Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sunshine, ice cream and music ...

The mugging on 15 November that lasted maybe 10 seconds is still causing havoc a month later. I can't recall another time when I've had so many problems on a daily basis relating to every aspect of getting my banking situation back to normal. It's definitely been a lesson well learned in terms of only carrying essentials on me, and then as discreetly as possible. It appears things might have taken a turn for the better in the last couple of days, thanks to help from my sister Deb, Polly in Hong Kong, Ingrid and Claudio in Santiago, and apartment owners Paulina and Jorge in Chile and Maite in New York, who have been exceedingly patient in waiting for me to follow up my bookings with dollars.

While all this has been going on, I've settled into life in Santiago in late spring. Through my initial contact Leo I've met a bunch of people who have been both fun to get to know a little and a great support to me: Susan, Marc (now back in Ireland), Ingrid, John, Veronica and others.

I've been very happy to find a film festival playing ("Stories from the Backstage": mainly documentaries about the music industry). With Maria and Leo I saw "Pina" for the third time (previously in Berlin and Sydney). With Andrew R, a visiting travel writer whom I met in 2009 through my pal Sarah in Vancouver, I saw "The Libertines" (Pete Doherty); and I've seen films on Miles Davis, Ray Davies (The Kinks) and the movie "The Runaways" (Joan Jett). More to come this week... An enjoyable dinner with Andrew in the Lastarria area after the film, during which I heard some of his travel horror stories and raised the possibility of renting his apartment in Vancouver in 2013.

An unexpected treat in Santiago is the profusion of gelato bars. Chileans just love their ice cream! You see people everywhere tucking into a cone or cup, and it's not even summer yet. They also love to display their affection publicly. PDAs everywhere one looks. I guess they can't all get a room...

Friday, December 2, 2011

Getting settled in Santiago

GAM Building (Edificio Diego Portales) on the Alameda

Santiago is a fantastic city! In fact, it was just voted fifth in South America for its quality of life. I can see why. It's a nice blend of old colonial-style buildings in the historic centre, groovy arts and cafe precincts, and a very modern infrastructure. Apparently it's all been paid for by copper. I've spent the last week getting my bearings and learning about my neighbourhood, which stretches about an hour from home in any direction on foot or a few subway stops.

The apartment I'm renting from Paulina, whose mum Maria and dad Lalo befriended me in Valparaiso, is right on the Mapocho River, which is the colour of chocolate milk. It's runoff from the foothills of the Andes, which loom over the city. At night when the traffic has stilled I can hear the water rushing by.

It's late spring but already hot. There are gelaterias and ice creameries everywhere. I've even seen vendors on buses selling ice creams out of a portable cooler. I'm doing my bit for the economy and having gelato most days.

Maria has taken over from Lalo in watching out for me. She looks after the apartment, and we've been out for coffee. There is a standing invitation to go out dancing with her (tango, marenge, salsa...), which I've promised I will do.

I had an hour's run one morning this week along the river to Los Leones and back. Opposite me is Parque Forestale, a narrow park that lines the river. It's intersected by roads and interrupted by some highways, so running along the river involves quite a bit of criss-crossing the bridges.

I have met a photographer, Leo, whose studio and home are very near the amazing Cerro Santa Lucia. This steep hill with various folly-type ramparts is right in the middle of an arty precinct. There are great views from the top across to Cerro San Cristobal, where there is a statue of the Virgin Mary on the hilltop. I took the funicular to the top last Friday when I was exploring the Bellavista neighbourhood, which is on my side of the river and a 10-minute walk from home. Just over the park is Barrio Lastarria, which is very groovy and has some fabulous (and cheap) clothing boutiques. Leo showed me through it on Saturday evening, and we had lunch nearby the other day.

Museo de Bellas Artes, two blocks from me, includes a contemporary art gallery, which I looked through on the weekend. Another gallery of visual arts is attached to the fabulous GAM building, which also has theatres. I've found two art cinemas and saw the new Juliette Binoche film, "Certified Copy", which had French, Italian and only a little English dialogue, with Spanish subtitles, so it felt like total submersion for me. Cinema tickets are very cheap: around US$/A$6! I've also seen an exhibition of Andy Warhol's works on loan from a museum for children in the States. There was lots of stuff there I hadn't seen before.

I've been into a couple of the huge cathedrals near Plaza de Armas, which is the cultural centre of the city and only a short walk from me. I now want to start visiting the various historical and other museums, including the Fundacion Museo de la Mode, which just bought at auction in London one of Amy Winehouse's iconic dresses.