Stop, Stay, and Sing

On Saturday, we walked to Vauxhall Gardens for a Berlin-born tradition called Bearpit Karaoke which London is hosting for one weekend only. It begins with a karaoke set up in the middle of a city park. The host coaxes someone to sing karaoke to an audience of zero. The audience builds (one hopes) with this bat call to all lovers of self-compromise as a form of entertainment. The microphone is then handed off to the next person willing to bravely showcase his/her perceived or actual vocal prowess. Note that whether abilities are perceived or legitimate has little relevance in karaoke culture as “the only bad performance is one that is half assed.” And so this social experiment of sorts went.

Would an audience gather to gawk at ordinary people very publicly displaying themselves in a compromised musical state or would they gather to celebrate, support and lift singers up? Would the willingness of strangers to regale us with their vulnerability in song compel others to surrender to the moment as well?

Indeed the masses formed, and one by one people of all stripes, colours and languages requested to sing. Passive viewing morphed into an impromptu convivial, participatory experience.

Performances with varying degrees of tone deafness were delivered with increasing levels of flair and received with equal measures of audience approval. Fists pumped with rising musical crescendos. Hands clenched dramatically over hearts to emphasize anguish and/or affection. Eyes closed tightly and heads lifted theatrically as singers escaped reality and momentarily actualized childhood dreams of fame and grandeur. All this before an audience of passersby-turned-songbirds and backup dancers.

I’ve been playing with the idea of reinitiating my defunct blog for about a month now. In some people, karaoke incites vitriol or discomfort. For me, momentum. Bearpit Karaoke motivated me to fight and overcome writing inertia. There was something about people’s response to the experience and each other that confirmed my belief that despite the tailspin our world seems to be taking, all is not lost. People are inherently good and find ways to be one. And that when we muster courage to be vulnerable, we allow space for love. Not necessarily upper-case Love, but lower-case love, as in micro acts of community, acceptance and celebrations of ourselves. I cheered wildly for each singer because they did not allow fear to consume them, they looked it straight in the eyes and said, “Gimme the mic. And cue Meatloaf.”

Shout out to Berlin’s Bearpit Karaoke for coming to London and making songbirds of us all.


What’s cooking?

This little piggy went to the market (specifically, Mercado Central and La Vega) then made ceviche, pebre and sopaipillas, empanadas de pino, leche asada and pisco. No big deal. This is all thanks to a seven hour cooking class with Uncorked Chile.

Feast your eyes on this smattering of photos from the markets and our gastronomic delights. I know it seems impossible that I made the dishes below, but the proof is in the pudding (leche asada). Enjoy the slideshow.

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A freestyle rap battle

I found a freestyle rap battle in Bella Vista this afternoon through Tickets were just $2000 pesos ($3 US). A freestyle rap battle is a competition where two people go head to head rapping to a beat that the DJ plays. The raps are off the cuff (freestyle) and the rappers play off what the other one says (it’s like a Socratic seminar with insults and a steady percussive beat). Admittedly and uncomfortably, I didn’t understand everything as the raps were steeped in esoteric Chilean slang. An infinite number of years with Rosetta Stone would still never adequately prepare me to write the subtitles for rap battles in Spanish. I thought about when I watched the subtitled version of “8 Mile” in Guatemala. I derived great pleasure from the Puritan translations. When Eminem bid his posse farewell with a defiant face, gangster reverse peace sign and “¡Peace out, dawgs!” the subtitles simply read “¡Adiós, amigos!

It was uncomfortable not understanding everything, but no words were needed to know when a rapper burned the other one. Or to appreciate the lyrical rhythm of their words. Having said that, it felt good when I slid out the side door to the comfort of quotidian Spanish that I could understand.

Getting off the grid

My parents and I are spending two days in the famed coastal town of Valparaíso. Like yesterday in Santiago, we wandered for hours with no particular itinerary or prior knowledge of where we were going. “Let’s just jump off the metro wherever!” “Hey, where does this long staircase lead to?” This practice should generally not be employed in Latin American capital cities. As a matter of fact, many moons ago, I was backpacking in Venezuela. My gringo friends and I hopped a bus from Caracas destined for the beach. I was 23 and hungry for Romancing the Stone-level adventure. One of us (I’m going to go ahead and guess it was me) suggested we get off the bus somewhere completely off the grid. At a beach town with no mention in our guidebooks. Magellan and the other great seafaring 15th and 16th century explorers of South America didn’t rely on guidebooks (Lonely Flat Planet) so why should we? We stepped off the bus. We walked no more than 7 minutes. Two teens mugged us at gunpoint. The end. Jane Wilder retires.

For pictures from Valpo, click on Fave Fotos above. Here are pictures from our exploration of the Santiago boroughs of Providencia and Las Condes, which are comparable to the Upper East Side of NYC:

walking in las condes

 Las Condes

peanut potpourriPeanut potpourri

metro symbolMetro symbol

festival in the park

Festival scene in the park

Weather delay and high fives

I heard that the School District of Philadelphia had a 2 hour delay today due to the weather. Coincidentally, I also had a weather delay here in Santiago. In Philly, the culprit: hibernal fright. In Santiago: vernal delight. Instead of taking a 10 minute metro ride to Providencia for a meeting with my program coordinator, I took a 3 mile long cut through Parque Forestal. Who rides the metro when you can prancercize through this:

Parque Forestal

It is the first day back from summer vacation (December-February is summer here). College students whizzed by on bikes, eyes glistening with intellectual curiosity and/or last night’s pisco sours. One exuberant student high-fived me as he rode by.

These Chilean college students have a lot to high five about. Over the past few years, they have staged massive protests rebelling against excessive inequalities in education. The popular uprising was violent at times, but also incredibly creative. Soon they will reap the fruits of their labor. Starting in 2016,  college tuition will be 100% free (free!), funded by corporate taxes. After intense debate, the government has also approved the next phase of education reform – bolstering learning conditions by fully funding their public schools. Sound familiar, Philly? So maybe it wasn’t a high five that college student on a bike was giving me. Maybe it was a passing of the torch. Bien hecho. Well done, Chile.

Not in Chile for the chili

This is a true story.

Student: Why are you going to Chile again?

Me: Because I heard they have the best chili, obviously.

Student: Oh, that makes seeeense.

And scene. And I lose my job for being a jerk.

That’s not actually why I’m here. Chile is home to one of the most vibrant street art scenes in South America and is experiencing a golden age of creativity. I’m here collaborating with graffiti artists, muralists and educators and exploring ways to use street art as a vehicle for teaching language and elevating cultural literacy. My final project will be a collection of teaching resources that we design for world language educators. I’ll be looking for teachers to beta test the lessons, so stay tuned if you’re a teacher. If you’re not a teacher, is it because you were a terrible student? Go home and think about what you did.