Not a Connoisseur (Accent on the 2nd Syllable)

It Was Just a Phase I Was Going Through

I have fallen out of love with wine. Oh, when I was younger, I thought that it would be very cool if I were knowledgeable about wine and showed everyone what good taste I had. Right next to the company where I worked, there was a Vendome Wine & Liquors, and I tried mightily to read up on vintages and varietals, and to be the guy who showed up at the party with the most interesting wine.

My biggest coup was to find several 18th century Madeiras. It was a bit of a rip-off, because only a small portion of each bottle dated back two centuries, but the bottle stated that it was a 1756 (or whatever) vintage. It was all right, I suppose, but now Madeira is a bit too sweet for my taste.

Now my brother is a genuine wine connoisseur (with the accent on the last syllable). He actually has a wine cooler at home set to the ideal temperature, rarely varying more than a degree or two of optimal.

Perhaps the reason I no longer drink wine is that the medications I take—anyway, most of them—may not be taken with alcohol. And, as a diabetic, I know that alcohol turns into sugar in the body. So I rarely drink anything alcoholic with my meals. Yesterday’s lunch was an exception: I had some British hard cider, which was quite good. And when it is blisteringly hot, I will occasionally drink a beer.

As for wine, that is, for me, so 1970s that I generally avoid it. It was all well and good when I had people to share it with, but Martine doesn’t drink wine either, and if I open a bottle, what do I do with what I don’t finish? Put in in the refrigerator? That kind of wrecks the taste.

The last time I enjoined wine was three years ago when I was in Valparaiso, Chile. The Bed & Breakfast where I was staying had a wine tasting of reds and whites from the nearby Casablanca Valley. They were all pretty good. So maybe, it’s not so much that I don’t like wine as that the circumstances of my life as it is lived have irrevocably changed.


The Three Houses of the Poet

Isla Negra Where Neruda and His Wife Are Buried

Isla Negra Where Neruda and His Wife Are Buried

I haven’t written about South America lately, so I decided to return to it. If my visit to Chile seems haphazard and unplanned (Puerto Varas to Valparaíso to Santiago), it is because my sightseeing goals were, to say the least, abstruse. Remember, I probably wouldn’t have gone to Argentina if it weren’t for my readings of such writers as Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Juan José Saer, and César Aira. My favorite Chilean writer is the poet Pablo Neruda. So I went to Chile to visit his three houses.

It’s not really abstruse, I guess, because Neruda was not only a great poet; he was also a great domestic architect and designer. He had some money to work with because he was not only a poet, but served various diplomatic posts, particularly in Mexico.

The first house I visited was at Isla Negra, about an hour south of Valparaíso. It was my favorite of the three, located as it is on a nice stretch of beach. Also it was not trashed by Pinochet’s fascist supporters after Salvador Allende fell, like La Chascona in Santiago was. Isla Negra seems to go on forever, with quirky bars, dining rooms, nautical and railroad themes, and fascinating collectibles.

La Sebastiana in Valparaíso

La Sebastiana in Valparaíso

High on a hill, on Avenida Alemania, with a sweeping view of Valparaíso’s bay, is the towering La Sebastiana. Like Isla Negra, it still has all the original furnishings, with the poet’s quirky love of nautical themes. On the day I went, the house was full of French tourists.

Santiago’s La Chascona

Santiago’s La Chascona

Finally, in the city’s ritzy Bellavista area is La Chascona, which means “messy hair.” The reference is to wife Matilde Urrutia’s hair. This house is tucked against a hill and does not have any sweeping views the way the other two houses do. Although the original furnishings were trashed in 1973 by fascisti supporting dictator General Augusto Pinochet, Matilde managed to salvage many of her late husband’s original decorations, such that one scarcely notices the damage that had been done.


Dining with the Bomberos

One of the Best Places to Eat in Chile is the Main Fire Station in Valparaiso

One of the Best Places to Eat in Chile is the Main Fire Station in Valparaiso

One of the best places to have good wholesome food in Chile is at the local firehouse. I put this truism to the test in Valparaiso, where I had a delicious meal consisting of chicken consommé, salad, fried fish, rice, and a fruit dessert at the main fire station in Valparaiso—for only 3,000 pesos (that’s less than five dollars).

I believe my waiter was one of the firemen (he’s shown standing in the background in the above photo). The food was straightforward; there were no other tourists in attendance; and the place was immaculately clean.

The word bombero sounds vaguely menacing in English, probably because it looks like “bomber.” Rest assured that I do not make a practice of dining with terrorists. Chilean firemen is a different story altogether.

