under umbrellas

It has been five weeks since I arrived here in Santiago.

The weather has turned cold and gray, and the rain came one day and never left. The streets, though dark and dismal under cloudy skies, are nevertheless brightened by the sights of hundreds of umbrellas open against the rain. All colors and sizes, they pass along the streets; with their owners’ faces hidden below, they look as if they move of their own free will, like jellyfish or anemones. And it is perilous to go about on these days; one must risk a caught sleeve, a poked eye, or a sidewalk traffic jam, all generally caused by the little old ladies that walk at a snail’s pace in the middle of the road.

The leaves, too, fall from the trees, but without the usual luster and fanfare of a good Midwestern autumn. There will be no apple picking this year, no Indian corn or apple cider doughnuts, no hayrides or bonfires. I hate missing my favorite time of year. As a small consolation, I will be throwing a Halloween party on Saturday, complete with pumpkin pie, apple cider, costumes, and frozen gelatin hands.

That is, if they have gelatin at the grocery store. Spanish stores are very strange about the things they carry, and going shopping is always an adventure for me. For example, it is next to impossible to find dental floss, and the kind that is occasionally available rips apart between your teeth, making it completely and utterly useless. It is also impossible to find turkey meat; they carry a few kinds of turkey cold cuts, but raw turkey meat does not exist here. Where do the cold cuts come from, then? Eggs and milk are NEVER sold refrigerated, which still creeps me out a little, but yogurt and cheese are. Celery is extremely hard to find, and don’t even try to bother with cranberries. Cranberries and blueberries have the same name here, if that gives you any idea of how little they care about these fruits. All other berries are referred to as frutas del bosque, or forest fruits. A name like that makes raspberry yogurt sound way more exotic than it really is. Philadelphia cream cheese is just called queso Philadelphia, as if that name clearly explains what it is you are buying. I was ecstatic to find cheddar cheese last week, because most cheeses are white and involve complex curing processes that you would rather not know about (one common type is wrapped in laurel leaves and then buried in cow manure for extended periods of time…yummmm). My Italian roommates have to take a bus to find good mozzarella. But there are still about 500 different varieties of cheeses to choose from, and about 1,000 different varietes of yogurt and pudding. Whereas in the U.S. yogurt is usually squished between the shredded cheese and the orange juice somewhere, in Spain yogurt has its very own refigerated wall. There are strange kinds of yogurt too, like cuajada, which is something between a yogurt and a cottage cheese that comes from sheep. It tastes the way you imagine it would, unless a lot of sugar is added. It is always sold in little earthenware pots, which makes me wish I liked it so that I could buy a few. Coke is always sold in glass bottles, and the people swear it tastes better that way. They are probably right.

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