Sunday, October 3, 2010

Las Fiestas Patrias

Giant flag at La Moneda

Chile just celebrated 200 years of being an independent country, breaking free from Spain in 1810 (though not actually independent until 1818…apparently just a minor detail).  As you can imagine, there was a pretty extraordinary celebration and luckily I got to be a part of it.  Given the importance of this momentous holiday, most schools in Santiago (mine included) had a nice vacation from Sept. 10-19.  With the exception of the sort of extended celebration that usually happens between the Christmas and New Year holidays, I think I speak for most Americans when I say that we are used to a sort of one (day) and done, event.  Labor Day is one day, Memorial Day is one day…OK maybe we get 2 days off, for the price of one with Thanksgiving.  And maybe again with the Fourth of July.  But it appears that every year, not just this year during the bicentennial, that most Chileans get an entire week of vacation to celebrate their equivalent of the 4th, which is called ‘Fiestas Patrias’ (translation: Patriotic/National Holidays).

An 'asado' with some friends
In many ways, it is pretty similar to the Fourth of July.  Chileans gather with family and friends to relax and celebrate their culture and history.  Nearly every family (in Santiago at least) has some sort of ‘asado’ or barbecue with pretty typical fare like pork, beef, and chicken, usually prepared with a simple rub of salt and herbs.  Chileans also love ‘anticuchos,’ which are shish-kabobs usually made with such things as chorizo or longaniza (Chilean sausage very similar to chorizo), beef, pork, onion, and bell peppers.  Chorripan is another popular grill-out item and happens to be a favorite of mine.  It’s like a hot dog, but made with chorizo and fresh Chilean bread called marraqueta (similar to French bread), which you toast on the grill while the chorizo cooks.  Drinks are an obvious and indispensible complement to all of the food.  Chicha, at least in the Chilean sense, is basically a slightly alcoholic beverage that falls somewhere between grape juice and wine…with lots of added sugar.  It’s great.  Terremotos (earthquakes) are also a popular trago during these holidays and they consist of vino pipeño (a sweet, ordinary wine), a bit of pineapple ice cream, maybe some grenadine, and usually some type of liquor (either pisco or fernet- I’ll explain them another time).  Ten points for anyone who can guess why they’re called terremotos.  They get to be a problem when you’re neighbors insist that you have one in your hand at all times.  

 Though food and drink are what I happen to find most important in the holiday, there are some other interesting things that happen too.  ‘La cueca’ is the national dance of Chile (a traditional dance of courtship) that nearly all Chileans dance during this holiday.  In nearly every park in Santiago, there are ‘fondas’ during the week of the 18th, which are basically the equivalent of a small fairs or carnivals with games, food, and shows (live music or traditional Chilean dances).  This video is of one of our neighbor and his girlfriend dancing la cueca while his dad looks on and films the family memories.

The light show at La Moneda
This year for the bicentenario, the government put together an impressive show at La Moneda, in Santiago (used to be a mint- moneda meaning money- then was the President’s private residence, now just a general gov’t building).  Using a handful of 3D video projectors, lasers, and other lights, they basically turned its white façade into a video screen.  Part of the show was a celebration of Chile’s history and cultural heritage and the rest was basically an impressive light show with music.  There was also a Chilean flag in the front of La Moneda that was roughly 60 x 90 feet.  Pretty impressive spectacle on the whole.  So impressive, in fact, that I went twice.  Although the first night I went to the show there were probably about 500,000 people and I didn’t see anything.  Two of the friends I was with climbed a tree in the square for a better view.  Though the carabineros (military police) threatened the two, there was nothing they could do to get through the sea of people to the tree.  In the end, those two saw the show and the other 5 of us didn’t, so I went back a few days later to see it with other friends. 

Joe and I celebrating our win...we were playing
a Chilean game called 'caballito' with our neighbors.
Imagine chicken fights but on the street...
All in all, that was the best week I’ve spent in Chile so far.  Every day during that week when I stepped out of our house, neighbors were offering me some of the food from their grill or some kind of a drink.  I really had the chance to get to know more of the people from my neighborhood and develop a few relationships with neighbors that have continued to grow in these past weeks.  In any case, getting to know some of the people that I live around and sharing the excitement of these holidays has made it seem a bit more like home.  ¡Viva Chile!

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