Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Arrival in Santiago de Chile

Entry for 30 June 2009:

We’ve been in Santiago de Chile for a bit more than a week. At some point, I’ll put up an account of how we got here and the conference, but after arriving, Diane, her sister Nancy, and I spent the first three days having a great time being taken around Santiago by Gloria. Gloria is Diane and Nancy’s exchange student sister: She stayed with them for a year in 1967; then Diane spent the summer (Chilean winter) with Gloria and her family in southern Chile. After that, they lost track of each other during the Pinochet years. However, in 2002, Guillermo de la Parra, a well-known Chilean psychotherapy researcher, invited us to the conference of the South American Chapter of the Society for Psychotherapy Research. During the planning stage, Diane mentioned her long-lost exchange-student sister and Guillermo volunteered to see if he could track Gloria down, which he did with great efficiency (by looking in the Santiago phone book...).

So this was my second and Diane’s fourth visit to Chile. We arrived on the Winter Solstice; at breakfast the first morning, we saw pictures of people celebrating the snow falling in the south. The weather in Santiago was crisp, cool. It made me feel strangely festive, which puzzled me until I made the connection: it felt like Christmastime in Northern California, similar weather, similar days, mountains in the distance, hispanic folks etc etc.

We’d arrived ahead of the SPR conference in order to have time for sight-seeing. However, our flight was 18 hours late, and we’d arrived at our hotel at 2am, so we slept in, while Gloria went out to the airport to meet Nancy. All the museums were closed on Monday, so Gloria took us to a shopping mall in Las Condes, one of the nicer suburbs, where I added to my growing collection of Chilean traditional music. The high point was a visit to a very large supermarket. It’s always entertaining to look at the similarities and differences in what’s in the grocery stores in different countries. After that, we went back and vegetated, our short nights having caught up with us.

On Tuesday, Gloria walked us over across the river and along Bellavista, which is lined with stores selling handicrafts and lapis lazuli pieces. I fell in love with Artensanos de Chile, a shop selling native crafts. I was particularly taken a set of small mythological action figures fashioned from reeds. I bought a rather sinister-looking female figure, her face covered, was named La Condenada (the condemned woman), the mother we were informed of a dragon figure called Basilisko, which I was forbidden to purchase because we couldn’t figure how to transport it. The high point of the day, however, was a visit to La Chascona, the eccentric, nautically-inspired house that Chile’s national poet, Pablo Neruda, had built for and named after his mistress and future third wife (La Chascona = “the wild-haired woman”). The house is full modern and conceptual art, jokes and whimsy, indicating that Neruda was a sort of puer figure, brilliant, creative but always somehow still a little boy. However, the house is also permeated with the tragedy of Chile’s 9/11: September 11, 1973, the date of the military coup that led the years of the Pinochet dictatorship. Neruda was a life-long communist and radical and it is said that the coup broke his heart; he died shortly afterwards. While he was dying in hospital, the military came to the house and burned the library (which has since been rebuilt and furnished with books from the libraries of other Neruda houses). Next, we rode the funicular railway up the Cerro San Cristobal and then climbed to the statue of the Virgin at the top, overlooking Santiago, with an amazing view of the Andes, snow-capped, surrounding the city on three sides. We finished the day at a Peruvian restaurant near Gloria’s flat. The owner came out dressed in traditional Inca garb, in celebration of the Festival of the Sun, i.e., the Winter Solstice.

On Wednesday, we started off at the oldest church in Santiago. There was a demonstration (in favor of the rights of women and the disabled) in front of the La Moneda, the Presidential palace, so tours had been cancelled. We went instead to the Precolumbian Museum, another high point, with its collection of artifacts from various meso- and south-American native peoples. I took a lot of pictures of shamanic figures and articles, while Diane was quite taken with the ancient textiles (preserved by the dry climate of Northern Chile) and the quality and intricacy of the weaving. We ended up at the Cathedral, a lovely Spanish Baroque style church with a shrine to La Virgin Carmen. I asked Gloria who this was, and she said, "la madre de nuestra señor"; when I said that then this was the same person as Mexico's Virgin de Guadalupe, she said no, they were different. Either we weren't communicating that well (a distinct possibility), or else every country is entitled to its own special manifestation of the Goddess!

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