Cultural Differences in Norfolk, VA

I’m sitting in the lobby of a building in Norfolk, Virginia working on my laptop.  Some people say that because I am a millennial, I am more addicted to my device–phone, computer, tablet, etc.–than previous generations but I believe it is more dependent on personality and situation than generation.  For example, the people I am working with are from a previous generation and use their phones just as much, if not more, than my peers.  I have observed that phones are indiscreetly out on the table at dinner.  Even on the white tablecloths of fine dining establishments.  Said phones are frequently checked, photos snapped—again indiscreetly—of the waitress bringing us our drinks, the food, and the decor.  But not by everyone, it is personality dependent.

But I digress.  The original intent of this post was to tell you about my observed cultural differences here in Virginia.  First off, just about everybody greets you when they walk by.  Currently, I get “good mornings” from most people.  Also, people stop and just chat more frequently than I find in California.  One gentleman just stopped to say “hello, how are you?” and ended up telling me about his life, where he had lived, etc.  I don’t know if I can say it is more friendly, but it is certainly more chatty here.

I heard a man say, after checking if the door was functioning properly, “Trust but verify.  Just a little Ronald Reagan for you.”  Apparently, the door had not been working and then been fixed but this particular gentleman wanted to test it for himself.  I really liked that, 1) because I can identify with that behavior and 2) because I like short phrases like that that carry meaning.  I looked it up and “trust but verify” actually comes from a Russian proverb, Reagan’s advisor on Russian affairs taught him that during his tenure as president.


Manners are wonderful.  They make people feel special and we are given a lovely way to express ourselves with language, why not use it to make others feel good.  Maybe because people feel foolish or vulnerable expressing how they feel or kind things to one another?   I get so sad for people who don’t know how to effectively communicate with others.  I guess it’s subjective for me to say “effectively communicate” because my idea of effective communication may differ from yours or hers or the next person’s.  It’s nice to tell someone that you appreciate them or even simple things like telling someone “it was a pleasure to meet you,” because if you’re living right, it should be a pleasure to meet some one new.  You learn new stories from her/him and can gain wisdom from every experience you have.  And if not, you can at least impart something positive on his/her life.  You never know what other people are experiencing in their life and a positive, kind thing from you can make their day.  It can change their life.  Or be a step towards a life change.


People talk about sensual as if it just pertains to sex but break down the word and it’s simply “of the senses.”  The five senses: sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing.  I argue that being sensual is just having a heightened or more in touch awareness of one’s senses and yes, why not?!  That is the only way we know, or are given to interact with our environment so why not experience it fully?  There is all this talk about living moderately and I agree to a certain extent but what is life if not to experience it extremely?  Why not experience something fully?  Taste the flavours of the world?  Smell the flowers or the odor of another human being.  Touch something soft or feel touched, there is nothing wrong with that.  Experience a sense and try to associate it with another, it will act as an exercise for your memory and for your sensuality, what smell can you associate with a touch or a taste?  In fact, smell and taste are closely linked.  If you smell something before or while you eat it, it will be more impactful. 
Sensual is a rarely used word in our vocabulary.  And when used it is associated with seduction or poetry.  No.  Live sensually and live passionately and you will live a more fruitful, enjoyable life.

Touch Me Where Hands Can’t Reach

Life is not so black and white.  We have this image of what it ought to be based on society that is influenced by religion, tradition, taboo, culture, etc.  But I feel like in trying to conform to these “traditional” ways of living we limit ourselves from the beauty that life offers, if we were only open to it. 

