Monday, April 11, 2011


I arrived in Chile Wednesday afternoon, and took the challenge of lugging all my gear via the subway. I know I'm a masochist, but I love avoiding the taxi ripoff that is always in full force at bus stations, airports and the like, and besides I like to use the subway if I can, perhaps because I'm starved for subways living in LA. It was midday, and I'd pulled it off last time, so in I went and made it thru fine. Even met a nice lady who talked to me about climate change. It seems to be the most common intercontinental conversation, having I guess sort of superceded the usual weather conversation. But it's been unseasonably hot here for years apparently. It's a big sprawling city, polluted like LA used to be in the 70s, a terrible haze which makes the not-so-distant Andes only visible on clear days. So I'm hoping for some rain, because I landed a great 20th floor apartment through this great woman Paty who appreciated I was a writer and insisted that she had a special apartment for me and even gave me a deal. This place is fantastic, quiet, beautifully appointed, and even has a pool and laundry facilities. It's definitely the highest-end digs I've had but it's costing me 'no mas'. It's tiny but really nice, with this japanese screen separating the bedroom from the living/kitchen area...and there's a french press and seemed a bit too sophisticated for Chile (they still serve instant coffee in restaurants) until Pati confessed she was Argentine! Aw, that explains it, as well as how beautiful she is...I'm sorry, I don't mean to beat a dead horse or whatever, but they are divinely beautiful people...but Pati was sick of the inefficiency...things work in Chile in a way they just often don't in Argentina (meaning things like the power going out randomly, etc.) Chile is efficient, and Chile keeps reminding me of the US for better or worse (people are more reserved, less demonstrative, they don't accidentally look like fashion models)
The amazing view of Cerro Santa Lucia..., which is a big rock outcropping in the middle of the city, with a hodgepodge of fountains and monuments on it..including one memorializing suicides from the colonial era, which I think is kinda sweet or 'about time'. Anyway, it's nice to look at.....and that's my apt from the top of Santa Lucia, looking back the other way (the pockmarked-looking beige one in the foreground)

What I love most about Chile is its literature. Above, you can see a lovely memorial to Ruben Dario (acutally a Nicaraguan, but hugely influential in modern Spanish poetry..he lived in Chile and Argentina both, as well as Spain, Mexico, El Salvador... Below that, a mural from 1970 (so Unidad Popular.. :) honoring Gabriela Mistral.., Chile's first Nobel winner for Lit. Pablo Neruda, another Nobel Lit winner.... is perhaps my most important influence as a poet, at least in my earlier days--these people are California-like or west coast in their connection to nature (thats the essential thing I think for me---east coast US literati would never get it and don't) and of late, I've been reading everything Roberto Bolano ... wrote. There's also Francisco Coloane..., Nicanor Parra..., Antonio Skarmeta.. a country so small (15 million people) it has produced a literature that can stand up to any nation or culture on earth...truly impressive and worth exploring. Especially if you are west coast...there is something you start to realize is a different world view that is only Pacific coast in take on all this, anyway.
My first espresso (one must  be careful, as cafe con leche can be be safe, order a cortado) occurred below in Plaza Brasil, a few blocks from my school, where I love my new teacher, Luis, who is totally hip to Bolano, Parra, et al. He's one of those long-haired, bearded Chilean intellectuals I always enjoy here.

I love Chilean art generally, and below that is the idyllic Plaza Concha y Toro.....this part of the city is really lovely, and reminds me, as BsAs often did, of New Orleans....we are so lucky to have New Orleans, it's a truly latin city architecturally....
I like grafitti..especially artful, but regardless, it's imporant as it tells you what's really going on under the surface. People who paint over grafitti piss me off....bougie bs.....which leads me to an incredible exhibit at the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center (yes, she won the Nobel, but poets are honored here in a way that's inconceivable in the US...Gabriela is on the $5000 peso bill, and this cultural center is gigantor....imagine if Walt Whitman was on the $20 instead of that butcher Andrew Jackson...and there was a Walt Whitman or Emily Dickenson Center instead of a Kennedy Center for the Arts.....come on, folks, name it for an artist, not a president...
(note the Pinera campaign sign on the tree leftover from the election a year ago (which I witnessed)...I swear he copied Obama to the letter... it was all about 'change' and 'butterflies' for godsakes, and yet he's a right center businessman. Go figure....
The exhibit I referred to was a photography show by Koen Wessing, a Dutch man who photographed incidents in the civil wars of Nicaragua, El Salvador and Chile....I watched a documentary about him, which was rather incredible...he definitely takes risks...and it made me think of this weird reality we live in where western imperialism fosters civil wars which do horrific things to mostly poor people, which are then documented by other western people.....I don't want to say documenting it is imperialistic but there is a sort of sick vulturistic approach to these things on many levels...I mean, certainly, Wessing is the conscience of a culture that on some level has lost all conscience, so you can hardly judge him (he can be viewed as heroic in this context), but on some level, this is what western culture does on a meta level and it is truly is about killing lots, and lots of people in the name of an economic system that does not serve most people and then telling us we made a booboo, or our nasty neighbors did, cuz we aren't Nixon right?...yes, yes, pass the roast beef (Apocalpse Now fans get my meaning). We are Nixon, and sorry, but so is Obama....I hope I'm wrong.
Anyway, here is a great pic of the day after the coup, when Pinochet sent crews out to paint over the people's grafitti......
During the coup in Chile, 'suspected' radicals were rounded up and imprisoned in the main football stadium, as was a new friend of mine who I met here last week (he was a medical student at the time). This is how it would play out in the USofA I suppose....stadiums
Pinochet ... scarily like Nixon, an angry put-upon insecure man out to make a point because he had ego problems and a people have to die so he can feel OK about being a 13 yr old male, ...sheesh. He never understood how or why he was hated--his final retirement where he was pelted with rotten tomatoes is a fine example. But he definitely left his mark, really hammered the neoliberal doctrine here and some argue Chile (or the consumer class here anyway--there is horrific poverty on the outskirts, another major product of neoliberalism) is the best example of how neoliberalism plays out.

