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! :)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Art and Nature

I paid a visit to the Museo de Solidaridad Salvador Allende which is full of art from around the world...artists donated it to commemorate Allende's successful election. Of course, all the art ended up exiled, but has since returned. There are works by Picasso, Frank Stella, Alexander Calder and tons of others, including my favorites below:
"Devocion" Leo Ferrari, Argentina

Amalia Riera, Espana (reminds me a lot of Ernest's later work..for those of you who don't know Ernest Posey's work, I'm the executor of his estate and his biggest

I seem to have forgotten to get this artist's info

Bascula de la Igualidad, Enno Halleck, Estonia/Switzerland
(a beautifully and simply rendered spot-on comment on class)

Chile's parks are incredibly clean due to armies of cleaners who sweep them up each morning. They even clean the river, the rushing Rio Mapocho (note the orange bags)

The wondrous zapillo, a giant squash that has become one of my favorite foods in South America. You can buy it by the wedge, they are so huge. ...I met this sweet babushka of a lady who told me about all the vegetables in her market while feeding me tunas (cactus fruit like our prickly pears) and a big empanada de aceitunas (olives). It was funny because she was out of another century--the apron, the scarf, the big flower-print dress--and yet she kept checking her cell phone :)

And I found Middle Eastern food! Cheers Stella!

Well, once the sign goes up, it's obviously over. It's kind of like the Haight/Ashbury or North Beach that way...the boho neighborhood nowadays is Barrio Brasil and adjacent Yungay

Another nice piece of statuary in front of the Museo Bellas Artes...this one titled Death and Glory...two strikes me as very gay and to me feels like a memorial to the AIDS epidemic...we all live our subjective realities after all.  Cute kid eh?

My class celebrating Jun's last day (a truly intl crew, l to r: Anna Maria (Brazil), Treb (EEUU), our two teachers Fabian and Luis (Ch), Lorenzo (Italia), Jun (Australia/China), Vanessa (Brazil), Marie (Quebec). We also have a Russian girl in the class as well as another guy from China. We also have an American Baptist minister....first he commented on men kissing men in south america (I brought it up of course....I think it's lovely that men greet each other cheek to's not a kiss, and while very common in Arg, it's only common between very close friends/relations here...but Sr. Baptist went off about all his mission recruits from Africa who he had to teach not to kiss or touch men so people wouldn't think they were homosexual...and if people did think that? there a problem here?). He also mentioned to me 'they had a problem with communism here'...yeah and a problem with capitalism too! These are the moments one really doesn't miss America. We all went to the National Cemetery one day and what an amazing place, and once again, religion reared its ugly head. The Catholics wouldn't allow any non-catholics to be buried there originally so they had to be just thrown on Cerro Santa Lucia. Eventually, sections were designated for Protestants, Jews, etc. We visited the German section and Sr. Baptist pointed out 'there were Nazi symbols' in one of the tombs... I had to explain to him that the German eagle is not a Nazi symbol but a German symbol, as in the current Germany, as well as all 3 reichs, as in the 4th you're busy building in America. And that's not to dismiss the fact that Chile harbored Nazi war criminals, ...but you can't tar an entire nation's iconography with Nazism...that would be like saying all Americans are Fundramentalist Christians! Just then, I realized that Sr. B has the same haircut as Joseph Goebbels, I kid you not. I say all this not to insult the man or make any associations--in fact my point is the opposite....these broadbrushed associations are dangerous.... that even when people don't know it, their worldview, habits, ignorance and assumptions have political consequences that destroy lives and we should all be mindful of the same (nowhere is that more apparent than what happened here in Chile). 
Whatever you do, don't a be walking victim of some ideology. And on that note, I will no longer assume anything else about Sr. B, Baptists or Fundamentalists. In fact, I plan to press my cheek against his next time I see him :)

Salvador Allende's tomb makes a nice exclamatory statement as he was an atheist. It's a soaring modernist sculpture sans cross, etc. that all the surrounding tombs are replete with. 

The tomb of President Balmaceda (a liberal reformer of the 19th c., who helped bring on a civil war that knocked him out of office c/o the military) was wonderful...there's a superstition that he can help you get good grades on tests, so his tomb is strewn with little notes from students. I had no paper on me but I made a wish for my Spanish progress!
There's also a big wall for all the murdered and disappeared by 'executive order' c/o Pinochet. It's similar to the Vietnam memorial with pictures and notes from family members. Very sad.

Then it was off to the mountiains:
First, I visited Reserva Nacional Rio Clarillo, and had one of those great travel moments because basically hiking is almost impossible to do as a tourist without guides or friends to take you. Having no friends here, or usually friends without cars, I have to be creative and vigilant...thank you Lonely Planet which always gets me started right...but I have to finish it on my own. The guidebooks only get you so far. Bus 74 to El Principal, which turned out to be an intersection with a minimart and a bunch of guys coming and going on horseback. Luckily, there was another bus that got me a few kms further, and then it was just a gesticulating bus driver pointing up the road to nowhere:

But not more than a mile down the road, I reached the gate, completely deserted of course, though there were rangers soon afterward. All in all, there was hardly anyone here and I had the long trail all to myself. It looked a lot like Mt. Tamalpais, really amazingly like California, as Chile, along with Cal, Australia and South Africa are the only mediterranean climates outside the Mediterranean itself, with some micros in Asia.

I wasn't quite so lucky the next day. The ranger at Rio Clarillo had recommended that I go up to El Morado, a peak in the Andes, accessible via the cajon de maipo, a canyon that runs southeast of Santiago and that is very popular among tourists, rafters, hikers, etc. (It's also the site of an attempted assassination of Pinochet who had a summer home up there .... fictionalized treatment of such by the awesome Chilean writer, Pedro Lemebel
Anyway, one bus, two bus, and then it was the usual road to nowhere, but this required another 25 kms, and so, thinking that yesterday's ranger's idea might be a good one ("sometimes the Carbineros will give you a ride"--thats the national police) I approached their office, but all they wanted to do was issue a permit and recommended hitchhiking. I tried, for about a half hour, with only one bite from a guy going somewhere else, and figured, as I'd had a late start, it wasn't gonna happen. So I hung out by the river for a while and headed back to is the exact spot that Trebor's luck ran out ....
I might be able to make another stab at it as there is a very early bus that goes up there next week, but it's autumn and a lot of services have shut down for the winter, so I might only get there if I can find a friend with a car. A lovely canyon all the same, considering what I saw of it....

Demoralized and waiting for the bus back, a little kid of 5 seemed to sense it and came up to me and held out his open bag of chips. Fuerza Chile!

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.....