Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sally Can NY

In March 2006, after living in New York City for four months, I decided it was time to get my New York driver's license. I might have waited longer, but my old license was about to expire, so I had to "get 'er done."

I looked online to find out where their offices were located and was surprised to discover that, instead of only needing my old license, the New York state DMV required a bunch of other stuff, too.

There was a "point" system that I couldn't understand. They had assigned different items, each a potential form of ID, a number of points. You had to bring in items which totaled six points.

I looked at the list of things, such as valid license from another state, birth certificate, social security card, etc., mentally adding up the points.

Let's see, old driver's license=2 points. Social security card=3 points, and so forth. I noticed that the birth certificate wasn't worth any points at all. So, why was it on the list?

I didn't even consider taking it since it didn't help me achieve my six point total.

On a cold, drizzly day in late March, I made a special trip downtown to the DMV, toting all six precious points worth of items. Even though I had my map and compass with me, I got lost and walked blocks in the wrong direction before realizing my mistake and retracing my steps.

I finally found the place and shoved through the revolving brass door into a stiflingly hot lobby. At the reception desk was a large, belligerent woman. She had braided hair, tight against her head, that was dyed red. Not a natural red, but bright, Christmas red.

In order to enter the place, I had to get past her. She was looking at people's paperwork and handing out numbers.

I heard her ask the man ahead of me, "Do you have your birth certificate?"

His English wasn't good, and there was a bit of a discussion before he was sent away, without receiving a number. I had heard their conversation, but since he seemed to be from a foreign country, I wasn't worried about not having my birth certificate with me. I figured all foreigners probably had to show a birth certificate, but hey, I'm an American.

The kind folks at the DMV in New Mexico (and several other states before that) had previously issued me a driver's license. It had my date of birth on it, so it shouldn't be a problem.

"Next!" I realized that she meant me.

I boldly approached the reception desk with my paperwork. She barely glanced at it. "Where's your birth certificate?"

I started sputtering, "But the birth certificate isn't worth any points." I held out all the other stuff I had lugged with me, but she ignored it.

"You have to show proof of date of birth."

I pointed to my old license. "It's right here...on my license."

"You have to have your birth certificate."


"You have to have your birth certificate."

"I just..."

"You have to have your birth certificate." I backed away because it became obvious that she wasn't going to budge and there was a long line behind me. Not to mention that she was beginning to sound like a parrot, repeating itself over and over again.

I left in shame, avoiding eye contact with all the people in line, whom I sincerely hoped had possession of their birth certificates.

I knew where my birth certificate was. I had a file of "important" papers that I could easily get my hands on, but I didn't run home, get it, and rush right back down to the DMV. Several weeks went by before I felt courageous enough to face that woman again.

When I finally went back, I took no chances. I had my old driver's license, my passport, my social security card, my apartment lease, an electric bill, and of course, the birth certificate.

Armed with my bag full of ID, I went through the revolving door back into the overheated lobby. I went on a different day of the week, hoping that the braided-haired woman would have that day off.

No such luck. She was behind the reception desk, still handing out numbers and attitude. She must have seen hundreds of people every day.

I got in line. As I worked my way toward her, she glanced up at me. When I approached her desk, she looked me straight in the eye and demanded, "Do you have your birth certificate this time?"

I was speechless that she would remember little ol' me, out of all the people that she saw every day. "Yes," I squeaked.

She looked at all my paperwork before shoving it back into my hands. "Is the form filled out?" I nodded. "Lemme see it."

Looking it over, she started shaking her braided head. "Unh-uh. You gotta finish this part." She pointed to a section of the application. "And sign this."

Grudgingly, she gave me the prize, a coveted number, and told me to go stand somewhere else to complete all the paperwork.
Dismissed, I slunk away to a tall table where I could stand and fill in all the missing information.

I was in, but the number only got me past her. I still had to wait an hour until they called my number. Then, I could get in line for the eye test, and after that, in another line for the photo.

I didn't get to see the photo, but the photographer promised me that, if I didn't like it, I could return and he would redo it. At that point, I didn't care if I looked like Ronald McDonald.

After the photo, there was another wait for the cashier line. When it was my turn, I had to answer a bunch of questions about residency and criminal activity and I-can't-remember-what-else while the clerk eyed me with suspicion.

I answered her questions, gave her my paperwork, and surrendered my old driver's license. She took it all and my money, too, before handing me a piece of paper.

Expecting to get my license, I looked at the paper. It was a temporary driver's permit. "What is this? Where's my license?"

She explained that, once my paperwork had been "cleared," I would receive my license in the mail within four to six weeks.

This was the first time I had walked out of a DMV without a license, but sure enough, I received it in the mail within about three weeks. The photo was god-awful, but I didn't care.

Eleven years later, and ironically, I've never driven in the state of New York.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Do I Look French from There?

My regular homeopathic pharmacy has been out of garlic tablets for at least two weeks. Garlic's good for my blood, so I passed by there this morning and peered through their glass front door with a hopeful expression. The clerk inside knew what I was looking for and gave me a thumbs down. Still no garlic.

