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My last afternoon in Santiago. I’ve left my luggage at the hotel while I have one final meal at Akarana, a place Liz recommended for their oysters. Plus I thought I might finally be able to get a terremoto cocktail.

Well, that’s a mistake. When I order a terremoto from my waiter, Emiliano, he goes off and gets the owner of the restaurant. Who turns out to be a spunky little gal from New Zealand named Dell Taylor.

“We don’t make drinks like that here,” she says rather severely.


“Definitely not.”

What is it about this terremoto cocktail that so disgusts everyone? Is it the rot-gut wine, pipeño, that they use? Or the pineapple ice cream? I’ll tell you, I’ve been in at least twenty different restaurants and bars in Santiago and not a single place would make me a terremoto cocktail. So now I’m practically desperate for one. Just to see if it’s possibly as bad as you would think.

Although Dell won’t make me a terremoto, she offers to personally make me a pisco sour which she says is the best in all of Santiago. Well, as far as I’m concerned, that’s not saying much. I’ve yet to have one that comes even close to a poorly made margarita. But what the hell. It’s my last day here. Might as well have a pisco sour.

A few minutes later she’s back with my drink. And then she stands there, at my table, watching me take a sip.

“Well?” she says.

You know what? She’s right. This is the best damn pisco sour I’ve had. And I tell her so.

She looks smug. “What’d I tell you?” she says.

Then she sits down at my table and tells me how all the pisco sours in Santiago are crap because everyone uses some god awful mix at the bar. “Got to make it with fresh lemon juice. And a decent pisco. Doesn’t have to be the best pisco but it’s got to be fairly good, doesn’t it?”

I’m impressed enough with Dell’s pisco sour that I order a second, to go with my oysters on the half-shell and a dish of chargrilled marinated octopus, and then ask her for her recipe. For the drink. And here it is: The best damn pisco sour in Santiago.

Akarana Pisco Sour

In a cocktail shaker with four ice cubes, add:

–1 1/2 ounces of good pisco (she likes Aba)

–3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice

–spoon full of sugar (taste drink for sweetness)

–“a knob of egg white” (about 1/3 of an egg white)

Shake it up good in the cocktail shaker, pour into a tall flute, and add a drop of Angostura bitters on the top. “Just a dot—no more.”


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If you missed yesterday’s installment, I was talking about this restaurant in Santiago, Doña Tina, that had recently been written up by Ms. Florence Fabricant (that name can’t be real) of the NY Times who wrote that if you want to sample “the hearty, rustic specialties that are considered true Chilean cooking, this sprawling place on the outskirts of the city is surely the best choice.”

So I decide to make a reservation and check it out and when I get there, I’m the lone diner. And they won’t serve me a terremoto so I order a bottle of wine, which is corked, at which point my waiter huffily disappears into the kitchen.

The empty dining room at Dona Tina.

The empty dining room at Dona Tina.

Well, a few minutes later a charming young woman comes out from the back and introduces herself as Karla. She tells me that her uncle, my waiter, had sent her out from the back where she had been doing her homework because she speaks English and he can’t figure out what my problem is.

“He says your wine tastes of dog?” she says.

“It’s corked,” I tell her. “You understand corked?”

She shakes her head. Rather than trying to explain the concept, I say, “It’s just no good.”

“No good?”

“No good,” I tell her. “Taste it.”

She takes a sip, shrugs. “Tastes like wine,” she says. Then adds, “I don’t like wine.”

But Karla goes off and gets me another bottle of wine and while she’s struggling to open it, she tells me that she is one of the “many, many grandchildren” of the owner, Doña Tina. The waiter is her uncle, the bartender is a cousin, her father is a cook. “It cuts down on the stealing,” she says, making a little joke.

When I ask Karla just how many grandchildren Doña Tina has, she shrugs and says, “Maybe 25, maybe 30—it’s hard to keep track.” Then she goes to the bar and comes back with a copy of her grandmother’s cookbook and on the back is a photo of Doña Tina surrounded by her many grandkids. I count 26 but Karla says, “At least five or six are missing.”

When I joke about her following in her grandmother’s footsteps, she says definitely not. “I want to be a civil engineer,” she says. Well, I say, with 25 or 30 cousins, surely the family business will continue.

“Yes, but without me, I hope,” says Karla.

I tell Karla I’m going to have that Chilean classic, pastel de choclo, an oven-baked stew made of diced meat, onion, and chili pepper covered by a sweet corn paste topped with sugar.

“No,” Karla says. “No pastel de choclo. Only in summer.” (Remember that it is mid-winter down here right now.)

“The humitas?” I say.

“No humitas.”

I give up. I tell Karla to just pick something for me. With her pen, she points at the sugerencia especial, the Doña Tina. “This is very good,” she says. “Costillar and arrollado. Have you had arrollado?”

I tell her I have not. She says, “Well, if you have been to Santiago and have not had the arrollado, you have not been to Santiago.”

That’s good enough for me.

