Monday, December 28, 2015

Dancing In The Street


28 December 2015

We've been walking around the city.  On weekdays, the few we've been here, things are bustling and buzzing with activity.  We're right in the middle of downtown, so there are tons of banks and offices full of workers.  There are also buildings such as ours that are residential, so the streets are packed with people walking, shopping, going somewhere.

But on Christmas Day, and now on the weekend, things are quieter.  Most of the stores have limited hours or are closed altogether.  Caf├ęs and restaurants are closed.  Even many of the museums in the Plaza de Armas area are closed.

One block away from our apart-hotel, our street turns into a pedestrian street.  Or a mostly-pedestrian street.  There's the occasional car that braves the various stalls that seem to appear when the most people are on the street.  

On our way to Plaza de Armas, or the river, there are other pedestrian streets, some with open-air market stalls all along the way.  These streets seem to be constantly packed with people.

Since these streets are closed to traffic, there are street performers all over.  One-man drum bands with drums in front and back, and cymbals on their heads.  (I've seen three or four guys dressed like this.)  Occasional singers with karoake machines.  And of course someone playing the Andean pan pipes, which somehow makes even Beatles music into a haunting melody.

Well, we encountered two young men who were dancing.  They were in these black and embroidered suits, with jingly cylinders on their boots, doing sort of a jumping and leaping and twirling and stomping dance.  Looking something like a hybrid between caballeros (cowboys) and whirling dervishes, though probably more gaucho than dervish.  

They were pretty amazing, waving their hats and dancing to their music, leaping and coming down in a kneeling position, count two three and then off they were leaping and stomping, with the boots a-jingling.  Really impressive! 

Plus it was a good 90-something degrees (30-ish C), so even the spectators in the shade were hot and sweaty.  These two young men were dancing their little feet off, sweating away, putting on their performance and hoping to earn some cash.

It was quite a show!  So I'll make the photos large enough for you to see what they looked like.  (I really liked their outfits, too, with something like a phoenix on the back!)



So just in case that wasn't exciting enough, last night was the Neruda Viene Volando festival or parade or something.

Literally translated, it's something like "Neruda comes flying." We weren't exactly
sure what the whole thing was about.  

 Pablo Neruda, poet and politican, Nobel Laureate, is a much beloved figure in Chile. This weekend festival celebrates his life, his poetry, his political beliefs, and his love for his long-time mistress and third wife.

There may have been other events going on over the weekend, but we couldn't read enough to know what was happening, or have much of an idea what the whole event was about.

 But there were two evening parades, complete with performances at various stations along the route. 
The Sunday
evening parade was scheduled for the road parallel to where our place is located, due to
arrive about 8 - 8:30 PM. So we made sure we were out there to see what was going on.   

Now, keep in mind we are almost fluent in Spanish menu. And we can ask where things are, understand directions fairly well, and locate where we want to go. We can also chat about weather, where we're from, what we've seen, where we've visited. But this parade started with what we can only suppose was some sort of political speech. There was a big truck with a band on the back, and someone talking on a microphone. We had absolutely NO idea what they were saying.

Eventually the music started and the parade came by, with hordes of people following along with the floats. First there was a ship's figurehead, complete with blue and green fabric to represent ocean waves, and people holding the "water" and waving it back and forth. Then people dragging what looked like a rattan dove, and flapping its wings. A peace dove? Love? Some reference to one of his wives? Again, no idea. 

Then the floating, flying Neruda, bigger than life, bigger than 100 times life! Absolutely huge, being dragged and rolled along. I really liked the one woman whose job seemed to be holding onto one foot. (The bare foot. For some reason, the other foot had a shoe. Neither Richard nor I are familiar enough with his poetry to know if this relates to something particular, or is just something fanciful.) 

The final troupe was a group of people carrying huge versions of various books by Neruda, different collections of his poems. And what we can only guess were objects relating to his poetry: birds, butterflies, and colorful fish. Again, we really didn't know what was going on. People seemed to be really involved in the event, either participating in the parade or walking along the side, heading to the Plaza de Armas for the culminating events.  We didn't want to interrupt and ask questions.   

So, yay to Neruda, and I probably should find some of his poetry in English and read it. There are also three of his homes which are museums that can be visited, and maybe we'll do that as well.   

It was colorful. The HUGE Neruda was kind of
funny. It was interesting. And that was kind of it. We thought it might be something bigger, or longer, but that was it.


Maybe it will all make sense. Or maybe it won't. That's one of the fun things with travelling, it's okay to not have a clue what's going on!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Summer and Sunshine in Santiago!

