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.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Travel diary (02 of 28): "broad streets with fists and flags"

Travel diary (02 of 28):

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]

It was said a few days later by one on the lecturers, at the beginning of her presentation, but we had felt it a long time ago: putting one foot in front of the other in the grounds of Chile was the same as walking the land of Salvador Allende, of Víctor Jara, of Violeta Parra, of Gabriela Mistral, of the groups Inti Illimani, Quilapayún, Illapu... It reminded us of Santa María of Iquique, of the many times we repeated "the people, together, won't be ever defeated", and of that student, Rodrigo Rojas, burnt alive during a demonstration. It reminded us of the ones buried under the sands of Pisagua, of the Mapuche people fighting in Temuco... There we found years and years of history, known and recognized through poems, pieces of news, songs... And it reminded us of that song –I believe it was performed by Quilapayún– that said:

There won't be tears for Víctor Díaz.
There will be a fly of birds when the sun rises,
and wide streets full of fists and flags,
and the joyfulness of children and guitars.

It was the courage of those people who have overcome the pain and the injustice that institutional oppressors and murderers had spread. They had continued living and defending life as we did on the other side of the Andean range, as many others did –Uruguayans, Paraguayans, Bolivians– here and there, in this land crossed by scars, but, at the same time, covered with smiles. Chile was all that much, and even more. While we walked together the streets of Santiago that Monday, 6th of December –a day with no professional activities for me, so I was free to tour and know the city hand in hand with Sara–, I found myself in front of silhouettes, words and sounds that were absolutely familiar to me, even though it was the first time I put my feet on that country.

From our accommodation in Providencia (the name of the neighborhood) we followed the troubled waters of the Tajamar, a narrow channel carrying much water, which drove us –among very high and modern buildings– to the brownish waters of the Mapocho River, an indelible stain in the face of the city, under the presence of the unavoidable Andean summits, covered with eternal snow, showing all their majesty. The Mapocho River, alongside with its wide concrete-and-stones riverbed and its gulls, has –as many people from Santiago said– a very high level of pollution. "Can you see it there?" –they asked us– "Well, sometimes it carries... water", finished the sentence with a smile. Those who have their memories present, still remember –in a whispering voice and turning aside their sight– that in the near dark past of the Chilean history, the river also carried dead bodies downstream.

I prefer not to think about these sadnesses while my eyes wander from one shore to the other following the muddy crests of the river. There, by the shore of the Mapocho, spreads the Costanera, a series of parks tidily and neatly arranged, where the inhabitants of this large city get rest from their worries and fatigues under the friendly shade of "ceibos", "plátanos", willows and "ombúes". This walk –following Mapocho's stream– took us from Providencia to the triangular downtown, crossing the shade of San Cristóbal hill (mountainous terrain, 200 meters high) which rose over the eclectic and bohemian neighborhood of Bellavista, among fountains and statues... There, in Bellavista, is placed one of Pablo Neruda's houses, though it is probably better known the famous one of Isla Negra, a village situated on the Pacific coast, in the south of the harbor of Valparaíso.

Without tourist guidebooks in our hands, defending ourselves with an unclear, not-very-good city plan –picked up from the hotel entrance counter– that only had a few museums and institutions (plus the name of the main streets), Sara and I made our way downtown, to the heart of the city. There stood the National Arts Museum, a very pretty building that, according to some recommendations from colleagues and friends, certainly was worth a visit. The problem was that, following a very spread custom in most parts of our continent, the museums close their doors for the public on Monday. We did not get discouraged by this fact: on the contrary, we were delighted with our walk and the architectural features of the building and decided to go further discovering the wonders that the city had to offer us. After a few hundreds meters we reached the second hill of the town, this time hidden within the urban structure of Santiago: Santa Lucía hill, a rock of sizable dimensions that rises, without previous notice, in the middle of the city. Going back to 16th century (1541), the Spaniard Pedro de Valdivia –founder of the city– defended that piece of land, trying to protect he and his troops against the brave Pikunches, a branch of the indigenous Mapuche people that lived in that place. The way uphill was very steep, and represented a great challenge for untrained muscles (as mine, for example). Nevertheless, the effort was worthy: from the highest point our eyes could see the extraordinary view of the entire city, with the imposing summits of the Andean range to the east, covered with the shadow of pollution, and with its walls colored in grey by smog, an ungrateful consequence of a heavy traffic that, however, is far from being noisy (I mean, not as much as in other Latin American cities, mine for example). This view of the city certainly stops you from breathing and invites you to sit down and admire it for a long, long time.

