from Allende (who in 1970 became the world’s first socialist party president to be democratically elected—and you can imagine how scary that was during the Cold War).

I encourage you to look up the English translation of the speech Allende gave when he knew not only death, but also revocation of his reforms to date, was imminent. His moving final address applies to a wider situation than his immediate one.chile protest

Pinochet’s promises mutated into repression. People began disappearing. Many left voluntarily after seeing the handwriting on the wall. Some received “if you’re still here next week” messages and took the hint; more than 200,000 “voluntary” exiles left between 1973 and 1988. About 3,000 people disappeared into camps–as in no one ever found the bodies–with another 40,000 detained and released.

Freedom of the press ended; unions for miners and transport workers were emasculated; and food shortages grew. The Chilean exiles talked non-stop about their homeland being taken apart, but since they were from a “Communist country” (America in particular did not like Allende) not everyone listened—at first. Inside Chile, mostly poor men and students were disappearing, so who cared?donde estan

Enter the arpillera-makers. Sad as it is to admit, attracting international attention to injustice can be hard. There’s just so much of the stuff going around, who gets attention can literally depend on how well you sell the message. Women in prison smuggled out embroidered scenes, made from threads pulled from their own clothes and wood splinter needles, showing the horrors. Outside the camps, mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives began marching, but not about the political issues; instead they made famous the question “Donde Estan?” (Where are they?) shouted from arpillera banners as they silently walked.

chile arpillera protestFrom as small as 10×12 inches, to bigger than five feet square, the arpilleras also went up on walls, got smuggled out of (and into) the country, and caught the interest of television stations.

It’s amazing how loud a silent art form can be. Pinochet was peacefully voted from power in 1988 after international sanctions showed him that he’d run through his foreign friends. The “Mothers of the Disappeared” protests didn’t just help get Pinochet out with no shots fired in the change-over, they also helped locate and close the camps no one wanted to admit were out there. Never underestimate a woman’s love, plus needle and thread.

reconciliationBut the arpillera legacy continued. When the Chileans who’d left came home to a different country, when their children who’d matured elsewhere couldn’t identify as Chileans, when those who stayed scorned those who fled for abandoning a country that needed them, again the arpilleras came out, this time as an act of reconciliation. Scenes depicted returnees welcomed, Chile united, hands reaching across water.reconciliation 2

Stitching up wounds, women’s true colors show.

 

 

making them

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Too Many Books

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“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

-Robert Browning

 

I’m depressed.

OK, maybe depressed is the wrong word. I’m here in Big Stone Gap, knee deep in kittens, good food, and friendly people. I’m happy, I’m content. What’s better than living in a bookstore? It’s kind of a dream come true, right? So why am I…wistful?

I believe it’s the unavoidable realization that I will never be able to read as many books as I would like. This may not seem like a big deal. I mean, there are plenty of things I’ll never get to do in my lifetime, that’s what the Travel Channel is for. In the normal course of things, I can accept that my life will contain the pleasure of reading only a small, finite number of books. There are times, however, when I feel the weight of all those unread words. This feeling is strong when I visit libraries, and naturally, bookstores.

When I first arrived at Tales of the Lonesome Pine, the shelves bursting with books whispered possibility as only bookshelves can. The knowledge that I had all month to peruse left me giddy. Who knew? Maybe I’d take a gander at the romance section; I’m not proud. Or the Westerns. I’ve never read a Western! The craft section! The gardening section!!! THE MYSTERY ROOM!!!! It was all at my disposal. I imagined tiptoeing through the shelves at midnight, as The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy played softly in the background.

Two weeks in, I’m feeling a little less giddy. Maybe it’s because I’ve only finished two books since I arrived. Maybe it’s because I can’t decide what to read next. Maybe it’s because, with only two weeks left in December, the dream of endless reading possibility has been effectively cut in half.

