“The Avocado Republic of Chile, Because it’s too Cold to Grow Bananas” is Chile’s ultimate tour guide. Laugh-out-loud funny and insightful. American writer Walker Rowe sick of the pollution and noise in Santiago moves to the country for peace and quiet. What he did not know is when you move to the country, you exchange one set of problems for another.
19 October 2014.
Oscar has one scrawny marijuana plant at his house which has now grown to a massive bush. He tossed the seed into a pot over the winter, placed it outside, and it germinated. Now he was showing it to me enthusiastically. When I first moved out here, the tiny plant was maybe 15 cm tall. I thought it would have died here in the winter, since I understood that marijuana would not tolerate frost. Not much has changed with regard to its height, but in the past few weeks Oscar’s plant grew testicles (stamen). That means it’s male, not worth smoking at all. Only the flowers on a marijuana plant are worth smoking and only a female plant has flowers. Still, wanting to get stoned, Oscar dried it out in the sun over a few days and asked me if I wanted to smoke it with him. I said it would just give us a headache. All he could do with that hemp was make rope.
Last night we climbed up onto the deck of Sofía’s house to stargaze and drink Burgoyne. When he told me he had Burgoyne, I thought Burgoyne was the Spanish word for Burgundy (It´s “Burdeo.”) and wondered where Oscar had bought French wine here in rural Chile. In Chile, which has something like 300,000 hectares of vineyards, you cannot buy French wine, even at fancy shops like Mundo del Vino, which is sort of odd.
Now I understand that Burgoyne is a mix of red wine and strawberries.
High atop Sofía’s deck, I introduced Oscar to the Google Sky Map. You point this mobile phone app at the sky and it uses its onboard magnetometer, accelerometer, and gyroscope to show the location of the stars and planets. I used it to locate Neptune a few degrees above the star Altair. I took me a while to study where Neptune was relative to the other stars and then be able to find that with my binoculars, since even if Neptune showed up as the brightest object in Google Sky Map, it was still dim in the sky. Oscar had never seen the Google Sky Map.
As one does when one gazes at the stars, we started to turn whimsical. I told Oscar it would be fun to find some hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus, take that, and then shine laser beams into the night. If you have never taken acid, like that extracted from San Pedro cactus, then you have not experienced the wonderful interplay of lights and heightened sensibilities that brings. That is when if the trip is fun; sometimes it is frightening. I have a San Pedro cactus growing on our terrace in Santiago. But that one is for looking at and not cutting it up into pieces. It’s like Mescaline or Peyote.
Oscar needed cigarettes and wanted to smoke some pot. So we jumped in his Chrysler SUV and drove to the local drug market. Well, I don’t know if you would call it a “market,” but there was one house there with people coming and going. I sat in the car out front while Oscar went in and bought two tiny paper squares of marijuana for 1,000 Chilean pesos ($2) each, each enough for about one joint. A group of teenagers were sitting in a car and I strained my neck to try to see the girls going in and out of this house.
I was skeptical when we went to buy pot, because most of what is sold here is low-quality marijuana from Paraguay. You can tell it is low-quality, because it has seeds. That means that the farmer did not take the effort to separate the males from the females. In Paraguay, growers plant it in the national forest and then run away if the police come. It’s hard to pay attention to quality when you are on the run. What makes this marijuana worse in quality is the growers there make it into bricks in order to make it smaller to smuggle across the border. They use glue, gasoline, and all kinds of toxic chemicals to stick it together.
It’s legal to smoke pot in Chile but not grow or buy it yet, but will soon be. The law of controlled substances is called 20.000. The current law says you can smoke marijuana “for personal use” and possess it for “immediate consumption.” That is vague, so the government has promised to spell out how much is considered personal use and pass a law to allow growing it at home or medical use. Already the mayor of La Florida in Santiago has planted an 800-plant farm to produce medical marijuana hash oil. He said the agriculture department ignored his request for a permit so his permit has been granted by default. The president of the senate introduced a bill to allow people to grow three plants. But not everyone has the skills or the location to grow their own. So the Chilean mechanism will probably morph into the Uruguay model in which people are allowed to join clubs.
I gave up trying to grow it myself and am waiting for the law to change. I don’t buy it anymore either, as I would rather wait for someone to give it to me and avoid the risk of arrest.
Chilean’s middle class attitude toward marijuana is for the most part conservative, more so, say than the Americans. Yet I have two friends who you would say are upper class socialites. They and their socialite friends all smoke pot. Enrique and his sister Carmen have parties at Enrique’s house in Vitacura where Enrique always has one plant growing. Each time I go, the same group of people are there, they start coming at 1 PM and don’t stop coming until 1 AM. One woman is one of Chile’s most noted architects. Once when I went, as I had been drinking wine all day, and was very enthusiastic, I said I wanted to tag along as she and her boyfriend left at 5 AM to go skiing. Since it was already 3 AM that was not too likely. The couple had just flown in from a week of shopping in New York and Los Angeles. When I shop, I don’t fly to New York. And I don’t shop. Carmen is rich too. She goes around the city buying antiques and has filled her 5 story Victorian house in Providencia with art from Chile’s most famous artists. At Enrique’s house I met a designer of French perfumes and a guy who said he ran the international Viña del Mar music festival for two years. Carmen and Enrique are the only people I know from the jet set in Chile. My skiing partner René introduced me to them. He was an exile who fled Chile in 1973 and then came back when it was safe. There he taught at the San Francisco Art Institute and worked for bands like U2 designing their sets. His wife inherited the Bernardo O´Higgin’s book collection. He is one of Chile’s founders. Evelin has deep aristocratic roots. She goes every month to visit her cousin, Nicanor Parra, a Chilean poet who won the Cervantes Prize, which is like the Nobel Prize, except it is only for writers in Spanish. He just turned 100 years old.
Such are my brushes with Chile’s elite.
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