I want to live my life while I’m living.  I want to feel, not just in the “touch” sense of the word but I want my heart to feel, I want to feel my soul.  If that means crying uncontrollably or jumping in cold water so that my heart feels like it’s going to stop, bring it on.  Better yet is the beauty that is born from the passion of two people, what is felt when you open your heart to another person is simply magical.  It’s amazing the love that we are capable of giving to one another.  Where does it come from?  How is it decided who you will have feelings for?  There is attraction but there is something deeper than attraction when you love someone, when you want nothing more than their happiness and especially when it’s related to your own happiness.  Maybe some people are afraid to do that, to give, to let go.  But when you do…what you experience makes all of life worthwhile.  If not to feel, then for what do we live?  I want to be asked uncomfortable questions and have to dig in my soul to answer them.  I want to question what I believe and live life not judging the actions of other based on what society dictates.  Love oughtn’t be restricted or forbidden, it is after all, the most natural, innate thing we have. 

Valparaiso & Viña del Mar

I think I’m more of a Thank God it’s Saturday kind of girl.  I was happy to have a day with no schedules to keep and no sitting for hours on end after a long, long week of work. 

I woke up this morning, well before the alarm I had set on the off chance I sleep in.  It was still dark out but there was no chance of my falling back asleep.  I got up and went to the breakfast room, I had a long day planned; I was going to visit Ramon and Ana in Vina del Mar.  I met Ramon and Ana on a tour in San Pedro de Atacama, we had gone to see flamingos, salt flats and lagoons up in the Andes.  Ramon told me all about Chile’s history and I picked his brain about Chilean culture.  I told him I would be in Santiago for a couple weeks for work and he invited me to Vina del Mar, which is on the coast of Chile and one of Chile’s largest wine producing regions.  He gave me instructions on which bus to take and assured me that he would be waiting for me at the bus station upon my arrival and I could spend the weekend with his family.  

Sunrise over the Andes
pretty flowers and looking down from the hotel

I stopped at the supermarket to pick up a bottle of wine and discovered, much to my disappointment, that in Chile you can’t purchase alcohol before 9 am.  So I walked to the metro station – everyone was super bundled up; it rained yesterday and the temperature drops drastically after a rainfall. I watched a girl pet a stray dog on the street, he got up, wagged his tail and followed her for as long as I could see.  I arrived at the metro station at 9:02 am, there’s a Lider Express (Walmart!) right above the Manquehue metro station.  I ran in, bought a bottle of wine and headed to the metro.

It was a long ride to Pajaritos metro station which is also a bus station but I had fun people watching.  A group of students from the US came on at one point and were loudly taking pictures of just about everything.  A couple stood nearby, infectuously in love.  A little girl sat next to her mom, with headphones that were way too big for her head and swung her feet jerkily back and forth off the metro seat.
I purchased my ticket at 9:49 for a bus departing at 9:50.  The attendant who sold me the ticket said vete al tiro  (go immediately! al tiro is a Chilenismo which David (the driver for the organization I’m working with), explained is a military term, tiro means bullet and so when someone says “go al tiro it means like at bullet-speed.  You will often hear Chileans say “I’ll bring you the check al tiro” so it means immediately, right away, etc.) The bus driver asked me if I was going to Vina, I said yes and he walked with me to the bus.  I found my way to my assigned seat and the woman sitting next to me was eating potato chips and sucking down ketchup from those little packets that you get at fast food places in between each bite.  She said you got here just in time!  I called Ramon to let him know I was on the bus and he told me he would be waiting for me upon my arrival. 
There’s this alert on the Chilean buses that beeps if the driver goes more than 100 km/h.  It’s fine if you have a bus driver who doesn’t speed, otherwise it’s obnoxious…
Santiago is about 520 m above sea level and we were heading down to sea level.  Heading down the mountain we went through the cloud line, it was so enchanting.  The highway is lined with green trees, evergreens I suppose and there are eucalyptus speckled here and there. 

from the bus, look at the clouds!!!

We passed TerraSanta, an olive oil factory, I didn’t know before this trip that Chile produced olive oil.  And good olive oil at that, I have been having it with my bread at lunch and it’s quite excellent. 