I can take books home. As many as I want. But that doesn’t alter the fact that I will never read all the books on my ever-shifting list. Maybe this is OK. The ultimate Zen lesson. A reading life can never be fully satisfied. But why would you want it to be? Imagine the tragedy of actually, literally, having nothing to read. When I die, I will not have read the vast majority of the books my fellow humans have produced. Dreary thought? Perhaps, but I will certainly have enjoyed the time I spent trying.

 

 

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The Monday Book: PEACE MEALS by Anna Badkhen

This book drifted into our shop and I read it on and off throughout our recent Chilean travels. It was a great choice for travel reading because it is easy to dip into, chapter by chapter. Badkhen writes in newspaper articles, each chapter complete in itself and pretty self-contained. People looking for a start-to-finish story may not enjoy that so much.

I liked that it was basically a series of short stories themed around food: how hard it can be to get it in war zones; how different getting it is depending on your nationality, ethnicity, and place of eating at the time; how differently mindful of food people are in different countries; how good or bad it tastes depending on why you’re eating it, with whom. Psychology meets food in her thoughtful writing, but she is rarely sentimental. There’s a chapter in which she fights with herself after lambasting her son for wasting food growing in their garden, trying to decide how much of the world she wants him to understand at a young age, trying to figure out whether other people’s food needs influencing her behavior really makes a difference, or is just a feel-good sop.

Recipes accompany each chapter, but I’m not a cook and skipped them. If you enjoy trying to make different types of food, the recipes include where in the US you can get hard-to-find ingredients, or good substitutes for them, which I imagine real cooks would appreciate. Me, I stick to devouring words and ideas, and this book is replete with both. It’s not just that she wrote about her pizza in Iraq, or the hospitality of those with nothing handing out half of it to guests (her favorite meal of all time was a handful of dusty green raisins shared with a man who poured half of his supper into her palm). It’s that between those descriptions she does some thoughtful investigation of her own mind and comparison to other experiences.

In other words, this is an insightful and often analytical book about the emotions and experiences that surround food, in places ranging from overstocked to seriously shortaged. If that sounds interesting to you, you’ll love this book.

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Coffee with Legs?

This afternoon we went on a Tours For Tips of Santiago’s main cultural attractions. These tours are always fun in any country: students picking up a bit of extra money lead you on a 3-hour tour (is the theme from Gilligan’s Isle going through your head right now?) complete with drinks at the end and fun insights into bits of local culture.

Today, we learned about Chile’s fairly unique coffee shops. I’m a big coffee folklore person, fascinated by all the stories and traditions that surround the caffeinated elixir of life, but this one… well, I was gobsmacked.

In Chile there are four kinds of coffee shops: “coffee with legs,” “coffee with legs dark,”  “happy minute,” and Starbuck’s. Tea is the preferred hot drink in Chile, so when a group of businessmen got together to try and promote ground coffee beans as opposed to the instant coffee most places prefer to serve, they fell back on a tried and trusted formula: use sex to move the product.

In Coffee with Legs shops, the windows are clear until about two feet off the ground, then frosted, then clear from about four feet up. This is so you can see the lovely legs of the waitresses wearing miniskirts as they serve the ground beans, roasted fresh. In the “dark” version, the windows are black, and the girls are wearing bikinis. In the “happy minute” shop, for one minute each day, the girls remove the bikinis. Santiago Countdown 1 069

I’m not making this up. The coffee with legs places are also about half the price of Starbuck’s. This is our tour guide standing outside one of the “dark coffee” places. While we were there, three men came out and had to walk through our group.

They had very big smiles. Unlike our tour group, who were staring in a kind of fascinated horror at the place…..

Santiago Countdown 1 068 So now you know. Coffee in Chile is kinda special. Me, I’m drinking tea. It’s good.

 

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I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts!

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Boo!

That’s a lie. I totally am.

I’m not saying I actually believe in ghosts, but I’ve been blessed, or cursed, depending on your perspective, with a vivid imagination. I also made the mistake of watching The Changeling with George C. Scott, when I was in the fourth grade. If you haven’t seen this movie, I recommend it…IF YOU WANT TO BE SCARED OF THE DARK FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE! 

