You know how people say “when spring is coming, love is in the air”?
Also, in Les Misérables, Victor Hugo says “If people did not love one another, I really don’t see what use there would be in having any spring.”
This supposes a more Western outlook on love. Let’s edit this for Chile:
“When it is possible to be outside without getting drenched, love is in the air.”
“If people did not love one another, I really don’t see what use there would be in having any habitable public spaces.”
This summer, a friend introduced me to the 5 Love Languages, a theory proposed by christian marriage counselor Dr. Gary Chapman. The theory goes that people give and receive love in 5 ways: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service and physical touch. It’s important, in any sort of relationship, to find ways of speaking the other person’s language and expressing love in a way they can best receive, and vice versa. My love languages are quality time and physical touch, and I think part of the reason Chile and I have gotten along so well is that we speak the same language. Or at the very least, Chile speaks a language that I’d like to learn better.
|nary a pole escapes the barrage
It all starts with el beso, the kiss, which is how everyone, with the exception of some men, greet each other. It’s a jaw-to-jaw endeavor, usually with hands on the shoulders, often followed by a hug if it’s someone you know. Kiss placement is in front of the lower part of the ear. When you enter a new space (be it a room, a house, a cluster of people) it’s best to kiss everyone there, unless the group is large. That would just be too time-intensive. I am still not completely sure about the cultural norms around kissing, and am often a bit awkward about it. Are these kissing friends? Do I hug afterwards? Much doubt. Which means that I usually let the Chileans lead, and am always relieved when a pattern develops. For example, with my host dad Juan, when either of us arrives at the house, when I leave and when I go to bed. With my friend Vicente, always a hug. Always. Maria Alicia, my host mom, is also a hugger, but more for special occasions. My goal is to eventually have the confidence to lead instead of follow, be the one to approach people, arm outstretched to catch their shoulder, chin tilted forward to give the kiss.
|cannot. escape. love-ffiti.
(I did not have to work hard to find these images.)
Then, of course, there’s the pololos, boy/girlfriends. One of the most FAQs of me at the beginning of my time here was whether I had a pololo. It seems that from the age of 14 on, pretty much everyone is in some sort of a relationship pretty much all the time. Walking down the street during busy times is a practice in dodging hand-holding parejas. They adorn with reckless abandon all the grassy public spaces of Valparaíso. It’s not uncommon to see the college-age ones sucking face (sorry, no other way to adequately describe it) at all hours of the day on the benches in the palm tree park separating the two directions of traffic on one of the main streets in town. And it gets worse. Ale, daughter of our family friends in Santiago, told me that you never know who (in groups of two) you’ll find in Santiago’s Parque Forestal at night. Apparently, there’s too many young-ins that live with their parents. It seems that the passion of these early relationships fades with time. Plenty of older couples I’ve met seem more like cohabiters than lovers, but I guess that’s pretty normal everywhere.
Whether it’s between friends or couples, showing love here is a high-volume affair. I notice it most, coming from the tough-man and scandinavian-infused culture of my childhood, with the guys. In the States, I’m accustomed to giving and receiving compliments on what I’m wearing from my girl friends, but not guys. I’m used to having ‘touchy’ conversations with my friends at Wellesley, where I’ll grab a shoulder or touch a knee to emphasize a point, but only with my closer friends and never with guys. All of that is different in Chile. There is no fear about showing affection physically here. I find this quite refreshing coming from a culture where you’re supposed to apologize for even accidentally brushing someone’s leg with your foot. It’s not just that personal bubbles (whether emotional or spatial) are shattered here, it’s that they never have occasion to form in the first place.
And it’s not just affection between friends. Last night I went to give out food to people on the streets with a non-profit that my host dad works for. Many of the people we gave food to (mostly men) took my hand in greeting or thanks, and a few insisted on a besito, multiple times each one. One even gave me a gift. These are people starved for positive human contact, but instead of tending towards an insular existence, they seek out touch. This particular non-profit’s mission is to give food, but also converse and get to know a little the people on the street. It was beautiful to watch how John, trained in social work and a regular employee at the outfit, spent probably 15 minutes talking to one of the more gregarious and less sober men we met, holding his hand with both of his own and giving him a hearty hug in parting. Not only do the people running this program understand how necessary it is to treat street people like people, but they are willing to touch people’s lives using their bodies, not just their words and ears.
|The Stetson above-mentioned man we met on the street last night gave me.
He explained many times that he was mapuche (one of Chile’s indigenous groups)
and therefore that it was an appropriate hat for me, but not for him.
And it’s not just physical contact, either. Fastened to many a railing at a scenic overlook are padlocks with two names and a heart, symbolic of the undying love the two will have. Valparaíso is covered in graffiti and what’s not your typical tags, more artistic commissioned stuff or political slogans is some form of ‘I love you’ writ large on a public wall or etched into cement while it’s still wet. The very sidewalks we walk on and the walls of the buildings we live in are bathed in amor. And thankfully I’ve been here long enough that my metaphorical emotional walls are receiving their fair share. Here’s to hoping that by the end, the walls will seem superfluous and I’ll be able to take my own spray can and splatter joyfully with greater abandon those around me.
I leave you with this: