A few notes on arrival in Chile

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.

Memory museum exterior

A box of pain

I happened to be in Santiago for the building’s inauguration in January, and I took these pictures in its first week open.

Truth and Reconciliation exhibit

Opening exhibit: the spotty history of truth and reconciliation commissions

Electric torture device

Electricity torture: A possible cause of apathy

Faces of the disappeared

Faces of the disappeared

Pro-freedom poster art from the 1970s

1970s poster art, a reminder of passions past

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.


Women watch a video showing scenes from the 1973 coup and its aftermath

Young people watch video at Museum of Memory

Transmission of living memory to those too young to recall

4 thoughts on “A few notes on arrival in Chile

  1. Kepler

    Well, Chile’s corruption levels are lower than any other Latin American country, according to the World Bank index. Chile is the Latin American country that is doing best in the PISA programme test. It is getting into the OECD. I am curious how it is in the secondary non-touristic cities, those where you see mostly middle class to working class Chileans. Does the “gap” with Venezuela keep the same width? Bookshops there? Libraries?

    The murder rate stats I have seen put Chile’s rate at a Canadian level (1-2 murders per 100000), lower than in the US and a tiny fraction of what Venezuela has (50>, some say 70, at national level no reliable numbers anymore). It is something Venezuelans could only dream about. I want a little bit of that for my country, even if it gets a wee bit “dull” in the process.

    Now: in the PISA programme reports I think I read something about results among poor and rich pupils being greater in Chile than in Mexico. Perhaps going out of Chile’s posh areas would reveal more?

  2. Paul Escobar

    I’d like to sit here and defend Toronto…but meh!
    What’s the point?

  3. firepigette

    In my view anyone who is not apathetic towards politics has a serious disconnection from reality.

    I have many friends in Chile, whom I made in Venezuela.Some are part of a ‘red’ of psychoanalysts and one is the niece of Pinochet( a marvelously compassionate lady), and others part of the Jewish community..and one dear friend is the son of a party leader.Then there are young and wild djs and rock musicians, an elderly daughter of a concert pianist, a new age con artist, and a few Osho cult survivors.Needless to say, so far I find Chileans anything but boring.

    These folks were attracted to Venezuela when Venezuela was doing better.They were attracted to its vibrancy, to its youth and to its possibilities.My sense of Chile through them was that many suffer from the drama of studied seriousness, while ironically maintaining a healthy hope in discovering new pathways not always related to political mainstreams.

    An interesting country, no doubt.

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