I arrived in Santiago de Chile a few days ago. So far I’m not quite sure what to write about, which is in itself remarkable. As someone raised in Canada and the USA, Santiago is so utterly normal to me that I forget I’m in South America. Most streets on the east (relatively richer) side of town could just as easily be in Winnipeg, while the downtown area might as well be Ottawa or Toronto. I don’t mean any of this as a compliment or an insult, just a description. I feel like I’m surrounded by 20-year-olds who are delighting in their own capacity for apathy. I see a vague hipsterism that hasn’t entirely come into its own; most of the street art and cultural signs I see could fit in well in any hip young city. There is grafitti and bikes and vegetarian food, there’s wifi in the coffee shops and gay men in fancy eyeglasses talking about galleries. I hear people speaking English without shame or fear. It’s more or less a European or North American city, an outpost in South America.
Amid it all, there’s the Museum of Memory, a frosted blue glass box in the part of town called Quinta Normal, where locals spend much of their time on the weekend. It’s this little spike in space-time, holding onto a bit of 1973 and 1983 and dragging them into the present and revealing the subtext to the general face of calm and normalcy in the city.
I happened to be in Santiago for the building’s inauguration in January, and I took these pictures in its first week open.
You look at this history and it gives a new cast to the apathetic status-consciousness of the youths on the street. It’s an apathy their parents couldn’t afford, and young people always thrill in exploring the latest — it may be the same as my love for industrial music in the 1980s. That’s one theory. Another is that the dictatorship trained most Chileans to shut up if they want to succeed, at the possible expense of a few months in a torture cell or a one-way helicopter trip to the grey Pacific. This lesson has been transmitted to the young. Who knows; it’s probably some combination of the two.
What’s clear is that the museum, and doubtless a few other sites in the city, maintain the living memory of the recent past, and ensure that Santiago doesn’t become, at least not deeply and permanently, Toronto.