25 December 2015

It's early summer in Santiago, Chile.  Days are long and warm and full of sunshine, with incredibly blue skies.  Sunrise is around 6 AM, sunset maybe about 9:30 PM, and people are out and about and enjoying the glorious sun!

Really, Santiago feels like one of the most urban cities we've been in for a while.  Quito was like small neighborhoods.  Lima was sprawling, but still had that neighborhood feel.  Santiago in summer is something like New York City in the summer - full of people who work and live here, intent on going places and shopping and, at the same time, getting ready for the holiday but still enjoying the long sunny days.  Streets are full of pop-up markets with Christmas gifts, people are rushing around with packages and boxes of special holiday treats, and bakeries and stores are jammed with paneton (like Italian pannetone) and candy canes.  

We're staying in an "apart-hotel" - basically, someone bought a batch of apartments and rents them out similar to a hotel.  This seems to be something that happens all over Santiago, we've stayed in apart-hotels before.  The plus is that there's a small kitchen (great for breakfasts as well as cooking on Christmas Day when restaurants are closed), separate bedroom and living room so there's more space, and many of the people in this complex of buildings are Chileans, people who own or rent an apartment.  The down side is that there aren't some of the usual amenities in a hotel - such as someone to ask the partiers to get quiet.  But it definitely gives us a taste of life in Santiago.

So - the city of Santiago was founded in 1541 by the Spanish conquistador and explorer Valdivia.  The original city was first organized around the main square, a church, and wood or mud (adobe) houses.  The information sign said that it is now a modern metropolis and the heritage capital of Chile, which churches from the 17th century, markets, and an intense cultural life.

And the history of Chile is pretty similar to the history of the rest of South America - there were indigenous people, the Inca controlled the most northern regions, the Spanish arrived and killed about half of the indigenous people, and these days the country is a modern republic.  Of course, there were the economic problems in the Allende years, and Pinochet's coup and subsequent reign - but things are quiet and relatively stable now.

Despite internal conflicts, there are many of the original Spanish buildings still standing, ornate and gorgeous.  We have no idea what the building that resembles the White House might be, but it definitely is a government building.  The home of the president?  The place for the legislature to meet?  There were no signs, just a fence and guards.  Definitely something!

The fancy building that looks like a wedding cake with whipped cream frosting is the post office!!!!  SO beautiful, both inside and out - I had to take photos inside, it just was so incredible!  (It was built in 1882.)

In the main square, Plaza de Armas, there was the cathedral, another gorgeous building, though we didn't go inside.  This square is where the tourist information office is located, and that's why we were there - this is always one of our first stops in a new location, so we can gather information, pick up maps and brochures, find out about what to do in the city and where to visit while in country.

The city apparently had sponsored some sort of competition for alternative Christmas trees, and they were all lined up in the plaza.  I only took photos of a few, there were some that were less appealing.  But I really liked the bicycle wheel tree, the chair tree, and what looks, to me, like a modern interpretation of the African influences in this country, or continent.  At least, the tree looks somewhat like the masked dancers of West Africa.

The Plaza de Armas is also the location of some museums, so I'm sure we'll be back.

Inlaid in the cement of the plaza, there are several huge bronze plaques.  I don't know what else to call them.  They're like giant square manhole covers, showing bas relief and etched plans of the city of Santiago from 1580-something, 1600-something, and 1712.  Truly beautiful and fascinating!  You can see how the city began as the central square, not far from the Mapocho River; and then how the city grew outward from there.

Plus in the late morning sun, these huge squares were glowing like gold ingots rolled into the concrete!  

We've had fun walking around the city, and have some information about where we'd like to go beyond Santiago.  We even have tickets for our next adventure.  Unfortunately, the train system in Chile doesn't cover the whole country.  In fact, what was once a rather extensive train system has not been maintained, and the tracks have fallen into such disrepair that there are only a few small areas that can be travelled via rail.  So we'll most likely rent a car to travel south to Patagonia and maybe even Tierra del Feugo.  And if possible, north to the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth.

In the meanwhile, we'll have a week or two in Santiago.

Today, Christmas Day, is quiet.  As in much of South America, businesses and government offices close for Christmas, and people spend the day with family or friends.  We're catching up on sleep, reading, etc.  And I will cook something for dinner, since it seems that most restaurants are closed for the holiday.  (I met a woman while shopping at the supermarket; she said her hotel's restaurant was going to be closed.  So it isn't just small independent places that are closed - seems to be everything.)

We'll see what's open tomorrow.  There seems to be some sort of parade celebrating the life of Pablo Neruda, Chile's most famous poet.  

I'm sure we'll stumble into something interesting and exciting!