Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Go North Middle-Aged Man

San Pedro de Atacama is definitely one of those amazing places. A very old Indian town sitting in a ring of volcanoes, warm year-round...sort of like Taos cubed. This is the heart of the Atacama Desert, with lots of old pueblos from Inca times and long before. It's touristy but it's far enough from any major city to still feel very out in the middle of nowhere. I took the night bus from La Serena...17 hours... the buses here are excellent, with huge seats that are easy to sleep in, so it's not as bad as it sounds.

The Indigenous have it right..pachamama the earth mother front and center, up top :)

I rented a bike yesterday and the pics speak for themselves...an incredible, vast and enchanting landscape....

Juan, an Argentine who runs a little corner cafe...very cool guy, who just happened to have a different edition of the same book Fede gave me....'Pelotudos' are idiots in the Argentine idiom and it's a book of humorous send ups of different types. We have coffee together every afternoon and he makes the best empanadas in Chile--Argentine style! :) (which means smaller, with thinner crust, and more spices and flavor)

View of volcano from Juan's corner eatery, Qu Qu

Planets, Pisco and Poets

Spent a great last day in La Serena with a wonderful Finnish woman, Kati....we went to the observatory and saw Sauturn and the Magellanic cloud and a bunch of other things through their high-powered telescopes:
(this area has many observatories as its the best place on earth to view the stars due to lack of light pollution and the most clear days as Chile's Atacama desert is the driest on earth).

I also visited the Gabriela Mistral museum, Chile's first Nobel laureate for literature, who was born here.

It reads...."a fountain for my mother"...wish I'd been here on Mother's Day. Well, a tad late, but here's a fountain of sweet water for you Mom!

a copy of the Nobel medal for Lit. with muse and lyre

lots of big pepper trees here

I stayed up the street here where the bougainvillea spills over the wall

Every street is just peaceful and poetic

I like the apple and the spoon

In the church...I've never seen this arrangement before...Mary is not visible from the center of the church, she is behind Jesus and can only be seen from the side....

Correction from last post:  Vicuna was not named for the animal but for its founder, who may or may not have named the animal....

The Elqui River, moving on, just like me...off to San Pedro de Atacama.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Vicuna y Pisco Elqui

Upvalley from La Serena en La Valle de Elqui things slow way down. It's a nice change as after Santiago I'm longing for some chill time. Well I found it in spades in Pisco Elqui, which is an incredible little place in the mountains an hour north of Vicuna where I'm staying. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pisco_Elqui. Vicuna is the name of another of the lovely creatures in the llama family, which also includes guanacos, alpacas, etc. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vicuna. But I havent seen any around here. Will have to ask around.

I like the guy with the laptop in the shadows...the shadow of technology? Like the shadows of Allende and Pinochet, one wonders where this all leads.......

Interior of the church with Mary front and center, the way I like it :)
I've decided I like having a church and central square in every town. But it only works here because Catholic churches are generally benign and welcoming as buildings. I don't think it would pan out that way in the USofA sadly, religion is way too politicized and way too unspiritual. But isn't it a nice idea, to have a sacred space, which is all a church really is, in the center of every town. It's the Joseph Campbell idea that it belongs to whoever lives there. It is their temple, it is really of the place, of the earth and essentially pagan that way. This church certainly qualifies as I think Catholic churches generally do since they're tomb or cave-like and this one is Marian so it's not about theology, it's about the mother. And maybe I'm just into all this goddess stuff because I happened to have such a sweet mom growing up. But mother energy is different, it doesn't focus on distinctions, it just embraces.

Another local goddess:  Gabriela Mistral is everywhere...http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabriela_Mistral They've even named the high-end pisco after her: Mistral...you can see their elegant ad on the links from my last post...the ad runs just previous to the tear gas episodes, which is a perfect contrast of the two Chiles. But back to Gabriela...what if we had a Whitman Whiskey? It seems a bit of a stretch to be linking Gabriela and booze. She was a schoolteacher. I could see a Faulkner Rye Whiskey or F Scott Vodka or Hemingway Gin, but I'd never pitch Willa Cather Rum. Then again, we have Crazy Horse Malt Liquor, which has to be the most disrespectul use of a Native American figure to date. Anyway, you won't see a Neruda Pisco anytime soon, he's nixed from the neoliberal orgy for his communist sympathies. 
Anyway, this valley is famous for its pisco production....http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pisco
There are more, smaller pueblos further up the canyon and its only a matter of 2 or 3 miles between them. With no bus service, I decided to walk, but after running into a few dogs (german shepherds which make me especially paranoid as I grew up next door to one which charged me and my brothers daily, and for those of you who have read my short story, A Boy and His Dog, my poor little dog was ripped to shreds by Heidi, a humongous demonic Alsatian a few blocks north. Anyway, we all know their rep from Alabama, the 3rd Reich, and sadly, their presence among the Carabineros here, though happily I've never seen one at a demonstration). Anyway, I was also a bit short on time, so I decided to try and rent a bike. Wouldn't you know it, the last one was rented moments before I reached the rental shop. But the guy said he'd have another ready that he was fixing up in back in just 40 minutes. So I went up to this cafe, and having but an hour left on my computer battery, figured I'd give it a go writing as I haven't found any good places to write in Vicuna as I'd hoped. And I was so productive in Santiago. Well, it just flowed and flowed, and luckily there was a power outlet and I'd brought my cable. I never returned to the bike shop. I sat right here with this incredible view and wrote for 5 hours, while wonderful Veronica was like my personal dj, playing me all this great music, serving me coffee, pizza, coca zero, etc. The discovery of the day for me was Chavela Vargas, a Mexican singer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzb68PkTeDw&feature=related and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqmHjLx_cQw&feature=related

