A Week in Santiago, Chile (March 2014) with Jazz!

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March 27th 2014
Published: March 27th 2014
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13 March 2014 – Thursday – La Serena to Santiago, Chile

In the morning we walked down the short hill to the central bus station to catch a morning Tur Bus scheduled to leave at 8:20am. Tur Bus is the largest bus company in Chile and they seem to go everywhere with great frequency. There were buses leaving for Santiago about every quarter hour. We chose the 8:20 because it was a double-deck coach and we could reserve the front seats upstairs for a great view of the journey. We were there from about 7:30 and buses arrived and departed, many for Santiago. Our bus, however, was coming from the northern area and was delayed. Either Joan or I went up to each bus conductor heading toward Santiago and were told to wait. About 9am we approached another conductor on a bus destined for Santiago. Another travelling gringo couple approached him at the same time. There bus was scheduled for an 8:10am departure and was also delayed. This conductor looked at our tickets for a minute then gestured for us to follow him and took off at a brisk trot to the Tur Bus ticket counter inside the terminal building. He cancelled the tickets and took some cash from the counter attendant which looked to be about the cash value of the four tickets. Then he gestured again and trotted back to the bus and ushered us on. We managed to get the prime viewing seats and enjoyed the 6+ hour trip to Santiago.

The further south we travelled the more green in colour is the scenery. We passed a few small vineyards as well as other irrigated and cultivated fields. We passed greenhouses in which we could see tomatoes. The road followed the coast. There are a number of long beaches that are completely devoid of any kind of development. We also passed by some large processing plants and a bottling plant for a local lager, Cristal, that I have been sampling on occasion.

Santiago is a very large city; over 6 million people live here. Joan found us a cute one bedroom apartment at 681 Agustinas at the edge of the historic centre and very close to Cerro Saint Lucia which is a hilltop from which there are views over the city. We took the subway from the bus station to within two blocks of the apartment and briefly settled in before heading out to explore our immediate neighbourhood.

The historical centre of Santiago feels like a large Spanish city! We have both been reading a book called Chile: Travels in a Thin Country by Sara Wheeler and one of the points she makes is that Chileans seem to have an identity issue: they want to be Europeans. Reading this has helped us make sense of our impressions of this country, and it is even more evident here in Santiago. Chile does not feel like the other countries of South America that we have visited; it feels more like Europe. And the people look more European, both in their features and in their clothing.

And like any proper, self-respecting European city, Santiago has JAZZ CLUBS! And it has JAZZ FESTIVALS! We spent a couple hours wandering and browsing and shopping and people-watching. Overlooking the Plaza de Armas is a row of a type of fast food restaurant that intrigued us: you order and pay for your food at the entrance, a waiter shows you to table in his section, then he brings your drinks and a few minutes later the food from the food counter. There were a couple dozen of these restaurants all serving the same dishes. Some of the restaurants had a glass case near the entrance with sad examples of the food on offer. I have two hot dogs layered with a green, white, red and yellow sauces and a plate of french fries while Joan had the pollo pombre which is a leg of roasted chicken beneath two fried eggs, some fried onions and french fries.

Then we went to the Ripley department store (a store very much like Dublin’s Cleary’s) which had a ticket kiosk on the fourth floor. I had found online an outdoor Jazz Festival that was happening over the weekend at the Bicentennial Park in Santiago. Saturday’s gigs looked great and Ripley’s was the local ticket centre. There was a line of about 30 people waiting for tickets. I thought these people really love their jazz! When I got close to the counter I realized all the young people were buying tickets not for the jazz festival (surprise, surprise!) but for an outdoor music festival called Lollapooloza that was taking place at the end of March.

We purchased tickets for the Saturday gig: it opens with the Brazilian singer Claudia Acuna who we like very much. She is followed by a Chilean jazz group led by trumpeter Christian Cuturrufo, a musician whose names keeps showing up in internet searches of Chilean jazz musicians. The third group is a trio led by Kenny Barron: he is one of my very favourite piano players. He always plays a few Theolonious Monk songs in his set; I am very excited.

And speaking of Thelonious Monk, I went to the jazz club here in Santiago that is named after him and heard two local jazz saxophone-led bands that weren’t great but they were good and enjoying themselves and the audience was reasonably attentive and appreciative and the Chilean lager was crisp and chilled and it all made for a very pleasant night indeed!

At Thelonious Jazz Club: Pancho Molina Cuarteto Entrada $2000. 21.00 hrs. Y Claudio Rubio / Matt Keegan Quinteto Entrada $2000. 23:00 hrs.

14 March 2014 – Friday – Santiago, Chile

Historic Centre; camera battery; empanadas; market renovated – metal girders and many restaurants; train station and photo exhibition (El Grito del Siliencies) cultural space restaurants and conferences; short nap; aborted search of Jazz Corner club; Bellavista pizza and beer; streets of many restaurants – one street mostly bars, another street full of restaurants – common business grouped together; Plaza Bellavista open space with more restaurants and entertainment at the centre; Kind of Blue disqueria.

