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Walmart, Carmona and the Government Give Zero Shits

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Walmart, their intermediary Carmona group and the government seem to give zero shits about the history, culture and the livelihood of 260 small businesses here in Santiago, Chile. Let me explain.

There is a neighborhood called Barrio Franklin that has been operating as essentially an open-air market for over 150 years. A few years back the Piñera government wanted to shut it down so the terrain could be sold to higher bidders. After public outcry, those plans were scrapped. The neighborhood is full of wholesalers and retailers who sell nearly anything you can think of aside from cars. Nearly anyone who wants to start a small business can afford to do so in this area. Need a decades-old pocket watch fixed? Done. A new professional sewing machine? No problem. Wholesale prices on professional dental tools, floss and razor blades? This place seriously has it all including new and used clothing and shoes, electronic anything, computing, parts, toys, trinkets, raw materials, furniture, leather goods, gifts, etcetera. It’s about six square blocks situated outside of the Franklin metro stop. It’s a cultural institution with nary a shortage of happy customers.

Aside from the convenience of finding all manner of random things in one place, coming down to the Persa Bío Bío is seriously fun for people watching. It’s also experienced a food renaissance over the last five years. In addition to the usual completos and churrascos, you’ll find Mi Jugo mexican food (highly recommended), Middle Eastern right next door (wonderful!), thai food on the other side (not bad), Peruvian all around, ceviches, empanadas, breakfast, a new sunlit coffee shop, and much more. In short, Bío Bío is a blast. Apparently Walmart bought a one of the large galpones a few years back and hasn’t made enough money. I understand they’re planning to turn the historic building into a big fat grocery store, so they told the intermediary company to kick out the 260 small businesses inside the building. Pish tosh. Apparently Carmona did not do so, and this morning a big fat taxpayer-funded police force was called in to kick them all out. You can see pictures here if you like.

I am a fan of free enterprise and business and such. What I am not a fan of is the utter disregard shown by the government, Carmona and Walmart for the historical and cultural institution that is the Persa Bío Bío. If that doesn’t count for anything anymore, what a sad fucking world we’re headed towards. A private company is soldering the doors shut as I write this so that the business owners can’t get back in. As of this writing, I do not know if they have been able to or will be able to get their property out.

Getting Hitched in Argentina

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Want to get married somewhere that’s not home? Maybe you don’t want your entire extended family of third cousins present, or maybe you’re part of the LGBT community and you can’t legally wed in your home country. Argentina could be a good option, particularly for Spanish speakers or those willing to hire interpreters. The matrimonio igualitario (marriage equality) covers everyone whether a citizen or not. Once married and you’ve gotten your documents “legalized” or stamped for foreign validity, your marriage will be recognized in whatever country you may live or work in that has equal marriage rights. Example, a Chilean friend was going to live in Germany for several years. The only way to bring her partner with her for an extended stay without applying for a visa was to get married. Since gay marriage is legit in Germany, this worked for them – even though in their home country of Chile it is not yet recognized. This is changing here, with the recent passage of civil unions for gay and straight alike, but that’s a different article.

The paperwork can be confusing though, so my future wife and I went to Mendoza recently to find out which bureaucratic hoops we had to jump through. This is Latin America after all. We went to speak with the folks at two different Registros Civiles (town halls, essentially) to ask about the requirements. Each office does things a bit differently, and it always helps to be especially gracious when dealing with the government employees. All of the funcionarios we spoke with were EXTREMELY friendly and helpful. One option is the Matrimonio Móvil, where they will come to your ceremony morning, night or weekend. The fee for this is 3,300 Argentinean pesos – roughly 380 USD on the official exchange, or maybe half that on the black market. It’s not hard to find people who want your dollars or euros. It is illegal however, so if you get screwed over you have no recourse. The civil ceremony at the office is totally free. If you choose the ‘mobile’ route, you must also hire a transportation company (there are bunches) to pick up your particular justice of the peace to bring them to and from your wedding site. These are the differences.

Whichever route you choose, you must follow these procedures:

1. Show up at the office exactly 30 days prior to your chosen wedding date to simply request the wedding. In our case, since we were already there even though it well in advance, the kind woman allowed us to set the date then and there. This goes back to my point about being extra friendly and also how each registro civil kind of sets its own rules.

2. You must have a pre-wedding meeting ALONG WITH your chosen witnesses. They can be from anywhere in the world, but the easiest thing is for them to be Mendocinos if you get hitched in Mendoza, Bonaerenses if in Buenos Aires… you get the idea. If not, you have to establish a temporary “residency” for said witnesses. It’s not hard, and only costs a few bucks – but they have to then be present with you in the same geographic location for both the meeting and the wedding of course.

