I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Hola? Hola? Is this thing on?

It's almost one am in Santiago, and I'm not going to attempt to say a lot tonight.

I'm back, after what turned out to be an eleven day trip rather than ten -- a snowstorm kept us grounded yesterday when we were supposed to be flying back to Punta Arenas. I'm tired, because it's late, but I'm also experiencing major culture shock. I left Santiago less than two weeks ago, but it feels so much longer. So much happened. I saw so much.

It was wonderful in every way. The beauty was almost literally unbelievable. We drifted past icebergs under snow-capped mountains and steely skies. The tour operators were superb. And the fact that there was no Internet was a plus, even apart from the obvious benefits of no work email. We were isolated, and that was a good thing. The ship was our community as we shared the experience, and there wasn't anything to distract us from it.

Much much more to follow.

But to end on a less philosophical note, here are some penguins.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


(I already posted this picture on Facebook, so apologies if you're seeing it twice.)

The arm in the white sleeve belongs to El Papa Francisco, the man causing all those closings and traffic jams in Santiago this week -- you can just see his face behind his arm. It's not a very good picture, but I almost missed getting it at all, because after the cordon of motorcycles roared down the avenue, following by a few white SUV's, I was expecting the Pope to be in a car that was a little bigger and a lot less beat up. I didn't realize he was in the little blue car until he was almost past me.

And I was only on the Avenida Providencia at all because I'd taken a wrong turn and gotten myself lost on the way back to my hotel. I'd stopped for lunch at one of the shops in the mall at the Costanera Center (I'd guessed they might be open despite the Pope-a-thon, and I was right) and I walked out a different entrance than the one I'd entered by, and started walking the wrong way down the Avenida, away from my hotel rather than towards it.

By the time I noticed that nothing looked familiar and realized that I was going the wrong way, the police  were putting up barriers, traffic was stopped, and it was no longer possible to get to the other side of the street. So I parked myself in front of one of the barriers and waited, and after an hour of standing in the hot sun and acquiring a very sunburned nose, I glimpsed the Pope for a couple of seconds.

Totally worth it.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Sunday bird blogging

No, not penguins, despite the abundance of black and white. Just some assorted sea birds hanging out on the beach in Punta Arenas. If you look closely you can see that there are hundreds more on the pier behind them.

Friday, January 19, 2018

The ends of the earth

This may not seem like the most exciting picture I've ever posted, although those clouds are pretty impressive.

But this is the view from my hotel room in Punta Arenas, looking out at the Straits of Magellan, where the Atlantic meets the Pacific. This is the end of mainland South America, although the islands of Tierra del Fuego -- you can see them on the other side of the water -- extend south for a couple hundred miles to Cape Horn. This is not a part of the world I ever expected to see, and maybe that's why just the names -- Straits of Magellan, Tierra del Fuego -- make me feel like I'm in a history book come to life.

It's not a comfortable location to walk around in. It's sunny and warm but very, very windy, and I kept taking off my jacket because I was too hot, only to have the winds start up again and cut me to the bone. Fortunately I've already seen most of what there is to see here, so now I can stay inside until we leave for the Falklands and then Antarctica early tomorrow.

After today I have no internet until I'm back here at the end of the month, though I may queue up a few pictures to run while I'm offline if I have time.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Okay, here's a llama

Or jama, as it's pronounced in Chile.

They're not indigenous to this part of the Andes, but some of the farmers have them. I met this guy when we stopped for coffee and a bathroom break on the road to Valparaiso yesterday. Their funny, flexible faces are very similar to camels and so is their behavior -- he hissed at me when I took his picture.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


I spent today climbing the hills of Valparaiso, a crazy quilt of a port city about ninety minutes west of Santiago, and I'm too tired to deal with the pictures -- something to look forward to in February.

Instead, a few comments about the language. I had intended, as I always do, to brush up on my Spanish before this trip, but the craziness of life and work meant that my best intentions didn't get me very far, and I hadn't even looked at Spanish for at least a month before leaving for Chile.

It turned out it doesn't matter. Most of the people I've encountered in hotels, restaurants and other tourist-oriented locations speak perfect English of course, and not even a long-term total immersion course could have prepared me for the rapid-fire, highly idiomatic version of Spanish they speak in Chile.

First, they drop a lot of the letters, like final s's -- here it's Mucha gracia, rather than Muchas gracias. They also like to remove multiple syllables from adjoining words and smash the remaining sounds together into one blur of noise, like paya, which somehow means Go that way.

But it's the slang that has completely charmed me. ¿Cachai? for example, which means Understood? or Got it? and supposedly comes from the English word catch. My favorite so far is listeilor, which is used instead of listo, or ready. It's pronounced Liz Taylor, and sometimes spelled that way, so when you need to tell someone you're ready, you say Estoy Liz Taylor.

So I'm bumbling along, barring the occasional lapse into French. My brain apparently believes that all non-French Romance languages are really just mispronounced French, and at a certain point anything I try to say in Spanish or Italian comes out half in French. This has resulted in ¿C'est aqui? and Oui, entiendo, which I'm pretty certain left the impression that I didn't really understand as much as I was claiming.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Andes from Santiago

Yes, I'm starting to notice a theme here.

