For the first time in my life, an answer came to me in a dream. The answer addressed the idea of "Latin American-ness" I was thinking about last week, which has become more about getting closer to a definition of what makes Chile the way it is. The streets are filled with people bundled in dark clothes, in unassuming styles, who don't say hello to strangers. And yet every single surface in Valparaiso is covered in street art, the buildings are painted turquoise, pink, and orange, and there are boys who run out in front of the cars stopped at red lights to perform juggling shows all over the city. I think it's a pervasive, somber sensibility tempered by the lingering awareness of complete possibility. And if not possibility then impending frenzy. My host mom works 60-hour weeks and the Errazuriz clubs are all open until 5 a.m. Divorce became legal for the first time in 2004 and Chile has the highest number of ecstasy users in Latin America. I'm not making any connections between any of these things, they're just tellingly odd and contradictory. Back to my revelatory dream.
Of course, I was dreaming about being in class. Probably because I'm really cool. I was sitting at my desk, and I raised my hand and asked the teacher why Chile is the way it is. You're allowed to ask all the vague, dumb questions you want when it's your own dream. He looked at me and said, "Boundaries." How mystical and guru-like is that?! That's all I remember from the dream, but I've been thinking about it for two days. I think the word "boundaries" actually explains a lot about Chile. For one, it's a tiny slice of the Earth bound to the East by the Andes, to the West by the Pacific Ocean, to the South by Antarctica, and to the North by a giant desert. If we can disregard the geometry of a sphere for a second, Chile is basically on the edge of the world. In addition to its extreme geography, Chile is hit with crippling earthquakes every ten years or so, has like a million active volcanoes, and is a tsunami target. No wonder they call it the "Land of Poets." It makes me want to write a love sonnet while I still can. I'm exaggerating. But I do think geography is the underpinning of culture. I mean, duh, right? People show up in a place, they decide to live there, and the society they create is limited and sustained by what's around them. So it makes sense that parties last all night here and so many writers come from Chile and Catholicism is such a major part of the culture. If we're about to get wiped out by mother nature, we should probably confess first. And maybe one of the reasons I love it here is because Chile is like the grim reaper wearing a powder blue leisure suit underneath his robe. It's overcast a lot and people don't walk around smiling, but there is this sense that something amazing might happen, and it might be tonight, so you want to be ready.