3. Within a week of the wedding, foreigners to-be-hitched must also establish this fictional residence. We have chosen to use the pensión we always stay at as our address (of course we asked them first if it was okay). Bear in mind that the address you select can affect which Registro Civil to get married at. Our address is Mendoza city proper, so we can marry at the office inside the beautiful, giant park San Martín. You take the form given to you at the registro civil along with your identification (passport or permanent residency ID card of whichever country you reside in) to a notary public (called escrivano in Argentina and notario público in Chile) and they will give you back documentation proving your temporary residency is in said geographic locale. Yeah, it seems weird, but this is their way of allowing foreigners to get married in Argentina.

4. Technically, the official word is you need to bring your birth certificate, but both offices said that it really doesn’t matter if you don’t have it. Supposedly they like to use them to get the parents’ names right on the wedding certificate.

5. The last main thing required is a syphilis test. Yep. They changed the marriage laws, but this old one is still on the books. It is free, and they give you the information on where to get it done when you attend the prenuptial meeting. The results will be given back to you the very next day and have a validity period of 7 consecutive days.  The libreto de familia and any other odds and ends will also be given to you at this meeting.

6. After the wedding, you take your libreto and other documents to get “legalized” meaning they are stamped and ready to be used abroad. This cannot be done on the same day, but it can be done by a third party and then mailed to you elsewhere by a friend or acquaintance.

From what I understand, Mendoza is the most expedient area of the country to get married. Everyone so far has treated us (two women) extremely well. They’ve even commented that they think Chile, Perú etc. should decide to join the 21st century sometime soon! Mendoza is also an absolutely charming place to spend some time with a cornucopia of vineyards, hot springs, museums and restaurants in the area. It is not expensive – unless you want it to be. It can be hard to find a place that will hold a reception for fewer than 100, and if you’re not from there, it’s unlikely you’ll be importing more than 100 family members and friends. Unless maybe you have way too much money in your bank account. If anyone wants more specifics or has any questions, I can always share more about my personal experience. Oh, also, don’t forget about the visa entry fee for USers, Aussies and Brits.

And lastly, I can’t believe I’m actually getting married. Who knew?!?

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!

Great Company in Isla Negra, Chile

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Ideally, I try to leave Santiago for one weekend a month at a minimum. This past weekend Marcela and I grabbed a bus with really no plan other than to head to the sea. From the city, it’s only about an hour fifteen to get to the central coast. We hopped off the bus in El Tabo, and there was a lady waiting to rent out rooms in her house. I hadn’t felt like reserving anywhere, so we took her up on it. We figured she’s nice, the price is right and it’s simple enough. It’s not quite high season [December – February] so lodging options abound if you are looking to comparison shop.

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From the house on the peninsula between El Tabo and Isla Negra, we wandered down the hill toward the sea, over the bridge and onto main street for a pan-fried merluza. Then we thought it was time for champagne on the beach. After searching three shops, we found a chilled bottle and the pedestrian path to the waterfront. On our way down walking past the artisans selling their craft, we happened past one of Pablo Neruda’s houses, which is now a museum. He had several homes in Chile, and they were all filled with knick-knacks, trinkets and collectables. The word on the street is that he would help himself to stuff in people’s homes that he liked. They say he asked of course – didn’t just fill his pockets at will. We noticed they were setting up for an event inside. Turns out they had live jazz for free at 7 PM. Excellent! We are both big jazz fans so we happily had our next plan of action.

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The name Isla Negra, or black island, chosen by Neruda seems to come from the giant, black, mottled boulders lining the beach. It isn’t an island though, but a sort of peninsula. This isn’t the kind of beach for lolling around with a book or playing volleyball. The rocks are jagged and awkward, so you have to strategically position your bum for maximum comfort. It’s the kind of beach for staring at the salty waves and contemplating if your life is where you want it to be. I feel like it washes my brain free of cranial debris. It’s really easy while relaxing here to decide to build a cabin in Patagonia or a stilt house on the beach. If I have internet, I can live nearly anywhere.

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As we are in Latin America, we figured the live music wouldn’t start on time. We were wrong, so the doors were locked. It can be hard to plan when to arrive on time, and when to show up late in this country. We decided to sit for a bit in the little park next door on the chessboard-covered picnic benches. A white-haired grandfather strolled up to greet us. After his “having a picnic?” opening, we moved on to talk about travel, history, politics, family and food. I love meeting such friendly folk who enjoy a quality, random hour-long chat that ends with bear hugs.

