Feb 17, 2012
Santiago, Chile. It’s still crazy when I tell myself I’m here. I’ve been on the move for five weeks now, working my way through Latin America. It was a grueling night of traveling to get from Tallahassee to Santiago. Made worse because for the last week my stomach has been struggling with something I must have picked up in Guatemala. I thought I was over my nasty habit of getting sick in every country I visit, but alas, this experience wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t spend part of my time fasting and trying to keep my stomach from tearing its way out of my body. Lets just say I was definitely having second thoughts about this trip while my belly was reeling and I was alone, laying on the floor of the Miami terminal waiting for my ten-hour flight to board at midnight to take me to South America. At that point I was unsure if my buddy Nick was going to be meeting me and the only person I knew in the city—a girl from elementary school who I haven’t seen in ten years and happens to be living in Santiago—told me she would be away on vacation for most of the time I would be around. I didn’t even know where I would be going or staying once I got in. All I knew is that there were two Futures in Santiago and more in Argentina after that. Also that I had a flight booked to come home five weeks later.
Now I consider myself to be a fairly well traveled and capable individual—sometimes
at least—but starting a long trip into the unknown sick as a dog and with no plan was almost too much for me. Almost being the keyword. Whether it is a good thing or not, I guess it is nice to know how I’ll react when that little voice in my head tells me something may not be a great idea. Just kidding Mom. I always make good decisionsJ—she knows this and she actually helped talk me into getting on the flight. But anyway, yeah, it was rough getting on that plane, just hoping to survive the voyage relatively intact. But I did, and I figured out a hotel once I got in, and I made it there and got in bed immediately. Nick even sauntered in eventually, waking me at 8pm from what the people here call the sleep of the dead.
Since then things have been great. My stomach is still a mess but it’s getting better, and Santiago is a beautiful city. I’m even getting in touch with my Jewish roots since El Estadio Israelita is the club hosting the tournament. Tennis courts, swimming pools, soccer fields, gyms, playgrounds, restaurants…. the Jews really know how to do it. I definitely would have gone to temple and taken Hebrew school a little more seriously had my synagogue been anything like this place. I’ve been on the lookout for a yamika since we got here, if for no other reason than it may get me access to the gym, which players aren’t allowed to use. Also it wouldn’t hurt to have God on my side a bit the next couple weeks. In all seriousness though, it is pretty crazy to be in Chile hanging out in the Jewish community, watching people file into temple wearing their best for Shabbat services while I’m sweaty and lugging my racquet bag around.
As far as climate is concerned, Santiago reminds me a lot of Mexico. It’s very dry here and like Monterrey and Mexico City, there is a backdrop of desert-mountains in the distance. Being summer, the weather is pretty hot. But I’m probably the only person around who thinks 85 degrees and sunny is hot. It’s nice though and fun to be in a place that is consistently beautiful.
Playing on red clay is crazy. I’ve only hit a couple times but it is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. Besides the fact that movement is tough and the ball bounces unpredictably, it is unreal to me to play on a surface that changes throughout a match. The court is always groomed and prepared with brushes and water when you start playing, meaning that it is smooth and damp so that the clay is even and soft. But as you move around on it and it dries out in the sun it becomes hard,
dusty, and torn up, totally changing the dynamic of playing on it. The best way to describe the clay when it dries out is kind of like what the muddy spots on a soccer field turn into on hot days when it hasn’t rained in a while. Whether you understand what that means or not, what I’m saying is that a clay court is a living, breathing, organism, with specific characteristics and personality that depend on the type of care it is used to.
I cannot understand why so much of the world—especially poor countries like many in South America—would choose to play tennis on a surface that requires so much maintenance. There are literally two men at the club whose specific jobs seem to be to run around the twenty courts at the facility watering and grooming endlessly. It is the most futile thing to watch, like trying to hold back the sea with a wicker fence. As soon as they finish the tedious process of evening out the clay, brushing it smooth, watering it, and cleaning off the lines, it starts drying out again. Not to mention that there is always another court to be worked on. It just makes my head spin watching them complete the cycle over and over again and thinking of doing that all day every day. But they work hard at it and they have it down to an art form with no wasted effort. Like Zen masters or something. It seems like it would make more sense to just play on hard courts that need no maintenance. But it is a part of their culture and I’m a stupid American and probably don’t understand.
Getting used to the clay is going to be a long process but it is fun to experience and it definitely adds new aspects to a game that I’ve played for a long time and thought I knew completely. Besides learning a bit of guitar I can’t remember the last thing I actually learned how to do from scratch. So it is an interesting dynamic feeling like I’m learning something totally new within the realm of something I have done for as long as I can remember. We’ll see how it goes. For now though I’m just trying to enjoy not being a master at it and hopefully in a few weeks I’ll be able to think back on how I am now and feel like I’ve made some solid progress.
That’s all from Santiago for now but I’ll check back in a few days after the tournament starts and I’ve explored a bit more.