Going downhill, we passed Valdivia's monument, the one dedicated to Gabriela Mistral and the one risen in the honor of the Pikunche people. Once at ground level, it did not take us too much time to find the Indigenous Art Centre, which has a very peculiar graffiti in a wall near the entrance. It consisted of a traditional Mapuche design (a kultrun or ceremonial drum) and the sentence: "Resistence is not the same as terrorism". The situation of the Mapuche people, either on the Argentinean side of the Andes or in the Chilean one, is extremely precarious. Their actions, resulting of many years of pressure (first it was the Inka Empire, later on the Spaniards, afterwards the Republic, in time the Dictatorship, nowadays the multinational corporations), can turn into very violent ones (as the group of people with their face covered that set fire to almost 1.200 books from the new Philosophy Library in the Juan Gomez Millas University when took part in a "pro-Mapuche" demonstration a few days ago). However, it has also to be said that this indigenous people have their rights constantly and systematically violated (you can visit the sites with news on the subject such as "Pueblos Originarios" section in Indymedia, in order to understand a bit the roots of their resistance and their rage... and also for knowing more about those voices always kept in silence). Violence never justifies violence... but it is also true that no pain hurts if the neighbor is the one who suffers it. Hence, it is almost impossible to explain some attitudes from outside.

The Indigenous Art Centre I was talking above, organized by CONADI, is a mere handicrafts market oriented towards tourists, that has got an exhibition of some common representations of works done in Rapa Nui, Mapuche regions in the South, and in the Chilean Great North, mainly inhabited by the Aymara people. We could appreciate Mapuche musical instruments such as the trutruka, the kultrun and the pifilka, some textiles and a few works made of silver (that Mapuche did and still do as the masters they are). There were ponchos and Andean musical instruments, some reproductions of the famous moais from Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and a very curious duplication of the well known rongo-rongo boards, the native writing of Easter Island, used for creating their "books" on wood boards.

Going out of this place, we directed our steps towards the National Library, an impressive building of classical style facing the famous Alameda (Avenue Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins) which tour we did shortly, entering one room after the other without stopping in any of them (we would do so during the following days), but also slowing down our pace after finding ourselves in front of an exhibition that presented, with amusing and didactic posters, the history of the popular celebrations and parties of the city. While we were looking at each poster we found it very easy to recognize ourselves in many of these customs, and we took notice of the fact that the human being, wherever s/he is, has very similar ways of getting fun, of entertaining his/her free time, of celebrating many different events. It was standing up there that we asked ourselves the reason why the nations of Latin America are still so separated one from the others, why there is still such a lack of understanding among them, why those regional feelings of dislike for each other, why so much roughness between countries that should walk together to confront and deal with the future, since we do not seem to be in a position of getting a very high score alone.

We left the library with not even a single answer, watching at the entrance a big poster announcing the fact of being, that building, the headquarters of the Chilean section of International Transparency, the organization that evaluate political corruption in a particular country (I did prefer not have a look at the statistics of this organization, I did not want to suffer from depression). At the same building are placed the National Archives. The ones referred to the city are in the Library of Santiago, an institution I will talk about in the following posts.

Our tour took us through the populated and packed Alameda, witness of multitudinarian demonstrations and a very important part of the Chilean history. And from there, we arrived at the Palacio de la Moneda, the headquarters of Chilean government, where its actual president, Michelle Bachelet, works. Remembering the documentaries about the coup d'etat in which the president Allende lost his life, and seeing that... was exactly the same thing. And, while we were turning our face to contemplate the square opposite, right there, in one of its corners, we did find the statue of Don Salvador. It was a bit sad to see it there, in an almost hidden nook, when it should actually deserve a more visible place... the one of the main character in the history of this country.

We continued our path through a pedestrian area, wandering from square to square, crossing the Central Market and feeling our mouths watering with the smell of each piece of fruit, the cochayuyo (dried seaweeds in brown tyings), and the various types of fish and sea fish. From congers to sea urchins, from huge prawns to crayfishes and barnacles, we found everything and even more. With the last bite of an apple in our mouth, we finished our tour taking a look at the Tourist Office of Santiago (where its personnel gave us a lot of useful tips for the rest of our journeys) and reserving two seats for our trip to Temuco, the capital city of Araucanía, where we had to meet some colleagues who worked with libraries in Mapuche communities.

We spent the rest of the day looking at the maps and the leaflets got at the Tourist Office, planning future journeys, visits, and above all, preparing the workshop presentation for the following day. But that story (and its details) will be kept in silence till tomorrow.

A big hug.