When Karla brings the dish from the kitchen, it’s as meat-and-potatoes as you can get. The arrollado is pork that’s been marinated in red wine vinegar and a little garlic, rolled up and covered in a layer of fatty skin and poached. It looks about as appetizing as it sounds. Karla tells me that if you eat the white fat covering it’s called eating the panty. “But not everyone likes to eat the panty.” Including me.

The costillar, pork ribs roasted with cumin and oregano, is a little bit better, but anyone who has ever had some good Kansas City barbecue would immediately tell you that the Chileans need to learn about spice rubs.

The best thing on the plate, as far as I’m concerned, are the corn-colored pureed potatoes flavored with merken, the Mapuche spice of smoked chile peppers and coriander seeds. Frankly, I would have been perfectly happy to skip the costillar and arrollado, along with the panty, and just sup on a big bowl of the mashed potatoes with merken. If only I could have gotten a decent wine to go with it. Or a good terremoto.

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There was this article last month in the New York Times about a restaurant here in Santiago called Hosteria Doña Tina that said if you want to sample “the hearty, rustic specialties that are considered true Chilean cooking, this sprawling place on the outskirts of the city is surely the best choice.”

Well, here I am in Santiago searching for “true Chilean cooking” (as well as a good terremoto, which I still haven’t found) so of course I had to make my way out to Doña Tina for dinner. I mean, if Florence Fabricant of the NY Times says this is the place to sample Chilean cuisine, it must be good, right?

Photo by David Lansing

Photo by David Lansing

But before we head out to Doña Tina, I have to tell you how much I love the Ritz-Carlton (and, no, I don’t get anything for plugging them). They just always do things right. I just moved over there yesterday from the San Cristobal Tower and while that hotel was nice, the Ritz-Carlton is on a completely different level. I mean minutes after I’d checked in, Branko Karlezi, their director of public relations, calls me in my room to make sure everything is okay and see if I need anything.

“I just have a quick question for you,” I say. “Do I need to make a reservation for Doña Tina? And how long of a cab ride is it?”

Branko says, “What time would you like to dine?”

“About nine?” I venture.

“I will take care of it,” says Branko. “A house car will be ready for you at 8:30.”

I told him there was no need for that, that I’d be happy to grab a taxi. I was just wondering how long it would take me to get out there.

Well, that’s the problem, said Branko. “The restaurant is really out in the countryside and it can be difficult to find a taxi to take you that far out and even more difficult to find one to bring you back. So, please. We would be happy to provide you with a car and driver.”

Now that’s a hotel.

So anyway, my driver, Juan Carlos, picks me up at 8:30 and we drive and drive and drive until I’m sure I’m being kidnapped and taken to Peru. We go up windy hills and through heavy woods with nary a sign of any civilization until suddenly here we are: at Hosteria Doña Tina. As Ms. Florence Fabricant of the NY Times says, it’s a sprawling place. There are cavernous rooms to the left and a big open room with a fireplace in the middle to my right and more rooms beyond that.

However, there are no diners. Zero. Zilch. Just three guys sitting on stools behind the bar watching a soccer game. When I walk in they barely take their eyes off the TV. Finally, one guy comes over and asks what he can do for me. I tell him I’m Mr. Lansing and I have a reservation for nine.

He shrugs at this news and swings an arm over the dining room, telling me to sit wherever I want. So I take a seat near the fireplace just so, you know, it won’t feel so lonely.

A few minutes later the guy comes back with a menu and asks me if I’d like something to drink.

“A terremoto,” I tell him.

He shakes a finger at me. “No terremoto,” he says. “Pisco sour.” And without waiting for my response, he heads back to the bar and the soccer game.

The pisco sour he brings back is, quite simply, horrendous. Like a margarita made with really bad sweet and sour mix and cheap tequila. I take one sip, push it away, and ask him to bring me a glass of red wine instead.

“No,” he says. “No glass of wine.” They only sell bottles. So I order a bottle of carmenère, the signature Chilean wine that, until the late 1990s, was thought by the Chileans to be merlot. The guy opens the bottle of wine while looking over his shoulder at the TV in the bar and hurriedly fills my glass so high that it is impossible for me to pick it up without spilling all over the white tablecloth, so I lean over and take a sip from the glass while it’s still on the table.

It is—how do you say?—corked.

Huele como perro mojado,” I tell him. It smells like wet dog.

My Spanish, I admit, is horrible and my Chilean Spanish even worse so perhaps I did not say exactly what I meant to say. Always a dangerous thing when speaking in a foreign language about dogs and bad things. Which probably explains why the waiter turned his back on me and immediately disappeared into the kitchen.

To be continued…

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Pablo Neruda was, by any definition, an odd man. A flamboyant life-long diplomat (his last posting, under Salvador Allende, was as Chile’s ambassador to France) who was a rogue and, by his own description, a bit of a child. From his autobiography: “I have built my house like a toy house and I play in it from morning till night.”

