Bullet Point the Week

After a week without posting, its time for a bullet point list:

-Had the supreme privilege of seeing the godfather of funk himself, George Clinton, perform in an old abandoned factory in Santiago.  The show was like a 3-ring circus featuring about 20 people on stage at a time.  Clinton plays the ring leader (with some assistance), introducing and promoting different members of the group as they take center stage and display their unique talents.  Clothing ranged from one guy in a diaper to another in white feather pants and top hat to Clinton´s famous tie-dyed dreadlocks.  At 68 years old, he does pretty well just being on stage, but in comparison to actual performers, he doesn´t do much.  While it didn´t compare to Red Hot Chili Peppers in Caracas, the music never stopped once and I got to hear ¨We Want the Funk¨from the grandmaster of funk himself.  The Chileans meanwhile, amused me with their various incantations of the word ¨funk¨as they sang along.

-As Peru was culturally very similar to Bolivia, so Argentina has proven culturally similar to Chile.  Crossing from Bolivia to Chile, however, is like changing worlds.

-Made Rotary connections in Mendoza, Argentina, and was invited to a parrilla.  A parrilla is basically an Argentinian barbeque with huge hunks of meat (apologies to Jimmy Buffett) and wine flowing freely (mixed with soda water to ensure you last the night).  Rotarians have proven to be extraordinarily kind and generous.

-As Rotarians are wont to make visitors do, I was DSCI0154asked to stand and give a speech–impromptu–and in Spanish.  I felt like a clutz, but they applauded at the end, so who knows?  You lose so much in translation.  I am used to being able to express myself accurately, succinctly, subtly.  When I speak in Spanish about idea, emotions, etc., I lose all subtlty and can only paint using a wide, frayed brush, missing particulars and getting color on the floorboard.  I need some painter´s tape…

-I´ve been exceedingly fortunate in the last week, after travelling solo through Chile, to have found some wonderful people to hang out with.  Jonatan in Valparaiso.  Angela in Santiago.  Gabriella and Angel in Argentina.  And, of course…

Mauro, Luci introduce me to ¨fernet.¨
Mauro, Luci introduce me to ¨fernet.¨

-I need to thank Erica for introducing me to her friend Luci.  I have now met each of her 567 family members in Mendoza, and had at least that many cups of maté.  Thanks to them, I´ve had the opportunity to experience a very authentic side of Argentinian culture: family meals, outings, traditional food and drink, and…

-Witnessed an Argentinian futbol match with Luci and her uncle, Rodolfo.  The hometown team, Godoy Cruz Antonio Tomba faced off against the higher ranked Colon team, and unfortunately, took a 3-1 loss.  Though the game was not a sell out, it was wild to see the ¨barra brava¨, the Argentinian version of soccer hooligans.

-Its amazing how EXHAUSTED I get after having to concentrate on Spanish for extending periods of time (i.e. full days of ¨family time¨).

Historia y Sabores Bodega

-Mendoza is captital of Argentinian wine country.  Earlier this week, thanks to one of Luci´s cousins, I had a private tour of one of the ¨bodegas¨ and yesterday, rented a bicycle and spent the afternoon cruising between bodegas on two wheels.



-Luci´s grandmothers, as well as her cousin Esequiel, have been teaching me how to properly serve maté.  I´m becoming addicted.  Maté is a strongly caffeinated tea that is to Argentinian culture what afternoon tea to British culture.  Only cooler.  It is a green herb with piping hot water that is served in a wooden cup with a metal straw called a bombilla and passed around like a bong. 

-Fun fact: Older than, and thus not named for the famous revolutionary, Luci´s grandfather´s name is Fidel Castro.

-Tonight, its off to Iguazu Falls via 36-hour bus trip.  Hopefully, it won´t be quite as bad as it sounds.  The buses in South America have been fantastic.  You pay a little extra for a lower level (out of two) seat and its like sitting in first class on an airplane.  Food, movies, and the seats lay out enough to make for a manageably comfortable sleep.


Milagroso Niño Jesus de Praga, Santiago, Chile

I like darkened churches. 

And I like giant churches with nooks that you can hide in.  Churches with bright beacons of stained glass.  And churches with the glow and scent of candles.  Dark, stained wood, heavy and substantial with spots rubbed smooth and pale by many years of wear. 

And churches with feverish followers in impassioned prayer, by appearance, their lives hanging in the balance and confident in the results. 

Most of all, I like churches that are open in the middle of the day, invitations, where lives and church blend together until it becomes unclear where one ends and another begins.

Why do I travel?  Moments, places like these…

I got kicked out of cub scouts when I was 10, but…

The wide variety of weather on the trip, as well as my various states of health, have validated my gear selection. I don´t think there´s anything I packed that I haven´t used at least once. From the 2-jacket, sweater, long john´s, boots, bolivian hat combo in the altiplano to the shorts, t-shirt, sandal maneuver in sunny locales like Arequipa and Viscuña, versatility has been the name of the game.

Even the first aid kit has been utilized fully. Usually, its a just-in-case preparation (as in, just in case I need to carry 5 extra pounds). This trip, I think I´ve dipped into every last ziplock bag–malaria and altitude pills, antibiotics and immodium, moleskin and ibuprofen, even the little film cannister of safety pins my mother insisted that I carry.  Heck, even the sleeping bag, which I despaired over bringing, has saved my life on a couple of cold, sick nights.

