Sunday, August 27, 2006

Photos from Chile (VIII)

Sorry about the blurry picture here...and you'll probably have to click on it to read the text. In case you're not inclined to do so, this nut-stand reads "Nuts 5 Nuts," and it's going to take me a moment to explain just how funny this is. Chile is widely considered to be one of the most "Americanized" countries in Latin America, and this certainly feels true. One of the reasons for this is that most business transactions take place through a corporate intermediary. In Argentina and Uruguay, by contrast, there are many honey-roasted peanut vendors on the street, but their little stalls (selling what they call garrapiñada) are their own and show no corporate logos. Chile's vendors, however, work behind garish orange stalls like this one, working for one company or another.

Well, as it happens, the fellow responsible for New York City's "Nuts 4 Nuts" peanut stands is a Chilean immigrant, and most of the people who work for "Nuts 4 Nuts" in New York are too. This guy is pretty famous in Chile as someone who went to the United States and "made it." As a sort of reverse-export, the streets of Santiago are filled with "Nuts 4 Nuts" stands as well, and so all of the signs are printed in English. The pun in English is not at all well understood, even when the words are. Thus the Chilean competitor who decided to make a "Nuts 5 Nuts," much to the delight of English-speaking visitors.

Photos from Chile (VII)

As of two days ago, I'm back in the United States and can be reached through all the usual channels.

I have a few more things to post about Chile, so here they are. I walked by this building, and for the first few moments, wasn't sure what to make of it. The left half looks completely intact, and it occurred to me that this might be some extraordinary architectural make a building that appears to be partially destroyed. I'm convinced that, once architects have run out of other ideas, this will happen.

Of course, that's not what happened to this building, which turns out to be a convention center named for the national hero Diego Portales. It partially burned down, and it turns out that the plans to rebuild it are quite complicated. According to what people told me, it was constructed during the Allende years with practically free labor donated by socialist and communist metalworkers, etc. However, after the military coup in 1973, the military government made it an important center of operations. No one's quite sure, therefore, what the building represents and how it should be reconstructed. When I first walked by, there was a hard-hatted construction worker standing among the ruins of the destroyed half and looking out what would have been a window, staring without moving. The paralysis of a difficult history.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Photos from Chile (VI)

The sunset in Valparaiso was probably the most spectacular I've ever seen. By the way, if you're just getting to this part, all of the explanations attached to these pictures will make more sense if you read them in the order they were posted. So scroll down to the beginning of the photos section and move up the page to follow the chronology of the trip. And don't forget that you can click on the pictures to see larger versions.

And for now, back to the library. I'll be back in the US at the end of August.

Photos from Chile (V)

The Cajon del Maipo (see the post below) is an hour up from Santiago, an hour and a bit more down and you get to the coast, and the cities of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar. We went to see some old friends who were in graduate school in Iowa at the same time as my father. The city reminds one a bit of San Francisco, at least as far as it interacts with its coastal environment. There are a large number of furnicular-style elevators (you can see a yellow one in the corner of this picture) that people still use for "commuting" up and down the hill.

Photos from Chile (IV)

When I talk about Chile having a lot of natural beauty to preserve, this is what I mean. This comes from the Cajon del Maipo, about an hour up from Santiago. (There's no east and west in Chile...everything is up or down from the mountains.)

Photos from Chile (III)

We want to Pablo Neruda's old house in Santiago, which was full of impressive crap that he collected on his trips around the world (and brought back to Santiago in his diplomatic pouch, tax free). He had these giant shoes, though, because they reminded him of his youth growing up in rural Chile, where businesses advertised themselves with giant representations of the products they sold (in order to be able to attract illiterate customers).

Photos from Santiago (II)

Owing to the prosperity Chile has seen in the last twenty years, one finds a lot more interesting modern architecture, clearly commissioned to make an impression. But one still finds, as elsewhere in Latin America, the old reflected in the new.

Photos from Chile (I)

Below, I wrote a bit about Santiago and the smog problem. The night we arrived, however, it was raining, and so the skies were clear the next morning. Here's the view from the apartment window--quite spectacular. But you can see that the snow level comes almost down right to where we were, which tells you that things were quite a bit colder than they were in Argentina. Chile reminds us a bit of a squished California, narrower and taller but with many of the same geographical features and running from Pacific coast to cenral valley to eastern mountains. You might compare the climate here to the base of the California sierra, a bit below the Tahoe area. It's quite rare for it snow here in Santiago proper, but as the upper classes have begun to inhabit higher ground, they get snowed on.

Photos from Uruguay (II)

Book shopping was a real pleasure in Argentina, which teems with small shops selling used material, and a few beautiful bookstores of reasonably priced new books. But the best of them all was in the Ciudad Vieja of Montevideo, at Linardi y Risso. The store sends material to many university libraries in the US, as well as the Library of Congress, as a sort of publishing liaison for the Southern Cone. Nicole caught me in a private moment with an old magazine from the Congress for Cultural Freedom.

Book shopping in Santiago, by comparison, is expensive and lousy. (But still, of course, full of unexpected pleasures. Oh, and one expected pleasure that I learned of recently: my name in a footnote of a book about Borges written by a professor I had when I took a class on Borges at Stanford.)

Photos from Uruguay (I)

I owe the wireless access that I have today to a visit I've made to a private IB high school. The person whose room I've rented is a teacher here and a lecturer at the University of Chile, and today I gave a talk about the US and Latin America in the Cold War here at the high school. The students were in their third and fourth years, practically college students, and the questions were excellent, and it was nice to be back in front of a classroom.

