It’s not every day you get to be a subject in a sociology experiment AND wait out an earthquake. But yesterday was such a day.
First, the sociology experiment.
One of my roommates, S., knew of someone who was working on a study of Gringos and shopping. Specifically, Gringos shopping in Santiago. The sociologist needed to find a Gringo who was new to Chile (“new” meaning having been here less than five months, which counted S. and my other Gringa roommate, Y., out). Being a Gringa and having been in Chile only three and a half weeks, I clearly fit the bill, so S. volunteered me. Then she came home and told me, and I laughingly agreed to participate.
Over the next few days we had fun laughing about the different Gringo stereotypes I could play up. My favorite idea was insisting on stopping in Burger King, buying four Big Macks, eating one on the spot, and stuffing the rest in my purse “for later.” Oh what fun such shenanigans would have been, but in the end I decided to act normal (that is, “normal”).
The sociologist, F., called during the week and we arranged to meet Sunday, yesterday, at 4pm. The way it would work is this: we would take the metro together to get to the mall, where he would observe me shopping. I would be given a gift certificate for $15.000,00 Chilean Pesos (about $30.00 USD), and he would observe me making a purchase. He said we should meet at my apartment since he needed to interview me first and make notes on my living situation, as well as observe me on the way to the mall. I said okay, and that was that.
Yesterday afternoon I was getting ready to go, still laughing with my roommates about potential pranks, when F. called at 3:50pm to let me know he would be at my apartment in about ten minutes. Sure enough he was here right on time, and in he came, notepad in hand. We said “hola” and “mucho gusto,” and then sat down in the living room for the interview. F. asked a few questions about me — my age and background, reasons for coming to Chile, thoughts about life in Chile so far, shopping experiences and preferences — and then took a picture of the living room (this was feeling very experiment-y already!), and off we went.
It ended up being a lot of fun. We took the metro to the Manquehue in Las Condes and ended up in the same area where I teach a some of my classes during the week. In fact, F. showed me a beautiful park, filled with roses of all colors, just a couple of blocks beyond the office building where I teach a private class Monday through Friday. The mall was just beyond that.
Walking in, it felt like walking into a mall in the States. It could even have been Lenox Mall in Atlanta. Marble floors, high ceilings, lots and lots of stores, and — happily — lots of natural light pouring in through huge skylights throughout. We walked around a bit, F. asking me questions and scribbling notes as we walked, and then he gave me my gift certificate. Almost immediately I knew just what to do with it: buy books.
One of my principal goals for my time in Chile is to improve my fluency in Spanish, so I had been meaning to buy some books by Chilean authors, and here was my chance to ask a smart, well-read Chilean for advice (not that I don’t know other smart, well-read Chileans, but the context here was suited to just this purpose). So off we went, in search of Spanish poetry (I left my books of Neruda’s poetry in the States and thought I might replace them during this venture). Instead, I ended up buying two novels and a book on the Mayas. The novels were both hand-picked by F., making them high on my list of Things to Read, and the Mayas have fascinated me since I first learned about them in middle school. So there you go. I paid, F. made more notes, and we went back out to tour the mall.
A few “exercises” (involving me finding stores with and without the use of the mall maps) and a lot more conversation later, it was time to go. After a quick stop in Lush (I could not resist going back there to enjoy the beautiful smells of their soaps and to buy a couple of things as well), F. made a few more notes and we left the mall, walked through the park (past the rows and circles of gorgeous roses in full bloom), and to the metro station where we hugged and kissed Chilean-style to say goodbye.
Who knew being a subject in a sociology experiment could be so much fun?
When I arrived at home, my roommates were gone — they go to Mass at a nearby church on Sunday evenings. Tired but happy, I made a cup of tea, put my folders and books in order for the week, then sat down to paint. And just as I was getting ready to put the first bit of color on paper, everything started shaking.
I wasn’t worried at first, having already experienced one earthquake since I’ve been here, but this one lasted a long time (“a long time” meaning roughly 45 seconds) and got progressively stronger after the initial tremor. I put down my paints and went to stand in a doorway, where I stood watching the walls sway and the floor move in what seemed like hardwood waves as the ground shook.
And then, as quickly as it had begun, the quake stopped. Everything was still, and I could hear my neighbors’ voices talking in concerned but relatively calm tones. It occurred to me that my roommates at Mass might have an interesting story to tell — perhaps the priest had said something amazing a second before everything began to rumble. Smiling at the thought, I returned to my painting.
It was, as I say, quite a Sunday.