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Not to be outdone, we met Isabel and Ivan, a truly delightful couple who make fantastic fresh empanadas – mostly fried, some baked – and serve homemade meals, including vegetarian ones, roasted chicken and dessert all at great prices. Their restaurant is right where the bus stops in downtown Isla Negra, which makes their to-go dishes quite convenient. Not only is their food wonderful, their disposition is incredible. From a simple food stop, we ended up talking with them for nearly 3 hours. I had no idea so much time had passed. That’s what happens when conversing with sincere people. They shared their perspectives on the region, tourism, language, culture and much more. Truly, heart-warming individuals. They offered us some Cola de Mono, a tasty alcohol-based drink with cloves, cream and other spices. It has the same texture as an Irish Cream. We will definitely be seeing them again, and you should, too. Try the Empanada Chilena. It’s filled with cheese, perfectly sautéed onion, cilantro and a touch of tomato in a flaky pie crust.

From there we went to The Eighties Bar for a good local brew and some hilarious karaoke. My karaoke stylings are usually limited to when I hang out with my parents. My dad’s nickname is Tom Jovi. My mom loves to sing Pussy Control by Prince. But this evening Marce and I couldn’t be stopped! Except for closing time. After that we wandered back home and woke up with a hankering for a good Mariscal. We found it in San Antonio on the caleta, or dock. There are numerous restaurants right on the sea, but be aware that if you get a table with a view it won’t be über economical. But oh, the freshness!

That’s it. We installed ourselves on the bus full and happy heading back to the city so that Marcela could vote in the presidential election. Go green party! Although we all know Bachelet will be the next president. She could appoint Sfeir as Minister for the Environment. Just sayin’…

Así de simple, you can get outta the city even for 24 hours, have great food, smell clean sea air and meet kind people. And what’s not to love about looking at foamy waves crashing on ebony-colored rocks?

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Zamudio’s Attackers Found Guilty – Updated

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UPDATE:

On pages 219 and 220 you can read the sentences of the four men convicted in this homicide case. One received a life sentence in prison, as he was deemed the primary aggressor and instigator. Two others received 15 years apiece for their intermediary role and the fourth was given seven years as it is claimed he acted in no manner at all. That is, he neither attempted to stop the assault or notify authorities, nor physically participated in the brutal activities in question. He watched.

I have no comment on the duration of their sentences. His own family comes down split on both sides. What I do want to point out is that the day before they were sentenced, another young man called Wladimir Sepúlveda was attacked while being called maricón (translation: faggot) repeatedly according to several witnesses. It is alleged that there were six attackers in this case. He is in a coma now, and the doctors have said they will be surprised if he comes out alive. The neurologist monitoring his progress has classified it as “null”.

Reading the different comments below various articles online, I’ve found most people to be outraged that this disgusting event has been duplicated. Of course, there must be the fools who suggest this world is a better place with one fewer maricón in it, and have the ovaries/balls/cajones large and fuzzy enough to open their big yaps, veiled in online anonymity. Another questioned the reasoning of a hate crimes law, which is nothing new. I have been conflicted about this as well; it’s easy to see both sides of the argument. Here it is known as the Ley [law] Zamudio. Another commenter mentioned that a law like this would be equally applied to all groups. For instance, if a gang of queers [I use this term with love] were to get together and beat up a straight person, the same law would hold force.

But would people ever beat someone up for simply being heterosexual? Of course not! The would be laughable if it weren’t such a terrible concept. So I have to agree. I do think that if someone were clearly the victim of aggression based on their class of person – acts so serious as to leave them in a coma, to break their bones in such a way that they jut out of the body at odd angles, bash their skull over and over again into the concrete ground and burn messages and symbols into their skin with a cigarette – the motive should be considered in addition to the outcome of the offense. This doesn’t (usually) happen in a non-hate motivated crime. Anyone – trans, straight, gay or somewhere in between – walking down the street could be the victim of this kind of hate ideology made manifest. Of course, hate crimes laws will only be useful if actually applied, as in, the police describe the case as such, which is another problem entirely. Groups like Movilh state that the carabineros [police officers] in Chile are not using the Zamudio hate crimes law as intended.

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Part A:

Last year in March, Daniel Zamudio was brutally attacked by four men in a park and left there after a torture session that lasted several hours late one weekend night. They urinated on him, burned him with cigarettes, drew swastikas on him and repeatedly beat his head into the ground by kicking him and throwing large rocks. This trauma to the head is what killed him. After over three weeks spent in the ICU his pain ended and he left this world. The case received national attention and Chile went through a collective sadness and anger over what happened. It lead to the passing of the hate crimes law that had been lingering for years. I spoke with several people at the vigils about how they hadn’t approved of homosexuality because it had been instilled in them by their culture or church. But now, with this grievous event they felt differently; they were taught wrongly. ¿Realmente, que me importa a mí la sexualidad del otro? Change always takes its time. Daniel will not be forgotten.

