Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye Noughties, and Good Riddance

There's something about the end of the year that makes people all nostalgic. Like, life will never get any better than it was in 2009. Pity its over.

Its also the time of the year to pass judgment. From our wise old perches at the end of December we can decide what we liked and didn't like about the year, with all the wisdom of .. well I guess a one year old. Because of course it's not acquired wisdom, for after all this reflecting and soul searching the very next thing we do is go and drink ourselves into a stupor on New Years Eve, thus forgetting everything we learned and ensuring that we start the next year with a blank slate. It's a good system.

Well, as we're not yet quite at the stage where I down another piscola and let off  some illegal fireworks right here in the street, before falling into the gutter and ending up like this guy:

I'm going to give you some reflection and some judgment written here into internet eternity so that I'll have something to remember when I wake up from my piscola/pollo induced coma:


My judgment on 2009 is that it sucked. And, honestly, if 2010 doesn't pull its pants up and start to try harder something's going to crack. Which may or may not be my mental health or my relationship, or both. Sure, some 2009 things were awesome, like working on my first real job in TV. And getting engaged. And not breaking my spine when I fell into the bathtub that time (although the broken rib part definitely goes into the sucky category).But overall, 2009 has been akin to one long visa process, at the point where you've handed in your paperwork and you're just waiting for that magic approved stamp so you can just get on with your life. And you've been waiting so long that you're starting to wonder what the reasons were that you ever wanted the god damned visa in the first place.
That's been this year. And I'm pretty happy to say adios to it.

Oh, and it was the worst named decade in history. Noughties? Give me a break.

Ok someone gimme a piscola and slap me in the face. I'm ready for 2010.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

I know its meant to be all about Christmas..

... but first, I feel I really have to draw your attention to the air quality today:

I took these photos this morning from the roof of our apartment building, bringing to mind two questions:
Firstly ... what in the name of the sweet lord am I breathing here?
And secondly.. will I ever be able to have children after this?

Now I know I could have left it there and continued my life in somewhat outraged ignorance, but in the spirit of Christmas and because we live in the age of the internets where no question is merely rhetorical, I asked Professor Google.
Which makes me either a canny internet researcher or a massive geek. Either way, I'm now an expert on air particles.**

Firstly, according to the ever so helpful air quality map provided by Chile's National Commission on the Environment, today's air contamination levels are considered to be 'good.'
Ok, ok ok, hold on people. Do you see the smog out there? Do you see the Andes? No! That's right, you don't. Because the biggest mountain chain in the Americas is currently obscured by a layer of brown smudge. Jeepers if this is considered 'good' I'd like to know what bad looks like. Actually, it probably looks something like a John Carpenter horror film from the 80s.

Perhaps this 'good' classification is not that surprising, because after more reading, I have to tell you (and I'm trying to be as nice as possible, it is Christmas after all) that Chile's classifications do seem a little, shall we say, relaxed. And by relaxed I mean insane.
According to Chile's National Environment Commission, levels of PM-10 (particles in the air less than 10 microns in size i.e. small enough to burrow into your throat, lungs and other organs and leave you with nasty cancers) can reach 100 micrograms per cubic meter and air quality will still be considered 'good.' What does that mean? Well, for some perspective, the limit set in the EU is 50. Yes, that's right, half. Here the Commission's little map tells me I don't need to be 'on alert' until we get to 200ug/cubic meter, and emergency levels are considered 500 or above! Well yes. If 500 micro-whatsits of cancer causing particles are swirling around every cubic meter of air around my head, then I do rather think that is an emergency thank you very much. John Carpenter, you'd be proud.

All I can say is I hope Santa's reindeers have been fitted with gas masks when they do their rounds tonight.

Righ, now I gotta to go see someone about my emphysema. Merry Christmas all.

** Disclaimer: I am in no way an expert on anything. Except perhaps Alaskan brown bears. And how to Google things. Not on air particles. Sorry I claimed I was.

For those eager beavers who want more comprehensive and intelligent commentary on this issue, some recent articles can be found here:
El Ciudadano "El aire que viene para Santiago" (Spanish) 
El Ciudadano "De qué se compone y qué daños causa el aire que se respira en Santiago?" (Spanish) 
El Mostrador "Contaminacion del aire en Santiago se escapo de las manos"(Spanish)
Blog from 2008: chileno "air quality" (English)
New Zealand's PM10 levels

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cheers to That - Things Chileans Like No. 1: Speeches

I don't know whether this is an Australian thing, but there are very few occasions in my life where I have felt the need to impart my wisdom to a random group of people.**

Those in Australia who do feel that need I invite to proceed directly to the Speakers Corner at the State Library where they will be able to stand comfortably on their soapbox and spout off about anything they like (anything they like within the limits set by anti-terrorism legislation of course) and everyone will duly ignore them.

In Chile I don't know if the Speakers' Corner thing is a tradition. What I do know, however, is that there is in actual fact no need for a Speakers' Corner here, because that role has already been filled more than comfortably by a fundamental part of any Chilean social gathering - 'the brindis'.
Yes, its time to put your soapboxes away and sit down people, for its much more comfortable to give a speech from right here at the dinner table.
A long speech. Very long. And ponderous.

Brindis means toast, which to me is something that happens at a 21st birthday party when either your dad or your best friend uses their consumption of the entire contents of the open bar as inspiration for a series of hilarious anecdotes featuring you. I understand the same thing happens at 30th birthday parties, although with less cask wine and more brand-name alcohol. Either way, toasts as I know them are generally funny, irreverent, and most importantly not too long as even the toast maker wants to get to the end part where we all raise our glasses and get back to the real reason that we are there. That is, drinking. We are Australian, after all.

The Chilean brindis seems to be an entirely different beast. For starters, it's not confined to rare and important occasions such as big-number birthdays or weddings. Nope, all it takes to make an appropriate moment for you to start dinging your cutlery against your glass is a simple table-full of people, preferably the instant they have just been served the hot portion of their meal, which of course they will now have no chance of consuming as in Chile it is considered rude to eat while someone is toast making.
With regards to the length of your toast, short and sweet is definitely out - think quantity over quality. The longer, the better.
Furthermore, for prime toast giving, make sure you are middle aged and a man, as the Chilean brindis seems to be almost exclusively the territory of the Chilean Dad. I have NEVER seen a Chilean Mum initiating nor giving a brindis. Actually, I've never seen anyone other than the said Chilean Dads doing so (cue discussion on machismo and/or paternal societies). But any reluctance on the part of everyone else to participate in the toast giving is more than made up for by said Chilean Dads, as they are quite happy to make multiple toasts. Get two Chilean Dads together at a table and they will take it in turns to pontificate to the captive crowd, repeatedly, at length, one after the other. I kid you not.
Finally, in the Chilean brindis, while it is customary to dedicate your toast to the person in question, you are under absolutely no obligation to confine the contents of your speech to that person and his/her achievements. Actually, the wider the range of topics that you can incorporate, the better. Rhetorical questions are also good, as are philosophical ones. I was at a birthday celebration the other night where an all time classic brindis was given that started off with Happy Birthday and ended up with the speech giver's thoughts on evolution, with a detour to consider the question of love somewhere in the middle. Bejeezus. If we didn't all need a drink before that, we certainly did afterwards.

So with the silly season and no doubt multiple toast giving opportunities nearly upon us, I would like to take a moment now to dedicate a toast to the Chilean Dads, for only they know how lonely it is to be always giving the speeches, and never receiving them.
Dear Chilean Dads, during the course of many meals, and thus many of your fine discourses on life, the universe and all that, I feel that I've learned a great deal. What have I learned? Good question. I've learned to listen out for the melodic tinkle of your fork against your glass and to take it as a cue to immediately eat as much as possible while my dinner is still hot. I've learned that surreptitiously drinking while you are making your toast is a good idea and that if people think I'm a crazy foreigner with no manners, that this is at least preferable to being sober. I've learned that I understand your speeches better if I am not sober. And I've learned that it certainly ain't over till the fat lady sings, or till your wife tells you that enough is enough and takes away your glass.
And so I sincerely thank you for taking the time out of your busy social schedule to educate, nay, to enlighten me on these and any number of other topics. I for one am certainly more informed about love and evolution now, and for that I say cheers!

**Except of course, on this blog.

Photo by Sebduggan on Flickr (note, person depicted probably not a Chilean)

All I want for Christmas is..

... one of these awesome rigs for my camera. Sigh. Santa?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cerro Manquehue, or how we almost died of exposure just ten minutes from the city

Photo from Flickr by Rodrigo Martens

Ask a Santiaguino about what they like best about living in their city, and chances are they won't mention anything about good public transport, friendly customer service or having clean lungs - and rightly so because these things are scarce on the ground here, if not actually mythical. Instead, chances are they will mention being able to leave your house and within a couple of hours drive be either skiing in the Andes in a fluoro 80s ski-suit or, if you drove in the other direction, be indecently exposing large amounts of buttock at a sea-side resort.
Yep, it appears that the best thing about living in Santiago is being able to get out of it.

With this in mind, on the recent long weekend O and I begged a car from his parents (as without one you are pretty well screwed here, or at the very least condemned to spending large amounts of time on rattle-trap buses / with your face jammed uncomfortably close to someone's armpit on the metro) and set out to enjoy what the city has to offer. i.e, we left it. For the mountains.

In a city surrounded by mountains, its funny that they are not a constant presence in people's minds, in fact, people kind of forget that they are there. (For a very funny example of this, see Sara's post on giving directions in Santiago). One reason for this forgetfulness might be the obvious: obscured by the thick smog you could argue that quite often the mountains aren't there.

 Peanut seller on Cerro San Cristobal; note obscured / non-existent Andes in background    
Yet on the weekend, all kitted up with our wheels and ganas de salir, we discovered perhaps another reason that Santiago's mountains are not on the radar here - its damn hard to get onto them.

Chileans love a gated community, and with the city in a constant state of expansion, it is gated communities all the way to the foothills of the Andes. And by gated I mean you may not under any circumstances enter. And by community I mean a group of houses with a big-ass fence all the way around them cutting off public access to anything in the zone plus anything on the other side ie the god damned hills.
Now, there's a lot to be said about this, about a culture of fear, the media, the aspirational middle classes and the fact that I damn well hate fences. Unfortunately for those who like the sound of a bit of semi-political ranting, all that will have to go into another blog post. Once I've slept off my hypertensive migraine.
In the end our first attempt to get out onto Santiago's mountains was, if not actually thwarted by the condos, technically it was trespassing. We spent a while driving around some of Santiago's wealthier suburbs, looking for the public park or hiking trail that I insisted must be there, and found only fences, private land and security guards. On our way up one of the subidas we gave a lift to a skater, who pointed us in the direction of a broken bit of fence through which we could squeeze, proving true the old adage that if you want to do something illegal, your best source of info is a teenager with a skateboard. Squeeze we did and our picnic was fine, the bad feeling in my stomach coming not from the food, but from the fact that we had to force our way into an area that should, in my not-so-humble-because-its-my-blog opinion, be available for everyone to enjoy, not just those willing to break property laws.

Not to be defeated, and slightly delirious after an all-night film shoot so randomly hilarious that it will get its very own blog post in the coming days, the next day we decided to climb Cerro Manquehue. As a disclaimer, and before you read the rest of this post, this undertaking was described to me, by Chileans, as 'a walk up a hill, although perhaps you shouldn't wear those sandals.'

Cerro Manquehue is the big volcano looking thing just outside Las Condes. You can see it from the city. Perhaps the fact that it looked like a volcano should have tipped me off that what we were about to do was not, essentially, the smartest decision. Yet strangely it did not. Thus I can now report that despite all appearances Cerro Manquehue is a) not a volcano and b) not a bloody hill. It is a mountain.

Its also the exact place we had been looking for the day before - I'm not sure what the legal status of the land is but I can say that there are no fences and a lot of paths, so I'm guessing that its either public access or that no-one cares much. Regardless, its a wonderful escape from the city, just a short drive from downtown. A walk in the park you might say. So did I. Incorrectly as it turns out.

At a certain stage (ie several hours after setting out and half way up what can only be described as a sheer cliff face) I wondered if we should not, perhaps, be using ropes. Or a helmet. Or at the very least have on us a larger supply of water that two 500ml bottles. I also wondered where the path was. This was a question that we were all contemplating. There was no way to find out, because there was also no cell phone coverage.

Now I've seen Alive, and therefore I know what happens when you get lost in the Andes. So as the prospect of us finding the path faded with every passing moment, I started eying up my companions as potential meals. O, ever the gentleman, assured me that if a reenactment of Alive was going to unfold here on the hillside with Santiago in full view, that at least I would not be first on the menu. Realising that I was not only more succulent but also somehow cleaner than everyone else, and that O was perhaps intending to lull me into a false sense of security before braining me with a boulder ready for first course, I promptly face-planted into a pile of dust and prickles. In fact, I'm fairly sure that Manquehue is Mapuche for Prickle Mountain, such is the prevalence and persistence of the flora. There were thistles god damn it. I thought those things only grew in Scotland.

Having given away somewhat the punchline, that we survived Manquehue and that no-one got eaten, by the fact that I'm still here to write this blog, all that remains to be said is that we scaled that god damned mountain in a way that no-one has before and no doubt no-one ever will again.
The true thorn in my side is that after staggering down the other side, three and a half hours later, filthy and dehydrated, in the carpark we bumped into the two friends who'd we'd been aiming to meet up with on the hill. They were fresh. They were clean. They had water left. They had spent the afternoon drinking beers and enjoying the view.

Oh, and they told us that the reason there were no other people on the hill was because the night before the news had reported of a masked mugger who roamed the trails and relieved hikers of their cameras and wallets.
Somehow, I don't think he would have chosen the path we were on. Small mercies, anyone?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Random Piñera Spotting in Puerto Varas

When I decided that I wanted to work in TV, I had several friends who went into being 'real' journalists. A couple are now political reporters, and at least one spent the last Australian election 'on the campaign trail' following in the steps of some god-awful politician as he toured around the country kissing babies and doling out soup to the homeless.

For a while, as I sat at my desk surrounded by people playing guitars and pondering the tough decisions such as whether to send our next shoot to Morocco or Madagascar, I wondered whether I was missing out. Last weekend in Puerto Varas, I discovered the answer to that question.

Puerto Varas is a small town on the edge of a lake in the getting-towards-being-in-the-South-but-not-quite-there-yet region of Chile. We were there more or less by accident - after a super early flight to Puerto Montt, our planned bus to Bariloche never showed up, and after several hours waiting in the always-entertaining Puerto Montt bus station (nice to see you Ruth and Charles!), we decided to blow that particular popsicle stand and head to Puerto Varas for the night. We´d heard it was nice, and that you could see volcanoes, which is all I really need to be happy.

Because we are focused on our stomachs precisely 100 percent of the time, and because we had got up early and LAN´s idea of breakfast is three chocolate biscuits, we dumped our bags and headed straight for the nearest German cafe, of which there are about a gazillion in Puerto Varas. After rendering my I-don´t-eat-sweet-things rule a lie (although I still maintain that delicious küchen is not in any way in the same category of sweet things as say.. manjar, which is the work of the devil), we discovered that this same cafe also did what looked like a roaring business in empanadas, judging from the industrial-sized parcels of the things that locals kept staggering out the door with.

We purchased two of these delicious Chilean 'snacks' (read: Chileans consider them a snack, pronounced 'esnack', but anyone in the rest of the world might more accurately suggest that they are more akin to a complete meal) and headed off to the pier to take in the view of the lake and volcanoes.

Unfortunately, Chile lived up to its shitty weather reputation, and there were no volcanoes to be seen. Fortunately, the lack of volcanoes was more than compensated for by the announcement over a loudspeaker that shortly Presidential candidate Sebastian Piñera would be gracing the town with both his presence and the whitest pair of chops that have been seen in provincial Chile for a long time.

Pause for a bit of (I dare say ill informed) info: for those not in the know, Chile's about to have an election. Its a big deal here, and although a fair percentage of the young people that I know haven't actually enrolled to vote, there's still a lot more round-the-dinner-table debate than I'm used to seeing in Australia. There are two 'main' candidates (of course there are more running but from what I can tell most people expect the election to go to one of these two men): Frei and Piñera. Frei is from the Party currently in power (centre-left coalition), and Piñera from a centre-right alliance. Despite Chile´s historic problem regarding right wing governments I´m told that many will this time vote for Piñera because they are sick of having the same party make government every time - with all the corruption, crony-ism and old-boys-club thinking that that implies. That may be, all I can say is that they´re not exactly spoilt for choice here. Frei´s about a zillion years old and he´s already been President once (and he didn´t do a very good job the first time round) and Piñera looks like he´d sell his own grandmother to make a buck. Chile needs a change but I don´t think its coming in this election. Ominami?

So, enough of that. Back to the campaign trail.

Not wanting to pass up an opportunity, we stuffed our half-eaten empanadas still oozing their meaty goodness into my backpack (a decision for which I´m still suffering the consequences) and headed off to meet the man himself.

Now, I´ve not seen many Presidents in my time, or even Presidential candidates, but there were several things about the whole Piñera show that struck me as a bit odd. See if you can pick which ones:

First, on arrival, he was literally mobbed by the crowd. There was hair-pulling and clothing grabbing on a scale not seen outside a Bolivian prison. Not something that I can really see happening to Obama. Admittedly, this wasn´t terribly odd, just one of those details you wouldn´t see at home.

Secondly, while on stage Piñera has a mariachi standing behind him... a new kind of secret service perhaps?

Thirdly, and most bizzarly, at certain points in the rally, Piñera breaks into song. Its like a Presidential campaign come open air karaoke session. The crowd love it. He also makes his son sing, and the deputy for the district sing. Out of the three, we decide that Piñera is the best singer. His teeth are also the whitest.

So on reflection, I'm happy to work in TV, because if it were my job to make this kind of che make sense, I might be donning a mariachi costume and grabbing a mic myself.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Plan your Escape this Summer..

Because.. Snake is back!

Yes, I'm right this second watching one of what must surely be the greatest films of all time. Of all time. Yo, Kanye would back me up.

Of course, instead of marvelling at Kurt Russell's mesmerising snakeskin leggings, the like of which we're all bound to be sporting in 2013 (I've got mine already), I should be booking tickets to Argentina. Yep, its that time again - the visa run, also known as the sanity-preserving Escape From Chi-Lay.

Ok so I'm not carrying a time-bomb virus in my body with which the authorities are blackmailing me into finding the President's daughter, nor am I trying to save the world from imminent destruction at the hands of Cuervo Jones, who to my mind sounds more like a mixed drink than a threatening villain, but other than that, I see many similarities between myself and Mr Plisskin.

For one, Santiago and the LA prison hell from which Snake has to escape are not dissimilar. Certainly the fashion seems to be from around the same era. I'm pretty sure I saw several pairs of snakeskin and other assortedly patterned leggings today. Also, Snake's mullet seems to be trendy here, although the eye-patch is yet to catch on. Plus this visa run will this time be to Bariloche rather than Mendoza, which means passing through the Lakes District, and if Chile's geological instability lives up to its reputation, leaves the door open for a reenactment of Snake's biggest achievement - surfing a giant tsunami with Peter Fonda whilst racing a car containing Steve Buscemi, including a jump from the surfboard to the back of the moving car.

Now... imma let Snake finish..

Friday, November 13, 2009

Caminos menos transitados

ahora en español..

For the Aussies out there, make sure to tune in to Nat Geo Adventure Mondays at 8.30pm (repeats on Saturdays and Sundays at 7.30pm and 6.30pm respectively).

For those of us here in Chile, it doesn't seem like the series is screening just yet.

A Valparaiso

No, this isn't about going to Valpo, rather a fabulous documentary from the 60s that I saw the other day at a Chilean film retrospective. Chris Marker wrote it, can't you tell?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

FNM: why men in slacks can still rock

They rocked, despite:
1. Massive overbooking of the venue whereby it was so crowded that there were people hanging off the balconies and I spent the entire show picturing an imminent Republica Cromañón style fire disaster.
2. Me gullibly believing the lady from the venue who told us on the phone that it was numbered seating and there was no need to turn up early (yeah I know.. never again will I make this mistake).

3. Being therefore stuck standing on the stairs in a human sandwich, or this being Chile, a human completo, which is even more disgusting than the regular completo if you can possibly imagine it.
4. My posse on the stairs being behind a surprisingly tall Chilean and thus with a view of nothing except the back of his head apart from the moments (approximately 50% of the time) in which he was occupied by making out with his girlfriend to which I had an uncomfortably intimate perspective.
4. The band getting spat on by the crowd in a marathon of flying saliva - apparently a sign of affection and homage for FNM fans.

Despite all this, and more importantly despite the pitter-patter of lightly falling spit globules onto the body of Mike Patton and every other member of the band, Faith No More were amazing. What makes this more of an achievement was that they were wearing slacks. No need here for ripped jeans, or all-over vinyl bodystockings, or goth make-up, or rat eating antics. No siree, these guys could have stepped off a golf course. Or out of a retirement home in Miami, so clean and neatly pressed were their beige pantalones. And yet they rocked on a monumental scale, making me for a short time forget about Cromañón fires, completos, and exchange of bodily fluids both near and far. And that right there is the greatness of Faith No More.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Roads Less Travelled

Shameless self promotion it may be, but I'd like to invite you to check out this awesome travel series! Blood, sweat and tears, literally!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Farellones... or Kevin Bacon's Gonna Dance All Over You

OK so everyone knows that Santiago's not going to win any beauty contests, and I can't say I've noticed any personality features that would redeem her either. In fact, I think its safe to say that Santiago and I, were we both people and both at school, we would not be friends. Not at all. But that doesn't meant that I wouldn't on occasion go over to play at her house. Santiago might be ugly and unpleasant, but she has a pretty sweet backyard.

Ironically, its Santiago's spectacular natural setting that is the root of all her cosmetic problems in the first place. The soup of brown smog that hovers above the city and causes her red eyes, respiratory problems and prematurely aged skin is only there because being smack up against the Andes mean that the toxic haze doesn't have anywhere to go. Unfortunate.

So when O's parents suggested we take a family trip into the mountains for the weekend, the prospect of fresh air had me excited. Little did I know, even though this would have had me far more excited, that it would also entail a weird worm-hole like experience and time travel back to 1983.

We went to a place called Farellones, which is the closest ski resort to Santiago and is only about an hour and a half out of the city. Which given that I am used to driving at least 5 hours to ski (making a day trip something of an odyssey) I think is quite awesome, and I can tell you that if I had another winter and access to a car I would spend every single weekend there without question.

On the way to Farellones, we drove up a winding road through pea-soup fog. Actually I think we were just making our way out of the Santiago smog. Whatever it was, once the (toxic) cloud had cleared, it was obvious that the very fabric of space and time itself had been altered and that the mountain exists not in 2009, but in 1983. How do I know this? Look below..

Yep, fashion on the slopes was without exception in the Princess-Diana-circa-1983-fluoro-onepiece school of ski attire.
Also, everyone was Brazilian. Correlation? Maybe.
And no, while the first two pictures in this post are mine, I did not actually see Princess Diana at Farellones as depicted in the third shot, which is a shame, but not entirely unexpected.

To top off the weekend, O and I celebrated our three year anniversary by going to Santiago's one and only revolving restaurant. If it wasn't 80's enough that it merely revolved, it also sported a mirrored ceiling, and had automatic shoe-shining machines in the men's toilet.

And just because we're talking about style icons of the 80s, and not at all because I watched a movie featuring him last night (Frost vs Nixon: see it!), I'm going to treat you to a picture of the man himself, in pants that can only be described as glorious, but not quite as glorious as they would be if seen via a mirrored ceiling:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ram-Raiding and Other Activities.. or, Just Another Night in Santiago de Chile

The show never stops in Santiago. Just the other day, in actual fact in the last day of the old apartment, I saw two guys crash their ute into a tree directly outside my window*. It was like the apartment's final parting gift to me, complete with Crocodile Dundee delivering the line 'That's not noise.. THIS is noise' and a jump-cut to squealing tires and vision of truck careering off the road into said tree.
So I was pretty pleased to be moving.
Until Tuesday night, in which after a lovely dinner in lovely new apartment, a couple of glasses of wine and a viewing of 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' (which by the way I found somewhat enraging, given that it seems to suggest that the best way for a man to demonstrate love and commitment is to bugger off, and the best way for a woman to demonstrate it is to sit around literally wiping their husband's arse), we retired to bed, reveling in the lovely peace and quiet of the lovely new apartment.
Until.. CRASH.... (followed by several more similar crashes).
In my groggy half-sleep, my first thought was that someone's balcony had detached from the building and the noise I could hear was of it plunging to the ground. O later told me he had thought it was a crane falling off the top of a building.
We jumped out of bed, and went out onto the balcony to investigate, admittedly a strange choice given my prior concerns about its sturdiness, but by that stage I'd already kind of worked out that that couldn't be it.
No signs of fallen balconies nor cranes below.... but what we did see was a gang with two cars (red and white -see I'm observant!) - looting the fancy clothing and jewellery shop in the bottom of our very building! The crashes we'd heard were the shattering of the window, and as we stood there we watched them running in and out of the store, stolen goods in hand, transferring the stuff from the shop to their cars. It all lasted about thirty seconds, then everyone jumped into the two cars and sped off, the wrong way, up La Concepcion.
About a minute later, the crack emergency response looked like this:

 Plus three police cars (these in the pic are in fact not police but private guards from the security firm) that arrived a few minutes later. All the security guards and cops stood around for a bit, presumably investigating the crime though I saw very little evidence of that, then everyone went home.
After all this excitement, we went back to bed. Yesterday I saw on the news that the same gang had hit four different shops around the city in some kind of ram-raiding spree.
The weirdest thing is that the shop they chose to rob was selling some of the ugliest stuff that I've ever seen - the jewelery was all costume jewelery, the type with lots of sparkly and fake looking gems. And the clothes were kind of floaty hippy cheese-cloth numbers which haven't been fashionable since .. well ever. The piece d'resistance of this particular store (and this will give you an idea of the general aesthetic approach) are a life-sized pair of large Doberman dogs made entirely of purple plastic, which sit on either side of the door during the day like some kitsch re-invention of the guard dog of Hades.
Somewhat unfortunately, even the thieves didn't see fit to steal these.

So the moral of the story? Even the most blatantly taste-challenged stores are not safe from the aesthetically blind thieves of Santiago, but even they will draw the line somewhere.

* If you're concerned - both the tree and the guys survived. The car? Not so much.

Friday, October 16, 2009

New Horizons

 View from the new apartment - linda!

Life has all of a sudden got waaaaay more relaxing... Work is over (for the moment), on Wednesday Chile qualified for the World Cup (not that this was something I worried about but I sure didn't want to see the consequences of them not qualifying..), and yesterday we changed apartments. Rejoice. The days of bitching about noise are over; firstly because this new apartment is an oasis of peace, and secondly because I suspect O might be finding that hearing my complaints is not quite as cathartic as I find giving them.

There are lots of ways to rent in Santiago, so here's a few random things I discovered and wish I'd known earlier. If you're out there looking for an apartment in Santiago, I hope this helps:
1) The best site we found for advertising rentals was Portal Inmobiliario  where you can search for furnished / unfurnished apartments by district, plus places for sale.
2) Craigslist is good for short term rentals (from days to months) but the prices are generally a bit higher. 
3) If you rent directly from the owner you will avoid real estate commissions which are quite high (like half a month's rent). As a lot of owners advertise directly there is no need to go through an agent.
4) Neither of our rental contracts contained a clause about breaking the lease as they do in Australia. Plus the landlord keeps your bond (equivalent to one month's rent) directly, so beware of signing a longer lease if you think you might need to break it.  Landlords are not supposed to keep the bond in that kind of situation, but I don't know how you would enforce it.
5) If you live in an apartment (and that's pretty much your only choice in a lot of Santiago), then you'll have to pay condo fees (gastos comunes) which seem to range from around 30,000-70,000 a month, so factor that into your budget. This is in addition to your rent unless you have an all-inclusive deal with your landlord.
5) Santiago is noisy - look for an apartment high up / facing away from the main street.
6) If your apartment faces the street, look at the condition of the road directly outside - if there is a speed bump or the road is particularly uneven, it will be more noisy, especially given that speed bumps are rare and therefore unexpected for the Santiago motorist.
7) Don't live on a road that buses go along unless you like the sound of ancient diesel motors at 2am!

Now for a wine on the balcony.. bliss!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Long live long weekends

End of a week / end of an era?
Last week I finished up at work. Crazy doesn't begin to describe it.. just trying to get everything finished on time took about every bit of endurance I had, to which the bags under my eyes can probably attest. If you'd asked me Wednesday if I'd be able to make it.. well, I'd have said 'yes' because I'm yet to learn the fine art of saying no to work-related things, but what you wouldn't have known was that deep down I was quaking in my boots.
Last week was script-annotating week, which is a unforgivably tedious task, and really brings home the unfairness of life when you're told Wikipedia is not considered a 'reliable source.' At least I didn't have to cope with trying to annotate the statement 'Jesus walked on water' to broadcasting's exacting standards as happened in a prior episode in this series... Nope, no messiahs in Alaska, just lots of stuff about grizzly bears - about which I'm now something of an expert thanks to the very informative people at the Alaskan Fish and Game Department. Two facts for you - one - did you know that hunting grizzlies is allowed? I'm quite appalled. And two - if a grizzly is attacking you, you should under no circumstances make 'a high pitched squealing noise' as apparently it enrages them.

So despite the rare opportunity to learn lots about bears and call it work, last week was crazy, and to top it all off, we'd decided to get out of the city on the weekend to regain some much-needed sanity, it being a long weekend and all here. Working from Chile has been great money-wise, but trying to coordinate with three different time-zones is not easy - as a result of which I'm often up at 3am responding to questions from Australia, then up again at 9am to deal with the US. Ok, I'm saying 'often' but actually I mean 'sometimes.' But Friday was one of those times - come 9pm Friday night I was still sending stuff through to Aus, even though we were meant to have left for the beach hours previously.
I must have wowed them all with my bear-facts though, because just when I though we'd have to call off the trip so I could stay here and finish the script, I got the all-clear. Ta-DA.
 So, here's where we went to celebrate:

Where we found this:

And lots of this:

It was wonderful. There was guitar-playing and barbecue-making, and even sleeping in. Bliss. Long live the long weekend.
Now, anyone need someone to work on their next show?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Melrose Living

So it might be mundane to say it, and small comfort if you're actually in need of the advice, but things really do have a way of working themselves out.
As ranting and raving in the 'all talk no action' approach to the noisy-apartment situation didn't seem to be making a great deal of difference to our quality of life, we decided to take my Mum's sage advice and do something about it.
So we're moving, and I LOVE our new place. Its on the 15th floor, the windows look straight out to Cerro Santa Lucia and it has an AMAZING pool on the roof, plus a sweat room, jacuzzi and gym. Its like something from the TV.
Its a far cry from the type of place I'd favour in Melbourne (terrace in Fitzroy.. or warehouse in Collingwood, those were the days!) but I think its just perfect for here. Firstly, because its high up and on an interior street so the noise is not (so much of) an issue, and secondly, because here, there it seems that the philosophy to the residential/business division of housing is exactly opposite to that which you get in Australia.
In Melbourne, high rises are for offices. Mostly they are in the central business district and don't make an appearance in the residential suburbs. And I'll say it again. They have offices in them.
Outside the CBD, which means about 15 minutes walk, are the residential suburbs, filled with gorgeous old Victorian terraces. People built them to live in. And excepting the main shopping/cafe strip that runs through each suburb, people still live in them.
They're wonderful - beautiful old houses with wrought iron balconies, with (if you're a student) an ancient sofa, or (if you've past that) some other kind of comfy seating on which to place yourself on a warm evening with a glass of wine, or a morning coffee; a yard or a paved courtyard to get some sun in. The last one I lived in even had a palm tree in the garden. The house looked just like this:

In Santiago, it seems like the reverse philosophy is in place - gorgeous old buildings (of which there are plenty) are reserved for small businesses, and the people in the city live in apartment blocks. Its such a shame because the old houses here really are lovely but without people they are totally lifeless, and the apartment blocks are ugly 70s and 80s constructions. Because the apartments are built around the older streets, they generally front onto main roads with the aforementioned cacophony of noise.
I was walking through a district called Barrio Italia the other night and came to a beautiful square with old houses all around and a small park in the middle. There was no traffic. It reminded me a lot of East Melbourne.
Not one of the houses was being used as a residence. They were all shut up for the night, empty and dead.
A few blocks further on we came to the main transit road, with buses blaring past at 2am. Lined with apartments of course.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Chilean Cowboys

I've been wanting to write about the national celebrations in Chile for a week now, to explain what they were to me as an outsider, and what they seemed to be to the people here, to say something about patriotism and small beauties but far from insight and revelation all I've got right now is rage. Howling, screaming, weeping rage at everything Chilean.
Our apartment looks onto the riverfront in Santiago. 'Nice,' you might think, for surely in any city in the world the riverfront is a prime location. Not so here, for Santiago's city planners in all their wisdom have decided that the river shall be host not to peacefull parks or to lively waterside cafes, but instead to not one, not even two, but to three of the city's largest and busiest roads. From my bedroom, I look onto fifteen lanes of traffic. And our apartment is on the second floor.
The noise level is literally making me weep. It never stops, not at midnight, not at two in the morning. I'm sleeping with earplugs in and they don't seem to make a blind bit of difference. And they hurt my ears. The only way to deal with the noise of the traffic is to make sure I've got the TV or stereo on even louder in a tangle of competing noises.
It's driving me insane.
I'm furious at everyone and everything. Chilean cowboys, driving their dirty trucks, horns blasting at the first hint of having to step on the brake for any reason. The antisocial and completely insane belief that riding motorbikes designed for motocross or trail biking through the city is and should be acceptable. The use of horns as part of the arsenal of the Chilean motorist. The lack of renovation in this city, which means that old suburbs are simply left to get increasingly decrepit while the city planners and builders simply move their projects to untouched ground, leaving the city constantly expanding and meaning that its impossible to get around without a vehicle. The complete lack of aesthetic sensibility in any element of Chilean life from the dumpy businesswomen in ill fitting brown trouser suits to the monstrous 70s high rises that define the city's architecture.
I'm pissed off.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

On September 11 and Being Complicated in Chile, past perspectives

Here is an article I wrote in 2007 about September 11 and Chile's history:

The Other September 11
On Tuesday 11 September all eyes turned to America as that nation looked back to a different Tuesday in a different September, and mourned its loss.
Far away in the ‘other’ America, that which exists south of the Mexican border, Chile too remembered a day when planes flew low over a nation’s largest city, of buildings in flames and the deaths of  civilians. But it was not thinking of New York. Long before Islamic terrorists made their bid for immortality at the helm of hijacked passenger jets, Chile experienced its own ‘Black Tuesday’ when extremism confronted democracy and won. Yet in this case the extremists piloting the low-flying jets were members of the country’s own air-force, the building in flames was the besieged Presidential Palace from which the President never emerged alive, and the operation was encouraged and supported by the United States.
The September 11, 1973 coup that deposed the democratically elected President Salvador Allende and replaced him with General Augusto Pinochet left the country in the grip of South America’s most enduring military regime. During Pinochet’s 17 year dictatorship over three thousand people were killed or ‘disappeared’. One million Chileans fled the country. These are the official numbers, unofficially, the toll is said to be higher.
During the dictatorship years the coup anniversary was celebrated as the ‘Aniversario del Pronunciamiento Militar’, or Military Declaration Day, and marked by parades and speeches. Even after the dictatorship ended the day continued to be commemorated as a national holiday for another ten years. As recently as two years ago the Chilean army was continuing to salute General Pinochet with a parade outside his home.
Today there is no national holiday yet the 11th of September continues to be a day of declaration. It is a day when protests rage across the Chilean capital. Last year over 79 arrests were made in the capital for riots and violence including a fire bomb attack on the government house. In the poorer districts of Santiago barricades go up early and citizens and police ready themselves for trouble. Those who are not gearing up for confrontation stay indoors.
 The feeling of unfinished business is palpable, and hardly surprising. There has been a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but the justice process has been slow and ineffective. Few of those indicted on charges of human rights abuses have seen days in court. Pinochet died last year without ever facing trial. Just last month the man convicted of the 1974 car-bombing murders of Chilean former army chief General Carlos Prats and his wife was released, just seven years after being sentenced to life in prison.
Yet it is an issue as thorny as it is troubling. Unlike other dictators, Pinochet was never forced out, he stepped down after a vote, and continued for many years to perform political duties as a Senator and head of the army. During and after his rule Pinochet enjoyed widespread support from the wealthier sector of society who profited from his free market economic policies. He is praised for saving the Chilean economy and rescuing the country from the grip of Communism. Margaret Thatcher famously thanked him for ‘bringing democracy to Chile.’ At his funeral last year thousands queued for hours in the blazing sun to pay their last respects. One man, the son of the murdered General Prats, spat on the coffin and was nearly lynched by the crowd.
It is this aspect of Chilean society that I find hardest to grapple with. The fact that despite the hard evidence of massive human rights abuses, of institutionalised murder and torture, many people in Chile today look back fondly on the Pinochet era. ‘There was no crime’ I am told, ‘it was safe to walk the streets.’
There is a phrase in Spanish, complicarse, that translates as ‘to be complicated’ about something. It is a clumsy phrase in English, but in Spanish it is an apt description of the relationship between Chile and its recent past. Chileans are proud of their country’s economy and its status as the most ‘developed’ of the Latin American nations, changes that came about under Pinochet. While there are extreme viewpoints at either end of the political spectrum, those occupying the middle ground radiate uncertainty, an inability to look the past squarely in the eye and reject it. It is a feeling of being incredibly compromised, the niggling suggestion that the end somehow justifies the means, that going through hardship and extremity now can be endured if it is for the good of the future. As ideals, they would be at home in the rhetoric of any idealistic leader: Mao, Lenin, even Allende himself.
I spoke to a former member of the Chilean armed forces who served under Pinochet and who as a young officer witnessed the execution of fifteen men. Today he works for the army in a civilian capacity and suffers from depression. I asked him about how he feels about what happened under Pinochet: ‘Very proud’ he answered, ‘I’m very proud of what we achieved.’

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Suitcase Traveller

Recently, for the second time in my life, I used a suitcase.
The first time was when I was about nine years old, going for a sleepover at a friend's house. My parents had this dinky little blue and white 60s era overnight-case, just the perfect size for a kid. I considered it the height of cool: with the case, I was cosmopolitan, even at nine.
I packed it up with all the essentials a nine year old needs for a sleepover, insisting to my Mum that taking the case for a one night stay at the house round the corner was absolutely appropriate. Actually, I don't know if she asked.
It went perfectly until my friend came around to pick me up, driven by her older brother. Perhaps it was part crush, part awe (he was the only older sibling of any of my friends who was even approaching adulthood), but I was determined to impress this guy. The suitcase, with all its blue and white boxy glory, was my secret weapon.
I imagined how it would go: he'd see me standing there, suitcase in hand, and realise that I was not a child, but a traveller, a sophisticate, confident, a person who knows precisely how much or little they need in life, and has it all on hand, folded neatly. After all, isn't this what your luggage says about you?
And even though all that happened was that he looked at me, looked at my suitcase, and, very kindly, offered to carry it; with that gesture I knew suddenly that I'd gotten it horribly wrong, that I should have worn my grungiest clothes and packed a ninja turtles backpack like everyone else. I was just a kid playing at being a grown up.
Perhaps this early experience had something to do with it but for the next twenty years I haven't gone near a suitcase. Travel has meant backpacks, kitted out with pockets in concealed locations, straps for who-knows-what, top-loading, side zippered contraptions that weight in at close to what I do. My backpacks have gone places that a suitcase would never make it, hauled up the dirtiest tracks, flung onto the roofs of chicken filled buses, stowed in the holds of the most unseaworthy looking ferries. They've been a part of the way I've travelled.
But coming to Chile, this time around I packed a suitcase. 
I told myself it was because while I didn't need portability, I did need space. Especially for the 600g jar of Vegemite that was first into the bag. There was no way I was leaving that behind.
Walking through the gates at Santiago airport, bleary eyed from 14 hours on the plane and wondering through the sleepless haze whether O and I would still look the same to each other, I remembered that other time, waiting to be picked up, suitcase in hand.
Who says people change - I'm still humming the same tune.