From Santiago, With Love.
When I visited Santiago for the first time I was reunited with one of my best friends, and some family members who I had not see for almost 15 years. 15 years was pretty much a lifetime, as my youngest cousin had not long turned 15 years old.
The reunion with my friend was not quite as long as that, Paulina had moved back to Santiago only 10 months before after living in London for almost 10 years. While I have mixed feelings about Santiago as a city, no doubt the backdrop of the Andes along the city skyline is stunning, the best thing about my stay in Santiago was having people who knew my reference points.
For example, when I spoke with Paulina about a band I liked, she already knew the context as we had been to see almost ten times. When I spoke about Natalya, or Donald, or Jonah, I didn't need to explain who they were to me, their ages or much of anything else about them as my family already knew that they are my siblings.
Me and my Auntie Donna.
I will have lots of lovely memories of Santiago, but I didn't fall in love with the place in the same way I did with say London, São Paulo, or Barcelona. It may not have been love a first sight but I am certainly very fond of the city, in the same way you might be fond of an old work colleague but be glad you don't have to see them everyday.
That backhanded compliment aside, there are some really cool neighborhoods, some interesting and exciting things to see, and of course, some cool bars. It is almost impossible to cover everything that I saw and did while I was there, but these are some of my highlights.
I still haven't seen Star Wars.
La Piojera and The Jazz Corner
I think my two favourites bars must have been La Piojera and The Jazz Corner. They sit at two very different ends of the night out spectrum, one is a dirty, dirty dive bar that smells of god only knows what, and serves almost exclusively terremotos; the other is an upmarket Jazz Club serving delicious wine and tapas. I’ll let you work out which one is which, and also which one I visited most often.
If you like live music then either bar will tick that box. The Jazz Corner is rather chilled with musicians who have obviously spent a lot of hours and money honing their trade, La Piojera (which translates as THE LICE) has more of an Irish céilí feel, with people clapping and singing along with the musicians who are more or less as inebriated as the punters.
The Jazz Corner, and La Piojera (Translation: THE LICE).
The discovery of the Terremoto Cocktail was a real life changer for me, and discovering it on a Monday afternoon with my friend Paulina was just perfect. Sweet white wine, pineapple ice cream and grenadine, served in a pint glass. Terremoto is Spanish for “Earthquake” and the drink does really knock you sideways. There are a few other cocktails offered by the bar which include “The Aftershock” and “Hold On John” … I never made it past the Earthquake.
Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos
One of the most interesting and powerful places that I visited in Santiago was The Museum of Memories and Human Rights: Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos.
The museum has been dedicated to the memory of the victims of human rights violations during the Pinochet civic-military regime between 1973 and 1990. And wow, just wow!
I, quite naively, hadn’t realised how recent the events were of the Pinochet coup, and listening to the first hand accounts of victims and families absolutely ripped my heart out of my chest and trampled it into the floor. And this wasn’t even that long ago. It was in my lifetime! I cried most of the way round the museum. I was there for almost 6 hours and only left because they were getting ready to close for the day.
The entrance to Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos.
I was a little bit deflated by the time I left, as I was (and still am to a degree) recovering from the shock of Brexit, and the world was still coming to terms with the appointment of Donald Trump. With both beginning with a hateful and fear filled campaign, fueled by division, focusing only on differences and not on the things that we have in common with our fellow man. I hope that one day ‘we’, mankind will learn from the mistakes of history.
A Night at the Opera
On a less serious note, the same friend who drags me off to dirty dive bars on a Monday afternoon also works for Teatro Municipal de Santiago, the Opera House in the centre of Santiago. The building is magnificent, maybe not as old as the Royal Opera House in London, but no less stunning.
Paulina and her colleagues were given tickets to the dress run of a new opera, La damnation de Faust, and I was lucky enough to be her plus one. The opera was performed in French with Spanish subtitles, and told the story of a hermit who makes a deal with the devil, falls in love, falls out of love, and then in the end everyone dies.
I should probably say that at this point in my trip, my Spanish, and for that matter French, was pretty much nonexistent. That didn’t however take away from the experience; the show itself was spectacular. There were a number of dance/dream sequences throughout the piece that were hypnotising, and without sounding too wanky, the lighting design was one of the most interesting I have ever seen. The backdrop of the stage was a reflecting surface, and the entire set and staging was manipulated by the lighting design that was projected onto the performers. It was brilliant.
It reminded me of a show that Paulina and I had seen in London at the BAC about a lighting designer who had helped his mother commit suicide when she was in the final stages of cancer. I was glad that Paulina understood that reference point so that I didn’t have to into too much detail explaining that one.
I had never heard the word Kermess before I met my cousins in Santiago, but once I arrived it was one of the words I heard the most! According to their school website, Kermess is an international carnival to celebrate diversity, with food, singing, dancing, and costumes from all around the world. Which is a pretty good description of the 9 hour long party on the grounds of the school.
What the website doesn’t focus on too much is there is also DRINKS from all around the world. I didn’t spot any terremotos, but Caipirinha, Pisco Sours, Margaritas, Pimms and so much more…
There was a stage at one end of field which a dancers and musicians from all over world, mainly South America, but also from India, Japan, or anywhere else the families at the school originated from.
By the time Kermess came around I had been in Santiago for a good couple of weeks, and had met lots of the other families, parents and people involved with the school. I really did feel welcome in their multicultural community. And I can understand why my cousins call it the best day of the year!
And so, Santiago...
Although we did not fall in love, I have so many amazing memories from the time that I visited you. You are home to some of my favourite people, and so I will be coming back to see you soon.
Hasta pronto... xx