On my way back home, I stopped in at another pharmacy. This one, I rarely use. An older woman with full fringe bangs and shoulder-length hair helped me. She "sold" me the garlic tablets, but then I had to go to the other counter to pay. A man took my money there.

He was 50-ish with salt and pepper hair and Buddy Holly glasses. A nice-looking guy in a nerdy way.

In the background, a female singer was crooning, "The More I See You." He hummed along, singing a word here and there.

"Buena musica," I commented to him. He held up a CD cover and started talking about how much he loved jazz and blues.

I mentioned a video that I had seen last week. The nine-year old Norwegian, Angelina Jordan, sounds like Amy Winehouse reincarnated.

"I love Amy." He showed me his playlist of oldies, telling me in Spanglish that he also loved Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Tom Jones. My kind of music. Our music conversation was going swimmingly when, out of the blue, he asked me, "Are you Canadian?"

I shook my head. The older lady joined us, and I asked in Spanish, "Do you like to dance?"


I leaned slightly over the counter, trying to peek at his ring finger, but his hands were out of sight. "Are you single?" I asked him.

The older lady moved closer to him and said, "He's my husband."

"¡O, perdón! Vale la pena preguntar, ¿no?" Oops, sorry. It never hurts to ask. Luckily, she had a good sense of humor and found it funny instead of threatening.

He carried on, unfazed, and then must have decided that I was French because he began speaking to me in French.

Many people here have mistaken me for French or German, even Russian. Let's see. I know precisely...oh French. Well, that's not strictly true. I could throw around some "Bon jour" and "Merci" in a terrible accent. Beyond that, I would have to be mute.

I must have a "European face," but that's where it ends. I'm not skinny enough to look French below my collarbones.

~~Sally Rose
Author of Penny Possible & A Million Sticky Kisses

Sunday, August 9, 2015


I've had to change peluqueros again. This must be the fifth or sixth one I've tried here. I've lost count.

After an incident with one in El Centro back in 2012, I'd been trekking out to Barrio Yungay to Marcos* who did a consistent job of maintaining my hair style.

The problem? It was two-fold. Over time, I'd noticed that all the magazines in the salon had disappeared and were replaced by religious pamphlets. Along with my haircut, I could expect an evangelical lecture.

Then, there arose the scenario of their son and his learning English. This year, he was accepted into a "prestigious" Chilean school. He had not learned much English before and, now, he is struggling at the new school.

On my last visit to the salon, I'd had the foresight to take my Kindle and was reading the latest trashy novel, in plain view of their religious propaganda, when I heard a little voice say, "Hello, Tía."

I looked up to find Juanito* peeking into the salon. Since they live upstairs, this didn't surprise me, but this time, his mother frog-marched him in, one hand on each shoulder, and plunked him down in a chair opposite me. In his 12-year old hands was his English textbook.

"Please, he needs help with his homework. He doesn't understand it," pleaded his mother.

This wasn't the first time that they had asked for my help. I'd given mini-English lessons on previous salon visits and, last year, his mother had emailed me a homework assignment, along with a note begging me to do it for him. The task had been to translate a report which he would then have to read in class.

Put between the rock and being forced to find a new hairdresser, I'd reluctantly done the translation and sent it back with a stern note, reminding her that Juanito would learn nothing this way. They calmed down for awhile, but this year at his new school, he seems completely lost.

I looked at Juanito, seated across from me, and started asking him questions in English. "Does your teacher speak to the class in English?" I already suspected the answer to this, and he confirmed it with the blank stare.

I asked him again, in Spanish, and he shook his head. "Can he speak English at all?"

"Oh, yes. He can."

"Then, why doesn't he?"

"The first day of school, he asked who could understand him in English. When no one raised his hand, he gave up and started speaking to us in Spanish."

Uh-huh. If the kids can't understand the English teacher, isn't it his job to actually make sure that they learn how? I suggested that Juanito's parents go to the school and speak with the teacher, ask him why the kids aren't being taught in English. If the teacher wasn't receptive, my advice would be to complain to the administration.

"But how could we do that?" What?! "Why don't you come and do some workshops?"

I explained that I would soon be leaving Chile for this year, that I was not available to begin workshops. I thought that they had understood me.

They ignored my recommendation that they speak with the teacher, but they went to the administration ask if I could come to the school to teach remedial workshops to Juanito's class.

Next thing I knew, I had received an email from an "inspector" at the school, inviting me to send in a proposal, along with lesson plans, so that they could approve it before I arrived to do the free workshops.

After stewing for a couple of weeks, I wrote the inspector a polite note, explaining that I'm not going to be here long enough to begin workshops this year. He wrote back to say that I should inform Juanito's parents.

Since I'd already tried to inform them and they'd chosen not to hear me, I didn't bother to attempt it again. This, of course, all means that I've had to find yet another peluquería.

I've managed to locate a salon downtown where I was able to relax and thumb through the latest issue of Vanidades while waiting, and best of all, the Linda Hunt doppelgänger stylist doesn't seem the least bit interested in learning English.