In court they said they chose him to beat up because he was gay. A year and a half later, his four young attackers will be sentenced toward the end of October, from 15 years for the one with no criminal background up to life in prison for the group leader.

Weekend in Tongoy, Chile – Vamos a la Playa!

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A bathtub of pisco, a truckload of animal parts for the grill, and Cumbia or Electrónica played at skull-rattling volume are the few essentials to a successful beach asado, or BBQ, in Chile. Of course you must add copious amounts of family and friends, and tuck in for a waist expanding good time. Hundreds of thousands of Santiaguinos bust out of the hazy capital during the hot summer months. A dusty beach town is highly recommended. The chillaxed feel of a slow-moving place makes a reveler feel not only invited, but expected to have a few brews, kicking a pelota around the sand. ¡No es para mí – es para el calor! (It’s not for me, it’s for the heat!)

Firstly, the culinary delicacy of an asado is not difficult to master. Inside of a rusty kettle drum, sawed in half, place a roll of confort, toilet paper that is. Let ‘er burn in order to spark up the carbón. When the coals are seared through and spewing stifling smoke, it’s hot enough to add the parts. Lamb or cow parts work best. Ribs, butt steak, strip steak and more. Simply season with plenty of coarse sea salt and you’re a chef! Pull off the grill and tear with your teeth. You can slap it on a bun and slather in mayo if you insist on being civilized. It doesn’t hurt to have a chela in your hand, chilling on a sunny patio overlooking a seaside town, such as Tongoy. (Asados run the gamut from a super relaxed situation to a high maintenance affair, depending on with whom you choose to associate.)

Pelicans Chilling on Fishing Boats

Pelicans Chilling on Fishing Boats

The town of Tongoy in the Coquimbo area is small enough for the appropriate vibe, and sits on a plaza with plenty of liquor stores, and dozens of mom and pop restaurants about one block north, lining one side of the petite peninsula. Each has its own special seafood empanadas (fried, filled turnovers). I ate one shrimp and cheese empanada at a nameless place hidden in the town center, which kicked off a three day tour of testing, let’s call it. Eleven shrimp and cheese empanadas later, and they each hold a special place in my heart. The pale peach shrimp; I can’t say no. Plus fresh pebre (Chilean salsa), mozzarella goo gobs and the perfectly flaky, heaven on a fork type crust seal the deal. Next time, maybe I’ll start at La Pink, if not for its prominent location, then for its very suggestive sign looming above, complete with a pink, taco-shaped empanada. From there, methodically I’ll move one by one and try every marisco empanada I can get my greasy hands on, followed by some Tums.

After sampling both fruits of the land and fruits of the fryer, fruits of the sea lie just a bit further along the coast. Inside wooden restaurants and small kiosks are smatterings of fresh whole fish, mussells, clams, sea urchins and oysters para servir (table service) or para llevar (to go). Plenty of styles of ceviche can be had to snack on while you wait for a sun leathered seaman to wrap up a selection; from feathery chunks of whitefish swirling in harmony with lemon, garlic and cilantro or the seafood cornucopia dressed in a red sauce – both dishes of the central region of Chile. If you’d rather the full service of polite accomodation, there are many clean and classic tables to choose from. The harbor view provides plenty of yellow wooden boats festooned with a dozen pelicans each. Comparing the painted names on the wooden sides such as El Neurótico provides pre-snack entertainment. Nothing more taxing than that.

The pristine, south peninsula beach beckons for sand napping where bird calls mixed with laughter float listlessly towards your ears, bumping lightly up against the edge of consciousness. To snap back into it, jump in the cool, Pacific waters. Or up north a bit from the harbor, remnants of an old foundry beg investigation. Hundreds of meters are blanketed in minerals and volcanic deposits that were spit up from the ocean. Chile’s Pacific coast stretches 6,435 Km, all of it on the Ring of Fire. 36 historically active volcanoes make this country 5th in world rank. I found one particularly interesting chunk of rock streaked through with iron and oxidized copper, a vibrant shade of blue. The giant algae covered rocks lining the shore are home to a variety of sea life suctioned to their sides. Upon close inspection red sea spiders can be seen, no bigger than a millimeter.

I drifted back to the veranda above, overlooking this unassuming beach town. The grill was sparked back up for the newly arrived guests. Caipiroskas were in the making. A few people were trying to perform the national dance, the Cueca, with dish towels standing in for the delicate handkerchief. The sun gave way and hundreds of stars took over, challenging the nocturnal scene of any big city. It was time to get out of sandy clothes and into dancewear, in order to shake it all night long at the local pub, where the pisco is cheap and the live cumbia band is in full effect.