The only thing that hasn´t served me well was my IPod, which rebelled against the idea of travel and has refused to function since the plane ride.

Ruskin´s Lonely Planet

It´s not such a lonely planet anymore. The guidebooks pettle clichés and backpackers trample the same path, robotically feeling whatever ´the book´ has predetermined for us to feel. We are like sheep to the pied piper of someone else´s fears and inclinations. We focus too rashly on´capturing´ travel. Moving rapidly, accumulating, consuming; I fear that we seldom take the opportunity to drink in a unique, unplanned experience.

I don´t think that it was a coincidence that I read about John Ruskin (in The Art of Travel) on the same day that I noticed so many people sketching urban landscapes in Valparaiso.

Ruskin was a Londoner whose life was focused on the proper response to beauty. He believed that by describing something artistically, you learned it from the inside-out, developed a conscious understanding of it, and were thus able to possess it. Succinctly, Ruskin was interested in fostering the ability to see, as opposed to merely looking.  In a way, Ruskin has articulated a kind of theology of drawing.

This blog is one form of my effort to see through ¨word-painting.¨  Ruskin has inspired me to begin to draw more as a means of fostering wonder and gratitude over my surroundings.

I like to draw when I go to art museums.  I find a painting that moves me in some way, and I´ll sit for some hours and make a raw, fledgling sketch of lines and smears and shading, hoping something of the essence is revealted. 

I´m not a very talented drawer, but Rusking has helped teach me that the product is the least important part of the experience.  Drawing  (and writing, for that matter) forces you to slow down and to ¨be¨– authentically, in the moment, consciously noticing textures, smells, angles, and emotions. In the end, you are rewarded simply by the ¨search for an authentic representation of an experience.¨

Valparaiso, Chile

Valparaiso is a city of crooked, cobbleDSCI0027stone alleys, pastel-colored house fronts stacked steeply up hilllsides, rickety ascensores peddling tree-top routes, switchbacking staircases, crowded oblong plazas, rooftop terraces, and intimate bars and cafes.

Its got a little bit of San Francisco (myriad forms of transportation, steep hills), Seattle (staircases as major thoroughfares, underground scene), Key West (pastel), some of the grittier parts of Paris (French doors and windows overlooing streets, cafes shoved into spaces you´d never have thought possible), and a hint of Barcelona (The Neruda trail mirroring that of Gaudi in the heights of the city).DSCI0029

Yet it remains distinctly South American. It thrives on chaos and pulses a revolutionary energy. The streets are filled with sleeping dogs, bootleg vendors, and more mini-buses than anyone should be able to ride.

¨Bohemian¨ seems to be the catchphrase, and it´s not a bad one.

Street jugglers step into intersections during red lights, hurling flaming sticks and bowling pins.

It is more of a surprise to me when I don´t see a protest march then when I do. Yesterday, the profesors of a local university blocked traffic in the center of town.

I´ve never seen so many people with sketchpads in any one city in my life. Everywhere I walked, there was someone sketching something in a book.DSCI0032

Culture Through the Lens of a Barbie Jeep

The Plaza de las Armas in Vicuña, Chile daily hosts the Indy 500 of mini, plastic electric jeeps and corvettes, driven by little  children of 5 or 6 years with littler concern for whose fee they drive over.  It reminds me of my niece, Alex, who patrols her sweeping yard outside Nashville, Tennessee with a pink Barbie jeep of similar make and model to the ones currently endangering my toes.  I withdraw my feet from the dusty red and white tiles to lay supine on the kakye park bench to enjoy the warmth of the sun on my face, and influenced by the astonishing discovery of cable in my hostal room, begin to wonder who will be the next Ricky Bobby.

It reminds me again how similar we all are.  We may look different and act different, but deep down at the core, we all just want to drive fast and flirt with the hottie in the car next to us.

Rule with an Iron Passifier

There is a local teamster´s chapter for babies and their mothers in each south american town.  They gather before sunrise each morning amidst cigarette smoke and nescafe to negotiate.  The veterans get the choicest routes while the rookies are left to earn their reputation on the cold altiplano routes.  Their mission is simple, to make sure there is a crying baby on each and every bus on the continent.  It is imperative, of course, that every bus route is covered.  Otherwise, there might be one person, somewhere, sometime, that accomplishes a modicum of sleep on a night bus.

They´re everywhere.  Even on the nicest buses, with first class leather seats and fully reclining ¨cama¨ seating.  They come in all shapes and sizes, all bundled up for warmth and full screaming power.  They look innocent enough–adorable bronze faces with dark pools for eyes and noses that sniffle just enough to be cute.  But when the lights go out–watch your ears, you´ll think a siren is going off in the row behind you.  Believe me–common ear plugs and I-pods are no match.

The mother´s role is to clear the scream passage, set the baby up for the best acoustics, and let ´er rip.  The key is to give no effort whatsoever to actually stopping the baby´s crying.   A requisite ¨shush¨ just for show is the extent.  The most common strategy is to prop the baby up on the mother´s lap.  That way, the appearance of pacifying is given, while the noise is lifted to cover the entire bus.  It´s really quite well done.

Military strategists need to learn their organizational strategy, for it appears flawless and without gaps.  Big buses, small buses.  City buses, rural buses.  Camionetas and Colectivos and Combes.  Corporate or privately-operated. 

In an era of increased political power for leftist latin american leaders, it is clear from the ground who has the true political power here.  The Blessed Union of Babies and Mothers.  Community organizers, mount up.