In any case, I have another hour here so I'm going to try and catch up with all of the photos. When Nicole was here, we spent a few days in Uruguay. I went to the library there too, which is a marvellous old building that still operates by card catalog. Indeed, in Montevideo one notices much more the older architecture, from the nineteenth century especially. At first we thought that there was simply fewer old buildings in Buenos Aires, but when we returned, we noticed that they were there but overwhelmed by the neon and steel of new development. Montevideo, by contrast, has, perhaps as the result of less economic success in the last 60 years, a better preserved historical environment. Indeed, some people still use horses in the streets of Montevideo (and not for tourism). Here is the canonical building of Montevideo, built in the more prosperous era at the beginning of the twentieth century. At 26 stories, at the time it was constructed it was the tallest in South America, and remains the tallest in Montevideo.

Photos from Argentina (IV)

Finally, if you haven't seen Denali (or me (or Nicole)) in a while, here we are in Tigre, in the Delta of the Parana.

Photos from Argentina (III)

This concrete fungus is the National Library of Argentina. The building is only about 15 years old but already in clear decline. It's a sad legacy of the institution once headed by Jorge Luis Borges. They do, however, allow you to take digital photographs of the newspapers and magazines--especially important in an environment in which one can never be sure how much longer the materials will last.

Photos from Argentina (II)

The natural environment of Buenos Aires is sub-tropical, quite a bit like Louisiana or parts of Texas. It was comfortable even in winter. The photo at right comes from the one large ecological reserve, which arose accidentally on top of some land that had been filled and slated for development, but is now protected. Just outside of the city one finds the southern part of the massive Parana River Delta, which strongly resembles the Mississippi Delta. We went there with my old college friend Denali, who now lives in southern Argentina making flutes, houses, music, and food. There are fascinating communities living among the hundreds of miles of semi-natural canals there, rowing to the mainland or taking water taxis when necessary.

Photos from Argentina (I)

Well, for the moment I have a wireless connection (it's not likely to happen again), so I'll take advantage of the opportunity to post a few pictures from Argentina (where I was last month). This is a slightly distorted picture of the presidential residence, the Casa Rosada, or Pink House. I know of two stories that explain the color: either it was an attempt to unify the red and white colors of two warring political factions, or it was simply the result of using cow's blood in painting, a common practice in leather-beef-and-cow-ful Argentina a hundred and fifty years ago. Today one is struck by a few things, i.e., I was struck by the following:

First, the building looks great...but only the facade is painted. Around the corner it's a dull brown, a sign of the precarious condition of the state's finances. Second, one can walk right up to the front, a sharp contrast to the long-distance view one must take of the White House. The plaza in front, known as the Plaza de Mayo, is ringed with police. I thought they might be taking their jobs pretty seriously, but I asked one for directions once and it turned out he was just a bored 27-year-old who talked to me for an hour about Argentine basketball players in the US, a bit of world politics, and why he's both a pacifist and a policeman. The experience of being in Argentina shows quite strongly how much more militarized the US has become, in relative terms and for obvious reasons.

Monday, August 07, 2006


There´s plenty of Internet around here, but for relatively complicated and uninteresting reasons, it doesn´t look like I´ll have any chances to post pictures until I return to the US at the end of August. So at that time I´ll write up a more comprehensive illustrated journal of my/our travels.

That said, I´m now in Santiago. If in Argentina I was impressed by the available installment payments for suits, here in Chile they ask you if you want to pay for food over a few months. That´s funny, because on the surface Chile is a much more prosperous country than Argentina. It has had solid growth for the last twenty years under free market policies and the growth has been surprisingly broad. Poverty really has diminished significantly, to the levels of 10 or 15% that you´d see in the US. In fact, although salaries here are lower than in the US (and goods often cost about the same as they would stateside), the social structure looks a lot like it does back home. Without a doubt, Chile is the Latin American country that has most successfully replicated the problems of the US...unequal access to education based on wealth, unwanted immigration, a reliance on overconsumpiton for economic growth, and ever-growing environmental difficulties. From the ground here, Chile´s growth doesn´t look like a bubble that could burst at any moment. But there are some serious problems. Apart from the dense cloud of smog that obscures what must be one of the most stunning natural backdrops of any major city (the Andes mountains), Chile is having trouble meeting its energy needs. As it is, it imports gas from Argentina (which imports its gas from Bolivia) because Bolivia and Chile aren´t on good terms. Since Bolivian gas was nationalized a few weeks ago, the prices have skyrocketed and instead of passing on those costs to Argentine consumers, Argentina´s President Kirchner is trying to pass of all of the increase to Chile. Without gas, Santiago´s factories have been burning dirtier gasoline, which has made the air particularly bad here this week. The government declares an environmental emergency one day, shutting down production, but has little choice but to let things proceed apace the rest of the week. There´s also the question of personal indebtedness, which I can´t really assess walking up and down the safe and clean streets.

All in all, Santiago seems to me a harsh reminder that economic growth in the world as we live it is practically synonymous with energy consumption. Chile may have figured out how to have a healthy and robust national economy (which has eluded many a Latin American nation) just in time to see the problematic change to one that asks for environmental preservation in a world with dwindling resources and increasing demand on its capacity to produce. And there´s an extraordinary amount here that´s worth preserving. I hope it will be.