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Finish this sentence: All work and no play…

…make Jack Nicholson chase after his family with an axe through a topiary garden. Right?

Santiago isn’t exactly in the running for the setting of “The Shining II”, but I was definitely beginning to feel twitchy and cooped up. No wonder, with this as my most frequent work space:

Working through my pile of research in my dorm room at the EcoHostel.

I do make it out to the library most days. I’ve found three good spaces to work. One is the Biblioteca Nacional on Alameda; it’s an appropriately quiet, stuffy, and antique place to work. I especially like the “Revistas” (magazines) room on the first floor. The building is too old and the walls too thick to allow for wireless internet, so it’s a good place to go when I don’t want to be distracted by my multi-tasking mind. There’s also the massive GAM (Centro Gabriela Mistral) cultural building right across from the Universidad Catolica Metro. There’s a spacious, modern study space in the library on the third floor, and wifi is free. The best spot, though, is a bit out of the way, but that’s also why it’s my favorite. The Instituto Cultural de las Condes is an artsy sanctuary complete with a sculpture garden, water lilies growing in the fountains, a cafe, and a seventies-era library with free wireless. There aren’t any outlets in the library to keep a laptop plugged in, but there are a couple outside. I’ll usually go out to eat lunch and get some fresh air while my computer recharges. (To go: take the red line of the Metro to Manquehue, then walk ten minutes toward the mountains. The Institute is on the left.)

I’ve been in Santiago for over two weeks now, and every day has been crammed full of interviews, reading, and writing. I’m being challenged at a level I haven’t felt since college, but I’m loving it. My back, neck, and shoulder muscles, as well as my patience for crowded and noisy city streets were becoming strained, however.

Laura and Sebastian and crab empanadas - made fresh while we waited!

So when two new friends invited me to escape the city with them this past weekend, I decided not to go the way of an urban Jack Torrance, and I accepted. Laura is a friend of a friend from the U.S., and Sebastian is her Chilean boyfriend. They’re working to start their own organic agriculture non-governmental organization, and have very informed opinions on the Chilean economy, environmental trends, and government policies. They’re fun to talk to, and a helpful sounding board for my own ideas as they develop.

Posing in one of Neruda's pretty colored-glass doors.

They invited me to Isla Negra, a trendy beach community about 125km west of Santiago. Down from the hot hills, through a rich wine-growing region, and out to the coast. Isla Negra is famous for two things: the ocean, and the seaside house of famous Chilean poet, diplomat, and senator Pablo Neruda. I did the tour of the house-turned-museum (One highlight was Neruda’s collection of ship’s figureheads hung in the living room. One was simply a severed wooden head of Medusa, hung looking out the window toward the sea. Startling, and lovely.), but I rather preferred the beach. This is not a swimming beach. Instead of smooth white sand there are smooth fists of gray rock, jutting vertically out of the coastline, raised as if in taunting defiance to the ceaseless blue-black swell that starts as a towering juggernaut and ends as so much foam, retreating brokenly. The town, in late afternoon, reminded me of Nantucket in late autumn, and all my childhood dreams of living in an ancient salt box with a widow’s walk and cupola came floating in on the offshore breeze.

It was a good weekend off. I’m back in the city now, finishing up most of the interviews I needed to conduct in the city, and now buckling down to read all of the materials I’ve gathered. I’m hoping to move south to Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas in the next few days. The fundraising news is good – great, even! I’m up to 15%, or $315 out of $2,000 that I’m trying to raise by the first week in February. Thanks this week goes out to Dan Amstutz, the erstwhile Spacemonkey; Megan Dreisbach, one of my two oldest friends; Anne Geller, my first writing mentor at Clark University; Anne Aghion, friend and filmmaker from Antarctica; and My Parents! THANK YOU. Gracias. Dankeshun. Solpaycuy. Etc. I couldn’t do this without you.

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