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. Vicuna is the name of another of the lovely creatures in the llama family, which also includes guanacos, alpacas, etc. 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... They've even named the high-end pisco after her: 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....
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 and

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) 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... 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. 

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