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  • Tessa Forde

240410 Some of my closest friends are farandulas

Each day the beautiful house on the hill was smothered by clouds. It felt like the fog would never lift. Days and days of it. It could be beautiful, shifting over the sea, but it weighed over everything, a cool hand on the fever of summer. One night, the ocean seemed to be illuminated from below, as the last of the sunset reflected off the clouds and back on to the sea’s surface. Ships cut through the light. 


When it did lift, at 4:30PM on a Saturday, I went to the beach. I was not the only one with this idea. From the distance the shore was gripped by a frenzy of umbrella crustaceans, each clinging to the sand. I found a space, close to the water’s edge, where people waded to their waists, holding in their gasps from the cold, the waves curling over hard against the steep bank of beach. It was Easter and some people wore headbands with ducks on springs. I had been told that some places would display Judas dolls in their window, or fill Judas dolls full of coins and burn them, but I didn’t see anything like this. The catholics mightn’t be so wild in Viña as they are in Valparaíso. Jesus was still in the cave and I ate chocolate and coconut covered strawberries and crocheted. He wouldn’t mind. 


At dusk I ate corn slathered in butter, salt and merken and watched the sun compress into the ocean. No green flash, but a slow descent to deep orange, the air holding its warmth for a while, as if to spite the fog, now dissipated. 


I can’t help but measure my days here by looking at the sea. I have always lived by the sea, it moves to the heart of Tāmaki Makaurau through thick arteries, one thousand lovers of the ocean, one thousand pockets of shoreline, seamed in green. Here it feels different, swollen and vast, appearing always at street ends and between fence bars and hedges. The city climbs up over itself to catch a glimpse, to watch the sun burn the horizon.


Jorge, who I live with, came down from his room one morning, and said “Autumn is here!” The sea, you see, had transitioned, from bottle green to slate grey. The weather will turn now, he said. Just wait. He jinxed it, i’m sure. Each day colder than the last.


When I went to the Light from Tate exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery, I couldn’t believe that there were places where the light could illuminate only small wavering parts of the ocean, and leave others in deep shadow, like the exhibition’s feature image by John Brett. But now I believe it. Somehow it is less about the light, and more about the surface of the sea and what it catches, how some parts, even on overcast days, even when the sky is clear, are disturbed and dark, while other parts flatten the light into puddles. 


One morning, even without wind, the sea was unsettled in Valparaíso. Small waves creased its surface like it had been wrapped up in the palms of the beach and released, unironed. Like something was stirring below, trembling. The sea here seems to tell the truth of the seasons, of the weather and the near future. Maybe the far future too, held in its tilting, shifting light. 


The sea the sea the sea! I could write about it all night but - some other highlights - my life here, unfolding.


The week before last, after Easter, the university hosted a second ‘orientation’ week for first year students. Classes were suspended, the courtyard at casa central filled with rock bands and dancers. At the architecture school crepe paper streamers made stripes of colour between the trees, students shared lunches and music and spent the week constructing strange creatures from wire. At Ciudad Abierta we played a game invented by the third years, once again utilising the grid of bamboo sticks, throwing balls back and forth into demarcated zones. It was a good game, rough fights for the balls in the sand, their colours suspended in clusters. 


Another exchange student, from Brazil, who I had met but not really yet at the weekly seminar came to talk to me. Barbara is doing her own research in design pedagogy in education in Latin America - particularly in primary schools. We sat in the sandy grass and talked about designs for the pluriverse and other overlaps. 


On Friday, the school was going to parade through the streets, from the Plaza de Los Poetas to the Parque de Cultura. The strange creatures, assembled with soldering guns in the doorway to the archive house and wrapped in bright tule, were wearable bugs, attached to wooden backpacks and ribbons that when pulled would flap their wings. In the plaza, cardboard masks lined some steps, faceted and painted: the architect’s defacing. To accompany the bugs, there was a 100m (or more!) long piece of painted fabric, to be held up by 40ish wooden T-Shape structures. I am so curious about how all this is organised, who thinks of the ideas, how they talk about it and assemble the materials. There is significant coordination that has to happen. Someone has to bring the sacks of masks and lay them out on steps in the plaza like a tough crowd, an audience of unmoved faces. Someone has to find a length of fabric, and measure it, mark out where to cut the holes and how to fix it to the wooden posts. Someone has to book a truck, or load all these things into the back of a small car and get it there on time. In spite of this, in spite of all the organising of materials and people and places, in spite of the hundreds of people worth of voices bubbling like a river over stones, hands ready for construction; there were 40 to 50 structures to attach to the fabric, and only one pair of pliers. 


An hour and a half after arriving at the plaza, and a week after Jesus dragged his cross through the sands of golgotha, we shouldered our own and our calvary roamed the streets of Valparaíso, one plaza to another.  


All the students had made small instruments, shakers and lengths of cardboard ridges that they could drag a piece of dowel on back and forth. The best were those that could pump a reggaeton beat over chanting and cries. The worst, of course, were the whistles. People tooted and watched from their balconies and yelled and put their own music up and amongst all this chaos you have the feeling of being a part of something, a temporary raucous whole that will eventually disperse back into quiet pockets of ordinary life, a dim living room, the TV on, the hum of a refrigerator, a lime shrivelling in the fruit bowl. 