But I digress.

Not only is my imagination more active than most, I am also inexplicably drawn to the macabre. I enjoyed graveyard tours when I was in grade school. Still do, in fact. I’m one of those wide-eyed nuts that asks, always with the benefit of broad daylight, “Is it haunted?!”  I’m eager to hear all the stories. I want ALL THE DETAILS.  And then I need to sleep with the lights on.

When I arrived at Tales of the Lonesome Pine, I was delighted. It was exactly what I had expected. A wonderful old house, certainly with an interesting history, stuffed full of kittens and books. My two favorite things!

I met wonderful people. I played with the cats. I learned to crochet.

And then I did it. I asked the question that was sure to leave me sleepless for the rest of my stay.

“Is it haunted?!?!”

“Only a little”, I was told.

“Just the kitchen”, Kelley said.

“It’s a friendly ghost”, Erin assured me.

“Nothing to worry about”, they both agreed.

And I wasn’t worried. It was three o’clock in the afternoon, after all.

Now it’s night. Everyone has gone home, and I am getting ready for bed. I’m not scared. I don’t believe in ghosts. I walk quietly about my room. NOT nervously, I can tell you. NOT listening for every little house settling sound. No way. Not me. But then I hear it. A sound that does not sound like an ordinary house sound. A small cry. A small mournful cry. A small mournful GHOST cry! It’s the Kitchen Ghost! It’s coming for me! It’s…it’s…it’s a loose floorboard. I step back and forth a few times listening to the small squeal that now sounds perfectly innocent. I get into bed. As I drift off, my last thoughts are how happy I am to be here. How much I love the bookstore, and the town…and didn’t I close that closet door?

 

 

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Si Me Ven: Los Penguinos!

So it’s Si Me Ven, not si me ren, but we’re still doing a lot of walking! And what’s really cool is, so were the penguins. My friend and I went on an ecoturismo excursion to the three islands off the northern part of Chile, near La Serena, called the Humboldt Penguin Preserve. They house 80% of the world’s Humboldt Penguin population.

(I don’t know the difference between a Humboldt and the others.)

Here are the photos of our day driving north, going out on the boat, seeing the penguins, and then, because (as the guide said) some of us must have been living right, we also saw a sea otter, nursing sea lion pups, a sea lion fight between father and son (well, I am a Quaker, so that didn’t feel so lucky, but there you go) and two humpback whales.

As the guide said, “This has been an exceptional day.”

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It’s kind of annoying that Cami looks adorable no matter what she wears – including, in this case, a crocheted skull cap and a life vest. But then, we’ve been friends a long time, so I accept this.

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I had no idea that sea gulls nested in sand. Her husband stood nearby, honking at us in an unfriendly way, so I only snatched one shot. I didn’t want to stress him out too much.

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It is called Camel Rock – well, yes.

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That is a sea otter swimming. At first we thought it might be the only wildlife we saw besides cormorants and sea gulls, but the guides knew what they were doing. You can walk on only one of the three islands that make up the preserve. They give you an hour to walk around, then take you to see the penguins and stuff. So everyone on the island was getting all bummed out at not seeing anything much, and then got happy from being taken to the best viewing spots. Good strategy! Isla del Damas 036

Pretty view of the cliffs, pretty view of the cliffs. and then…..?????????? Isla del Damas 046

“Hola! Que pasa?” The guide said he was a teenager. ?????????? ?????????? ??????????Then came the boobies. Yes, that’s what they are called. They were still nesting, didn’t have babies yet.

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And then, penguins, penguins, and more penguins!??????????

We rounded the corner, and there was a mama with her two baby sea lions. The one below is nursing. She was lying down, but as we came around the corner she lifted her head and then stroked the baby, as if saying, “This is my daughter; isn’t she lovely? Say hello to the nice tourists, dear.”?????????? ?????????? ??????????

And more penguins. My first time seeing them in the wild. I was enchanted.??????????

