The International Writers Magazine: Buenos Airies and other
Sullivan's Chile Diary
plods on here in Santiago. I am doing a very good impression of
someone with not enough work, even less money and a rapidly mounting
credit card debt. Still, the weather is still fine despite Chileans
telling me that the summer is over. Its hard to feel that
when the temperature can still reach the thirties Celsius.
The television in
Chile plumbed new depths over Easter with five out of the six channels
showing Hollywood Jesus-type films. The best one was a Japanese animated
cartoon of the story of Abraham and Isaac cartoon (dubbed into Spanish
of course). Just as Abraham was about to burn Isaac the voice of God
appeared and said Hey, Abraham, only joking! I promise you I wont
test you again. It was watching this that I realised that God
was a pig for making Abraham do that. The cartoon was really freaky
as well because Isaac was a happy Japanese animated cartoon boy who
really wanted to be sacrificed as he loved his father and he loved God
as well. Bloody hell.
My personal highlight was seeing Charlton Heston is no less than three
films. In one of them (I dont know what it was called because
I would never watch more than five to ten minutes of this dross) he
was John the Baptist. What must the psychology of this man be like if
he is forever playing Gods representative on earth?
This Easter more things were open than last year. People still panic-buy
on Maundy Thursday in case nothing is open over the Holy Weekend. The
shops were emptied of bread, meat and diary products by the afternoon.
There was more life this year however. My former flatmate arrived last
year on Good Friday and Santiago was like a ghost town. When he popped
out to the supermarket (which had precious little in it) he was greeted
by a man outside the shop on a step bent over exposing his sphincter
to the world. We came to view that moment as a metaphor for my former
flatmates year in Chile. He never saw Sphincterman
again, but then how would he recognise him? Still, it was a moment he
will treasure forever.
Easter is a great psychological change for Chileans. For us it means
that summer is en route, whereas for them it means that winter is NOW
and they become immediately depressed. The fact that it never gets really
cold seems not a factor into their thinking. Maybe theyre thinking
how terrible the pollution will be (it will be). This year it doesn't
seem to have hit them so hard. Last year after Easter they all started
dressing like Puritans. I thought the nation had gone into mourning
Chileans are very light sensitive people, much more so that English
people. At home were used to the thin light and make do with it.
When the suns comes out in March and April then it improves everyones
spirits, but we are not plunged so headlong into a winter depression
as Chileans. We just become more introspective, whilst they want to
It does have its effects on us though. We are a much darker people in
our thoughts than Chileans. Whilst I was at home I took advantage of
the 3 for 2 book offers (books are cheaper in England than
in Chile, bizarrely). Its always easy to find the first two books,
but then finding the third free one is near impossible.
I found myself choosing Gulag: The History Of The Soviet Concentration
Camp! Theres no way Id read something like that in
Chile! After I left home I discovered that the documentary series about
Auschwitz had beaten Celebrity Big Brother. Some people
think thats a good thing
Im not so sure. Anyhow,
in January the British public seem to want to watch something truly
dark. So be it.
Actually, Chileans can be given to dark thoughts. One in
four Santiaguinos suffer from some form of mental illness! As well as
schizophrenia and plain old depression, there is an extraordinary high
figure of people who suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder. Chileans
feel isolated by geography (desert to the north, mountains to the east,
the ocean to the west and a vast expanse of forest to the south) and
that theyre in the arse-end of the world. They suffer from a shockingly
low level of self-confidence.
The dictatorship really took its toll here, with people only just coming
up for air. The church is extremely repressive and the reason that there
is little sex education and until last November, no divorce law. The
latter has created the most complicated set-ups for peoples families,
as one could never divorce. One could get an annulment, a system so
ridiculous that its almost unbelievable! If you want an annulment,
you take two friends with you and you tell the registrar that the address
you put on the marriage certificate was incorrect so therefore it is
et voila! Its not surprising that precious few
Chileans arent lunatics. Not to be a lunatic in Chile shows true
character. In Europe we imagine South Americans to be happy and dancing
all the time thats Brazil. The psyche of the rest of continent
is so complicated in would give you a headache to think about it.
The other week I went to the citys Basque Centre to have a look.
I was shown around by a Basque girl who answered all my Basque questions.
I watched then play their Basque ball games and their fiendishly complicated
card game called Muz. The Basque ball game comes in many forms. There
is a version that is like squash but played with the flat palm of your
hand instead of a racquet. Another version is similar but played with
flat bats or paddles called a paleta or a pala corta. The most famous
version is called jai-alai (which translates as merry festival).
Outside of the Basque Country it is played mostly in Miami. Its
like the English games fives (not played much nowadays) but the hook-like
gloves you used are made out of wicker. They are called xare or cesta
punta (depending on the language you choose). It is the fastest games
in the world, the ball capable of reaching speeds of hundreds of miles
an hour. The court is not surprisingly rather long!
Some Basques there thought I was Basque too because of my face. Apparently
the Irish and Basques have facial similarities (scientists have pointed
to certain DNA links that are specific to only two nationalities). This
was a window of opportunity for some of them to question me about Irish
politics, a subject I never really like to talk about with people who
arent Irish (part of it being that I have to go back to 1169,
Cromwell, the plantation of the north, 1916, 1921, 1968
blah blah). A lot of the Basques who were there were older people who
had left Spain because of Franco regime. It would be safe to say that
their understanding of the situation of Ireland was somewhat coloured
by their support of Basque independence and the various organisations
who would have ties with those in Ireland of similar aspirations. After
a short question and answer session about Ireland (not one I had wanted
to give) I was asked about the north. I simply told them that I didnt
want to comment and received a hearty pat on the back. Its no
surprise that at least two ETA men on the run have turned up working
as waiters in the restaurant in that centre. Interestingly enough the
girl who was showing me around didnt have time for that bollocks.
It tends to be exiles and their children who go in for that rubbish.
By that logic I should be a volunteer in the IRA, so maybe its
a condition of the Americas.
Despite my anti-nationalist tendencies, I went to a St. Patricks
do recently. I tend to avoid them like the plague but I was obliged
to go as it was organised by a friend. This one was all right actually
as Paddys Nights go. It was full of Irish people for change (as
opposed to wannabes). It was full of live music and was jolly enjoyable.
Its a shame that there is no such party to for St. Georges
Day. What in earth does in mean to be English anyway? I cant stand
those flag waving fascists back home who claim they represent Englishness
As far Im concerned, one of the best things about being
English is that it isnt tied to any of that crap. Anyone can be
English. You dont need to be anything to be English (a sense of
humour is required). To be French is very prescriptive: you must fall
into line or you are not French (how humourless!). To be English is
the antithesis of all that. Who are the English now anyway but a multitude
of different races blended together, maybe even more so than the Yanks
but without the (upfront) racism
gosh; this is far too heavy
going! A Chilean chap (one of the few normal ones) told me recently
that I was so complicated that I was like a bowl of spaghetti! Maybe
he had a point. Time to relax.
Anyhow, the rest of this is about my travels. I would urge everyone
back at home reading this to quit their jobs and go travelling. If you
havent got enough money to do it then steal some!
|The Bolivian Border- Photos
Morning: Wake up and I am in Buenos Aires. Clean myself. Discover
my missing underpants. Promise that I will never let something that
I keep so close to me disappear again.
Afternoon: Change Uruguayan pesos into Argentinean pesos. I dont
seem to get a lot back, though it has to be said that the Uruguayan
peso does go far - food is cheap and there isnt anything else
to spend it on (unless you want some serious fashion victim clothes).
Photo: La Boca
to an internet café, where a young man starts to speak English
and starts asking me about the Falklands. He tells me that
his father was high up in the military
despite the fact I dont
want to have the conversation he wont go away. I have to confess
I find it quite interesting though. He says that the Argentinean military
effort was run by idiots (this is true) but he also has some strange
ideas about Britain. Most Latin Americans are confused by my Christian
name and so I have to explain that to them that its Irish and
that my parents are Irish. Then I have to explain to them that I am
actually English. This fool in front of me then wants to know whether
it was hard being British and supporting the IRA
it would seem
that for a long-time Argentinean news reported the IRA as the legitimate
voice of the Irish people, probably due to both ignorance and sour grapes
over the Falklands. I wearily leave the conversation at this point.
