They can burn books, destroy libraries, forbid languages, ban beliefs, delete past times,
draw new present times, order future actions, torture and execute people...
But they still don´t know how to kill the intangible and bright
bodies of ideas, dreams and hopes.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Travel diary (01 of 28): the gulls of the Mapocho river

Travel diary (01 of 28): the gulls of the Mapocho river

By Edgardo Civallero
Translated and commented by Sara Plaza

[Diary of the journey by land across the ancient Inka Empire, from LIS Meeting to LIS Meeting, through Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and NW Argentina, from November 5th to December 1st, 2006]

"What are these gulls doing here,
so far from the sea?
What are they doing here,
among stones and corner, in this brown river?
What are they doing here,
so far from the sea?"

This stanza from the well known song of Chilean group Illapu (well known, at least in Chile) had always intrigued me... The song was named "Far from love", and I did manage to interpret it on stage and even to record it in a CD with an old music group I had in Spain, when I was a teenager. What gulls did the song make reference to? What river?

While I was crossing the first bridge over turbulent Mapocho, the river that goes through the city of Santiago of Chile, I did understand –fourteen years later– what birds the song referred to. Soaring up into the air over the immense concrete riverbed surrounded by packed avenues and smart and tidy parks, with their outstanding white wings over the brown water, were Illapu's gulls. The River Mapocho gulls.

I had arrived in Santiago de Chile after a short flight that did not rose smoothly up into the air, but with a lot of effort and movements from one side to the other, over a stormy Córdoba, crossing San Luis ranges and Mendoza lands –covered with vineyards– and silently reaching the Andean Mountains. I had always held a fascination for those peaks both in my imagination and in my soul... They represented the dorsal spine of my land, they were the grounds of the original peoples that I love the most, they were... like a legend safely kept in my mind since I was a boy. For the first time, I was crossing the border with Chile, and I did so the day I started this long journey across that range (and along it to the north). The clear sky was of precious help: not a cloud did prevent me from being absolutely delighted with the snowed summits of those giants of stone, with the narrow valleys in between, with the furious streams of water that went down the mountains as a consequence of the melting ice... I remembered the one called "Liberator", General José de San Martín, crossing with his soldiers that iced and rocked mountains in order to join his forces with the ones of their Chilean brothers against the Spanish troops, and defeat them in Chacabuco, in Maipú, and be defeated in Cancha Rayada... The spirit strength of those men, fighting for their freedom and their independence (an independence that perhaps they did not reached ever, although much blood and heroism were wasted) made an impression even greater on me when I was able to see, with my own eyes, the huge extent of land they crossed, the difficulties that scattered their path, the harsh, cruel, severe and unkind conditions that they went through...

Suddenly the range went down and in a few minutes I was flying over Santiago de Chile. Ingeniously I did remember myself when I was a child, looking at my maps and measuring the width of Chile, asking myself how those people did manage to live in a piece of land so narrow without falling into the sea. It was obvious that they do not only live there: they make an incredibly profitable use of the space they occupy. Chile rises over an area of the planet where the ocean floor sank under the continent given rise to a very steep slope in the coast and all sort of manifestations related to the Earth, including earthquakes and volcanoes. The Andean range is the result of two tectonic plates bumping into each other, and its geological activity throughout South America (manifestations we were going to witness during my journey across its lands) are caused by it.

Well, I was there. The first part of my trip would take place in Chilean lands, where I had been invited to participate in the First National Congress on Chile Public Libraries (Primer Congreso Nacional de Bibliotecas Públicas de Chile) organized by DIBAM (Libraries, Archives and Museums Direction), the Librarian Centre of the municipality of Puente Alto (one of the biggest and most packed of Santiago, located in the southeast of the city) and the on line open-access LIS journal "Pez de Plata". The people responsible for the DIBAM Libraries Subdirection and the project known as "BiblioRedes" were waiting for me at the airport, and took me to my accommodation, in Providencia neighborhood (one of the quarters of "high" class people in the capital). They made me cross that bridge over the River Mapocho and asked me if I had ever listened to the Illapu song... They also told me about the gulls...

During the way I got to know a bit more about the nature of the event. Firstly, it would consist of two days of workshops in the Library of Puente Alto, one of the most overwhelming public libraries in Santiago. There, I was responsible for dictating a workshop about Communitarian Libraries Planning, explaining how to create –from scratch– a library of such characteristics. Afterwards, I would join the rest of the guests coming from Spain, Colombia, Portugal and Peru and take part in the Congress itself, which would last three more days, where I was the one presenting the conference about the Social Role of Public Libraries in Latin America.

From the airport to the hotel, I wanted to learn about the DIBAM policies on mobile libraries. I did not know the reason, but always that I had talked about mobile libraries in Argentina, the reference was Chile and DIBAM experiences, so my curiosity went past my shyness and I began to ask them. Surprisingly enough, the father of one of the persons who was beside me, had been the instigator of the system of mobile libraries in Coyhaique, in southern Chile, land of fjords and ranches, mountains and sleet... That way I was able to find out some anecdotes. What most stroke me was the fact that there were neither handbooks nor written policies by DIBAM concerning this issue: the knowledge built until today had been done in a very intuitive manner, through a methodology consisting on trial-error or action-research, respectful of each of the international recommendations related to mobile librarian systems, but without creating documents that might have been used in another country. "What a pity" I said to myself. On the web there is a great deal of pages about travelling libraries and mobile systems, but I was really interested in obtaining some guidelines from Chilean colleagues. I was said that there were, at that moment, a limited number of mobile units belonging to DIBAM, working in Chile. The rest were small systems that were not based on a bus or a big vehicle, but on the popular will of moving books from one place to another making use of bicycles, motorbikes and so on, with only one restriction: the power of our imagination. My interlocutors told me that in the short term, there was the intention of starting to note down all the practices stored through years and years, in written texts that allowed the teaching and the reproduction of those experiences in many other environments.

Once I arrived at the hotel, and after organizing my things a bit, I went out to find my journey and life partner, Sara, who had arrived the previous day, and, much to my surprise, had already walked a good number of streets downtown, investing a lot of effort and energy in the task of "paving the way" for our future steps. After going for a walk together and leaving her in her hostel, I joined the other guests for an informal talk in a restaurant close to our hotel. However, on this matter and on the following events –full of valuable information and very rich personal experiences– I will be talking tomorrow, in the next post of this travel diary that, in its paper format (the one I have had in my hands through the whole journey) fills with words, drawings and the petals of a daisy, dozens of pages...

I really hope you continue accompanying me in a journey that, though hard enough, has better allowed me to understand the wealth of our lands and the enormous need of urgent actions to be taken on the part of Latin American librarians...

A huge hug. It will be until tomorrow...