I'm not sure we can make a conclusion about all that, but it's definitely not as warm or community-oriented as Argentina, which has resisted neoliberalism, except for Menem (Unlike Pinochet, Argentina's military govts have failed miserably at pretty much everything save mass murder, and amazingly their labor movement has survived it all). There's something dark about neoliberalism, which is basically the divesting of pubic power in favor of privatization and it creates 'individuals' in the economic sense, the kind of people we all know well in the US...people cornered into such panic about their own economic wellbeing and security that they cannot feel connection or solidarity with other people around them. I say this because I really felt a social  bond in Argentina that I don't feel here or back home. Could be completely off the mark, but something to think blog I may have a different take....and yes, there's a price for it, and I think it's worth paying....I'm willing to give up my power for a day or two a week, thank you, for a 'no, nada'...the amazing 'your welcome' of Argentina which is way beyond the normal 
 'your welcome''s sort of like..'.no, dont mention it, really, you're fantastic, and I'm so glad you're here and of course you're welcome'....:)

Above is the Museo de lal Memoria commemorating the horrors wrought by our neoliberal hero and butcher, Augusto Pinochet. Unfortunately it was closed, so I'll need to go back, but I don't like the architecture, considering what it's about. A little more warmth, Chilenos!
I foolishly wore my Argentina football jersey my first day in Chile, and got one nasty sort of under-the-breadth 'Argentina eh?' from a working class guy (yeah, dude, cheer up, they're happy there....I don't quite get the animosity yet, but there's a definite disregard between these two countries...Argentines kept telling me when I'd ask them why they didnt' visit Chile, why would I? or they didnt support us in the Malvinas (a horribly ill-advised venture as it was--why would they?). Lovely people those Argentines, but they seem to rub their neighbors the wrong way....Anyway, I got a laugh from a guard (there's an intimate sweetness to Chilenos, but you have to get to it) at La Moneda when I apologized for my Argentine jersey (La Moneda is their whitehouse, the one Pinochet bombed with fighter jets in order to kill the elected and constitutionally legitimate president of Chile, Salvador Allende.. statue is below....a truly admirable man who was intent upon marxist/socialist revolution without violence... Too bad the United States and Nixon/Kissinger were nearby and the Cold War was in full bloom, or he might have had Ghandi's success. I'm not sure if there is a more heartbreaking political story than this one.....Allende had won, the streets were full of people celebrating, asserting their rights and success...and it all got burned down  because those with power weren't willing to cede it even when they'd lost it in a fair fight (sound familiar)....:(
An incredible play by play of the period leading up to the coup can be seen in a series of films which offers a sort of weird and prescient ambience for that historical period.... can get it via netflix, it's quite extraordinary and well worth watching...this was really an important moment in history, the more I study it, the more I realize that

Chile is teeming with Americans, unlike Argentina, likely because of the huge trade connections (US is Chile's no.#1 trading partner) and I saw a shaved head American guy today with a USA shirt...imagine...kinda of like wearing a Rome t-shirt in Jerusalem in 100 BC...I mean, come on, dude, read something....and I was worried about promoting Argentine footballers....Chilean cops are kinda scary, they're more like US cops, bulky, thick, no smiles, and they're Carbineros to boot...a national police force, in green uniforms, very army like....not at all like what I'm used to in Argentina where I kept running into cops who looked like they'd just left the soccer field or modeling runway, smiling, chatting, completely unthreatening. I never thought twice about I do. A funny story.....early Sunday morning, I was out walking when I spied a cop on a motorcycle in the park (the parks here by the way, are litter...Argentina is 3rd world messy in comparison--way too much litter and people dont seem to have consciousness about it....Chile seems to have an army of park maintenance crews) and he decided to take a short cut through these bushes, but when he did, he apparently drove over a sprinkler head because suddenly there was this geyser of was kind of funny, because the cops are very American-like, authoritarian in-control, and it was just funny to see that all dissolve into clownishness.
OK, on a completely different note, there's the harsh reality that Chile is a normal country like the US where maybe one in 10 are hot, unlike where I just came from, Argentina, where like 8 in 10 are hot. It's ridiculous, but it's a culture shock all the same....I'm reeling from the sudden lack of needing to stop and stare, the tripping on sidewalks, the gawking and awe.......DAMN ARGENTINES, their beauty makes you forget almost everything.....
but beyond all that, I can't get Salvador Allende out of my head, and those faces of people in the stadium....I just feel so sad for all that humans do to each other...something was crushed here, something good and just..and what replaced it was sad and ugly and cruel and casts a very long shadow that's hard to dodge.....and can't we all be a little more generous, a little more giving of some of our space and entitlement? Can't we at least play fair? Look at this satyr.....really look at him.....

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