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Published: March 24th 2020
A week ago I was in Chile, enjoying our last full day exploring this gorgeous country, visiting beautiful vineyards, fascinating museums, comfortable homes, and drinking fine Chilean wines. I am writing this from my home in Maine, so you can see I made it through the maelstrom, which turned out to be more in my head, in the worrying and anticipation of what, last week, was told to be imminently before us. Everything in getting home worked out better than anyone could have ever guessed. Perhaps we were just lucky.
Last Monday morning we visited the Colchagua Museum, an amazing and impressive private collection that covers thousands of years of Chilean history, containing the largest collection of pre-Columbian art in all of Chile. This museum is a masterpiece. In the afternoon we enjoyed a delightful home-hosted lunch, ridiculously touching elbows to each other in greeting rather than the much preferred hugs. Sitting on our hostess's patio in the sunshine, looking out at her lovely end-of summer gardens, I felt this was a small piece of sunny paradise, a very welcoming and valuable respite from what we were learning was going on throughout the world. I'd rather have stayed here than face what we all thought was the coming trauma of trying to get home.
Later on that last day we also visited one of the Colchagua Valley's incredibly beautiful vinyards and wineries. After a short wine tasting, we split into two groups and each created our own personal wine blend. Our group lost on the presentation as well as the label, but won on the taste of our invented wine; this to me was the most important part: how a wine tastes should outrank how it is presented or the look of its label! I don't choose wines I like because of either their labels or how they are presented, but by how they taste. We should have won our little competition based on that. In any case, we had a very fine time, laughing throughout the whole experiment, greatly relieving the tensions that had been building up since the evening we arrived.
On Tuesday morning we had the chance to go back to the Colchagua Museum before our farewell lunch. Then we left, driving from Santa Cruz back to Santiago, clutching our passports, flight information and record locators, carrying our disappointment and fears along with us. Usually I am pretty independent, resilient and not at all fearful, but facing into this unbrave new world I found I wanted to be with the people in our group as long as possible, perceiving safety in numbers. At the Santiago airport Nadia quickly said her good-byes to us all, heading off to her business-class seat on her flight to Argentina, but steadfast Chris stayed with us, gently and effectively corralling us through the huge, seemingly mile-long snaking lines until we all had our boarding passes (with new and terrible seat assignments), making sure we had his cell phone number in case of any emergency that might still arise. Only at that point did he leave. We were on our own, but I was still with four other members of our tour, a comfort and a relief not to already be facing all this by myself.
The overnight flight from Santiago to Miami went smoothly; we did not seem to be screened for coronavirus on the plane, as Nadia had told us we would be, nor was there any screening at all when we disembarked in Miami. This was enormously surprising! What a relief to know that I would not be quarantined, that here we were, permitted back into the US, walking freely through the terminals in the Miami airport! My original flight to Boston had been cancelled, but a new one taking its place was listed as being on time, only an hour and a half later, probably allowing some extra time for arriving passengers to go through the hours' long screening lines we had heard about in Chicago and New York. What had happened? How was it that we were simply allowed into the US, so easily and without any kind of screening at all? The remaining couple and I spoke about this in whispers, expecting that at any juncture we might be pulled aside and shunted off to be tested and quarantined. But no, everything seemed to be fine, except that, as in Logan airport in Boston on the day I first left, the halls here were empty of crowds; very few people were waiting to still get flights to other cities across the US, most wearing face masks, the new normal public dress.
I sat with my two friends until their flight to Chicago boarded, then I went looking for the other couple waiting for their flight to South Carolina. We chatted for awhile, but the lower level of this airport was freezing, so we said our good-byes and I went to wait at my own gate. Attendants here were sneezing and coughing, not wearing face masks, not covering as they spewed their germs out into public areas; was this why there was no screening in Miami, because the airport and airlines couldn't even patrol their own people? My flight finally boarded and landed in Boston, but it was only when I saw Bill that I truly relaxed and knew that we'd make it home together, that I wouldn't be quarantined, or if we would, it would be both of us together. There is much comfort and security in facing the unknown, in going through harsh times with a loved one. Fears of what might come are diluted when shared with another, and when in one's own home.
Since it was a chilly but gorgeous day, before we drove back to Boston we walked around the Fresh Pond reservoir twice, walking seven miles in the sunshine, breathing in and absorbing the fresh air, returning smiles on everyone's faces, enjoying seeing all the dogs and children trotting along, and simply being outdoors, unfettered by the heavy worries that burdened me most of the time I was in South America. I had made it back, unmolested, not under any kind of in-house arrest. Together we can now face whatever comes, from the comfort of our own home. I can breathe freely again.
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