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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.

El Poder de Recordar

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No revela lo que hay adentro. El tamaño solo da una pista de la cantidad de cosas que podría contener. Nada que dice “mírame”. Con el nombre Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos, sospecho que ello guarde los materiales inspirados por la historia de algunos de los hechos más básicos de los seres humanos, pero también una historia de amistad y amor. El museo abrió sus puertas en 2010 al año bicentenario, al fin de la presidencia de Michelle Bachelet. Paso por el pasillo exterior, donde hay placas metálicas con los artículos de la Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos de la Organización de Naciones Unidas cincelados en sus fachadas. Escrito en 1948, la Declaración es el más traducido documento en el mundo, encarnado en 375 lenguajes.

Al final del pasillo, que sigue achicándose, entro la primera sala con una demuestra de fotos de los tribunales de muchos países, los cuales han sufrido su propia dictadura brutal. Ofrece información de los varios niveles de justicia lograda en sus épocas postrégimen militar, y fotos de sus museos de la memoria. Subiendo al segundo nivel, la profusión de datos aumenta. Hay videos de violencia y entrevistas, fotos de gente desaparecida y asesinada. El tercer piso contiene bastante información de los medios en Chile durante la dictadura, y también en otros países en  sus lenguajes llamando por la justicia. Uno se puede quedar un par de horas leyendo datos y viendo fotos de todo lo que ha pasado dentro el once de septiembre 1973 hasta el principio de los noventas. La parte más difícil a ver es el piso con los implementos de tortura; una cama de metal que entrega un voltaje a su víctima por ejemplo. Cosas que todavía se siguen usando hoy en día, aunque sabemos que la tortura es bárbara, y no sirve en la búsqueda de información. Hay libros llenos de datos de casos en los cortes de familias enteras desaparecidas o matadas.

Después de la parte más difícil a ver, hay un nivel que me alienta. Hay pósteres y afiches de obras de teatro, cine, arte, poesía, escritura, música y mas, hecho por los ciudadanos de Chile y la gente mundial, las que quisieron decir, estamos con ustedes porque libertad y justicia no solo son derechos para pocos. Somos seres humanos, y merecemos esta vida. Hay unos que piensan que la arte no tiene poder, pero yo no estoy de acuerdo. El arte puede ser político, para compartir datos, otros puntos de vista e información útil. Puede dar inspiración o un sentido de unidad a los que están sufriendo físicamente o espiritualmente. Arte nos une, y nos ayuda recordar. También alimenta el alma, porque la belleza es la razón de proteger lo que es nuestro. La belleza de amor brilla la vida y nos da esperanza por el futuro.

Y porque recordar? Porque sin hacerlo, hacemos lo mismo otra vez y otra vez más. Los implementos de tortura en el museo? No son cosas de la historia. Siguen siendo usados contra los cuerpos de los detenidos en Guantánamo y otros lugares secretos en el mundo. Represión del flujo de información online limita la libertad mental de muchos otros. La violencia sexual, una falta de acceso al agua limpia, comida sana y educación afecta la mayoría del mundo. La población de nuestro planeta exige que hagamos algo. Principalmente, tenemos que recordar la historia de lo exquisito y lo horrible. Desde allí, podemos cambiar el camino hacia el futuro. Salgo del museo, y leo la Declaración una vez más. Aunque acabo de ver mucha evidencia de lo malo de nosotros, también hay tanta hermosura dentro de la gente del mundo. Me siento inspirada.

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Elections and Other Nonsense

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Tomorrow is election day at home, and despite updating all my registration requirements over two years ago when I was home, my vote ain’t gonna be counted. I updated my address in Wisconsin. The people in the office chuckled a bit when I went in to take care of this stuff so much in advance. I said that I knew I’d be out of the country and wanted it squared ahead of time. They told me I could send my ballot via email. Rock on.

Then two months ago they emailed to tell me I can’t email my ballot any longer unless I am permanently out of the country, and if my status of living outside of the bounds of the federal limits were to be permanent, I am not eligible to vote for local office. Hmm. First off, this to me seems like partial disenfranchisement at least, and furthermore, what does permanent mean? Who never plans on going home? Is DOMA gonna get overturned at some point? How do I answer this “permanent” question? The language offered me by the election office was of no use when I followed up to try to clarify: If your intent is to never return, you are permanently overseas and can vote by email, otherwise you cannot. My insistence that I wasn’t certain and that the very outcome of this vote could help determine my ability (or at least, the desirability – e.g. the Defense of Marriage Act as my fiancée is a Chilean woman) of returning home was totally lost in the exchange. I was told they couldn’t help me any further.

I decided I didn’t want to declare myself “permanently” oversees and in some Orwellian twist in the future, lose my citizenship. Stranger things have happened. Let’s go paper ballot. I mailed all of the filled out forms I had to send in order to “apply” for my paper ballot, a little worried that in all the back and forth it wouldn’t arrive on time. I carefully researched and weighed my options, completed the little black arrows that run from one side to the other and was almost ready. I only had to find “an adult US citizen” to witness my signing of the ballot. Bollocks. Okay, so I dug me up one of those, arranged to meet said citizen and did the deed. I signed, sealed and mailed my ballot and it arrived last week. Hooray!

Nope. I got an email on Thursday saying I had failed to sign my ballot. I knew I signed it! There was a witness! I was informed then that I was supposed to sign the other side, too. I then had three options; two of them involved coming into the office and signing before or on election day. The other was that it be mailed back to me to sign, and then I mail it back again. I responded that I clearly cannot be in the office on or before election day HENCE the absentee ballot. I think the person on the receiving end was irritated with me, taking my tone as sarcastic. No ma’am. Just stating the obvious. I then asked her to mail it me, half laughing to myself. She wrote back. There is no way it will get to you in time. I thought well, duh. Why didn’t you just email me in the first place to say that due to last minute changes to voting regulations and my failure to sign my ballot multiple times has resulted in a big waste of my time and my disenfranchisement? Isn’t that just easier to say?

Camila Vallejo and Norm Titelman Receive the Letelier-Moffit Human Rights Award

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Camila Vallejo and Norm Titelman, two student leaders in Chile, were in the US this week to receive the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award, which is awarded by the Institute for Policy Studies. Education is highly privatized here, and extremely difficult to afford for the average person – hence the last nearly two years of student strikes. It seems the situation here has implications for the push toward privatization of the education system in the US. They were interviewed this week on Democracy Now! Here is part one and part two. They include some video clips of student/police clashes – a not-uncommon occurrence. Thoughts?