We drove through what seemed like a toll road and a cute girl got on the bus with a basket of sweets.  She walked up and down the aisle calling out what she had in her basket, alfajores, calugas de manjar…I bought a pack of calugas de manjar con nueces (a carmel that has the consistency of fudge, with walnuts) and wrapped them up to take back home. 

Ramon was calling me as I stepped off the bus, I picked up but nothing.  I hung up and went in the bus station to wait.  I figured we were running on Chilean time so I ordered a café con leche, took a seat under circling flies and called him back.  Si, Sally! Estas? (Sally! Are you here?) I told him I was and he said that he was running an errand at the pharmacy and would be at the bus station immediately after.  I people watched the people watching the futbol game on the TV in the bus station and sipped my coffee.  I finished my coffee and people watched more, security guards stood chatting to one another and a clearly not Chilean girl ran around frantically looking for a bathroom before catching her bus.  (Oh, how I can relate).  I decided to go look for a bathroom myself while I waited for Ramon.  At the end of the bus station my phone rang, Ola, Ramon.   

Sally, estoy en el terminal pero no te veo (I’m at the bus station but I don’t see you) I turned around and there was a man in the middle of the station on his cell phone.   

Ah, si, llevas un abrigo Moreno? (are you wearing a brown jacket).   

The man lifted his left arm and looked down at it, bueno, es de color café (it’s more coffee colored).  I told him to turn around, we made eye contact and hung up.  He gave me a beso and a big hug.  Ramon is a high strung man who speaks very fast, he’s full of anecdotes, stories, political commentary, you name it.  I trailed behind him, trying to keep up as we wove through people and stray dogs over to the mall where he was parked.  We ended up in a Chilean Home Depot when he remembered he needed to go to the ATM, he turned quickly to the security guard, stopping in mid-sentence and asked where he could find an ATM.   We ran up the stairs, again weaving through people and waited in line for the ATM.  A lady came up and got in front of us in line, Ramon moved forward, senorita.. I didn’t hear the rest of what he said but I imagine it to be something along the lines of there’s a line or we were waiting and he stepped in front of her.  Eventually we made it to his car and headed out.  He told me we were going to drive around Valparaiso in the morning and in the afternoon we would do Viña del Mar. 

café con leche

We drove along the Pacific Coast admiring the houses and he stopped along the way telling me stories, that building used to be a prison, over there you see was a coal refinery, the ocean at that point is 50 meters deep, there are these trees that grow here, that irritate some people’s skin, lots of stray dogs – can’t you see.  He is a talker and I enjoyed every minute of it.  We drove by his elementary school and he pointed to the second story and told me that when it rained he and his classmates used to open the windows so that they would collect water and when someone walked by underneath, they would close the window so that all the water would fall on their head.  (You know, the windows that open from the bottom at an angle).

View of Valparaiso

houses in Valparaiso

looking down a look out.  The building in the bottom center of the photo, with a big chimney used to be a garbage crematory
Our first stop, besides lookouts, was La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s house (the famous Chillean poet).  It’s a 5 story house that has been converted into a museum and still has the layout that décor that Neruda had when he lived there.  The view was spectacular and so was the layout of the house, it was like a boat with narrow stairwells and round windows like those on a boat. 
La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s house overlooking the sea

Neruda and me, deep in conversation

Next we drove up to the highest point in Valparaiso (well almost, the last bit wasn’t paved and the road was really bad). We drove up at about a 60 degree angle and I told Ramon that it reminded me of San Francisco.  The car was in 2nd gear and started to slow down about halfway up the hill, he put it in first and the car gave a little jerk as we plowed up the rest of the way.  We pulled over and took photos; we could smell empanadas baking in someone’s oven, yum… As we got back in the car Ramon told me that the women of Valparaiso are known for having strong legs from walking up the hills.  Makes sense.  He then told me about a bike race they have every year that is just downhill, (crazy) cyclists take their bikes up to the top of the hill (which would be akin to Nob Hill in SF) and soar down, whoever gets down first wins.  The difference between Valparaiso and SF is that it’s not a straight shot down to the water, it winds and turns.  Oh and to make it more fun, they set up ramps and do tricks.  Haha!
Looking out over Valparaiso from the tip-top of the city