Today we walked the cobblestone and polished stone paved streets of the city centre. Like all the other South American countries we have visited, Chileans love to shop! The downtown streets are a gigantic outdoor shopping plaza. The shops tend to cluster in groups selling similar products or offering similar services. For instance, the street nearest ours contains at least two dozen stores selling eye glasses. We were looking for an electric battery charger (we burnt out the previous one, probably from overuse!) and we found a small shopping centre filled with stores selling cameras and photography equipment. (I am still searching for the music store street, although I suspect it has gone out of business!)

We had another empanada (the national dish of South America) for lunch (no french fries!) at a long-established stand-up store, Zunino’s, that was selling a few different kinds of them as fast as the kitchen could produce them. Joan had a local favourite, Empanada de Pino that contains spiced beef, sautéed onions, an egg and an olive. I had the cheese empanada which was presented in a kind of puff pastry rather than the rolled dough used in most empanadas. The place was heaving with people and we ate standing in a corner; everybody at standing up as there were neither tables nor chairs, just a few counters or shelves along the wall.

The Central Market of Santiago has been turned into an open air collection of restaurants. The market building itself is remarkable. It was opened in 1872 and its main features are the cast-iron roof and supporting structure, vaulted ceiling and domed tower. It was produced in Glasgow. It is enclosed by a beautiful masonry building. The waiters at the restaurants rush out to greet, cajole and harass with invitations for the best and discounted lunches available. They are enthusiastic and assertive and some are aggressive. We spent a few minutes wandering around: Joan looked at the food on the tables and into the open kitchens while I gazed upwards at the ceiling and tower.

Across the plaza from the market that no longer sells fruit and veg is the train station that no longer serves trains. The Estacion Mapocho was built at the beginning of the 20th century to celebrate Chilean independence and was the hub for all rail traffic serving northern Chile, the popular seaside city of Valparaiso and Argentina. An imposing and beautiful building, it was was declared a national monument in 1976. The demand and quality of rail traffic to northern Chile had however been decreasing up until then, and would continue to do so up until 1987 when the building was decommissioned due to serious structural decay. Since demolition of a national monument is expressly forbidden in Chile, the building remained in disuse and awaited repair until 1991 when the government put the remodelling of the station up for tender. The building was repaired and restored by the beginning of 1994. Since rail traffic was no longer operating to its former destinations, the station passed into a new life as a Cultural centre used primarily for art and photography exhibitions, musical performances and conventions. It is an absolutely fabulous building and we wandered its vast cavernous central space and browsed a recently opened photography exhibition called El Grito de Silencio (A Cry of Silence) which consisted of a series of larger-than-life portrait photographs of the victims of gender violence from the Mexican artist Karina Muench. She uses the photographic portrait as a means of artistic expression and protest the plight of abuse and violation suffered by women and children, in this exhibition focusing on cases in the city of La Paz, Bolivia. She is a wonderful portrait photographer and the images were very moving.

After an afternoon siesta, one of the lovely customs that the Chileans have retained from the Spanish, we set out in search of another jazz club, called the Jazz Corner. The listing said 451 Santa Isabel but when we got to that location it was a long-derelict site. We asked a few people but no one had heard of it. The area contained a number of derelict sites as well as sites where new high-rise apartments were being raised. We later overheard a tour guide saying that there was an increase in this type of housing, with government incentives, to keep people living in the city centre and contain the urban sprawl. Anyone with a job could qualify for a loan to buy an apartment at interest rates less than 2 per cent.

We gave up on the Jazz Corner (for now) and walked into the Bellavista area where the Thelonious jazz club is located. Bellavista is also the student district where a couple of universities have campuses and therefore there are loads of young people and lots of bars and cafes. There is one street that is a non-stop row of bars, some serving pizzas, and all offering happy hour specials. We chose one so we could sit and watch the people parade. We shared a tasty four cheese with pepperoni pizza and a litre bottle of the local lager. We continued our walkabout of the area and discovered that the next street over was filled with upmarket restaurants with linen tablecloths and candlelight. Joan inspected the menus as we walked up one side of this street, down the other, and a bit on accompanying side streets as well. She had been saying she was finding it hard to suss out the restaurants in Santiago. We hadn’t walked by any of interest in the historical centre or the area immediately near our apartment. Like other Chilean businesses, the restaurants are all grouped together. There must be over 100 of them here within four or five blocks.

Also in Bellevista, and also containing a number of restaurants, is a vast open-air complex that also contains small gift shops called the Patio Bellavista. The centre of the complex has a stage and a band was playing on an upper level overlooking this area and people were dancing and there were stilt-walkers and some acrobats. It was a lively place and full of local people enjoying the balmy Friday night.

On the way back to our apartment we detoured around Cerro Saint Lucia down Lasfarria Avienda where we found a few more restaurants but, more importantly, the Kind of Blue Disqueria. I asked for Chilean jazz and was disappointed to learn that his selection was limited to a guitarist, a fusion group and a couple vocalists. (He did, however, have a respectable range of the classic jazz recordings.) He also had two very comfortable Eames chairs in which to listen to cds. I listened to samples of the Chilean cds he had offered me while browsing through the trays of marked down cds, where I found a couple of cds from the fine Argentinian pianist Ernesto Jodos. We heard him live in a jazz club in Barcelona a couple years ago and were very impressed. I have a few of his cds so I made a note of the titles and went back to buy them the next day.