the view from my table....this mountainside is amazing, sort of like the big mountain behind Palm Springs. 

The view from when I moved further back for the outlet.
It was low season, but a beautiful sunny day. It was just me and Veronica for about 4 hours until someother folks arrived. 
Needles to say, I had my elusive peak moment in Chile…it's always the mountains. .. why am I surprised? Capilla del Monte and now Pisco Elqui. I've grown a little tired of the preponderance of American pop music in almost every restaurant here (very 80s pop..Phil Collins Against All Odds is likely the most commonly played song...odd), so it was a pleasure to hear none at all until Veronica played Sarah McLaughlin's In the Arms of the Angels, which is weird because I had another peak experience with this actual song when I had the good fortune to meet Sarah at a radio station and she played it for us. It's doubly weird because there's a line in that song that I almost used for the title of my first novel, Through It Came Bright Colors..the line being ..."This Glorious Sadness." I was touring the book when I met Sarah. And Veronica had just asked me what the name of my novel was as she wanted to look it up, but asked for the name in Spanish, which comes out horrid:  "Lo Atraves Vino Colors Brillantes". And I was working on my novel A Horse Named Sorrow, which has been really hard to complete for many reasons and which I have this long love/hate relationship with--and which today made some big forward strides. Next song: I Will Survive, but in Spanish--and I kid you not, I was working on the chapter where I use that song for a drag queen scene. And then Veronica played the only other American song, Unchained Melody, which just happens to be the only song used in my first book, and on and on....all this in a tiny mountain town in Chile (my friend Isaac is laughing right now I'm sure). Anyway, it was beautiful. I live for these moments; we all live for these moments when everything converges. This is why I write, it's like a plant you can grow out of such moments. All art is and that’s why it’s a good thing, it comes out of what's biggest, happiest, strongest and most loving and connected in us. It is a kind of magic, and without it the world is just full of seeds. Without art, that state of mind/heart can even be forgotten. And facts aren't enough. Art is a human record, like Parque Por La Paz (see previous post) ...it exists so that the worst and the best in us is never forgotten. It is totally human in a world that seems to be intent on becoming something else. It is not the victory of the heart over the mind, it is the synthesis when they are in balance. A rare thing. A precious thing. Thank you Chile for this realization. Fuerza Chile!

I headed home at sunset. I don't even know the name of the place. It wasn't about that :) It's probably called Sweet Son of Pan or something :P
The long sunset drive back: those are pisco grapes growing up the sides of the mountains. It doesn't look like fertile soil to me, but somehow......well its not cabernet....

Gabriela was actually born and raised in Monte Grande, a smaller town about 5 miles down the hill. Here's her statue.

Back to lovely Vicuna and Donde Rita, the guesthouse I'm staying at. Rita serves THE best breakfast in Chile...granola, yogurt, bread, cheese, coffee....very German actually and Rita is! :)

That's Arturo Prat... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arturo_Prat.... Chile has used him endlessly, and shamelessly in my opinion, as the SOLE example of self-sacrifice and bravery military-style and as a rallying cry for its nationalist glue. He has a street named after him in every city and is on the 10,000 bill (the equivalent of our 20, so the most common bill). No offense to Arturo, but I just smell a big fat militarist/nationalist rat in all this. It's just this annoying insistence on military glorification in a country which really doesn't need to focus on it at all. And I think it's a big part of the ridiculous over-reaction of the national police, which are a military police (see previous posts).
On a more positive note, one of the amazing things about Chile is that there are only 15 million people here and yet they have this huge, long country (another reason for the nationalist effort I think) with all this natural beauty, with a climate like the US west coast, which has what, 70 million people, or more if you include Baja and British Columbia and even Alaska (yes, Chile is that long). I'm sure more and more people will end up coming here now that it's politically safe, more or less. Though I get the feeling they're strict about immigration, and with their recalcitrant class/opportunity problems, they have a lot of work to do. But the Peruvians are pouring in and will continue to do so. I'ts just a natural process. There are 30 million people in Peru in a much smaller country with much more poverty. Anyway, there's a lot of room to grow here.