Santiago sits in a valley between the Western slopes of the Andes and the Pacific, and the mountains are visible from the city. Kind of. Sort of.

There's so much smog that from the streets the mountains aren't much more than a suggestion, a smudge against the horizon, a shadow between two buildings. I hadn't even realized that the higher peaks were visible from the city at all until this morning when I took this picture from the top of Cerro San Cristobal, a large hill in the Parque Metropolitano.

I hadn't planned to go there today, but the Pope is in town, a national holiday has been declared in his honor, and everything I did want to do was closed. (I was originally supposed to go to Cajon del Maipo today rather than yesterday -- this is probably why the tour operator changed days on me.) You  can climb the hill on foot, or take either a funicular or a teleferico (cable car.) I had thought I'd go up there on my return swing through the city after Antarctica, when I'll be staying close to where you get the funicular -- I'd walk if it wasn't too hot, and take the funicular if it was. I've never been crazy about dangling from a wire in a little car, even before learning yesterday that Chile is the second most seismically active country in the world after Japan. But I'm on the teleferico side of the park and I had a free morning so I did it.

I'd love to get a chance to see this view on a smog-free day but I do like how the mountains and the clouds blend together.

The Andes from the ground

Here are some of the high peaks, taken from Cajon del Maipo, a beautiful valley about two hours drive east of Santiago.

My laptop may have been resuscitated but it's still barely croaking along on life support, so most pictures will have to wait until I'm back in New York. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Andes at dawn

I took this picture from the plane as we approached Santiago early this morning. First leg of the journey accomplished!

I'm leaving early tomorrow for a day trip into the mountains, so even though it's really only dinnertime by my body clock, I'm going to crawl into bed and read until I fall asleep.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Saturday reflections

One more, highly saturated, look at the Palais des Congrès in Brussels (you can see me taking the picture in the bottom left.)

It's been a week of pratfalls and First World Problems, and I won't quite relax until I'm lounging by a pool in Santiago Sunday night. First my Kindle died, and I had to rush order a new one. Thursday night it was my laptop, and yesterday morning was spent at the Apple store, after having to beg for an emergency last-minute half vacation day. Somewhere in there I pulled something in one of my knees and spent a night yelping in pain every time I turned over, wondering if I was going to have to cancel the trip because I was not able to climb into a Zodiac and I risked being abandoned on the shores of Antarctica.

The knee is better though stiff, the laptop is better though sluggish, the new Kindle is here and loaded up, and I am more or less ready to get on my 5 pm flight. I still have to clear out the top shelf of my bedroom closet, which is being renovated along with my kitchen while I am away, and pack up my wineglasses and the last of my pantry. Then -- fingers crossed -- it's off to Santiago and points beyond.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Random things I saw in Brussels

Urban poetry

It was gray and drizzly in Brussels the day I took this picture, but apparently that's no reason not to give your bed linens a thorough airing.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Astronomy Tuesday

I'm not particularly fanciful (pause for hysterical laughter from anyone who's ever actually met me) but this  image of the Helix Nebula looks unnervingly like an eye. If, as Carl Sagan put it, we are a way for the cosmos to see itself, this picture makes me think it's staring right back at us.

And it's a glimpse into the far future, because this kind of planetary nebula is what becomes of stars like our own sun when they reach the end of their long lives. Earth will be gone then, but perhaps the residents of some other planets will marvel at the similar spectacle of our star in its old age.

Image Credit: CFHT, Coelum, MegaCam, J.-C. Cuillandre (CFHT) and G. A. Anselmi (Coelum)

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Sunday bird blogging

I originally rejected this picture -- a little blurry, very noisy -- but nuthatches hanging upside down for no apparent reason other than “Because, that's why!” always make me smile.

And we need all the smiles we can get.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

A tale of two cities

Saturday reflections

Reflections in the windows at my office, during one of the December snowstorms. If I had taken this picture during Thursday's blizzard, there would be better reflections, because you could barely see across the street. Also the snow wasn't so much coming down as being blown horizontal by the winds.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Urban poetry

I have quite a few pictures of Brussels I want to share before I leave town again, but this picture of a playground in Hell's Kitchen last weekend seems more appropriate this morning.

Yesterday was the blizzard, with three times the predicted snowfall and winds that almost knocked me over more than once walking home last night. Today, it's tundra. The temperatures plummeted again overnight, and all that snow has turned to lumpy, treacherous ice. I love to run up the miles on my Fitbit, but I don't think I'll be walking to work today.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Astronomy Tuesday

A Christmas present from NASA: a new image of Saturn from the late great Cassini probe.

This shows Enceladus, the sixth-largest moon. The surface is highly reflective clean ice, and there's at least one ocean of liquid water underneath, some of it spewing into space through cryovolcanoes. You can just see one of these plumes as a smudge beneath the south pole of the moon.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Monday, January 1, 2018

Party life on a cold planet

Here's one more: confetti frozen into the asphalt on 42nd Street.

The morning after

Times Square confetti blown against a revolving door near 42nd Street in New York this morning.

Happy New Year, everyone! It was single digits when I was walking to the office this morning, and it did make me wish, a little, just for a second, that I was going somewhere other than Antarctica on my vacation.

On the bright side, it's actually warmer in Antarctica than it is here right now. Plus, there are penguins.

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