~~Sally Rose
Author of Penny Possible & A Million Sticky Kisses

*names changed

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Top of the List

Do you like lists? I'm a list-maker, so when I see a new list of something that interests me, I usually read through it.

Thia week, I found Chile on two lists. The first was a Thrillist article called "12 of the Most Unbelievably Cheap Paradises on Earth."

I wasn't expecting to find a Chilean city on the list. I was simply scrolling along, reading about Bulgaria, Panama, Cambodia, and others when I discovered that Nº. 12 was Las Trancas, Chile.

I have to confess that I've never been there, don't really know exactly where Las Trancas is. If you enjoy hiking, skiing, and snowboarding, you might want to check out Thrillist's idea of "paradise," though I have my doubts that you could actually grow cacao there.

The other list was presented by Condé Nast Traveler, "The Most Colorful Cities in the World." My first thought? I live near one of them.

Valparaíso, Chile, easily belongs on this list with its wildly painted buildings and murals. I scrolled through the list, past our neighbors, Brazil and Argentina, shaking my head at some of Condé Nast's choices. Where is Valpo?

Once again, Valparaíso was the final city on the list. This colorfully painted coastal city, built on hills, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. No list of cities with colorful buildings or street art would be complete without her.

I like to think of Valpo the way poet Pablo Neruda did, "Valparaíso, how absurd you haven't combed your hair, you've never had time to get dressed, life has always surprised you."

~~Sally Rose
Author of Penny Possible & A Million Sticky Kisses

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ojos Abiertos

In my quest to find viable volunteer opportunities for teaching English, I recently attended a meeting of a new organizaton called Ojos Abiertos.

"To empower children to grow as individuals and valuable community members through initiatives designed to nurture empathy, support learning, and promote respect and self-autonomy" reads its mission statement.

The founder of the group is a dedicated young woman named Helen who has put together an international team of volunteers to spearhead the program. Their first project will be at a municipal school in Conchalí, on the north side of Santiago.

Last year, I had met with the director of this school. He is serious about improving the lives of his students and is determined to give them more opportunities for success in life. Ojos Abiertos is proposing English and art workshops at this school.

When I visited, I did a brief English encounter in a 7th grade classroom. Like at most Chilean schools, the kids were timid, but curious. By the end of the presentation, most of them had warmed up enough to participate.

Afterward, as I was leaving, one of the girls from the class ran up, leaned into me, and blurted out, "I think you are a very good person."

I put my arm around her shoulders, looked into her shining eyes, and told her, "I think you are a very good person, too."

She gave me a big hug, and an even bigger grin, before running back to join her circle of giggling classmates.

If you have ever considered volunteering, think about contacting Helen at Ojos Abiertos. You will probably receive much more than you can give.

~~Sally Rose
Author of Penny Possible & A Million Sticky Kisses

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Coffee Encounters

As opposed to my last post about the ten best bars in Santiago, now here's a list of nine cafes to help us survive winter.

How many of these have I visited? Not as many as the bars, but considering that I only drink decaf, which is almost impossible to find here, and that I drink it at home in the mornings, I'm surprised that I've actually visited three out of these nine.

Two of them are in my neighborhood and, if I'm honest, I didn't drink coffee there. At Colmado, I've had lunch and at Bon Bon Oriental, they serve delicious, gooey Turkish delicacies.

The other one I've investigated is in Barrio Italia. I went to Xoco Por Ti, which is not a café but a chocolate bar. I was also in Rende Bú, not the one on the list, but their location in Barrio Italia, which was known as the "cat café" during the month of June because it operated as a cat adoption center. At both places, I drank hot chocolate.

My own neighborhood is teeming with cafes. Many of them have buenda onda, a nice vibe, but I cannot vouch for their coffee. Now a caffeine teetotaler, I'm still buzzed from 1983.

~~Sally Rose
Author of Penny Possible & A Million Sticky Kisses

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Happy Hours

Frequently, I am contacted by folks who read this blog and are planning a visit to Chile. They ask me where to stay, what to do, how to get from A to B. I enjoy playing virtual tour guide and I offer advice when I can.

Many people want to be in the heart of it all. They choose to stay in Barrio Bellas Artes or Barrio LaStarria where you can hop onto the Metro or a bus, and it's easy to walk to restaurants and bars.

When I first moved here, back in 2011, it was almost impossible to find a restaurant open between the hours of 5pm and 7pm. They firmly shut their doors after lunch and didn't reopen until Chilean dinner hour. Now, with a huge influx of tourists, more and more places are staying open all the way through, from lunch until closing.

Walking through LaStarria, you see signs announcing "Happy Hour." Though most Chileans don't arrive to get "happy" until around 9pm, the Happy Hours usually start after lunch, which means around 5pm.

A recent article in The Guardian said that Santiago is "out to surprise" and listed the Top 10 Bars in Santiago. I might disagree about some on the list, but I have visited most of them. Six of them are within a five minute walk from my apartment...and you wondered why I post so many photos of cocktails.

~~Sally Rose
Author of Penny Possible & A Million Sticky Kisses