Go to the main bus station. Find a ticket to Iguaçu Falls in
Brazil for £13! Bargain!
Evening: Eat well. Drink. Sleep. Feel very happy with myself that I
am in Buenos Aires, once of the best cities in the world.
Morning: Get up early to on a trip to the La Boca area of Buenos Aires.
I go with an organised tour with my hostel. Get the bus down as it can
be quite rough outside the touristy area. La Boca (meaning the
mouth) is where the immigrants would all arrive in the 19th Century
in Buenos Aires. The tourist area is the colourful artistic haunt known
as the Caminito, which is the name of a famous tango song.
The houses are coloured bright reds, pinks and blues
I wish Santiago
had as much vitality.
Afternoon: Watch tango as I eat pasta. Go and check out some of the
original immigrant tenements (though they have been done up for the
tourists). They are thirty rooms and there used to be a family to a
room. Buenos Aires really was a melting pot of cultures. After this
we go to La Bombonera the stadium of Boca Junior. Its name
means a chocolate box because the tiers of the stadium are
stacked up so close together, just like a chocolate box. The fans are
very close to the pitch so there is protective perspex to protect the
players from flares being thrown at them! Sadly the season does not
start until the middle of February so I cant get to see a match.
Inside the stadium building is museum/shrine to that cheating dog Maradona.
The less said about that the better (by the way, the Spanish language
spellchecker on this computer tried to change dog to god.
For some reason Latins just love the gobshite, even computers it would
seem!) As I get the bus through La Boca I can see that the place is
as rough as old boots. These people would rob the teeth out of your
head if they had the opportunity. I stay on the bus.
Evening: Avoid the tango lessons in the hostel. Sadly all the nightclubs
are still closed because of the big fire so I have to party in pubs
or at the hostel.
Morning: Get up early and go on a trip to the Recoleta area of Buenos
Aires. I go with an organised tour with my hostel. Go to the areas
cemetery that I went to last week, except this time I have someone to
show me around. Last week the batteries in my camera ran out so now
I have the opportunity to take more photos. Discover all the disgusting
things that were done to the bodies of the Peróns. Not only was
weird stuff done to Evas body (I dont want to go into that)
but military junta cut of the fingers of Juan Peróns corpse
in the hope of using his fingerprints to break into his Swiss bank account.
Afternoon: Go and have lunch in a nice bistro-like café. Recoleta
is the expensive part of town. It has a reputation for being quite snobbish
too. They have red telephone boxes and postboxes here in a direct copy
of England. I take a wander through the buildings that in a Parisian
style. After this I go to the Japanese garden and relax.
Evening: Enjoy my last evening in Buenos Aires! Have a conversation
with an Australian chap. Beforehand we have both chatted to another
Aussie who was about to return home after travelling. He picked up two
suits in B.A. so he could wear them at interviews back at home. I then
find out from this other Aussie chap that the two Christian Dior suits
cost him US$500 for both and he had them tailored. Curse myself
that I didnt ask him where he had got them from
Morning: Get up early, wash and pack. I have to be out of my room by
Afternoon: Have a big lunch (for not much money as usual). Go shopping
quickly for things I will need and things I have to pick up for other
people. Explore the prices of clothes and leather. Everything is dirt
cheap no matter where you buy it (and of excellent quality too).
Evening: Catch the bus to Brazil. I am sad to leave Buenos Aires because
I really like it. In front of me is a man who I swear is English (though
he is talking Portuguese). He is super-blond looking. When I try to
talk to him he has no English whatsoever. Brazilians are a unique racial
mixture. It seems to be that the further north you go the more black
Morning: The bus stops by a roadside café so everyone can get
some food. I dont feel like eating first thing. The air-conditioning
system on Brazilian buses has one setting: sub-zero. When I get off
the bus its a real shock to feel the humidity. We are very near
the border with Brazil. Im not sure if you would call the forest
around me a jungle or not. Perhaps it is called a sub-tropical jungle.
No matter what its called I can hear it living and breathing,
just like when you see it on a nature programme on the BBC. The only
difference is that you can feel the heat against you. Excellent. An
hour or so later the bus crosses the border into Brazil. I meet a Colombian
brother and sister who are on the same bus as me. They become my travelling
companions for the duration of my trip (luckily they both speak excellent
Afternoon: We find a room for three that costs us US$5 a night each.
