My first trip in the Southern Hemisphere brought me to Santiago, Chile. After struggling to adjust my magnetic sense of direction to a world inverted, we set about discovering the city.
Santiago is a city of color, crafts, books and music. Colorful murals and street art cover the walls and neighborhoods. Crafty merchants set up displays in the streets and plazas and sell all kinds of hand made arts. Shops are full of locally sourced and regionally crafted goods and clothing. There are record shops and book stores on every block, the kinds of shops where you can find the most amazing curated collections of literature, artwork and vinyl. The city breathes a kind of social awareness through history and culture; which are celebrated and held close.
We quickly discovered that the city does not wake up until 11am or so; and no one heads home until late into the night. Similar to Spain, Santiago has a morning rush from 11am – 2pm followed by a time of rest from 2 – 4. Most businesses start opening their doors again around 4pm and stay open until late in the evening.
Street performers are abundant in plazas and busy streets. Gypsy bands, magicians and dancers roam the city ready to show off to anyone with some extra pesos. Walking out of the MAVA (museum of visual arts) one day, I heard a woman singing opera in a courtyard with amazing acoustics. Her voice was trickling through narrow streets and corridors all around the neighborhood like a siren calling to lost sailors. It was quite possible the most beautiful thing I have heard on the streets.
Santiago is well know for the 1973 Chilean coup d’état in which the democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende was violently overthrown, paving the way for a junta (military group seizing state power by force). Backed by U.S. president Nixon, the junta bombed the state capitol in the center of Santiago, eliminating anyone who stood in their path. Allende refused to flee his position and ended up taking his own life before being captured by the mutineers.
My partner Brea attended medical school in Cuba and studied at the Salvador Allende Hospital in Havana, and she also loves the work of Chilean poet and political activist Pablo Neruda, who was close friends of Allende. Needless to say, Brea has a special connection to the history of Chile’s political unrest.
The state building which was bombed in 1973 now houses a beautiful museum in the basement. The museum was free to anyone before 11am and we were lucky enough to catch a Pablo Picasso exhibit on loan from France.