Category Archives: Music Film Art Lit

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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Film Festivals in Chile

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We’ve made it through August as they say here, the deadliest winter month, and are moving on into Spring. A lot of events are starting to kick off from the Feria de la Mujer Indígena [Indigenous Women Festival] to Ecological festivals and soon everything Dieciocho de Septiembre related – aka Independence Day. Santiago a Mil comes to town in January and a lot of film festivals are happening throughout spring and summer. The Department of Cultural Affairs in Chile has this handy link that directs you to the various festivals throughout the nation. Many take place in Santiago, but there are a number of them in the south, north and the coast. From cartoon, animation, women-made films, shorts, full-length, documentary, national, international, and social commentary, there is a lot to choose from. One I have yet to attend, but sounds interesting is all about the environment and sustainability in Antarctica. It takes place over three events in southern Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales and Puerto Williams. Many are free, several are not. There are usually volunteering opportunities that will provide you with free screenings and a chance to meet the filmmakers if that’s your thing. If you are learning Spanish, movies are a great way to practice. If you need a language break, there are always plenty of English titles on offer as well. Happy screening.

For more of what’s shakin’ up and down this skinny strip of a nation, check out the tourism board’s page.

4th Annual “Ñam” Latin American Food Festival

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Ñam Ñam = Yum Yum – Both the sound of the words and the festival are equivalent to delicious. If you’re not sure, that little mark above the N adds in a little Y sound so it does sound like yummy which I think is adorable. Anyhow, I’ve been here for five years today! That’s super weird because a] it wasn’t planned and b] how time doth flieth. Today also kicks off the 4th Annual Ñam Latin American Food Festival held this year in and around Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral or the GAM as it’s called. I have recently noticed that so many cultural, gastronomic and artistic events are all entering there 4th or 5th year in 2014. Were they waiting for me to get here? I guess not, but it certainly is handy. The whole weekend features cooking demonstrations, talks, tastings and markets for food and drink. The restaurants surrounding the GAM in the Lastarria neighborhood are said to be offering special dishes and festival discounts. There is even relevant cinema and film on offer that should pair nicely. Check it out!

Ferias Navideñas

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For a northerner, December really doesn’t feel like Christmas time in Santiago while wearing sundresses and sandals. I need copious amounts of snow. The way I can tell around here is ferias and festivals showcasing arts, crafts and handmade gifts absolutely everywhere. You’ll just be walking down the street and temporary outdoor shelters pop up right in front of your eyes in every neighborhood. It’s also time for Hecho en Casa, or Homemade when artists create works throughout the city made for the outdoors. They host events that people can participate in, too. We happened upon a painter in a crane cradle painting away the side of a building with quite a crowd watching him work. The two paintings are of Ekekos, which are miniature people saddled with items that represent abundance – car, kids, house, friends, food and fun. It’s an Andean tradition. They make great house-warming gifts. These are outside of the Bellas Artes subway station if you want to see them in person. They are masked, which I presume has a political significance. Voices silenced?2013-12-08_20-10-50_742013-12-08_20-12-51_576

We also stumbled upon a Comic Festival with live music in the central plaza of Barrio Brasil, a plaza where there is always a ton of stuff at the sidewalk sale. I was quite impressed with the dozens of comics publishers there.

2013-12-08_18-56-01_259 2013-12-08_18-43-06_933There was also the Arte Accesible concert / sale at Bar El Clinic – if you’re a Spanish speaker and familiar with Chilean politics, you have to go there and read the walls. They’re hilarious, especially the Piñericosas. Soon there will be the first Mr. Leather Chile. Ha! I remember one day in Chicago at Roscoe’s trying to get brunch during IML weekend [International Male Leather] in Boystown, and the butch bear of a host at the door with the voice of a diva says, “I’ve just had THOUSANDS of gays descend upon me! It’s going to be quite a wait.” He then let forth a shriek. I shouldn’t laugh at how flustered he was, but it was so dramatic and he took it so personally that I’ll never forget it. He made my day.

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Violeta Parra

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When most folks think of Chilean artists, Pablo Neruda of course pops to mind, but frequently nobody else gets in there. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. 26 years before him in 1945, Chilean poet and author Gabriela Mistral also won the Nobel Prize. I’ll get back to them at a later date. In addition to these writers, Victor Jara and Violeta Parra are two extremely important musicians who have come to embody Chile in a way. For me and many others, these four individuals have become emblematic of 20th century Chilean artists. Their songs are simply stunning and the lyrics get me every time. They sing of life, love, labor and justice to name a few themes.

