Beauty's Witness in Valparaiso

by Kristen Rogers (United States of America)

Making a local connection USA


The streets of Valparaiso, Chile. The city, its murals, and its people are all steeped in sadness and joy, love and moonlight, and the entire place reeks of decrepitude but is revived by the loving touch of artists. My footfalls hit the cobblestones in rhythm with my breath, giving a measuredly punctuated characteristic to steep streets that are otherwise happily chaotic, twining around buildings and pursuing bustling humanity until the land is overtaken by the waters of the sea. That evening, following a leisurely dinner, I shifted my gaze from the softly darkening sky out the window to the owner. He fit in well with this city that bridged tiredness and vigor so gracefully.“How long have you been in Valparaiso?” I asked. "Me?" One eyebrow twitched upwards. "I have lived here for all of my life." He paused and I nodded at him to continue. "I used to dream of traveling. But I met a woman, and well, that was it,” he said, shrugging restlessly. His close-set blue eyes took on a dreamy, otherworldly expression and abruptly stepping alongside my chair, he pointed to the ground below a tree outside. "All I have left of her is that little rock." At my bemused expression, he shook his head. "She had our daughter. Ana. Six days later, they both died of infection. I could do nothing to help them. My wife is buried elsewhere but mi hija, she is there." He gestured with his chin and his voice trailed off as we both stared hard out the window. The tree’s roots had grown off to either side, curving around the headstone in a shape that was cradle-like, almost motherly. I felt wooden and my body trembled as I felt anew my fear of six months ago when the tiny being briefly nurtured by my own body was suddenly, violently dispelled. Miscarriage. I don't know why my body rejected it, but on the fifth day of my awareness of myself as a mother, it was over. I understood his helplessness altogether too well. I finally forced myself to speak. “I also lost a child. I will never know why.” My voice broke. I felt the palm of his hand rest on my bowed head and he said gently, "Ah. We feel the same things, then, amiga." We stood together that way for several minutes. In the comfortable space of our silence, I realized that here, people and things are beautiful in spite of, or maybe even because of, their damage. They just need to be seen. I am indeed glad to have tripped along the corridors of this place and will remember my time in Valparaiso with wonder and humility.