21 October 2012

Jokes and Realities

"Money pads the edges of things," said Miss Schlegel. "God help those who have none."
"But this is something quite new!" said Mrs. Munt, who collected new ideas as a squirrel collects nuts, and was especially attracted by those that are portable.
"New for me; sensible people have acknowledged it for years. You and I and the Wilcoxes stand upon money as upon islands. It is so firm beneath our feet that we forget its very existence. It's only when we see some one near us tottering that we realise all that an independent income means. Last night, when we were talking up here round the fire, I began to think that the very soul of the world is economic, and that the lowest abyss is not the absence of love, but the absence of coin."
"I call that rather cynical."
"So do I. But Helen and I, we ought to remember, when we are tempted to criticise others, that we are standing on these islands, and that most of the others are down below the surface of the sea. The poor cannot always reach those whom they want to love, and they can hardly ever escape from those whom they love no longer. We rich can. Imagine the tragedy last June, if Helen and Paul Wilcox had been poor people, and couldn't invoke railways and motor-cars to part them."
"That's more like Socialism," said Mrs. Munt suspiciously.
"Call it what you like. I call it going through life with one's hand spread open on the table. I'm tired of these rich people who pretend to be poor, and think it shows a nice mind to ignore the piles of money that keep their feet above the waves. I stand each year upon six hundred pounds, and Helen upon the same, and Tibby will stand upon eight, and as fast as our pounds crumble away into the sea they are renewed—from the sea, yes, from the sea. And all our thoughts are the thoughts of six-hundred-pounders, and all our speeches; and because we don't want to steal umbrellas ourselves, we forget that below the sea people do want to steal them and do steal them sometimes, and that what's a joke up here is down there reality."

The above passage comes from Howards End, which I'm currently reading, along with Edward St Aubyn's Patrick Melrose series of novels (Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, Mother's Milk, and At Last). I can say in hindsight that it probably was not a good idea to read these books—English in very different ways—at the same time. (I prefer the Forster.)

Bringing books by English novelists to Chile was an even worse idea. Before coming to Santiago, I could have packed a Vargas Llosa (who is Peruvian-Spanish, by the way), a Bolaño, an Alberto Fuguet, or a Pablo Simonetti. Something Latin American, you know. Something un-English, thematically speaking. But of course I had no idea back then how difficult it would be to find an English-language bookstore in Santiago. The Chilean titles tickle me, but until I learn to read well in Spanish I can't scavenge the shelves the way I do in Manila. A couple of months ago, an interesting local who wrote poetry in French and admitted to disliking Neruda had pointed me to the direction of Takk (near Los Leones metro station) and Librería Alquimia on Manquehue Sur, but being extremely geographically challenged I have not found these bookstores. It's kind of sad. It'll be even sadder once I run out of English words to read.

08 October 2012

Something True

Recently I went to Fausto with M. She's from New York. It was sometime during the week of the Dieciocho celebrations in Chile, and there wasn't much to do except to party. The Providencia office was closed; so was the library. The metro was taking passengers, but where to go? The only places that remained open were the places that served liquor. So we decided to go to one. This is on Av. Santa Maria, next to a gasoline station, just past the hospital. However, the driver of the taxi we had jumped into didn't know where exactly the club was. I don't blame him. There aren't any signs outside the door. There aren't any banners or neon lights or loudly painted walls. If you can't find Fausto in the daytime you won't find it at half past midnight, which was the time that we went, M and I. 

I don't dance much. Actually, I don't dance at all—except probably in the shower. But dance I did that day, in the spirit of Dieciocho. Dance we did. Not the traditional cueca, mind you, but disco. Forget folk stylings and handkerchiefs; this house blasted Madonna, Kylie Minogue, Pitbull, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, that sort of thing. It wasn't exactly the most edifying playlist. Other people from other places in other times would laugh. But for these head-bangers both M and I were able to draw courage from the heady goodness of terremoto ("earthquake"), indeed a drink with shattering effects. Thus courageously and shatteringly did we move from the first-floor bar to the dance floor, from the dance floor up through the decadent marble staircase to the second-floor bar, from the second-floor bar to the other dance floor, which was wider and denser and darker and bigger and louder, while hours passed in the woozy blur of laser lights, cigarette smoke, and heavy bass lines.

Somewhere in a corner you saw somebody snogging another without seeing his face or knowing his name. Somewhere at the bar you heard drunken promises being uttered only to be broken in the morning. Somewhere on the floor you felt the random brushing of expensive tweed, cashmere, and corduroy, worn solely so that a handsome stranger could be teased into stripping them all off. Somewhere in the bathroom you understood that the effects of initials (Es, Vs, Ps) were being relished, that stuff was being divided into lines. It was reminiscent of college and after-college—of days that I had squandered largely by means of hallucination. I told M that I thought so. Does this not remind you of those days? And she said that it did, without offering a different story. 

At around five we finally went downstairs. We got our coats then sat again at the first-floor bar, watching a few more people file out of Fausto while in the background Rihanna chanted, we found love in a hopeless place, we found love in a hopeless place. This was when the couple came in. A middle-aged Chilean couple, probably in their late forties or early fifties. One had a well-groomed beard, the other was clean-shaven. One wore a simple V-neck sweater, the other a simple crew neck sweater. Both wore brogues. They literally swayed their way from the concierge to the bar—swayed slowly and ever so sweetly, at their own pace, to their own tune. They were smiling and holding hands and whispering in each other's ears. At some point, they realized that M and I were watching, whereupon the clean-shaven one turned to us and waved and said, "Hola!" with such unrestrained joy that it was all I could do not to shed a tear. Then they wrapped themselves up in an embrace and I was sure that whatever it was they were saying to each other, it didn't have to be sexy, it didn't have to be smooth, it didn't have to be grand. It only had to be true. The words and rhythms of two men who were done with settling for counterfeits.

M and I left Fausto before the sun came up. We decided not to take a taxi and walked instead towards Vicuña Mackenna, by the Baquedano roundabout, where we parted and went opposite directions and headed to the places in Santiago that we call home.