The road leading up to the lookout.  This is where the bicyclists do their race. 
We drove down to Valparaiso proper, Ramon narrating.  We passed hole-in-the-wall markets with signs outside that read hay pan (literally, “there’s bread”).  We found a great parking spot and walked down to an Anglican Church – pretty green and Ramon commented that they have a fantastic organ inside. 
Cemetery in Valparaiso

Anglican Church in Valparaiso

Jasmine growing on a pretty hostal in Valparaiso

The houses were all bright colors and there were artists out painting and selling their work.  It reminded me of Montmartre in Paris.  As we walked, Ramon commented that they walk a lot in Valparaiso, hay mucho obesidad en los estados unidos (there’s a lot of obesity in the US).  I agreed.  He said the fall of the Roman Empire was sex and orgies, the fall of the US will be the hamburger,  with a chuckle.  He started singing a song about Valparaiso, a ballad I guess you could say.  Ramon is a porteño (a native of Valparaiso) and there are many songs written about the beautiful port city – of the nostalgic variety. 
Colorful houses, Valparaiso

poor kitty!!!

There was the “El Murcurio” building (The Valparaiso Mercury, newspaper) and the clock tower, Turri.  Across the street from the Turri clocktower, we took an “elevator” (more of a funicular) up to another paseo where we found more artists, handicrafts, stray dogs and pretty patios.  Eventually we made it back to the car and headed to his house for lunch.


Steep streets


Lookout over Viña del Mar and Valparaiso, a few blocks from Ramon’s house
Entra entra, hace mucho frio! (Come in come in, it’s so cold!) Ana called and she let out a squeal as she gave me a kiss and a big hug. I went in their house,  dodging the two dogs in the front yard.  There was an old lady sitting on the couch and Ramon introduced her as his mom.  I bent down to give her a kiss and she said “I’m Mercedes but they call me Merche”  

Encantada! Soy Sally. (Pleasure to meet you, I’m Sally) We sat down to lunch, beautifully arranged salads of lettuce, beets and olives were set on the table.  There were cut up lemons, various oils and salt to dress the salads to one’s own liking.  Merche asked me for the 6th time if I had siblings.  Ana had explained after the 4th time that her mother-in-law is 92 and forgets things. It’s the human condition (one of which, anyhow).  We went on to the next course, a chicken soup.  Ramon added merkén to his and invited me to, too.  Merkénis ground, dried, smoked ají peppers and a typical spice of Chile.  I happily added some to my soup.  Next course was turkey breast with herbs and mashed potatoes.  We sat and talked about all sorts of things, politics, Chile’s history, my life, my family, their children and grandchildren.  The table was cleared and a fruit platter emerged.  We ate fruit and then had herbal tea and kucken (cake, but it’s a German word!) that Ana had made.  I wrote down recipes in my journal as Ramon played Chilean folk music in the background.  Ramon and Ana’s nephew showed up with his son and had tea with us, they live just a few blocks up the road.  Ramon played more music for me and explained the lyrics, they were beautiful.  He got emotional listening to one that reminded him of his childhood.

Eventually we bundled up, Ramon, Ana, Merche and me and headed down to the beach at Viña del Mar; the sun was just about to set and the sky was changing color by the minute. 
Pacific Ocean, Vina del Mar

Vina del Mar


Almost sunset

sun setting over Viña del Mar

different angle of the beach, I couldn’t help but take so many pictures


The flower clock of Viña del Mar
We drove along the coast and I got more stories and anecdotes.  This time Ramon had brought a CD in the car and was playing folk music from Valparaiso, all three of them sang along, even Merche! 

