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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

ADVENTURES IN CHILE: ¿HABLA ESPANOL?

MONDAY, NOV 20

First impressions: I´m grateful to have Patrick along as interpreter as you really do need to speak Spanish here. Somehow my small vocabulary has vanished and I´m doing my best to remember things I learned before but somehow, perhaps because so much here reminds me of Greece, that every time I open my mouth to speak Greek comes out. Oh well, keep trying and eventually I will increase my basic vocabulary to a little more than buenas dias and gracias.

This is a country of small, dark people and without a doubt me with my white blonde hair and the gentle giant Patrick stand out conspicuously wherever we got, but people are gracious and friendly and only once did I hear someone remark ¨gringo!"

We`ve mastered the metro in just one day. It´s slick, modern, clean and very efficient. Some of the stations have archaeological displays (like the metro in Athens), most play music and all are orderly and easy to board the swift, comfortable trains. We feel like experts already! Patrick is great to be with as he can translate when necessary, ask directions and this it´s a lot easier to get around.

Yesterday we set off in the morning with grandma. Cecilia´s mom is 86 yrs old, a tiny spry woman with a gold'toothed smile and boundless energy. Trouble is, she´s a bit forgetful, though she did ask us if we wanted to walk to Cecilia´s shop or take the bus. We opted to walk. She said it was a long way and it was but so interesting to stroll through the residential areas of town. They live in Recoleta, one of the many barrios of Santiago. Yes, it was a long walk, and it turned out Cecilia had left her the bus fare but she forgot. Oh well, fun anyway. Cecilia has a small cafe by the river where she sells fast food and snacks and does a brisk business with passers by. It´s right next to the old train station the Estacion Mapocho, which is now an exhibition hall and Santigao´s main cultural centre. The Rio Mapocho runs swiftly through the city, rapids and muddy water. We ate lunch at the cafe then set off to see the Presidential Palace.

Palacio de la Moneda (literally named "the coin"as it was once the mint) has been the government palace since 1846´s. It was designed by Italian architect Joaquien Toesca in the 18th centre. It was here, during the junta of 1973, that the army under General Pinochet, aided by the US and CIA staged a coup and bombed the palace. From here Salvadore Allende, the elected socialist president delivered is final speech as the bombs rained down and killed him.
"May you go forward in the knowlege that sooner than later, the great avenues will open once again along which free citizens will march in order to build a better society. Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers! These are my last words, and I am sure that this sacrifice will constitue a moral lesson that will punish cowardice, perfidy and treason.¨ As of today, Gen. Augusto Pinochet is still to be tried for his crimes against the Chilean people.

We were able to go inside the palace courtyards and look around. The president doesn´t live here now as in Allende´s time. And now they have a woman president, Michelle Bachalet, and there are hopes for a better and more progressive Chile which certainly seems evident to us observers.

After this little tour we took the metro over to the Plaza de Armes which is a central square surrounded by colonial architecture. A fountain dedicated to Simon Bolivar is in the centre of the square and a mounted figure of Pedro de Valdivia who founded Santiago in 1541 stands before the main cathedral. Tje Cathedral Metropolitana is aneoclassical church built by the same architect who designed La Moneda. The interior is lavishly decorated with carvings, stained glass and plenty of gold and silver. (These Catholic cathedrals always astound me filled with their priceless decor and relics in these countries where poverty abounds.)

Outside the cathedral they are erecting an emmense Christmas tree out of a frame made of steel wires. Workers climb up the frame to hang the plastic garlands that will make up the tree´s boughs and on top is a huge star.

We got oursleves back to Cecilia´s house with no problem. And spent the evening visiting and relaxing. We considered our first full day in Santiago quite a successful adventure.

NEXT: The browsing the market and house of the Poet