Friday, April 29, 2011

The Good, The Bad and the Chilean

Which is a crazy mix. What do you call reverse culture shock? I'm feeling it still...there are just so many similarities to the US, I almost forget I'm in a different country. The Spanish reminds me daily of course that I'm not! The people here are just SO like Americans, its uncanny, and I don't know if it's a coincidence or the horrors of neoliberalism. I ran into an interesting guy who has recently left the Communist Party (which isn't some obscure thing here like in the US of's a perfectly normal intellectually respected point of view like most countries with a political dialogue, reminding me once again how juvenile the political dialog in the US is). He was knowledgeable and talked a lot about the consumerist mindset that is a sort of ideology that makes people act and think in a particular way. I'm not sure I'm totally convinced (but its the 3rd time I've heard this comment about neoliberalism vis-a-vis Chile, and its worth thinking about.....oh thats just how the world's going is the usual brushoff to talking about it, but no, think about it, those of you who were alive before IS an ideology and we ignore it at our own peril as it's ethically and morally bankrupt). A few surface examples of it: a sort of bland myopia and unconsciousness when in public, cutting in line, not noticing other people around you, aggressive shopping techniques all common to rabid US consumerism, and very common in my neighborhood here. It's just sort of depressing to me, alienating--it's not that it makes people bad, it just disconnects everybody and makes everyone feel unwelcome or unimportant. Which of course just feeds it as they all have to consume to feel better. Of course, not in all of Chile, just the consumerist middle class parts. I know this is a world problem, but it's certainly more pronounced here in Santiago than anywhere in Argentina in my experience. But there's no point in continuing to compare the two places, they are apples and oranges, truly different universes. It brings up the interesting phenomena of how so often all of us see everything in comparison to our experience or what we know. The best way to travel is with a blank slate...easier said than done. But here's a go at it:  I love old chilenos, the men have this old salt sailor feel to them, they look like the people I know from Neruda poems, and the women can be like the babushka I mentioned in my last entry.... perhaps they are a certain generation. Chileans wear scarves a lot, but its not cold here....the guys wear those Palestinian black and white scarves a lot that were popular in SF and NY in the 80s. There are the 'piernas' bars (Chile's version of Hooters?)...coffeeshops with stewardess-like women in sexy short skirits:

We're talking 8 am here. By noon, the stripper bar/restaurants are packed for the lunchtime business crowd. They're scattered around in indoor malls, very odd. No pictures, sorry! I prefer the time warp of the Fuente Aleman where the ladies dress like babushkas and take your order and cook it right in front  of you. At first I thought the below pic really sucked with the window reflection, but then I found it interesting. :) 

Well, I was right to be suspicious of the Carabineros (the national police)--they don't have local police here and it's a reform that needs to happen. Centralizing police authority is never a good idea and "Los Pacos" as they're commonly derogatorily referred to seem to take full advantage of the excess of power available to them. Not only do they apparently break into people's houses without warrants, but they often ride free on public buses (talk about bad pr and subtle or not-so intimidation) and apparently it's very easy to enter the force (Pinera just increased its size in case you had any doubts about his rightwing leanings. He also owns a TV station that doesnt bother to report what I'm about to share).
The ever-smiling President Pinera

In front of my school the other day, a bunch of students (they looked like Jr. High age, in sweaters, with books, just good innocent kids protesting the ever-increasing bus fares for students (why they aren't allowed to ride for free or at a big discount like anywhere else is beyond me). Well, there they were, having a little march, and then we heard the sirens. The Carabineros arrived in full riot gear in armored vehicles with a guanaco (the armored vehicles that spray 'dirty' water--as in chemicals--to disperse a crowd....weirdly there's one parked on the main drag, the Alameda, every rush hour...why? I asked...just in case...just in case?). The children scattered of course, but I sort of stood there shocked at this disproportionate and over-the-top use of force, which my teachers, Luis and Fabian, said was the norm, shaking their heads. This needs to change. How can you call your nation a democracy if the powerless have no free speech at all? Often a street protest is all one has left when one has no access to power. The dissonance of this experience with the images of massive street actions in the Allende/Popular Unity era is unnerving and one sees yet again that the legacy of Pinochet still haunts this country. I'm guessing the right is so spooked still by Allende and Popular Unity that it's just never going to let real democracy bloom again (someone told me up to 40% approved of the dictatatorship and still think it was a good thing), and the Carabineros are the goons who will keep a cap on it. 

Here's a real guanaco, generally minds its own business and only spits a small amount.
Chile is into order, plain and simple. There are benefits to that, but one has to really be careful how far one takes it. Enough said. And I don't think the younger generation is going to let it continue...they're all born after the 70s, they're world culture people, it won't make any sense to them. Which is another interesting chain of thought. What will the world look like culturally in 20 years? Everyone is wearing the same clothes, watching the same TV, listening to the same music (way too much American music here--over 50% of restaurants). I'll miss the variety.
Haven't been hiking much as it's getting colder, and I'm using this great apartment to finetune my two novels, Faun and A Horse Named Sorrow.
 It's autum and it snowed in the Andes:

I love the statues in Santiago. Here's Neptune and Amphitrite looking very chill and relaxed, a perfect counter to the nationalist statues depicting military victories that I don't like. Neptune is not only the god of the sea, but also of earthquakes.

Other things I love about Chile: the art, literature and the libraries (we've visited two with our class) and of course Escudo and the big empanadas I still need to try chicha, the corn-made beer...maybe next blog. Inside the Cathedral on Easter. Yes Mom I made a visit! :)

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