Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Vieja Chica

I've spoken before about Chile's wild contrasts, old and new. There's this overarching feeling of retroness to alot of my life here, in spite of how modern Santiago is. Not necessarily retro in my own life, but perhaps harkening back to my grandmother's days. Or even my great-grandmother's days, you know... in the old country.

Today's example is a multi-word expression that you may only know from movies, old books and the occasional yellowed newspaper clipping. The hot water bottle. It's probably based on some even older-school pig's bladder-design, which I prefer not to think about. Wikipedia tells me that this rubber bag with stopper which was historically used to warm the bed or apply heat for medical purposes has been largely phased out in favor of better heating in homes, electric blankets, heating pads, and those microwaveable cherry stone bags that you use for moist heat.

Well Wikipedia should come to Chile. The guatero, or hot water bottle is in wide use in modern times. I would guess that if Monty Hall from Let's Make a Deal were to offer $100 to anyone that could produce a hot water bottle in five minutes or less, he would walk out of this building significantly poorer.

So popular and widespread is the use of hot water bottles that there are hot water bottles for babies, the bottle itself covered in a fleecy design, featuring a bunny (for girls) or a bear (for boys) at our version of Pier 1. Also, the informal jokey expression for someone who shares your bed is guatero con uñas (literally, hot water bottle with fingernails).

Although the use of guateros is widespread, they're considered somewhat passé. People have a good laugh about them, often calling the (usually female) person who uses them a "vieja chica," which is a young woman who comports herself like an older woman. The kind of young woman who dresses conservatively, is horrified by the immorality of today's youth and stays home on Saturday nights.

I choose to see it differently. I accept the good-natured ribbing, and then point out that I am not shivering into a contorted shape as the temperature in my apartment barely scrapes the 40-degree mark (Farenheit, it's winter here). And people usually agree with me, that actually, dormir con guatero es lo mas rico que hay. (sleeping with a hot water bottle is literally: delicious)

I'd also like to propose that the guatero is much more environmentally-friendly than an electric blanket, and safer than a heating pad left on all night. On those microwaveable packs you've got me over a barrel here, because part of my retro lifestyle is that I don't have a microwave. And if Monty Hall came around offering money for microwaves in my apartment building, I think in this case he would leave with his wallet intact.

Sorry about the heatwave, northern-hemisphere dwellers.


Anonymous said...

Funny you should write about this -- I just purchased my first-ever hot water bottle mere weeks ago. I wasn't even in the market for one, actually, but I needed something cheap to push my total up above the lower limit when I was buying something online, and a hot water bottle was the cheapest thing I saw!

We've already had use for it, though (Tage sat with it on his belly when a bout of all-night coughing had left him with sore muscles), and I'm thinking it will come in handy at the babe's feet in the baby carriage when winter makes its way back to us.

Refined Hedonist said...

My boyfriend had a good laugh about this post and promptly called himself a "guatero con uñas". Being that he's of Russian decent, he's the fleece covered model lol ;)

I use one nightly. We have a wood burning stove to heat the house, but once it cools down in the middle of the night, I'm oh so grateful for my hot water bottle. At the beginning of the night though, when I first fill it up and it's almost too hot to leave my feet on it for long, my boyfriend is less grateful as I spend a good 20 minutes driving him nuts twitching my feet around, on and off, on and off, until it either cools off a wee bit or my feet become accustomed to being slightly scalded. And though he might want to smother me with a pillow until I hold still, he has no choice but to deal with it because otherwise I'm stuck to him like a limpet warming my cold feet on him all night he he he he.

Interestingly enough, since I grew up with them (Momma's old school styles Chilean), I've always owned a guatero. When I first moved out on my own at 18, that was one of my first purchases at the drug store in Canada. They seem to be making a comeback as well. The Christmas before last I bought a couple at a Chapters in Calgary (it's like Barnes & Noble) and they had little knit sweaters as covers with Reindeer and Christmas trees on them.

We're not passe, we're eco-friendly. Take that Al Gore!