They took us in this cave to show us the minerals and coral.??????????

It is very hard to photograph coral in the dark in a moving boat. They’d asked us not to use flash with the wildlife because it startled them, so I forgot to use it in the cave. This coral was about the size of my head.??????????

Cormorants, and that white stuff is cormorant crap. (Guana, they calls it, and they use it to build their nests. It is about 20 degrees warmer in the nest than outside because of the guano. A mother’s love… but still, guano is crap. I dunno….)??????????

We rounded the corner and were snapping shots of another mama and baby when the guide at the back of the boat started laughing and said something in Spanish. The guide at the front said in English, “There is a sea otter below the lions. This is very unusual. And it is being exceptionally cute.” It was on its back pawing the air at first. You have to look pretty hard to see it in these photos.

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This is her preparing to slip back into the water. The boat made her a little nervous.Isla del Damas 110

I could not stop being charmed by the penguins. Suddenly they were everywhere. Isla del Damas 121

This is “Big Daddy” of the next harem of sea lions.Isla del Damas 125

And this is “Big Daddy” explaining to his son why he would be moving out soon, according to our guide. Apparently son was getting a little too big for his britches.Isla del Damas 131

And just when we thought it couldn’t get nicer, this happened. This is when the guide said, “Someone on this boat has been living right.” Humpback WhaleIsla del Damas 139

The guide didn’t want to get too close to keep from stressing him out. That’s his tale just as he flipped it at us. He stayed a good five minutes.Isla del Damas 144

And then we went home and had a glass of wine. Does it get any better?!Isla del Damas 146

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The Monday Book: TIME WAS SOFT THERE by Jeremy Mercer

“In a place like Paris, the air is so thick with dreams they clog the streets and take all the good tables at the cafés. Poets and writers, models and designers, painters and sculptors, actors and directors, lovers and escapists, they flock to the City of Lights. That night at Polly’s, the table spilled over with the rapture of pilgrims who have found their temple. That night, among new friends and safe at Shakespeare and Company, I felt it too. Hope is a most beautiful drug.”

mercerJack and I got the idea for using shopsitters at our place – people who receive free room and board in return for living there – from Shakespeare and Co. This is a famous bookstore across from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

On a listserv of bookshop owners, talk turned to books about bookstores. (I received ego strokes, and then we went on.) Mercer stayed at the shop for some time, watching the ebb and flow of people who ranged from down and outs to up and comings. He also spent significant time with George, the shop owner (although not its founder – Sylvia Beach did that) and some of the regulars.

Mercer’s book is in many ways journalistic, showing his roots as a true crime writer. Yet he portrays the under humanity so simply with his “this is what happened” prose. One of the blurbs on the back calls the book a romanticized version of the bum’s life, but I don’t agree. The book is far less romantic than wistful.

Among the things Mercer does is get George’s daughter to visit, and ultimately secure the shop’s future. It has a fascinating history: closed during the Nazi Era, considered a hothouse of sedition in the 1960s student riots, monitored by the CIA in the 1990s if George is to be believed.

There are a couple of startling moments: an ethnic hate crime results in murder and Mercer is less concerned about the murder than the police sniffing around a bookstore full of people with improper visas to be in France. He seems more concerned when the 84-year-old George gets engaged to 20-year-old shop worker Eva. That kind of thing. It all just sails past, along with the adorable moments of scorn for “30 minute tourists” who just want to stick their head in the door because the place is famous, having no understanding of or interest in its true ethos.

And there’s a very funny cynicism to the scheme three residents come up with, to sit and write in front of the tourists and sell the pages, story by short story. The description of this was, quite frankly, laugh out loud funny.

This isn’t a story about books, but about the bookstore itself, its inhabitants, and its purpose. Mercer’s final paragraph is a good summation: “In the end, yes, it is a famous bookstore and, yes, it is of no small literary importance. But more than anything, Shakespeare and Company is a refuge, like the church across the river. A place where the owner allows everyone to take what they need and give what they can.”  

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