It feels so good to have a wash after sweating in the humidity of Brazil
I am in the extreme south of the country, so it must be unbearable
in the north and around the Amazon.
Evening: We go out for a drink where I get to know my new chums. The
brother is called Luis Fernando and was working in London up until Christmas
time. The sister is called Ana Milena and was an architect in Bogotá
but now is a professional dancer. Around Brazilians are dancing like
crazy. The Colombians get up to join them but I am put to shame my lack
of dancing abilities. Latinos dont seem to understand that English
people dont just dance at the drop of a hat! When I do feel like
dancing though the Colombians are tired so there will be no dancing
for Dermot. The highlight of the evening is watching a two-year old
girl dance when she can barely walk. Lovely.
Morning: Get up and go to the Falls.
Afternoon: Latins have a tendency to say that everything is so beautiful.
Its the way speak. When they use the same words in English
it sounds ridiculous. Iguaçu Falls though are truly, truly
spectacular. I dont have enough words to describe how good
Evening: Go to bed
early. The Colombians (who are sleeping in the same room as me) are
interesting characters. They seem to have very real dreams at night
where they are not sure whether they are awake or night. They have talked
of in the past knowing what each other is dreaming. Tonight I watch
the Professional Dancer clap and shout in her sleep. The night before
she was screaming and turned on the lights in a sleepwalk trance (I
had only just got to sleep due to the heat in the room). This furthers
my feeling that the Latin psychology is absolutely nuts. The psyche
of this people is so ridiculously complicated. I know no Latin women
who are normal. Everyone seems to have complexes of some shape or form.
Even those who are apparently normal had some sort of craziness in the
past. How do these people live like this?
Morning: Go with a tour company that takes to the Argentinean side of
the Falls. This way we can bypass customs.
Afternoon: On the Brazilian side of the Falls you see the full panorama.
On the Argentinean side you stand on a bridge right on top of the full
force of the waterfall (which is called La Garganta Del Diablo - The
Devil's Throat). The water roar and spray back onto you.
Evening: See where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meet up (they are
divided by two rivers that meet here). Return to Brazil. As I leave
Argentina I see a sign up that reads Las Malvinas Son Argentinas!
(the Falkland Islands are Argentinean). Fat chance. This sign is shown
by every exit out of Argentina, by the way. Too bad for them.
Morning: Cross the river into Paraguay to a tax and duty free zone called
Cuidad del Este. Never will you find a more wretched hive of scum and
villainy. Everything knocked off or bent in this part of the world is
sold in this town. It is truly awful. I cant comment on the rest
of Paraguay, but this place is a dump. I do not eat or imbibe liquid
in case of catching something. The people all around make me itchy.
I watch my pockets in case I am pickpocketed. The Colombians and I cant
wait to get out.
Afternoon: Visit the Itaipu hydro-electric dam, supposedly one of the
seven modern wonders of the world. We have to sit through instructional
videos before we will be allowed to see it. I suppose that they are
concerned with security, but what should last 15 minutes ends up taking
over an hour. Still, its an impressive piece of work. The overspill
is impressive but after the Falls down the road it just doesnt
live up to expectation.
Evening: Decide to continue travelling with the Colombians. We get the
overnight bus to Florianópolis. Talk to some Brazilian guy on
the bus (in Spanish) who got some bird knocked up in Paraguay and has
been stuck there ever since. He was on the bus to finally buy a place
back in Brazil. Naturally he was very pleased. He didnt seem too
enthused with Paraguay.
Next week: Read about Dermot attending a Mardis Gras in the barrios!
Read about him losing his socks! Read about him getting sunburnt! Read
about him ending up in bloody Santiago again! If you made it this far
then you might as well stick it out to the end!
© Dermot Sullivan April 2005
Dermot in action
Year in Santiago
Dermot Sullivan's Chile Diary
Gringo - Diary Entry 2
From Santiago No 3
Diary No 4
Diary No 5
The Naruda House
Dermot Sullivan No 6
Week in Bolvia:
Dermot Sullivan's Diary No.7
No 8: Mendoza
Diary No 9
North & South
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