Archive for October 10th, 2008

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October 10

October 10, 2008

I didn’t sleep much, or well, for some reason last night, and Max had to pretty much drag me out of bed this morning. I was further revived by the decent breakfast the hostel provided.

Not really much on the agenda today. We were both unspokenly enjoying the Australian-ness of Santiago – the clean, well-ordered streets, functional traffic signalling systems and public transport systems, gleaming skyscrapers, well-heeled teenagers with a range of middle-class modes of fashion based on prevailing musical trends, and so on. It just feels rather like home, even if there’s less of a sense of history about the place.

The hostel was full of Australians last night, including a couple of enormous, thick-sinewed guys from Melbourne who I theorised might be AFL juniors or something. They’d been struggling on their Chilean holiday due to their inability to speak any Spanish.

The money problem was on-going: back again today due to our inability to get cash in Lima the other day. We walked blocks down Alameda, and entered Banco Estado – no joy; no cash advance facility. Went to Scotiabank — “try Citibank or Banco de Chile”. Went to Citibank, waited at counter, tried to get $US800 – rejected. Rejected? What? Has the AUD dropped to $US0.20 or what? Tried to get $US400 – REJECTED. WHAT? Went to internet cafe – contents of account and exchange rate verified. There should be no problem. Returned to Citibank, were taken to first floor to meet an “executive”, waited. Executive was downstairs in basement, so we went to the basement. Executive examined card – no problem. Executive asked if we had a transaction limit – nope! Executive suggested calling International Assistance – midnight in Sydney at that moment. Returned to teller-window. Tried to get $US100 – ACCEPTED! ACCEPTED! Must be some weird sort of local limit. Got $US200 in another tranche.

Whew.

We were on lazy “Santiago-sightseeing” duty, and contemplating a downtown walking tour. After passing several buildings of the grand nineteenth century variety on our way, we stopped briefly for a soft drink before spying the National Library over the road, which was hosting a small exhibition about Chilean science fiction. As we entered, we passed a graven monument to Jorge Luis Borges donated on his centenary by the Argentinian embassy.

The exhibition wasn’t much; a brief discussion of the history of the genre in Chile, and a few displays of reasonably well-preserved pulp novels from the 1930s onwards. There is something quite affecting about those old pulps, though – they have a species of naivete about them that isn’t found in the flashy best-selling fiction of today, or even in the atrocious pulp novels (Dirk Pitt in Sahara comes to mind) of our era. The covers of the novels featured strange, Art Nouveua-ish designs with slinky femme aliens cavorting on classical ruins and spaceships. One, called Empire of the Caesars, was a classic. The present day semi-pro stuff – for example a collection called Pulsares — had a more sleek-horror aesthetic.

The walking tour we were on was a pretty typical Lonely Planet effort – every museum in a ten kilometres radius chained together with the occasional church or public monument. The first stop was the National History Museum, which turned out to be a fairly traditional celebration of key moments in Chilean history. Chile gained its independence in the early to mid nineteenth century. Roughly speaking (and bearing in mind I’m not too sure what I’m talking about) France under Napoleon overran and disabled Spain, creating a vacuum of authority in Latin America which allowed the colonies an unprecedented level of autonomy. During this period, Chile was effectively self-governed, and when Spain righted itself after some decades, they weren’t keen to rejoin the empire. A war was fought between Spanish loyalist forces coming south from Peru, and a determined army of Chilenos.

Oddly enough, and somewhat comically, some of the great heroes of Chile’s independence have thoroughly un-Latin names that the locals find it hard to pronounce. The “Alameda” in Santiago is technically named “Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins”, and the British “Lord Cochrane” is also a major figure in Chilean history. “O’Higgins” must be one of the hardest words to pronounce for Spanish speakers, and “Cochrane” doesn’t do them any favours either.

Although this museum was pretty interesting – there were some terrifically inflected old oil paintings of the first meetings between the Spanish and the Mapuche locals, for example – by the time we left, we weren’t terribly enthused about continuing on to visit more educational sites. As I mentioned earlier, something about the way things are in Santiago encourages us to feel that we are already home, and that there’s really no need to be tourists any more. So we threw over the walking tour, and just wandered about a little instead.

As we walked in the Plaza de Armas, which possessed a cool Dali-influenced cement installation of a partial human skull-cum-face morphing into a castle, a loopy fellow accosted us and invited us, in bad English, to his poetry recital, thrusting into our hands a flyer with a truly awful poem on it, and insisting that he knew all about our new “Prime Minister Rudd”. Max was a little disturbed by him, as he was one of those guys who grabs you by the elbow as he talks to you, but he seemed basically harmless – apart from the execrable verse, of course. It was a love-and-sex poem, which could be compared, very unfavourably, to E.E. Cummings’ “i love my body when it is with your body”, written badly in Spanish and then translated, with errors, to English.

We had now become perfectly aimless, which is usually when we start spending money. Max decided that she needed a haircut, and fortuitously reached this decision just as we passed an entire ghetto of peluquerias occupying two circuits of a strange, silver, helical tower-mall. She drew a napkin sketch of her preferred styling and showed it to a competent-looking hairdresser, who matched it to a photograph in a book of hairstyles and nodded confidently. I was left to the streets, where I consumed one of the world’s largest apples. In Chile, apples and oranges are abnormally huge – both are somewhere around six inches in diameter. But apples are also wonderfully cheap, as Chile is the world’s premier producer of galas. Next time you buy a gala apple at a supermarket, check the small identifying sticker – chances are, it’ll be a Chilean one.

Max emerged from the hairdresser’s twenty minutes later with an of awesomely cute “anime astronaut” style haircut with a raked, shortened back and long bangs of hair over her ears.

There isn’t much more to report about the day, because we spent it relaxing. At dinner we finished off the pumpkin risotto that Max cooked yesteray, which was still good a day later. We spent some time faffing about on the internet, and chatting to the staff, who are relaxed and friendly. The sound system got a working over after we hooked up our MP3 player to it, although to be honest I’m quite sick of every song on it at this point. I feel incredibly distant from my taste in music at the moment, as if I can barely imagine how I ever liked any of the stuff I used to listen to. As it got a little later into the evening, I went to the supermarket and bought myself a jumbo Cristal and a small bag of peanuts, and with that my contentment was complete.

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