Donald Trump might hate Latinos but I love them. The love affair started in Mexico. My grandmother used to buy me Seventeen magazine. I was probably eleven years old when it started but a precocious old soul. One issue changed my life.
Back when the internet was only used by egghead scientists, you had to write letters to communicate with people in distant places. My parents love living in small towns and I had been dragged to a rural farming community by my father, uprooting me from the surprisingly cosmopolitan small town in which I had started school.
These weren’t my people and I spent most of my time studying and plotting my escape as soon as my secondary education was complete. I devoured books and loved the encyclopedia so, when I read in Seventeen, about the concept of pen pals, I felt as though a fairy godmother had just handed me a way to survive my teenage years in the wilderness (figurative AND literal :))
Most of the options cited in the article cost money and required international postal coupons so I opted to write to the United States Committee for UNICEF. They collected information from any children who wrote to them and would send you a copy of the list for free. It was a single page. I still have it and see that they misspelled both my first name AND my last name. I’ve become used to it… but what was exciting was that there were 20 other kids from nine different countries who wanted to explore the world via air mail. They also sent suggestions on how to get started, what to write about and how to be courteous to other cultures. There was a third sheet that listed all sorts of other pen pal agencies, which proved to be one of the most important pieces of paper of my teenage years.
First, though, I needed to take action and select one person from the list as the recipient of my very first missive. A lot of the names were American. Some were from states that seemed exotic to me at the time but a culture with which I was very familiar. I wanted exotic so I chose Gloria from Mexico. One of the best decisions I ever made!
I finally found a teenager I could relate to. We wrote in both English and French to practice and I bought a book to teach myself Spanish and she sent me back corrections to my entertaining attempts at her native language. We wrote each other regularly for over ten years. She constantly invited me to visit her in Mexico but I couldn’t afford it. Tragically, as I finally managed to get to the stage in my career where I could have financed the trip, she died in a car accident. I learned this because we were both so obsessed with writing to foreigners that we had forged an international group of people who were all connected even though none of us had met. My friend Despina (who started as another youthful pen pal) did actually meet Gloria and she was the one to tell me of the tragic accident. To see Mexico City through her eyes had always been one of my dreams.
Someday I will go but I know it will make me sad. Instead I have channelled the love I had for my very first Latino into exploring other countries where her native tongue is spoken. It has just reinforced the generous spirit that I saw in her letters.
People are friendly, open and fun. If you bring those qualities to the table, too, you will be making friends without even learning Spanish. I DO want to eventually learn Spanish as I am sure I will have an even better time. This time I had to just appreciate the people who were able to speak my lingo. One of the most memorable was Sebastian.
I learned about pisco in Peru, where they had insisted Chile was copying them and Peruvian pisco was superior. The history is not absolutely clear, especially as present day Peru and Chile once had totally different borders, but it seems likely that Peru invented both pisco and the pisco sour. Sebastian convinced me, however, of the present day superiority of Chilean pisco.
If you would like to judge for yourself, you should head to the Lastarria district in Santiago de Chile and look for Chipe Libre – Républica Independiente del Pisco. It’s a great name – what lured me 😉 Then I luckily sat in Sebastian’s section at the bar. He spoke English quite well and I told him about my Peruvian pisco experiences and he took it upon himself to convert me 🙂
If you enjoy pisco, it is a heavenly place. (They also have excellent food). I can’t remember exactly how many varieties of pisco they have but well over fifty – and there are several different pisco flights. That is where I started. Since I was in Santiago for several days and it was really close to my hotel, like some German tourists before me, I started showing up most days to try a different flight.
What is lovely is that they write the name of the pisco on a paper circle that is wrapped around the glass so
you can just collect the ones you like and take them with you for the rest of your Chilean tour. That’s what I did. I impressed a few bartenders with my newly acquired knowledge of Chilean pisco. My second most memorable pisco experience was in Puntas Arenas where I discovered the Sky Bar at the Dreams Hotel. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great the night I went but it was still spectacular. You have an overview of the Pacific Ocean without horizon at the end of the world. You don’t have to drink pisco 😉
But – if you want to learn more about Chilean culture – check out Chipe Libre. If you get lucky, you will
meet Sebastian. He is passionate about pisco and has an encyclopedic knowledge. He also apparently has good taste as we generally agreed on the best pisco in each flight 🙂 I told him he should be a pisco ambassador! It’s become common in the world of whisk(e)y – some lucky soul who roams the world promoting the attributes of the distillery and its related wares.
Chile should really consider it. My favourite pisco was Mistral Gran Nobel Elqui/Limari/Choapa. Sadly, you need to go to Chile to buy it. Perhaps, someday, Sebastian will change that 😉