Photos by David Lansing

Photos by David Lansing

Walking around La Chascona, you can see what he meant. Although Neruda was both fascinated and fearful of the ocean, he decided to build the main part of the house like a ship. Many of the windows are portholes and the rooms are long and narrow, just as they’d be on a boat. I’m sure if he could have found a way to actually rock the narrow dining room, where he hosted dinner for friends and diplomats, he would have (although the creaking wood floors, taken from an old ship, give you a bit of the same effect).

Still, he did his best to add a bit of Disney imagination to everything (he and Walt would have gotten along famously, I’m sure). For instance, our guide Alejandro showed us the Dutch-looking ceramic salt and pepper shakers he had specially made to use at dinner parties when he was bored with the company. The salt shaker says “Marijuana” and its pepper cousin reads “Morphine.”

“He would casually put them on the table at the beginning of the meal just to outrage guests that he didn’t particularly like, hoping they’d go home early,” Alejandro told us.

Neruda's house as seen from the street.

This was back in the 50s, mind you, so I’m sure it had the proper effect (can you imagine an ambassador to France doing something similar these days?). And, in keeping with the “toy house” theme, he had a secret door built into the back of the china closet leading to his private quarters. That way, if he was really bored, he could quite simply vanish from the room.

Of course, Pinochet, like any right-wing dictator, was less than enamored with this poet/diplomat who won the Nobel Prize in 1971 while his buddy, the Marxist Salvadore Allende, was president.

So one of the first things Pinochet did following the military coup in early September 1973 was to send thugs up to loot La Chascona. They burned down his office and library and gathered Neruda’s books and letters, burning them in a public display. As if to say, we don’t give a rat’s ass that he is a great Chilean artist who has won the Nobel prize. He’s still a pinko commie, so fuck him.

Two weeks later, Neruda, ill from prostate cancer, died from what most say were complications of the disease. But his wife, Matilde Urrutia, always insisted he died of a broken heart. Pinochet allowed only his family and a few friends to attend his funeral. His body was taken from the poet’s house, where it had been lying in state, by Matilde and Pablo’s sister. The small procession—maybe a dozen at most—moved slowly down the street but as word began to spread that the coffin carried Pablo Neruda, more and more mourners fell into line.Until the procession stretched for dozens of blocks, overwhelming the military presence on hand as they shouted “Neruda y Allende, un solo combatiente” (Neruda and Allende, one fighter)! to the capital’s General Cemetery where Matilde said her final good-by.

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On a whim, I stopped by the Museo Neruda, better known as La Chascona, the odd treehouse-like Santiago home of Chile’s most famous poet, Pablo Neruda. I had been wandering around the neighborhood of Bellavista looking for a little shop Liz had told me about, Emporio Nacional, hoping to buy some merken or perhaps a bottle of Chilean olive oil (which is quite remarkable) only to find that the store was closed. Rather than immediately take a taxi back to my hotel, I decided to wander around the neighborhood and quite by accident came upon La Chascona.

Photos by David Lansing

Photos by David Lansing

Only a handful of people are allowed through the house cum museum at a time and usually you need to make a reservation at least a day in advance, so I was half expecting to be turned away when I showed up and asked if there was any way I could join the next English tour. It just so happens one was just starting up and I was permitted to join a South African couple.

Our guide was a young college-aged woman named Alejandro. In the courtyard behind the main part of the house, she told us that Neruda moved to La Chascona in 1955 with the woman who was to become his third wife, Matilde Urrutia, while still married to his second wife, the painter Delia del Carril. La Chascona was Neruda’s nickname for Matilde and referred to “her rebellious red hair.”

Then Alejandro took us inside one of the buildings, constructed like a lighthouse, to look at a painting by the Mexican artist Diego Rivera (Frida Kahlo’s husband) called “Medusa Matilde.” According to Alejandro, Neruda quite liked the painting; Matilde, not so much. Which is understandable considering that in Greek mythology Medusa is a beautiful maiden with the ability to turn men into stone.

A decade or so before Rivera painted Matilde as Medusa, Sigmund Freud wrote an article suggesting that Medusa was the “supreme talisman who provides the image of castration.”

Was Revera aware of this Freudian interpretation? Impossible to know. But, according to Alejandro, not everyone was thrilled when Neruda abandoned his painter wife (who was a decade older than him) and took up with the much younger Matilde, a singer. One of the more interesting things about the painting is that Rivera hid the profile of Neruda in the unruly hair on the right side of her head. I don’t know how well you can see it in this photo (which I had to take on the sly since it is forbidden to photograph inside the house), but if you move in a straight line from the eye on the right, you’ll see his lips and from there it’s not hard to make out his chin, protruding nose, and a single eye.

Whether Revera was a fan of Matilde or not, she was definitely an important muse to Neruda. Probably his best-known book of love poems—One Hundred Love Sonnets—was written for her (though he withheld publication for a number of years to spare the feelings of his previous wife).

It sounds like Mark Sanford, the governor of South Carolina who recently admitted to having an affair with a woman from Argentina, also has a poetic streak. From one of his e-mails released last week: “I could say that you have the ability to give magnificently gentle kisses, or that I love the curves of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself in the faded glow of night’s light.”

He’s no Neruda but he’s definitely a romantic.

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