Thursday, July 09, 2009

There … and Back Again

Entry for 8 July 2009:

On Sunday, my 7-day H1N1 quarantine having finally expired, we had a Saturday Adventure in Santiago. La Moneda is the Chilean equivalent of the White House, except that there is a cultural museum underneath it. An ambitious exhibit about Rapa Nui (= Easter Island) had opened two days before, and we also discovered exhibits on the Mapuche Native American people of Chile as well as a show featuring the art, poetry and music of Violetta Parra. We happily spent the afternoon wandering through these three exhibits, covering diverse but essential elements of Chilean culture. Violetta Parra’s primitivist artworks are very colourful, some using the medium of yarn on burlap, others oil on board; almost all feature music in some way. In many of her pieces, birds emanate from fiddles, apparently representing the sound of the music. Much of her music uses the rocking 6/8 cueca rhythm of Chile’s national dance; she was one of the forerunners of the nueva cancion (new song) movement of the the 1960’s and ‘70’s.

The Mapuche exhibition featured different kinds of craft, but what most struck me was the information about Mapuche shamans and their accessories, including a special kind of drum, called a kultrung, and their totem, called a rewe, with 4 to 7 notches or levels, representing both the 7 levels of the Mapuche cosmology and the skill level of the shaman. Two weeks ago, when we went to the Precolumbian Museum in Santiago, I was also struck by the importance of the shaman in south and meso-american culture and made a point of taking lots of pictures of shaman paraphernalia. So once again I cross paths with my dad.

But the main attraction was the exhibit on Polynesian/Melanesian culture and art. I can remember being fascinated by the Polynesians when I was a kid, reading Thor Heyerdahl’s book Kon-tiki about his voyage by reed boat between Peru and Polynesia, and his later book Aku-Aku, about his expedition to Easter Island, or Rapa Nui. Rapa Nui is of course famous for its Moai, the hundreds of huge carved stone heads that were carved centuries ago, under somewhat mysterious circumstances. The exhibition had a couple of Moai, but covered broad range of Polynesia culture, including the mysterious and untranslatable writing found at Rapa Nui.

After that, there was nothing for it but to investigate the music of Rapa Nui and the Mapuche people, which occupied us for a good part of the next day. Once I’d tracked them down, I found that the music of Rapa Nui is much more melodic than that of the Mapuche. But I was pleased to discover several tracks of music for Kultrung, or Shamanic drum.

However, before the shopping trip, for our last day in Santiago before returning to Scotland, Diane took me to the Sculpture Park that the stretches along the River Mapoche not far form our hotel in the Providencia neighborhood. It was a beautiful, mild, sunny winter’s day, as we wandered through the park, created in the 1980’s, looking at the sculptures and taking pictures.

Finally, we got up on Tuesday morning, packed, ate breakfast, paid our bill (quite large by this time) and said goodbye to the staff at the hotel. Cecilia, Gloria’s cousin, drove us to the airport, where we began our long journey back to Scotland, via Madrid and London. We arrived at our flat in Hyndland about 4:30 in the afternoon on Wednesday, 18 days after we’d left.

I had lain awake for a long time the night before we left to return home, restless and a bit anxious after being away for so long, but determined to do a better job taking care of myself and to avoid running myself down so much, under the pressure of work. It wasn’t fun being stuck in Santiago under quarantine, unable to go out, but at some level it’s quite clear that I really needed the down time, to recover from the intense pressure of work.

When I woke up this morning at 4.30 am, finally back in my own bed, there was again that delicious moment of disorientation: “Why is it so light outside? Why is the door to this room open?” And then I remembered: No longer in that hotel room in Santiago, in the dead of winter, far away, but back in Scotland, where it is still summer, in its own way: home.

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