September 2008


So, I hear there is a big housing crisis and economic turmoil and what not. And I know it is true. But it is kind of hard to believe when you are cycling in Great Falls, Maryland — just outside DC — and you see new mansions being built everywhere. The piece de resistance: a sign that advertises a new development where three of the homes are “starting in the upper $1ms.”

STARTING in the upper one-millions?! I don’t even know what an “upper one million” is.  I think it is probably approximately $1.4 million *more* than any house should cost.

Oh, sigh.

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Yesterday as I was walking back to my office from a hearing, I saw a mother teaching her young son how to urinate on a tree …  right there in broad daylight, by a small tree,  on the painstakingly landscaped, very well-manicured lawns of OUR NATION’S CAPITOL.

The young chap had his pants down around his ankles and his mom/guardian was standing behind him, giving him some sort of instructions. The poor guy was totally exposed — she didn’t choose an area with bushes around it or anything,  and they were just steps off a public walkway.

I assume this must have seemed like the only solution in a moment of great distress for the wee lad.

But perhaps it was some sort of public protest. Piss off, government!

Today is Fiestas Patrias, the Chilean national holiday. Ned and I are back in DC. We’ve been home for two weeks, and it has been very busy from the moment our feet touched the ground (as in, we threw a party for sweet friends 24 hours after our arrival). Then I was sick for a week, but I am now returning to normal.

If we were in Chile today, I think we would spend the day eating empanadas and dancing the cueca.

I’m guessing *a lot* of eating and *a lot* of dancing.

Instead, I spent the day writing stories on oil speculators, Sarah Palin’s distaste for wolves, and new scientific research that could be the key to reviving fish stocks. It was a pretty interesting day, but I could totally go for an empanada and a glass of pisco.

Estamos in Chile.

We have arrived in Santiago, Chile, and I think I may know a bit of what it feels like to be a political wife. I´ve been doing a lot of smiling, nodding, kissing of cheeks and eating way more than I actually want to … as people celebrate the triumpant return of my husband.

Ned and I have been galavanting around S. America for the past ten days as part of a two-week vacation that has taken us to Buenos Aires, the snowy mountains of southern Argentina, the rainy mountains of southern Chile and Santiago. We´ll throw in a day trip to Valpairiso before we go and then stop over ever-so-briefly Lima, Peru on our way home (it was the cheapest way to get the flight).

The real heart of our trip is Santiago. Ned lived here for a while in college, working with an organization that helped abused women, living with a family, speaking Spanish and dancing the cueca. He formed quite a bond with the family and Chile while here, so I have been longing to visit his adopted pais.

We knew we would take some sort of vacation in August, as my office closes for a week. We weren´t sure where it would be (we´re facing lots of self-imposed pressure to front-load our marriage with fantastic trips before the ninos come along). But about a month ago we found some good airfare to S. America (thanks, LAN!), and it all came together. 

We wanted to come to Santiago to see his familia, of course. But Santiago is not exactly the most beautiful city in the world –my apologies to the good people of this town … but it just isn´t. So,  we added Argentina for the vacation appeal. Buenos Aires is like Europe on sale. The dollar may be weak right now, but the Argentine peso is even weaker, so it´s a pretty fanastic place to visit (especially if you, like me, really wanted to go to Italy but realized there is no way you could afford it). We´re talking espresso for a dollar, huge steaks for five bucks (or less) and really good wine for two dollars. Delicious. It´s silly, but I have to admit … I cried the first day we arrived in Chile. I was sad to leave Argentina.

But after spending several gray, rainy days in southern Chile, we came to Santiago. And the moment we pulled up to the family´s casa, I knew why we were here. I could hear Mama Luz´s shouts of joy from inside the house, as she realized her Prestito was back to visit. I cried again, this time tears of joy.

The familia Rivieros is wonderful. Mama Luz is the matriarch, with six adult children, a ton of grandchildren (ranging from about 10 years old to 20-something) and two great-grandchildren. They all live in Santiago. The family is exuberant and loving… meals seem to frequently break out in songs, chants, screams of laughter. It´s all in Spanish, so I can only understand half of what is going on (make that less than half). But even without language, I can feel the love. I see why Ned is so attached.

Even outside the family, my husband is a minor celebrity in this barrio. This is not a neighborhood that sees any tourists, and I think he is probably the only gringo in history to learn the national dance and compete in the local annual dance contest for the Fiestas Patrias, the national holiday. 

So my famous husband was asked to speak to the congregation at church yesterday, and then we made the rounds — hugging, kissing, admiring babies, and the like.

Ned is fluent in Spanish — in fact, Spanish-speakers often ask where he is from, because they don´t think an American could speak so well. I, on the other hand, am just learning the language. So I speak Espanol at about a toddler level. I can point and declare things proudly –hombres! los ninos beben leche! perro! perrito! gato! etc. But that´s about it so far. So, while Preston chatted it up with his gente, as the congregation rejoiced at the return of The Gringo Who Danced … I just smiled a lot.  Soy la political wife. (Succesful political wives do not point and shout like toddlers, alas.)

But really smiling wasn´t too hard. Mi esposa was with his hombres. And it was mui hermosa.