Friday, June 6, 2008

Pingapingapinga

Santiago is a modern city. Six million inhabitants, more malls than you can shake a stick at, a debatably good public transportation system, a beautiful and gleaming metro. It's heavily wi-fied, everyone has electricity and potable water, things generally work how they're supposed to, stores never run out of the essentials. It's very, you know, normal.

And I like that. I like it that I can go to a specialty shop and find some cheese I've been craving, or find underwear made for people with a waist-hip ratio like my doctor talks about. I enjoy the modernity, wouldn't want to live without it.

But there's this element of Santiago that is so deliciously oldschool. The tostaduría (dry goods shop), where I elbow for room with stodgy señoras, irritated with my height, my pallor, my accent. Rainy days that have the channeled Mapocho river ready to leap its banks, urban planning be darned.
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Perhaps surprisingly, as it gets to or near freezing temperatures at night for weeks on end, houses in Santiago are not generally heated. Newer apartments may have baseboard heating or forced air, but for the most part, we shiver, we bundle, and we drink a lot of tea. When the situation gets really bad, we might even turn on an estufa (portable heater), like this one from Falabella, a local department store. They're fueled by gas canisters, which you can call to have delivered.

But traditions die hard, and sometimes you don't want to call. Or you might not have any minutes left on your cellphone, and you have no house phone (a common enough occurrence, modernity be darned). What to do? Never fear, the gas man is here. Announcing himself with the pingapingapinga drumbeat on the gas canisters, these guys make their living pedalling through the neighborhoods, delivering full gas canisters and taking away the old ones, on their triciclos (cargo tricycles).

And with the freezing weather we've been having, they're out in full force. Why, there goes one right now.



Yesterday, two blocks from my house. Nifty shoes!

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