Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Colorless Santiago?

One day I was at BandH photo in New York, my second or third trip to the store, this time to discuss the possibility of buying a "penguin lens" which is what I still call my 70-300 (zoomcito) which I bought for the specific purpose of taking pictures of penguins on the Falkland Islands. (and I did!)

Throughout the discussion that I had with the salesman there, we did not discuss how thoroughly overrated the shopping experience at this particular photo-techy mecca store is. That I will leave to a writer who I happen to know is working on a story that will touch on this, and many other finger-pointing topics. What we talked about (among other things) was how anglos don't get "us," with "us" really meaning him, since I am an Eastern European quiltro (mutt), and only have gone vaguely latin americana in recent years. But he took me into his confidence, and told me about how his anglo girlfriend fit (or didn't) into his Dominican family, and we became fast friends. At least until the sale was made.

Except then he started ragging on Santiago. No color, he said! It's black and white and grey and brown and beige. It just lacks color! I didn't know if he meant it was missing mariachi bands, or colored serapes, or brown-skinned girls in bright colored tanktops playing jumprope on the street. Color! he insisted. And he insisted it was lacking.

I could easily point to yesterday's post, and the colorful sunset pictures I posted, or the rainbow of green you can see in a single asparagus stand in the spring, but I mainly (as I do when I feel offended, as I am part turtle, or perhaps ostrich) just got quiet. But not totally, first I cut him off and tried to correct him, because if I am part turtle, clearly I am part snapping turtle. Chomp. And I paid for my heavy lens, my cashier's tag proclaiming that she spoke Turkish, Arabic and English, and went happily on my way, forgetting all about my adopted city's alleged colorlessness.

But winter is upon us, and despite the occassional crisp-as-a-snowflake day with blue skies and a sharp ridge of brightwhite mountains, we're in a period of grey. It's a bit blah. And Santiaguinos, especially in the winter, tend to prefer dark blues, black, grey, brown, and beige to dress. Maybe it's because the rainy days are mucky and awful and everything gets stained with street mugre (grime) if it's not a dark color. Or maybe it's just what the clothing purchasers buy, so it's what we wear.

This came up the other day because I was wearing a scarf that I'd bought in Bolivia. It's red/orange/darkorange/green/lightgreen/blue/darkblue/lightplue/pink/yellow/olivegreen/skyblue, repeated a few times. It's bright. And it stands out. I was commenting to a friend last week that I didn't know why people here don't like bright colors (with the exception of a friend who I saw the other day who was a purple and violet vision of loveliness, head to tiny size-six toe). And we came upon something. In Chile we don't have a particular word for "bright" as in bright colors. We have alegre, or happy. Colores alegres (literally: happy colors, means: bright colors) are seldom seen on the street. I wonder what it says about the collective psyche, if we fail to include happy colors in our closets.

I'm going to be in New York in a few weeks, and I was thinking of trotting out my best rainbow brite to see what kind of effect it would have. And then I realized that New Yorkers aren't fased particularly easily, and that I'd pretty much have to dress in a suit of armor to get any attention, and that only because I'd set off metal detectors, and because of all the clanging. Plus the certainty that I would fall and get trapped on my back, limbs waving, like the turtle I claim to be.

Which wouldn't be very bright at all.


Marisa said...

while i am all about defending santiago, i do agree that compared to other latin american cities it does lack color... except the beautiful sunsets (but doesn't some of that have to do with the pollution? yuck!)

Abby said...

I remember this convo (and your lovely scarf!)

Speaking of colorless,tonight I went to a heavey metal concert (kind of by accident) and luckily I was wearing dark jeans and an olive green jacket or else I would stuck out like a very very very sore thumb. My friend wore khakis and a red sweater and he commented that he was more "pop rock" than "heavy metal" and he was right.

Everyone but us was wearing black head to toe. It was kind of like walking down the street everyday, but worse.

Sara said...

I guess I have never really noticed that the city lacked color. I do however, notice that its residents lack color. But, hey, I can't really complain, because I love to dress in head to toe black.

aliceinparis said...

I love bright pops of colour. Wear that scarf girl! How bout your socks?

Annje said...

Found your blog off some other Chile blogs where I am living vicariously. Interesting post. I hate when people criticize something close to me--even if it is something I might say myself. Stgo is bleak in the winter, but I kind of like bleak and I kind of wear boring black a lot too--I am uncomfortable wearing colors that call too much attention

Steven said...

Aren't New Yorkers notorious for wearing black all the time? If you ask me NYC is fairly colorless in the winter.

On a slightly different note, do men in Santiago wear shorts as often as the men in the USA? I ask because I just got back from Mexico about a week ago. It was pretty hot outside, yet almost no one wears shorts.

Unless I'm working, I almost always wear shorts if it's over 70F.

Eileen said...

Steven: shorts are a year-by-year situation, though they are becoming more popular every year. More men wear pescadores (3/4 length) pants here than in the United States, and they can rock them. Aside from that, most people won't wear shorts in the city unless they're playing sports outside. It's a pity, because is it ever hot in Santiago in the summer.

Annje: thanks for stopping by!

Marisa: same to you! and yeah, I was just snappish that day. It's like how I can say things about my mother (hi mamaj!), but no one else can.

Margaret said...

People I met when I first came to Chile still remember that I wore a 3/4 length red wool jacket. I had no idea how much I stuck out til someone pointed out that everyone else wore navy blue, gray or black!
On the other side... have you ever worn anything white in Chile in the winter? the smog and mugre turns it all pretty cruddy pretty fast.

Sharon said...

Yay for purple!!
To be honest, I tend to go towards bright colors all the time, even wearing summer stuff during the winter. Colors keep me happy (and keep people thinking I'm stranger than I truly am)

BTW, I'm actually a size 5 and that's why I can't buy nice shoes :(

Miff'd said...

I agree with Stephen. I remember riding a bus through Manhattan in January and thinking to myself, if I lived here I would wear the brightest coat I could find, because who could bear to be just another lump of coal... So yeah, rock that scarf wherever the blahs prevail!