18 November 2009
Literary Skiers 5
We felt our first tremor when the Chileans came barreling down our driveway in a borrowed Jeep, gears screaming, doing 50 in low gear. When they alighted we found them Latin to the core. They also possessed the very peculiar Latin death wish: they drove cars with feckless abandon and no regard for vehicular law, skied with an unconstraint that sent hackers scrambling for the trees, kissed every woman in sight (even if she looked like a hamster and was pushing seventy), woke guests singing loudly of heartbreak nights and joy-filled days.
Their battle cry, I'll tell you right off, was later banned from the Olympic site. Imagine, if you will, a sound composed of equal parts Yma Sumac, Comanche war cry, and the screech of tearing metal, and you have it. The cry originated with the boy Indio, who was not your routine Portillo or Santiago Chilean. He sprang from somewhere high in the Andes, was pure, unadulterated Incan, and didn't even speak Spanish.
Actually, Indio never spoke at all. He just looked alert, his button-black eyes moving from face to face and marking every exit. When Indio had needs the other boys divined them, probably through osmosis, and if he wished to vent a feeling or two, he simply broke into the high, mournful wail of the battle cry. Indio in full voice could single-throatedly set off an avalanche.
My mother arrived for her first visit from the East in time to hear The Cry issuing from forty throats in the upstairs lounge - the guests had picked it up in sheer self-defense - and immediately took to her bed with a three-day sinking spell and without, as I sniffled to Iglook, "...even one glance at our view!"
The Chileans plummeted up and down our driveway and all the ski runs, spilled hot wax the length and breadth of our dorms, used my steam iron to press their skis, leered shamefully at our prepubescent daughters, and triumphantly presented me with a housegift bouquet of live, unplucked chickens they'd wheedled out of a local rancher. The children, meanwhile, picked up a lot of Spanish, most of it unacceptable in polite homes, and followed the team everywhere. It was influences such as this which led to Dan, at the age of three, traveling the chairlift to 11,000 feet while his father and I rested secure in the thought that he was safely enrolled in kiddies' ski school down below.
The Chilean National Team may not have won any medals at Squaw Valley, but they sure left a lasting impression in Aspen.
--Martie Sterling, from "Life with Stein, Leon, and the Chilean Crazies," Ski Magazine, 1977
(Gracias, Andi, por permiso. Besos y abrazos también.)