The Lakes Crossing

From Bariloche Over the Andes to Chile

From Bariloche Over the Andes to Chile

There are a number of border crossings between Argentina and Chile. One of the most picturesque is the so-called “Lakes Crossing,” known in Spanish as the CruceAndino. It takes almost eleven hours and consists of three boat rides and four bus rides. They are as follows:

  • BUS from San Carlos de Bariloche to Puerto Pañuelos on Lago Nahuel Huapi
  • CATAMARAN from Puerto Pañuelos to Puerto Blest
  • BUS from Puerto Blest to Puerto Alegre on Lago Frias
  • BOAT from Puerto Alegre to Puerto Frias, where you will officially exit from Argentina
  • BUS from Puerto Frias to Puerto Peulla on Lago Todos Santos, where you will officially enter Chile, and where you can stretch the trip to two days by staying in a hotel (I didn’t)
  • CATAMARAN from Puerto Peulla to Petrohué
  • BUS from Petrohué to Puerto Varas right past the Calbuco Volcano, which erupted three times this spring
Puerto Peulla on Chile’s Lago Todos Santos

Puerto Peulla on Chile’s Lago Todos Santos

I had thought that crossing the Andes here would involve altitude sickness, but it didn’t. I do not believe this route got much higher than 3,000-4,000 feet. Although while on Lago Frias, it seemed we were way up high, we weren’t. All in all, it was very comfortable and well organized, considering all the handoffs between buses and boats.

The only thing that was odd was that I never received a Chilean tourist card at Peulla, where I entered the country. When I left Chile from Santiago’s Benitez Airport, I had to go to another window so that the PDI (investigative police) generated one for me based on my passport stamps. In any case, it was worth the slight inconvenience.


The Magical Forest

A Forest of Chilean Myrtles at Los Arrayanes National Park

A Forest of Chilean Myrtles at Los Arrayanes National Park

One of the sights I most wanted to see on my recent trip to Argentina and Chile was Los Arrayanes National Park on the Quetrihué Peninsula. We arrived there on a fantastic old boat (more about which in a future post) from Puerto Panuelos near San Carlos Bariloche.

There is a prevalent myth that Disney was inspired by the look of the Luma apiculata (Chilean Myrtle) trees for his cartoon feature Bambi (1942); but, alas, Disney did not visit Argentina until three years later. Still, it is possible that he knew of and was inspired by the forest before his visit.

These trees with their orange-colored bark grow only in the Patagonian Lakes District of Argentina and Chile between 33° and 45° South Latitude. They range from 33 to 49 feet (10 to 15 meters) tall.

Typically it is possible to take a tour to Los Arrayanes which also includes Isla Victoria on Lago Nahuel Huapi, where one can see Sequoias and Ponderosa Pines imported from California over a century ago.



My Vacation Is Getting Closer

My Vacation Is Getting Closer

In the last few weeks before my vacation, I am feeling restless. All other things aside, here are the books I plan to read before the month is over:

  • Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside-Down. Revolutionary movements in 17th century England.
  • Guy de Maupassant, Afloat. For my French literature group on Yahoo!
  • Pablo Neruda, Canto General. I plan to visit the poet’s houses in Chile.
  • Macedonio Fernandez, The Museum of Eterna’s Novel, by a friend and hero of Jorge Luis Borges.
  • John Lynch, San Martin: Argentine Soldier, American Hero. A biography of the Founding Father of Argentina.
  • Aldous Huxley, Complete Essays, Vol. 1, 1920-1925.

And that’s probably half of what I will end up reading this month. Only, it’s always more difficult when one faces a deadline. One thing I will not do is stuff my suitcase full of books, nor concrete blocks either. While I am traveling, I will be reading exclusively from my two Kindles.

As usual, I have a dental emergency just before my vacation. Two small pyramidal chunks of tooth came loose the other day, so I will have to go to the dentist tomorrow. Plus I have two medical appointments this month.

Most of my shopping is done, but I will need a new belt: My old one fell to pieces a couple weeks ago. Plus I will have to get some mosquito repellent (for the Iguasu Falls area), and possibly a two-pocket shirt if I can find one. Oh, and I’m sure I’ll find a couple of other things I will need, or at least feel I’ll need.

The picture above is by Paulo Zerbato and nicely expresses what I am feeling right now.


Street Crowds in Valparaíso During Tsunami Alert

Street Crowds in Valparaíso During Tsunami Alert

In about two months from now, I will be in one of the Ring of Fire’s “Hot Zones”—coastal Chile, where a Richter 8.3 quake has just struck not more than a couple of hours ago. Most articles centered on the effects of the quake on Santiago, though the epicenter was 144 miles northwest of the capital, which suffered minimal danger because  it is built on rock, namely the foothills of the Andes.

The city of Coquimbo, nearer the epicenter, has already seen tsunami waves as high as 4.5 meters (about 14 feet), and even California and New Zealand are expected to feel some activity.

I will be in Valparaíso for several days in late November, though I will be on higher ground on Cerro Alegre. The port area is probably the most dangerous area: If there is another major earthquake, people will be running for the forty-three hills that surround the city in a semicircle.

Crowds Gather on High Ground in Valparaíso

Crowds Gather on High Ground in Valparaíso

Oh, I suppose I could visit less dangerous areas, like North Dakota or Manitoba, but I’ve always wanted to visit Chile, even if for just a few days. By then, with luck, the aftershocks will have died down some.

Today, I checked the volcanic activity at Calbuco and was delighted to find that its alert status has been lowered to green.

Live dangerously!