I kept hearing them talking about tomar la once (literally translates to “having the 11”) and I kept thinking in my head what they were talking about?  Tomar, the verb, is usually used for eating or drinking something and 11 I thought could be elevensies but it was 7pm.  Finally I asked what tomar la once meant.  They laughed and said it was the afternoon tea or coffee.  Ramon explained why it was called eleven; during colonial times, in the afternoon the people wanted to have a drink (liquor = aguardiente) but they didn’t want their superiors know so they would say we’re going to “have the eleven” because there are eleven letters in aguardiente (aguardiente is the alcohol distilled from grapes).  Ana said in Uruguay they call it merienda, which is also what they call it in Spain.  So we went back home and tomamos la once (we had the eleven); we had tea with fresh bread and cheese and more kuchen. They recommended places to eat in Santiago, music to listen to, drinks to try and insisted I come back to visit if I am ever back in Chile.  I invited them to California and they said they would come for my wedding.  Merche asked me for the 8th time if I had a boyfriend and Ramon answered for me, no mama, ya te lo dijo varias veces (no, mom, she’s already told you that several times).  We kissed good bye and Merche kissed me three times, held both my hands and gave me blessings, saying soft prayers to my forehead. 

Eventually Ramon took me back to the bus station; we talked politics and human rights for the whole ride.  He pulled over in front of the station and got out to give me a hug and a kiss and told me to take care.

Food trends in the US

Because of the lack of food culture in this country we witness the ebbing and flowing of fad diets.  We are obsessed with things being healthy and have very shallow roots as a country with very little time to develop a food culture, so we adopt some culture’s (that is hot in the political arena right now) staple food or side dish as the newest thing.  (Take coconut water, kimchi, hummus, mate, the latest I have heard is za’atar.)   Some culture that has existed for mellennia, that has harvested, for thousands of years the food that grew naturally on its soil; learned ways to preserve the food to have it last in the harsh seasons.  That paired food not because some study said that a carbohydrate ought to be eaten with a legume but simply because rice and beans taste good together or maybe because those two crops come ripe in the same season.  Not coincidentally that rice and beans (or break it down to a grain (carbohydrate) and a bean (legume)) make a complete protein.  A complete protein is a source of protein that has enough of the 9 amino acids (known as essential amino acids) that our body does not produce.  (I will complete the biology lesson, amino acids are the building blocks of protein which is SUPER important in our biochemical make up, necessary for metabolic function and our mere survival.  There are 20 amino acids, 11 of which our body can make and 9 which we must get from our food source.)  I digress.  I wanted to share this NPS blog post I found and you’ll see that Steve Inskeep has just discovered za’atar!  Za’atar is a deliciously amazing spice mix from the Middle East.  You eat it with olive oil and it is out of this world!  My mom it’s eat (daily) and falls in love with it every time.  Maybe that’s where I get my passion from…

Anyway, I think it’s great, don’t get me wrong, let’s just honor the food as being something hundreds of thousands, arguably, millions of people have been and continue to be proud of as their heritage, their culture.  (like me, and mama B)

“Growing your own food is like printing your own money”

For those of you who are not familiar with TED, you ought to be.  The notion is “ideas worth spreading.”  People come together for TED talks and give a short blurb about just that, an idea worth spreading.  It can be anything from coping with an ill partner to an innovative business design.  There are conferences and all the TED talks are available online.  I recently attended an independently organized TEDx event, TEDx Monterey – it was so inspiring.  A fantastic reminder that there are people in our community doing super cool things, you just have to be willing to hear about it.   

At TEDx Monterey, they played this TED talk about gardening.  You know, growing your own food.  Have a look and see what you think.  Maybe you’ll plant a garden?  Even if it’s just a container garden – plants in old milk jugs or cleaned out paint buckets.  Plants are a form of life and life wants to live.  Give it the bare minimum to survive and it will thrive… 

“To love another person is to know God in the face”

I just saw Les Miserables, the movie, based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel.  Many of you may not have read the book, too bad Monsieur Hugo was paid by the word as the novel is a good 1000 pages, but well worth it!  The book was made into a musical and came out today (25 December 2012) on the big screen.  I saw the movie at Lighthouse Cinemas, in Pacific Grove, a quaint theatre nestled in the downtown of our sleepy town.

