Saturday, December 31, 2016

lost in paradise


Like many Americans, I'd been mispronouncing Valparaíso, without realizing there's extra syllable. It's Val-para-I-so, short for valle del para-diso or valley of paradise. And even though I've only just arrived on the last day of the year, I see what they mean.

Valparaiso is the coolest place to be on New Year's Eve in South America. Rio apparently gives it a run for the money, but everyone else is here. Double-decker buses left Santiago every 2 minutes in a crazy scramble that would be comical or horrifying in another country. Friendly guides in chartreuse asked every few minutes if they could help me find my bus, which would arrive at Gates 6 through 11, or 1 through 11.

A tall friendly Canadian asked if I was staying in Valparaiso and what I intended to do there. Drink champagne? "If you like poetry, Pablo had a house there." I loved his casual romantic name dropping, like Pablo was an old pal from school. This bus situation, I said. "Yeah," he agreed. "It's a real clusterfuck."
Valpo feels a lot like San Francisco, a port built on a series of steep hills, bohemian, with troles and exuberant streetart.
As I walked up the hill to my delightful B&B, where I'm renting a cubbyhole with bunkbeds at New Year's markup, a woman in a doorway smiled and gave me a souvenir: a blue caracole (snail) on a stick. As good an omen of the new year as any.
Later I was walking around taking photos of the exuberant murals (I first learned of Valparaiso because I'd seen pictures of the streetart on Twitter), and ran into Sole, who works at the B&B on weekends. She invited me in for a celebratory drink. Here we are in our mascaras. I joked that her apartment was like a veritable United Nations.
Sole also gave me 12 grapes so that I could eat one for each month of 2017, to bring me luck. I first learned of this tradition, and the ubiquitous yellow underwear, from Eduardo in Mexico City, where you're supposed to eat one grape for each toll as the clock strikes 12.
The most beautiful tradition is environmentally suspect. People buy orange paper lanterns and set them on fire, which makes them float through the sky, burning up the disappointments of the past year. They go by the romantic name globos del deseos.
They fly high and glide down, hauntingly. Before the fireworks, the sky was full of them. This one landed in front of me, like a still-beating heart.

The crowd assembled at 11:45 to watch the fireworks spectacular shot from boats on the bay. Young and very old, everyone is here. "Chi chi chi/le le le/¡Viva Chilé!" everyone shouts. Then it starts.
Lots of kids are armed with silly string and tubes of confetti. Meanwhile this dude brought his iPad.
A beautiful night, and a great place to welcome the new year, with new friends. May the coming year bring you felicidad y paz.