Monthly Archives: February 2013

Judging Books

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While we are not our exteriors and we know we shouldn’t do it, judgements are made on the basis of looks all of the time. It drives me nuts! As I briefly mentioned before, the judging in Chile is done mostly on class. For some reason, a lot of idiots think they can figure you out by the way you look. I notice reactions and looks when I’m with dread-locked friends. One of whom is Canadian, female and pretty. People assume she’s a stoner; offer her drugs either seriously or in jest, but she’s a foreigner so she gets a slight pass. The dread-locked male who is Chilean and has tattoos up his neck and down his arms and legs gets openly leered at. People say mean things to him on the street. He is one of the most friendly, energetic and truly open people I have met in a long time. He is genuinely happy and feels he should sing all of the time. I think it’s wonderful! Many people assume that he must be up to something; a real trouble-maker flouting society’s norms like that! Why doesn’t he fall into line like the rest of us sad sacks spinning our wheels along in the rat race? Maybe it’s jealousy underneath it all, or the inability to easily classify. I don’t know.

When I’m alone, I feel it most strongly on the metro train – a place where you’re locked in with bored people. I suggest they bring books with them rather than just stare at people, but alas I am not the president. People look at my arm tattoos and then my face with its out of place blue irises. I see them sizing up my work clothes, and checking that against my face. They look confused. Is she a rich gringa? A broke gringa? Does she have a job? Who would give her a job with that ink and metal on her body? Why is she here? What’s her last name? Is her family important? Yes, I can read minds sometimes. I usually ride my bike everywhere for a number of reasons, but I gotta say this is one of them. It’s technically rude to stare here, but a lot of times people just don’t give a shit. Honestly, I think it would be difficult to live in this city if I didn’t do so much of my work from home in my underwear, pajamas, business suit or clown costume as my mood requires.

I went to the bank the other day to open an account. As a non-contract, independent worker I spend a lot of time picking up checks in different parts of the city, and then more time standing in line. It’s tiresome. I went to the bank with the required paperwork and was told my income level is twice the required minimum for a checking account and I’m now a resident, so it should be no problem. Well, they had to “verify my residence”. I have never heard of a bank doing that. They came by this morning and I was working in my PJ’s. I opened the door and the guy stuck his head in to get a good eyeball of my place. I don’t live in the “posh” sector [I wouldn’t live there if it were free; too soul-suckingly sterile]. In the afternoon I was told that the committee had gathered and declined my account. You have got to be shitting me, I thought to myself. Ya’ll have “committees” to approve checking accounts? It’s a special honor it seems, or they’re worried about my ability to add and subtract. I guess I’ll never know.

Are you Peruvian? There are two “types” of people from Peru here and two associated types of reactions. [You’re picking up the sarcasm I’m putting down, right?] One: Your family has money, and they gave you an education. You came to Chile for advanced studies or you were offered a great new position here. Wonderful. Bienvenid@! We have no problem with you! Option two: You are broke and have always been so, but know how to work and the value of education for your children. You live in a tiny apartment with too many people in it in the center of town. It takes you almost two hours each way every day to get to the barrio alto [high-class ‘hood] where you care for the children, home and garden of someone who earns fifteen times what you do. Well, you can stay, because we really want to pay you 350 dollars per month before taxes or the 80 per month you spend on transit to get to that suck-ass job so we can go bring home the big bucks. But, don’t expect to be treated with too much respect, and please don’t take the main street to the house! Take the service entrance in back, and wear that stupid apron all of the time so people know that you’re the help and they should keep an eye out for you, you know, make sure you’re not stealing candlesticks or anything.

The generalizations involved in this mental spewing are used to make a point. Obviously not everyone thinks or behaves like this, but culturally, it’s normal and accepted by many. Thank you for tolerating my overdose of sarcasm today. I just had to get it out. Whew! I feel better. You? Throw a bitch session my way! Get it all out.

Zanzi-ruda-stral

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99% Invisible based in San Francisco just gave me a great excuse to mention the show here as they have done a Santiago de Chile story. In general, it’s a show about architecture and design in a broad sense hosted by Roman Mars, and it’s fan-freakin-tastic. Mr. Mars used to do sound for Chicago’s Third Coast Audio Festival, another one of the podcasts I can’t miss. Do yourself a favor and give them both a go-round. You can listen or subscribe at their sites. Wonderful stuff.

The newest 99% Invisible story is called The Zanzibar and Other Building Poems, which discusses the building boom that kicked off in the mid-nineties after the return to democracy in Chile and the high rises it inspired. Big cities grow up, and Santiago is no exception, being such a highly centralized country. The main figure of the episode, Sr. Rojas, discusses how he was hired to give names to these buildings and write poems about them before they were even built so that potential buyers could be inspired, take the brochure and poem to the bank and get a loan. If enough units were sold, the building would go up. He talks about how he invented things, or tweaked a detail or so to make a developer happy so they could sell buildings. How to make them happy? Elicit upward mobility; make people feel they are keeping up with Señor and Senõra Jones. They make note of the fact that Chile loves its poets, and they’ve got two Nobel prize-winners to boot: Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda. I find that status and a love of poets is an interesting juxtaposition. I suspect that for some, the “love” of poetry is more about the status the fame affords.

And what of these buildings now? After the 2010 earthquake a lot of freaked out folks started ditching their high-rise digs and clamored for any available house. I was on the fourth floor when that baby hit. I can’t even fathom what it would of been like on the 14th. It seems now people have gotten past that initial fear, and buildings just keep going up. Some neighborhoods like Ñuñoa have ordinances against high rises except for a few of the main thoroughfares. Standing on my friend’s high-rise balcony at the edge of the neighborhood makes for an incredibly accessible view. The city is surrounded by the cordillera (mountains), with big hills to the north and city lights that seem to never end. The city is slowly creeping up the sides of the mountains.

The problem with the highrises? The big picture problem is that a lot of people really don’t like living in cities, but they have to work here because of the availability of jobs. I don’t know how to ease excessive centralization, but I wish somebody would take a stab at it. The smaller perspective is that they feature tiny apartments that are exact replicas of all the rest with absolutely no soul. They make me feel depressed inside of them, like we should all be little robots stacked atop one another in a dystopian science fiction movie. I much prefer the old architecture of this giant city. Houses, walk-ups and older apartments have a charm, a history and character that the new places will never understand. It is quite a curious mix. But as newness here is coveted, older vintage buildings with fixtures so ancient they don’t have modern replacements aren’t as sought after. It’s a class thing. Santiaguinos themselves will tell you they are not a racist people, and I believe they are right about that. They will say ‘we are classist.” I nod my head in agreement a second time.

Big Red Giraffes

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The giraffes are coming! A French performance group called Compagnie Off recently performed several free public shows throughout Chile during the annual event Santiago a Mil. The event’s purpose is to showcase theater, live music and film from Chile and all over the world during the hot summer here in January. I got some fun pictures of the giraffes making their way down the street in the Recoleta neighborhood of Santiago. Before they can march their way down the street, people first pass through carrying large wooden sticks to raise up the wires lining the street so they can fit. They arrive at the end of the route and perform a sort of elevated circus spectacular with music and a touch of fire. Two people fit inside of one costume and glide down the street on wheels holding wires that hoist up the giraffes and maneuver their big red heads. In one of the photos here you can see the silhouette of the giraffe-operators. Nuts!

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Here is a video taken of a nighttime show in Antofogasta: