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.