Violeta Parra is one of the, if not the most influential and important folk musician this nation has produced. She was born in the south, in the rural Chillán area to musical parents. She began singing with her siblings at a young age. One of her brothers, Nicanor Parra, is also a writer nominated for a Nobel a number of times. Anyhow, when she was young she began to travel around the countryside and collect folk tales and stories, and eventually, to record them at home and abroad. She spent a lot of time traveling and living in France, Chile and elsewhere in Europe. She has quite a collection of plastic arts with a large following. I personally find her visual art somewhat painful to look at. Childlike and honest, but with colors that make me sick to my stomach. Her music, for me, is the best. It is honest, lyrical, simple and beautiful. She led a passionate, and at times sad life. Andrés Wood directed a movie about her life called Violeta Se Fue a Los Cielos, 2011. I do recommend it.

Here is one of my favorite songs by Violeta Parra, Gracias a la Vida (Thanks Be to this Life). Its bittersweet overtone and simple realism are a potent combo. In public if this song is heard, I see Chileans kind of catch their breath, and their eyes dim for a second as they drift off, enveloped in a memory. It has the same effect on me. I’ll translate it soon in case you’d like to see the English version.

Keep an Eye Open for Chilean Film “No”

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Jane Fonda, Christopher Reeves and Richard Dreyfuss all sent messages to the Chilean public during the lead up to the 1988 vote that would ultimately end the Pinochet dictatorship. I had no idea. Mr. Dreyfuss impressed me the most because his message was delivered in Spanish. It was after all, an edited video recording. Not so hard to translate and practice speaking, especially if one is a professional actor.

I found this out after watching “No”, a movie (dramatized non-fiction made to look like a VHS tape filmed in the ’80’s) released in late May (Director – Pablo Larraín, Screenplay – Pedro Peirano) about the political advertising campaign held by those promoting the removal of Pinochet. After years of dictatorship, Pinochet began to succumb to international pressure and offered a plebiscite asking the people if they wanted eight more years of him. The “Sí” and “No” sides each got to have 15 minutes of free time to air what they wished for a period of 27 days leading up to the vote. It was the first time in over 15 years that any opinion other than a state-sanctioned one was allowed to be expressed on television. Most people expected that the vote was rigged and few expected Pinochet to lose. The film primarily documents the progression of the No campaign, including the death threats faced by its directors. Some people wanted them to use hard-hitting statistics showing the reality of deaths, torture, detentions and political exiles, but ultimately the campaigners presented their information in a more lighthearted way with song, dance and humor, stressing Chile’s future. It seems they didn’t want to continue to use fear as a tactic of control. The Yes side couldn’t get any artists to work for it – they were all united on the other end of the political spectrum – and presented some very pathetic attempts at humor, some of them macabre and much of it quite snobby. My Chilean counterpart seated next to me in the theater expressed sadness and remembrance at the clip of the then non-elected “president” saying that he hadn’t done anything wrong that he could recall, but sorry if in fact he had pulled some shit. Loose translation there. I want to tell you the end, but I won’t.

Aside from learning more about a very specific slice of history and some fun 80’s style, this film is a great way to pick up a bit of Chilean slang. After it’s success at Cannes (winner 2012 “Directors Fortnight” and “Art Cinema Award”) , Sony Pictures Classic purchased North American rights to the film. Here is an interview in English with the director Pablo Larraín and the Mexican principal actor Gael García Bernal.

Santiago Festival Internacional de Cine

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Quick FYI: The 8th Annual International Film Festival in Santiago starts in a few days. It runs from the 17th through the 25th at various theaters around the city. They offer packages for students and other club benefits (like club La Tercera) etc. Anyone can pick up an 8-pack for 16 luka, which translates to 4 bucks per film. The “academic” activities (roundtables, workshops, etc.) at the Universidad San Sebastián are free of charge. There are other musical events and other parallel happenings as well. Very affordable! Go to the site to choose your film. If there is something you really want to see, make sure to get there on time/early so you don’t show up to a booked room. Sometimes the schedule changes at the last minute, so double check that, too. Lastly, the part where it says English on the website is just someone being cute. It’s not. Argentina, Mexico, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Chile, Ireland, England, France, Denmark, the USA (Booker’s Place and more), etc. represented with well over 100 films.