April 25, 2011
Talk about your day of unusual and singular experiences.
We commence at somewhere between 6:00 and 7:10 am. The hour is a bit nebulous because for some reason the track phone that DreamOn has given me isn’t keeping correct time. So while I think I’ve got plenty of time to get ready, Alberto is sweating bullets wondering when in the world I’m going to come out of my bedroom, we have a fricken taxi to catch. Taxis are our gig chariots of choice and we’re supposed to meet one at 7:15. I manage to get out to the waiting cab just in time, but only because I skip breakfast. This is not a big deal, due largely I suspect to last night’s Chinese dinner, or maybe to the inevitable adjustment to the local intestinal flora.
At any rate, I get outside at 7:15 am and the first thing I notice is that it is dark. Not dim. We’re talking the black of night here. The sun sets early too. Really, I was kind of groovin’ on those lengthening days I left behind. This switching hemispheres stuff requires a bit of an adjustment. I am still getting used to the sun doing it’s daily meandering in the Northern sky. It’s just weird.
But I firmly determine to adjust to the solar irregularities and it’s off to the show we go. I confess to having some anxieties about doing story telling programs for kids who speak English only as a second language. At today’s school I will be presenting for two groups of kids: roughly something like 2nd graders and 3rd graders. It’s interesting seeing the school set up. Inside courtyards are covered by a roof but are pretty much open air. Kids run around playing their games in what seems (to a transplanted rural boy like me) like a pretty cramped space. The programs go well enough. The space is cozy and conducive to story telling. The kids are boisterous and eager for me to sign autographs on any slip of paper they can find (including paper towels), using any writing instrument they are able lay their hands on.
The school presents me with a bottle of wine as a gift. This is a first for me. And while I am still absorbing the novelty of it all, a teacher gathers a gaggle of students around me for a photo, telling us all to say “Whiskey” (instead of cheese!) before snapping the shot. Clearly there is a different approach to alcohol prevention here.
Alberto and I walk from the school to a trendy little eatery called the Mozart café, where the napkins are emblazoned with the opening bars to “Eine Kleine Nacht Musik,” and where they are playing Strauss Waltzes. Go figure. The menu isn’t really all that different from one that you might see in any trendy little eatery in Wisconsin. Except, of course, it’s in Spanish. They do like their fruit drinks here. And the tropical fruits are much fresher and tastier. I love the Mango.
By the time we get back to The Chil we are energized enough to turn right around and head out again. This time on the Metro in search of a chip that will make my phone work. The store front we are looking for is called “Movistar” or something like that, and it’s downtown. Today being Monday, it is my first experience riding the Metro on a work day. To say that the Metro is crowded is to tax the meaning of the word. What’s crowded is the Metro platform. The train, when it arrives; that’s crowded. When the crowd on the platform gets a running start and hurls itself into the crowd on the train, like the Packer defensive line, leaving the straggling remnants to fight furiously for to as the doors futilely try to close around them – this is a workshop in collapsing matter. The ones that don’t make it in all the way in are dragged along by the doors until the next stop where they will have the opportunity to try another sortie into the train.
In a train this densely packed, and with this much gravitational pull, you wouldn’t think a fight would be possible. But you would be wrong. One breaks out four or five feet (or about 140 people) away from us. Two middle aged women are having at it, to the surprise and consternation of their fellow travelers. My Spanish isn’t great. But it’s good enough to catch some of what they are saying to each other and learn a few bonus words besides. I really don’t think you can swear in any other language as well as you can in Spanish. See me later for the translations. Someone behind me asks what they are fighting about and a wizened old woman cackles: “Varon”. There is laughter all around. She is right, it turns out. Both women and the twenty something man they are fighting over get off at the next stop to continue their confrontation in the relative capaciousness and more stable gravity fields of the Metro station platform. I learn some more Spanish before the train leaves them behind.
The streets of downtown Santiago are packed in a way quite reminiscent of the subway cars of Santiago. Alberto and I manage to find a MoviStar store, get the phone chip and head out to a nearby plaza where we encounter a sculpture memorializing the battle we have just witnessed on the Metro. This seems like an awfully quick commemoration, so I read the plaque to make sure. Ah ha! It has nothing to do with the Metro at all. Somehow it is connected to Simon Bolivar. Right. Just the picture of Bolivar that I’ve always carried in my head.
On the same plaza Alberto and I peruse several dozen book stalls and vendors who have set up for book week or something like it. I buy a book of poetry by Pablo Neruda. He’s one of my favorite poets, I hope to visit one of his houses when we travel to Valparaiso next week. Next it’s off to the park.
Specifically the park that houses El Castillo Hidalgo, an ancient (well, two hundred years old) castle that overlooks, and used to protect, the city of Santiago. It is located on – what else? – the sacred land of the local indigenous people. The descendents of both the original conquistadors and the Native Americans they subjugated have seen fit to asuage their inherited ethical discomforts by including an extensive Indigenous Peoples section in the Castillo Hidalgo gift shop. I buy a CD of Quecha Music. I’m a sucker for CDs.
Hidalgo (Spanish for noble) was apparently one of the valiant soldiers who died defending this fortress. There seems to have been no lack of dying soldiers in those days, but details about why the castle is named after this particular soldier are a bit vague and require more translation skills than my brain can produce at the moment. I am more interested in the flora. Lots of flora and flora with flowers. I’ve been surprised at how many winter flowers there are. The trails that lead to the top of the Castle itself are many, and replete not only with flowers but cobblestone roads, intimidating stairways and lovers looking for discrete spots to rendezvous. Left over cannons are scattered here and there on what must have been battlements. It is a relief and a pleasure to have so much greenery around. Charles Darwin, who did much of his seminal collecting and research in this general area of the globe, has left his footprint by way of a garden. The views are urban and smog filled, but impressive. The stairways are just as intimidating going down as going up. The architecture is fascinating if, at times, inexplicable. Or at least unexplained. I’m not sure why the statue of Neptune is here. But it makes a lovely fountain. I take a ton of pictures and then it’s time to head home. The subway is less crowded. And there are no fights.