It was fantastic!  It really follows the passion that life can possess and the endurance of the human spirit – both for good and for bad.

If you don’t know the story, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is enslaved (his punishment for stealing) and then released but violates his parole –  he assumes a new identity and starts a new life as an honest man, but he is not free as he is hunted from that point on by Javert (Russell Crowe), the unwavering face of the law who has made it his personal vendetta to seek justice.  Now we also have Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a mysterious factory worker who we discover from the other jealous co-workers, has a child, Cosette, whose father left and is being taken care of by an inn-keeper and his wife, although it is unbeknownst to Fantine that her Cosette is not treated very well.  After it is revealed that Fontine has a child, illegitimately, she is kicked out of her job and forced into prostitution to provide money to the inn-keepers for Cosette.  She falls ill and is discovered by Valjean who takes her to a hospital and promises to raise her child.  All the while, Javert has discovered Valjean’s true identity and is determined to see justice served.  Doesn’t happen.  Valjean finds the innkeepers (TheThenardiers), who feign the role of caring parents and pays them to take the child and Valjean and young Cosette escape into hiding.    

Much later, we see the grown Cosette, indeed under the (great) care of Valjean but living in secrecy as they are still hiding from Javert.  We are now in the midst of the French Revolution and the young revolutionaries are out in full force, including Marius Pontmercy (Eddie Redmayne) who sees the grown Cosette (Amanda Seyfried) in town one day and falls in love immediately.  Now in between the revolution, we also have a love story, a hopeless love and a secret (as Valjean’s true identity is unknown to Cosette).

I will leave it at that because I really don’t like spoiling the end of stories.

The music from the musical is fantastic and it was very well done in the movie. Who knew Russell Crowe could sing?  Anne Hathaway, who lost 25 lbs. for her role as Fantine does an excellent job looking miserable, half dead and defeated.  We, the audience, as we often do, find ourselves sympathizing with the underdog – having hope for true love, for true justice, not just the legal type, and believing in the goodness of humanity.

You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar

I heard this saying the other day “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”  I really like it.  You get more out of life if you’re sweet than if you’re bitter.  You may have heard people saying to “kill other people with kindness,” which is a similar idea.

You know if things aren’t going your way or you’re in a sticky situation you could either yell and scream and have a bad attitude, or be nice and sweet about it and people are more inclined to be patient with you and listen to you because they don’t feel like they’re getting attacked and you have the potential (a much greater chance, actually) at getting what it is you want.

I really like this because it is true and a beautiful philosophy to live by.  I recognize that it is not easy, in fact I think that if you are human you find this task challenging at times.  However, I think it is rewarding if you do try it.  I guess you would catch more flies that way :).  

Movie – “The Sessions”

Oh. My. Lordy.  How refreshing!

I saw the movie “The Sessions” today.  It was fantastic.  It was provocative, romantic, real, sad, funny, raw, human and humane. It is based on the autobiographical writings by Mark O’Brien, a poet/writer who was not-quite-paralyzed from the neck down due to a bout of childhood polio.  He lives mostly in an iron lung and always on a gurney.  At 38, he sets out to lose his virginity and after consulting with his priest, decides to see a sex-therapist.  It challenges the conventional stigma surrounding the disabled and allows you to truly empathize with the guy.  The movie did a great job of bringing the characters to life – the relationships were real and you could genuinely relate, no phony business.

I think the actors were fantastic, John Hawkes plays Mark O’Brien and Helen Hunt is Cheryl Cohen-Green, the sex-therapist.   You really had a sense of empathy – both happy and sad, for Mark.  I will leave it at that, you ought to see the movie for yourself to truly experience it.