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13 December 2009 Santiago de Chile
Today is Presidential Election Day in Chile, an event that happens one day every four years (and just when we are here; why that's an issue you'll see in a moment.) Voting is not a right in Chile but a requirement. If you are qualified to vote and you don't vote, you are fined or jailed! Today there's no traffic, no crowds, even though it is Sunday. That's all well and good but all of the stores, restaurants, and bars are closed all day and night. So, even though the polls are closed, the ONLY place we can get wine is in our room via room service. No wine can be sold or served in any restaurant, even to non-Chileans. First no Internet (on the cruise), and now no wine today in Santiago. I'm going to have to speak to my travel agent, CC, about her !%#*+!! trip planning!
We have been traveling to so many out of the way places both on this trip and on our recent Around the World trip that I forgot what it was like to visit a real Western-influenced city. There's lots to do and places to see here.
We began a little later than usual because I was trying to get caught up with my emails. We wanted and got a motor tour of the city - through residential neighborhoods and the city center. The city center was a typical town-city square with the government buildings all around and the required Catholic Cathedral. The country is about 90% Catholic.
An interesting part of the tour of the downtown area was the discussion of Pinochet military coup on September 11 (yes, 9-11) 1973. The army surrounded the Legislature, the Supreme Court, and the Presidential Palace (which were all clustered together in downtown Santiago) and shelled the elected Allende government into submission. Today, the Legislature is no longer in the City (it is in Valparaiso about 60 miles away) so the same strategy cannot be repeated.
The City is made up of 52 "barrios" or boroughs, each with its own municipal government. It has a minority population from Peru that does all its manual labor and lives in neighborhoods that have decayed over the decades. These decayed areas often have fairly impressive palaces or mansions that have been allowed to fall into disrepair. The structures cannot be razed (historic preservation) and so just sit there. The joke is that these houses are waiting for the next earthquake (which happens with some regularity in Chile, since it sits on the edge of several major tectonic plates) to perform "urban renewal" a'natural. Actually, some of these down-scaled neighborhoods are charming. Alley-like streets filled with connected houses are clean and very cozy. The Peruvians wire many of these homes themselves, tapping into the electric service illegally. Sometimes the home-handyman wiring is faulty and the building burns down. If the period between earthquakes is getting too long, that's another form of informal "urban renewal".
We went to our favorite part of any city, a marketplace, in today's case a large Sunday market. It is like the farmer's market in Solana Beach but stretches for blocks. Also, in addition to the farmer's fruits and vegetables, there is mixed in a sort of flea market where second-hand goods are sold. You can also occasionally buy products that have "fallen off the truck."
There is public art absolutely everywhere. Much of it consists of commissioned pieces but not all. There is also graffiti everywhere. Some is marking (fancily written words), some is political slogans, but some of it is outdoor street art like murals. Some of the art is as good as any trompe-d'oiele anywhere; some however, is at the level of a cartoon. Much of it reminds me of the artwork on the buildings in Mexico City. The picture here shows a woman sunbathing in a Brazilian bikini. It is painted on the concrete banks lining a fairly large river that flows through Santiago. I thought it was amazing that this could happen in such a Catholic country but our guide said the mural was designed and painted by a group of women. The women said that it is an environmental statement. They want a river and a city so clean that people will want to come by the river to sunbath. By the way, except for bits of campaign literature on the streets, this city is very clean.
After we were dropped off at the hotel we went for a walk around the neighborhood. It is very affluent. It looks and feels like France with a touch of Italy. It had shops mixed in with large homes, mixed in with high rises, mixed in with restaurants that have sidewalk dining. It even has a Starbucks. The best part of the walk was a stroll through a neighborhood park. Carol heard, of all things, an old fashion organ grinder. I haven't seen or heard an organ grinder since I was a boy in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn organ grinder would go into the alleys between the apartments and play his tunes. The women would take coins wrapped in newspaper and throw them out the window to the organ grinder. The man had a monkey that would chase the thrown coins and bring them to him. If you preferred, you could signal the organ grinder to send his monkey and the monkey would climb up the side of the apartment and take the newspaper-wrapped coin back to the organ grinder. I hadn't thought of that boyhood memory until this Santiago organ grinder brought it all back.
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