My Invented Country by Isabel Allende
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Overview: I don’t want to give the impression that we are all bad, we also have our virtues. Let me see, I’ll try to think of one. . . . Well, we’re a people with poetic souls. It isn’t our fault; that one we can blame on the landscape. No one who is born and lives in a natural world like ours can resist writing poetry. In Chile, you lift up a rock, and instead of a lizard out crawls a poet or a balladeer. We admire our writers, we respect them, and we put up with their manias. Years ago at political meetings people would shout aloud the poems of Pablo Neruda, which we all knew by heart. We liked his love poems best because we have a weakness for romance. We are also moved by misfortune: dejection, nostalgia, disillusion, grief. Our evenings are very long, which may explain our preference for melancholy themes. If poetry isn’t your thing, there are always other forms of art. All the women I know write, paint, sculpt, or do crafts in their leisure time-which is very scarce. Art has replaced knitting. I’ve been given so many paintings and ceramics that I can no longer get my car in the garage.
I can add about our character that we’re affectionate; we go around bestowing kisses right and left. We greet each other with a sincere kiss on the right cheek. Children kiss adults as they arrive and as they leave, and as an additional sign of respect they call them uncle or aunt, as they do in China, and that includes schoolteachers. Older people are kissed mercilessly, even against their will. Women kiss, even if they hate each other, and they kiss any male within reach, and neither age nor social class nor hygiene can dissuade them. Only males in their reproductive years, let’s say between fourteen and seventy, do not kiss each other-with the exception of father and son-but they clap each other on the back and heartily embrace. This affection has many other manifestations, from opening the doors of your house to receive anyone who shows up unexpectedly to sharing everything you have. It never crosses your mind to praise something another person is wearing, because they’re certain to whip it off and give it to you. If there is food left from a meal, the genteel thing is to give it to the guests to take home, just as you never arrive at someone’s house with empty hands.
The first thing you can say about Chileans is that we are friendly and hospitable; at the first hint we throw open our arms and the doors of our homes. I’ve often heard foreigners say that if they ask directions, the people they approach accompany them there personally, and if they seem to be lost, their informant is capable of inviting them home for dinner, even offering a bed if they’re in difficulty. I confess, however, that my own family was not especially friendly. One
Genre: Non-Fiction > Biographies & Memoirs