A lot of people (my mom) have been pestering me to start a blog, presumably in order to immortalize my experience in the Southern Hemisphere. I was reluctant at first, but as it turns out, software development is about as exciting as a pre-season CFL game, so I’m really looking for anything else to do. Despite the title of this, my first-ever blog post, I’ve actually been here in La Serena, Chile for a month. In that month I’ve done the following things:
- Assumed I would get on fine with the locals due to my mastery of the Spanish language
- Been repeatedly embarrassed at my inability to speak Spanish, especially the Chilean dialect
- Visited the regional wine country, Valle de Elqui, of vineyard and pisco distillery fame
- Went to a pisco distillery
- Learned what pisco is (it’s a grape spirit, distilled to 35-40% from what is essentially white wine)
- Been thoroughly unimpressed with Chilean food
- Read several books
- Worked full-time for the Gemini South Observatory
Now that anyone interested is pretty much up to speed, I can talk about whatever I want, because this is my blog and I have full creative control of its contents.
First and of foremost importance to me is the sweet book I pilfered from a coworker in my office. It’s titled “Thermodynamics,” which sounds awful on account of the awful Thermodynamics course I just completed, but it’s written by Enrico Fermi and dates back to 1937. I’ve been reading through it and trying my hand at some of the problems. What’s so interesting about this? Well, Fermi stands high among some of the giants of modern physics like Rutherford, Bohr, Einstein, Planck, Dirac, and these sorts of fellows (sorry, Marie Curie), due to his dubbing of the “neutrino.” This was a mysterious particle first proposed namelessly by Wolfgang Pauli, which Fermi was able to use to complete the first theory of Beta decay. With a lack of foresight quite characteristic of this generation of scientists, it was also claimed that such a pet particle could never be detected. Though this eventually proved to be false, its detection was indeed exceedingly difficult (for anyone interested in a relatively layman-friendly insight into this particle, its discoverer, and the ensuing decades of extraordinary science that resulted, I cannot recommend enough the book titled simply “Neutrino,” written by Oxford physicist Frank Close). Anyway, Fermi and all those other folks I mentioned are quite famous, many of them famous beyond the highfalutin intellectual circles that so revere them. Being a student of physics, it’s very easy for me to assign these men (and women) a kind of otherworldly quality, as if their lives were as timeless and grand as their revolutionary accomplishments are, and then despair at the contrast with my daily tedium. The truth is less glamorous, though; they were all men and women who ate, shit, and died (commas are important here), the same as all the rest of us. So, while Fermi’s Thermodynamics textbook might not say much about eating, shitting, or dying, it is a step in that direction, and humanizing the demi-gods of quantum physics is an enjoyable pursuit for me.
Next, I’ll share an anecdote which I hope will adequately convey the deepness of my suffering at the hands of these charlatan Chileans, who speak Spanish so quickly and with such a bastardized dialect that I have no chance whatsoever of understanding anything beyond the first word. This particular humiliation happened recently, though there have been many in the past month:
I decided to walk down the hill (I live on a hill) to the grocery store and pick up a few essentials (cereal, milk). On my way there, I was accosted by no less than five street dogs, but luckily here in La Serena the street dogs are very friendly. Anyway, once I’d reached the store and loaded up my basket with groceries and approached the till, I was feeling confident that this time, this time, I was ready to blow this chick away (it was a female cashier) with my fluency in her native language.
“Hola! Como estai?” I asked. Indeed, I even conjugated estar to estai using the Spanish vosotros, a disgusting pronoun which the Chileans insist on using in place of tu, usted, and even ustedes.
The cashier responded incomprehensibly, and the entire conversation I had meticulously built inside my head crumbled, taking my confidence and my ability to make even the most trivial of statements in Spanish along with it. I stared dejectedly at the ground as she rang my items through in silence. Then, disaster:
“Terajaerjauea ejeuajaeiet ere rer ejaseesess?/!/.” The woman asked/exclaimed/said?
My heart raced as I tried frantically to conjure an appropriate response to something I understood 0% of. She was holding bananas, sweeping her hand around them as a wizard might before transforming them into something else. I bought some time by squinting my eyes and nodding slowly.
“Perdon?” I asked. She repeated her previous nonsense, but at this point I was in a very dark place. I shook my head slowly, stammering something in Spanglish.
“Oh,” the look in her eyes began to say, “I see. The man I’m dealing with is functionally retarded.”
But suddenly it hit me — I hadn’t weighed the bananas! Here in Chile, you have to weigh all your produce yourself at assigned locations throughout the store, where an attendant waits to slap a sticker on it bearing the information for the cashier. My options now were plentiful! Claro! I could have said, relieved: of course! Ah, si, yo comprendo ahora! I might have said, with a laugh: Ah, yes, I understand now! Instead, I mumbled,
I’m sorry. I said “I’m sorry.” Fuck you, Canada, this is what you’ve made me.
The rest was me bumbling to the nearest weighing station and returning in abject misery, dropping my stupid Chilean pesos everywhere as she handed me the change, saying a hasty gracias to her and the bag-boy (without pronouncing the s, as is the custom here in this god-forsaken country), and leaving.
Almost assuredly I have only more of this to expect in my future, at least until I figure out a way to learn the degenerate language these people speak, or until Sophia gets here to speak all of my Spanish for me.
That’s all for now, here’s a couple of pictures that I have taken of some of the things that are in Chile:
Next time: I talk about work, pisco, the rain, and my inability to defeat my work computer at chess. Also, photos of Valle de Elqui.