No, that's not Gabriela Mistral, though it does look a bit like here. This is the fountain in the central plaza in Vicuna. It's cool because it's big--sorry no perspective for scale, but that head is about the size a large table at a LAANE event (seats 10; 12 in a pinch, or when Trebor screws up the seating charts). And the fountain comes out of her tear ducts (it's turned off at night, though the plaza is weird as it has big speakers and they play 50s music, Spanish and English and some early rock n' roll, like Chuck Berry). Anyway, the face in the fountain is clearly indigenous and I wonder if she is crying a lament or if it has nothing to do with that, etc. 
Tomorrow night I hope to go to the observatory, which is supposed to be spectacular, but it's offseason and they need a certain amount of people, so we shall see. This area is dotted with observatories and it's considered one of the best spots on earth for astronomy as there is hardly any light pollution and the skies are almost always clear. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Up the Coast

Somehow summer returned, at least for a day, in lovely La Serena, a small colonial town on the coast, 6 hours north of Santiago and gateway to the Elqui Valley which I'll visit tomorrow.

This town is very mellow, with lots of really beautiful old churches, including one with the best Our Lady of Guadalupe altar I've seen yet. I'm still amazed she's a sensation down here being that it's pretty well-known she is the Aztec goddess Tonantzin who was co-opted http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Our_Lady_of_Guadalupe. But to the church, she is Mother of all the Americas, so you can find her down here everywhere. And Chileans seem to have a particular fascination with Mexico, which I feed when I run across it as I think Mexcio is one of the most interesting cultures/nations on the planet. Chile's most important literary figure of the end of the 20th c. and into the 21st, Roberto Bolano, was also fascinated with Mexico, having lived and written there for many years as his most famous novel, 2666, attests to. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roberto_Bolano

Below is Hostal Matta where I'm staying with its very hostal-esque decor :)

Leli, Luis y Claudia :)

Chinese cars are coming. They've already arrived in Chile as you can see...Ssangyong and Tata. They both seem to need some marketing spit-shining before they hit America. Why two S's for instance? As for Tata, I immediately thought of that diminutive cutesy sexist terms for breasts which has recently been seen on anti-breast cancer t-shirts in America: "Save the Tatas" ...a tacky idea in my opinion, but whatever. I suppose it's like women taking back a derogatory term along the lines of nigger or queer? If so, I don't quite get the diminutive part. Queers don't really want to use faggot nor do Blacks want to use boy, both of which are the diminutive equivalents. Anyway, this is a major digression..... I'm assuming Chinese cars are still undercode saftey standards-wise, as apparently Fiats have been for the past decade, which is why they're all over Argentina, but can't be found in the US. Apparently that will change next year. Chinese cars seem to have the same rep as most chinese products...cheap, low quality, etc. I saw one called a Great Wall (looked like an Acura), which is a really weird name, but someone explained that the Chinese use Great Wall for everything as it symbolizes staying power, strength, solidity, etc. Fine, but not a good name for a car that's trying to be sexy.

There's an Easter Island (Isla de Pascau, or Rapa Nui) giant head in the archaelogical museum here. It's really amazing and haunting, I can't get it out of my head, pardon the pun.
Lots of good stuff on the indigenous people of Chile and some on the Incas who were in the north of Chile.

More good sculpture.

La Serena's most famous son is former President Gabriel Gonzalez Videla ...http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabriel_Gonz%C3%A1lez_Videla who has a strange story, having been elected in 1946 with support from communists, appointing several to his cabinet. Pressure from the US and lots of US investment may have led to his rather brutal aboutface, outlawing the communist party and forcing a lot of them, including Pablo Neruda, into exile--he escaped over the Andes....
Later, Videla supported Pinochet's coup and helped write the new constitution under Pinochet. Yet another weird case of what color are the tigers stripes (ala Peron). Note the soldier at Videla's inauguration. An eerily familiar helmet, but Chile has always had a fascination with German militarism, which can be seen to this day...see previous blog.
Anyway, his house is a museum on the plaza.
There were some very interesting maps in the museum as well...weird names for places ... I recognize Aztlan and Jalisco and Michoacan, but the others, esp. in US part are weird and make me curious to learn more as I'm fascinated by place names. La Serena, of course, means serene, and it is :)