Monday, August 29, 2011

Last glimpses of Santiago

Although it may not rank among my favorite cities I've vistied, overall, I was a fan of Santiago. With an intimate feel for a capital city, it bustles but is filled with open plazas, street art, and tree-lined avenues. Santiago's downtown area feels surprisingly "western" in terms of cleanliness and commercialism, although the scores of sopapilla and empanada street vendors serve as a constant reminder of where you are. Indeed, many of the buildings were built in the style of buildings in the West, or, as is the case with the Museo de Bellas Artes, directly modelled after existing buildings. It added a surreal quality to my musuem visit to realize that, though I had never previously been to Santiago, I had walked its halls before--at the Petit Palais, in Paris. And as if the building itself didn't offer a strong enough sense of déja-vu, the art inside contributed to the European remix, with plaster casts of famous statues and featured Chilean artist José Bassoes modern geometrical take on Western masterpieces in his "variaciones sobre Monet":

Santiago's own cathedrals were equally art worthy: blocky, bright, and with a very latinoamerican look:
However, there were other aspects, like the Metro, that were nothing like Paris. In contrast to my beloved but filthy Parisian Métro, the Santiago version is new, clean and beautiful, if less extensive and equally impossibly crowded during rushhour. In defense of Parisians, however, I will say that the Santiaguinos sill have a long way to go to acheive the strict, unspoken code of etiquette that governs their public transport. Like the Frenchie I've become, I glared a silent "putain!" at the rude people that stood on the left side of escalators, and that swarmed violently toward arriving trains, shoving their way in before allowing departing passangers to make their way onto the platform. In Paris, where life is governed by innate knowledge of the way things should be done, this kind of behavior would not stand. Also, unlike in Paris, where the metro crowd usually included a lot of tall, lanky Senegalese that made me feel like a dwarf, when I rode the metro in Santiago I felt tall for the first time in my life. At 5 foot 4, I'm a full three inches above the national average height for women, so I practically towered over wizened old grannies, and even stood eye-to-eye with a number of men!

I found these appropriately Americana pair of umbrellas at a street vendor on the 4th of July. That evening, we tracked down one of Santiago's "American" bars (in other words, they offer beer pong and promote dancing on tables) to celebrate our independence by mashing into standing-room-only areas to quaff beer and watch the Chilean football (soccer) match of the night, a big playoff game with Mexico for a South American Cup. It was here that I learned some cheers that served me well for the rest of playoff season ( "vamos...vamos a Chilenos....esta noche...tenemos que ganar!"). We won the match, setting off a mad jumping party that resulted in sloshing pints of beer being spilled over the heads of most everyone present, to the tune of some chant that apparently translated to something along the lines of "we're all jumping for Chile's victory, if you're not jumping you're a gay Mexican." Charming. The victory also set off near riots of ecstasy in the town center, and when we passed through on a taxi back to our hostel we saw that a tank-looking thing with a pivoting fire hose on the top had been brought out to dissuade and disperse the mobbing crowd.

Used book markets in the more bohemian part of Santiago:
My favorite part of the city was Bellevista, Santiago's premiere district for nightlife--for student age and price ranges, at least. At night, the ambiance is great the drinks are cheap, and its cute if rather anonymous cafes give way to packed clubs with the setting of the sun:
And last but not least, one of my favorite topics: street art. Graffiti is a serious art form in Chile, where it serves the clear purpose of adding color and intrigue to what would otherwise be dirty or undeveloped industrial blank space. There were a more great examples in Santiago than I could fit on a memory card, but here are a few worthwhile samples:

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