Monthly Archives: December 2014

A Contrast of Two Quiet Secrets

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The other day I fancied a wander. – I think I should increase my use of the word “fancy” as a verb. – Having had such fancy come over me, I packed a bag o’ stuff for the afternoon including a camera, water and some tiny oranges. I had a head full of ideas of where to go, but nothing set in stone and wandered off through the hot Santiago sun in the direction of downtown, eventually following my footsteps to the Paris-Londres Barrio. It’s really just two lovely streets that wind around each right smack in the middle of the bustling city center off of the main street Alameda. As I approached I noticed the Museo de Arte Colonial de San Francisco (Alameda N. 834) calling me in, having passed it on foot countless times. I was in for a treat. This place is a giant, unexpected space of peace, tranquility and creepy art from the 16th through the 18th centuries. The center is a large square with benches and plants that happens to be home to cats, chickens and peafowl. I heard the male squawking in a tortured way before I saw him. Who knew such a lovely thing to behold makes such an ugly squeak?

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Three of the four sides surrounding the central square are filled with paintings and sculptures, many of which feature the typical church fare of centuries gone by including decapitated John the Baptists, disembodied baby heads that are likely angels plus all manner of virgins, Biblical scenes, strange miracles, floggings and self-castigation. This particular church being dedicated to San Francisco de Asis has a large hall filled with 44 paintings of his life that were commissioned in the 17th century and done by a Peruvian artist. Each is about 2 by 3 meters in size and have descriptions of the scene in an older version of Spanish. One small room is dedicated to Gabriela Mistral, the Nobel winning poet who was also a schoolteacher and later in life an ambassador for Chile.

The ‘saint’ statues dressed in multicolored robes provoke both the heebie-jeebies and the uncontrollable desire to laugh. The wooden choir benches were hand-carved in the 18th century out of Chilean cypress trees.

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In addition to viewing the art and relaxing in the oddly peaceful plaza, they also frequently offer religious concerts. A mixed vocal choir was practicing as I roamed about. I asked about going to the second floor and they informed me that it is the monks’ convent. Still! From here I took an immediate left when exiting the church and found myself on the beautiful street called Londres. Currently it houses a large number of boutique hotels, coffee and tea shops, a couple of educational institutes and a few government offices. I thought I’d have a beverage when I noticed these little squares on the cobblestone street.DSC_0525

I saw that after all the names – a fairly 50/50 mix of male and female – they all said either MIR or FP after the Movimiento Izquierda Revolucionaria [Revolutionary Left Movement] and Frente Patriotico [the Patriotic Front] respectively. They were leftist groups that were working against the government post-coup d’etat of 1973 and it was pretty clear that the names on those squares are for people that were disappeared intentionally and never found. It was then that I saw the entrance to “Londres 38”, a memorial center that opened to the public in 2010. It housed detainees who were tortured for information and then killed and either dumped into the sea or into mass graves, many of them in the endless Atacama desert of the north.

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Side note: Nostalgia de la Luz is a fascinating documentary film that contrasts and compares astronomists’ search for the origins of life in the northern skies with family members still to this day looking for – and now finding – shared graves where there loved ones bodies were dumped throughout the military dictatorship. Initially the link between the two searches is unexpected, but the piece unfolds elegantly. Another interesting film is called La Ciudad de los Fotógrafos and documents the experience of photographers in Santiago right when the ‘golpe de estado’ was first news.

There are a number of memorial centers throughout Chile, which are mostly just former homes that were turned into extra-judicial holding cells where thousands of people were tortured. This particular location also undertakes social activities such as protest art creation groups, photo exhibits, short documentaries and provides space for reflection. They are currently involved in an effort to get thousands of secret documents made public. They are part of a larger conglomeration of groups marching at La Moneda [the equivalent of the US White House or Argentinean Pink House] this Wednesday December 10th, 2014 at 1 PM calling for open documents and respect for human rights.  DSC_0534 DSC_0527 DSC_0538This last image is script taken from a letter written by one young woman named Muriel Dockendorff Navarrete to another named Sandra Machuca who were both detained at Cuatro Alamos. The letter was dated October 1974 and the author was disappeared after its writing. It says “Me recuerdo cuando te conocí en la casa del terror… En esos momentos en que una luz era un sueño. O un milagro, fuiste luz en esas tinieblas. Fuimos una en un revés. Hoy miles de reveses. Más tarde te veo como entonces como sé estarás hoy, en Algún sitio, siempre mirando al frente. Nos encontraremos a través de la niebla que despejaremos. No me olvides.”

In English: “I recall when I first met you in that house of terror… In those moments in which light was only a dream. Or a miracle. You were light in that place of darkness. We were one in that tragedy. Today, thousands of tragedies. Later on I’ll see you as I did then, as I know you will be today, in some place somewhere, always looking straight ahead. We will find each other through the fog that we’ll dispel. Don’t forget me.”

Her words cut through me and slice up my heart into little pieces.

Outside there are people wandering, leaving work on a Friday evening and meeting friends on the patio cafes. I snap some more pictures of these harmonious streets and I’m amazed by the fact that during all of these centuries this convent with its monks was right there in the middle of downtown maintaining their daily life in the midst of political tumult, a darkened detention center only a two minute walk away.

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Chilean Company Files for Bankruptcy in a US Court?

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So this has little to do with culture, but it’s weird and Chile-related and I feel like mentioning it. I was reading the financial newspaper here last week because I’m a big shot investor. Ja, ja. No. But I like to read all sorts of perspectives to get everyone’s ‘take’ on things. My point is that they mentioned a Chilean public transportation company that is seeking corporate bankruptcy protection. Now this is strange for two reasons. Firstly, the public transportation is a public-private system in Santiago with a number of players (I love that lingo; it is sort of game after all) who competed and then win their respective routes.

It seems strange to me that they need bankruptcy protection citing low ridership and increased fare jumping. In the time I’ve been here (5.5 years) the bus and train prices have in fact fully doubled (from 350 pesos to 700 pesos per trip, or roughly 20% of the minimum monthly wage just to get to and from work), and ridership is in fact up. I’ve definitely seen people hop on the bus without paying, but it’s usually after they’ve waited as seven or eight packed buses have gone by, or even empty ones but the driver doesn’t feel like stopping. In that same fancy money newspaper they talk about the high incomes these companies have been earning. They sure seem to be doing just fine.

Well the even weirder part is that this company is seeking bankruptcy protection in a US COURT. So I asked a student of mine who happens to be a lawyer and has also studied law in the US what he thinks about this new concept and he looked at me like I was nuts. I emailed him this article that says how and why this is beginning to happen, and it even says that a company can claim ‘residency’ if you will (my term) in a country by having property there, and property for these ends needs simply be a bank account. If only us humans could gain residency so easily! I though June from South Carolina made an interesting point: “The U.S. judicial system at every level is expensive to run & budgets have been cut for years. Considering U.S. corporations pay little to no taxes to support the public good, who is paying these costs? Is the middle-class getting stuck with yet another bill so corporations can get debt relief?” My wholly uneducated guess would be that the companies would be paying to use the system, but then again I used to think everyone in the world was generally good inside.

If these legal maneuverings make sense to you or you know something I certainly don’t, please don’t hesitate to enlighten!