Brand building through storytelling

Home at last!

There comes a point in even the most special vacation when my thoughts begin to drift homeward to my own bed, my own books and paintings, my own fridge stocked the way I like it, with maple syrup, organic yogurt and hazelnut butter for my morning fruit-and-nut toast.

Our South American jaunt was delicious in every sense of the word. But early on in week three, my husband asked with a look of flat-out astonishment, “Do you realize we’ve been in South America longer than we’ve been in our new place?”

Yikes, so we had. It was time to go back to our partially feathered nest, which hadn’t fully assumed the comforting status of home. This is what comes of boarding a plane for Buenos Aires while you’re still unpacking from a move and awaiting back-ordered furniture.

Had we known about the move when we first started planning the trip, we’d have put South America on hold. How could we open our minds to the joys and challenges of wholly new places, when we ought to be prodding a balky repairman or unpacking another dozen boxes? With so much work looming ahead, how could we justify three weeks of fun?

This was our excuse: we’d paid for the trip. And a good thing, too, because nothing but distance could have loosened the knot of obligation that bound us to our myriad aggravations. Of course, we’re not just talking physical distance. The very structure of our everyday lives had been yanked away by the upside-down season (pumpkin time in Argentina, asparagus time back home) and the welcome absence of the cell phones on which, for at least two months, we’d been bugging the Internet guy, the phone guy, the security-system guy and a slew of other go-to guys who had invariably gone somewhere else when we needed them most.

Isla Negra Pablo Neruda Museum In Santiago 2In South America, we had been plunged into a culture that exalts the printed word. Pablo Neruda, a Chilean, is perhaps the world’s best-read poet because Latin Americans revere his work and ensure its prominent display in every bookstore. The day we toured Neruda’s wornderfully eccentric and curio-filled house at Isla Negra, we found 150 school kids waiting to see the pleasure dome for the great man’s dreaming mind.

The timing of our trip, which seemed absurd a month ago, was in fact pure coincidental brilliance. But if not for the pleasure of returning, there’s no point going away. And besides, we missed the English language. After two weeks of fumbling with my few words of Spanish, I realized that my ease in the world depends largely on understanding what’s said around me, and on trusting that I’ll be understood. Language is my compact with the world, and it had been temporarily broken. I felt inept, as if I were preparing a garden with no tools except a teaspoon. Looking for the bathroom, I would murmur like a toddler, “Servicios?”, then remember that only in Spain do the toilets go by that name. They’re sanitariosin Argentina and banos across the border. Oh, to speak one proper sentence besides “Quanto questa, por favor?”

On day 20, we headed for the Santiago airport, craving our real lives, whatever they might be in the new location. Small catch. No one knew anything about Air Canada’s flight to Toronto that evening. Baffled-looking folks muttered rapidly in Spanish. “Officina!” they told us. Down an elevator, at the end of a very long corridor, we learned that our flight, with its details printed out from Air Canada’s web site…did not exist. Instead of going home to Toronto, we had just crossed over into the twilight zone of incomprehensible airline bungling. I could practically hear that tinny theme music from Rod Serling’s unfailingly eerie TV series,

We booked our flights last fall. Shortly afterwards, Air Canada cancelled the return leg. Oh. Gee, wouldn’t it have been nice of them to tell us?

Courtesy of Air Canada, we spent one more day at the unexpectedly pleasant Sheraton hotel, nestled at the foot of Cerro San Cristobal. On a clear day, you can climb Cerro San Cristobal and look out on the Andes, but there aren’t many clear days in Santiago this time of year. It’s one of the world’s most polluted cities, and we were itching to get out of the place, where we’d already done more than enough sight-seeing in either smog or drenching rain. Oh, well. After three or four vacations without a major screw-up, we figured we were overdue.

SantiagoLo and behold, our extra day in Santiago was perfection: sunlight, blue sky, the air washed clean by the rain. We climbed the hill and saw the city in its fleeting glory, with layer upon layer of snowy peaks beyond. Thanks to some mysterious local plant or other, the air had the fragrance of autumnal dessert, burnt vanilla and pumpkin-pie spices (although I doubt that the Chileans eat pumpkin pie; to judge from the menus I’ve seen, they’re more into pumpkin-stuffed ravioli). Like kids, we got our hiking boots so encrusted with mud that the housekeeping staff had to give them a good hard scrub (my boots haven’t looked so spiffy in years).

Our last sight of Santiago, from the ramp as we boarded the plane right on time, was of the Andes in the soft pink light of dusk. I doubt if we’ll be back, yet I’m glad things worked out the way they did, with one more stroke of coincidental brilliance.

P.S. What’s travel without the occasional “top this!” screw-up to share with everyone you know? In my own travels, I’ve rented a cottage that turned out to be a mosquito-infested yurt. I’ve found what’s not supposed to exist: a bad meal in Italy. And I’m damn proud of it, too. One of these days, I’ll tell you about my comically bizarre medical misadventures in Oregon. That’s my best vacation screw-up ever.


Posted by Rona

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