At the final plaza, the cultural centre now closed, there were troughs of grapes and mandarins in the street, reminiscent of an ancient feast. There were custom made cardboard containers, walnuts and dried fruit in one side, a small piece of brownie in the other. Laser cut into the side was “FARANDULA”. The bugs landed in the grass, their tule wings catching the yellow light. 


I resisted every introvert intuition in my body and went to speak to the Norwegian students, Alva and Ingrid, who I knew to be living at Ciudad Abierta and who I knew would speak English. We only spoke Spanish though, and they promptly invited me to an afterparty. We left immediately, winding down the hill, their spanish slow and clear, mine sloppy but emboldened in the dark. 


They had both been wearing bugs, now abandoned, and it prompted my second question of who has to stay and reckon with the debris. Where does it all come from, where does it all go. Cotton eyed Joe. 


There are swathes of Norwegians here: some living on the dunes in Ritoque, driving to the school each day, except Wednesdays, when the school comes to them; some living in this house in Cerro Alegre, with its kitchen crowded into a thin purple corridor, ceiling 5m above, pierced by a steep stairwell to the bedrooms and a roof terrace. We switched to English when we arrived, because their friend, visiting for a few weeks, and turning the land over with Claudia at Ciudad Abierta, had even less Spanish than me. 


Ingrid is an electronic musician in Norway and back home her band was releasing an EP in a dark, sweaty party with lasers and arm-waving. She was going to play it for us later, and spent the time before the party making playlists and getting the mixing just so (or whatever it is DJs do). A tall Norwegian guy who, at first greeting, had of course asked me “Como te llamas” and in my flurried brain I heard “how do you love” which would really be “how do you love yourself” - a very intimate introduction. My dumbfounded look sparked an immediate and permanent switch to English. Him, Alva and I were instructed by Ingrid to shift two large speakers and their amp to the roof deck. It was a delicate operation, all remained connected and the stairs were near vertical. I felt, like the speakers, that we were becoming bonded through the act, the careful manoeuvring of bodies and objects through space, the closeness of our bodies and those things on the stairs. Like ice climbers tied together in a crevasse, if one falls, hopefully someone gets a foot in a stair rung or a tight grip on the hand rail. 


An extension lead strung with lightbulbs powered the amp and the speakers, now bookending the small terrace. The others arrived, mostly from the school, not a wireframe bug in sight. Once again I was forced to negotiate the social norm of kissing: who kisses who and when is still a complete mystery to me. Some people greet every person at the party with a kiss, some just their friends. Apparently you don’t actually touch any skin with your lips, just the air, and touch cheeks, like two balloons making static at a party. I imagine all the charge, in the meeting of women’s soft cheek hair, in the promise, but withholding of the lips. Later, in Spanish class, I asked our teacher, whom I like too much for how little I can communicate with her, about the kissing. I had forgotten the word for “kiss” so there was a lot of miming, and she said she doesn’t really know either, that no one seems to. I have enough trouble with social intimacy as it is, too often going for both a cheek kiss and a hug, or a handshake with men who don’t expect it, or nothing at all, inflating the air between me and another person with an unanswered question. Perhaps the safest thing is to kiss everyone. 

 

Somehow I stayed til 3am, slowly diluting a single can of a terrible pisco soda drink that still made me feel like my insides had been drained the next day, dried up veins and eyes that couldn’t quite take the sideways light of the sun. I chatted to exchange students from Germany and France, and we talked about earthquakes. I said I had been thinking about it, about where I would go in this place, which wavers between fierce solidity and precarity, the foundations of some of the houses on the hills like baby deer legs. It was interesting too, to hear more about the school from the perspective of students who had also studied somewhere else. How vastly different it is, but also how dogmatic. A freedom of thought channelled into a sameness of making. 


Eventually I got an uber home, waiting for sometime in the narrow cobbled street. The music was off by then, and I realised, with a pang, that I never heard Ingrid’s EP. The cold sent those of us from more temperate climates than Oslo inside, away from the speakers, away from the music, and the yellow lights of houses making the shape of hillsides. 


The next day I took the ascensor in Viña to Oscar and Pia’s house for a long lunch. Their dog, Teo (who I thought was named Tio, or uncle which I thought was excellent) had to be restrained when I arrived, his brown body squirming with the excitement of something new between their arms. He’s a covid baby, with the social skills to match, charming, but struggles with newness, with containing himself. 


We ate pumpkin soup and drank birthday cider that arrived too late and talked about the school and some of our journeys to that moment, in Chile, in their living room. Pia knitted and told me how to buy real wool while Oscar cradled too-big-for-that Teo on the couch as the sun stretched warped shadows of houseplants around the room. It was nice to feel a dissolving of my alone-ness in Chile. I wasn’t lonely yet, but my social interactions had been limited to my fully-fledged adult housemates (as opposed to me, 31 and still fledging) and in my Spanish classes, the conversations in which were fun but left some sophistication to be desired. I think I cheek kissed both of them.


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