It was a long, busy, and satisfying day! Every day travelling is an exciting and improvised adventure.

15 March 2014 – Saturday – Santiago, Chile

The apartment Joan found for us was in the shadow of Cerro St Lucia, a small rocky hill where Pedro de Valdivia founded the city of Santiago on February 12th, 1541. The park is adorned with wonderful facades, fountains and stairways and that even has a 'castle' on it. After the founding of the city, the Spanish conquistadors used Santa Lucia hill as a lookout point for the planning of the city according to the traditional Spanish checkerboard layout. We climbed up the twisting stone stairways to admire the panoramic view of Santiago.

Our next stop was Pablo Neruda’s house, La Chascona. Neruda was the second Chilean poet to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1971. The first Chilean poet to be awarded the prize was Gabriela Mistral, in 1945. While Neruda’s father opposed his son’s interest in writing, Neruda received encouragement from many others including Gabriela Mistral who was the principle at the local girls’ school. He led a fascinating dual life as a poet and diplomat. La Chascona is one of his three houses in Chile, all of which are now part of the Foundation Pablo Neruda and open to the public. It was built in 1953 to house his then mistress, Matilde Urrutia. He called the house La Chascona in her honour as that was the nickname he had given her due to her abundant red hair. The house is a series of small buildings and rooms at the edge of the city, most of which Neruda designed himself over a period of five years. One architect who worked with him on the house commented that on one occasion Neruda had a window, armchair and painting that were favourites and he created a corner space in which to enclose them, conditioning the space to the object (rather than the conventional manner of placing the objects in the space). Another architect observed that Neruda modelled his spaces in the interest of the ‘intimacy of the interior ambient’. The dining table, for instance, is long and very narrow in order to ‘keep his guests close together’. Walking around the house you get a sense of a very warm and comfortable and personal living space. Neruda was a great collector of knick knacks and kitsch and the house is filled but not overcrowded with these items that he collected on his travels around the world. (No photos allowed)

The 1st Vitacura Jazz Festival was held in the Bicentennial Park. Vitacura is one of the most affluent suburbs of Santiago and is full of magnificent high-rise apartment buildings and corporate headquarters and many parks. The Bicentennial Park stretches along the Mapocho River. I finally found a statue of the liberator of Chile, Bernardo O’Higgins, there.

The festival was held in a fenced area near the extraordinary civic centre building. We arrived very early and sat on the steps of the building and watched cyclists and skateboarders and roller-bladders and families with small children and/or prams streaming passed. The concert started with a set by Claudia Acuna, a Brazilian singer with a great voice. Her band was made up of Chilean musicians, including a very fine pianist names Felipe Riveros who I had not heard of before. Their set of about an hour consisted of two songs in English, a couple in Portuguese and a couple in Spanish, mostly standards except for one lovely piece written by the pianist. Acuna’s singing, however, was a bit disappointing. She doesn’t come across as pure and magical as she does on her recordings. The pianist, however, was a revelation. He had a bright and enthusiastic touch and his solos were lively and consistently interesting. Acuna was followed by the burly and bearded Chilean trumpeter Cristian Cuturrufo. He played a too short set. He seemed to be playing well within himself and I suspect he feels more comfortable playing in a small sweaty jazz club than a large outdoor stage. Kenny Barron and his trio were the headliners of the evening and they played nearly ninety minutes of glorious jazz. Barron is a magisterial pianist, elegant and eloquent, free-flowing with seemingly endless ideas and variations on standards and originals. And he played two Thelonious Monk songs so I was one very satisfied jazz fan!

16 March 2014 – Sunday – Santiago, Chile

We had a slow and lazy Sunday morning as we did not get back from the jazz festival until nearly 2am. About mid-afternoon we boarded the metro and went to Parc Araucano, another of the many green spaces in Santiago. There was musical entertainment there all day, including a hard bop quintet lead by Chilean saxophonist Jose Vicuna that played a bunch of Horace Silver songs. This festival was called Gustock and there were a few food and juice stands. We purchased some burgers and cokes and were given a picnic cloth on which to sit and have our lunch and listen to the music. It was a lovely hot and sunny day. The park was crowded with families and groups of friends. They were all Chileans; we were the only gringos there. We even met a couple of pugs in the park. On the way back we stopped into a massive shopping mall which was like stepping through a transporter back to the west. It was a massive puzzle of stores, indoors and outdoors, and included international brand name stores as well as local chain stores, and there were stores within stores, and franchise outlets, and booths selling stuff. It was a shopper’s paradise. There was even a music store. And they had one Chilean jazz cd – or rather one boxed set of four cds by one Chilean jazz artist. Fortunately, that artist was Felipe Riveros, the brilliant pianist we had heard the previous evening at the Jazz Festival!

There was an earthquake today off the coast of northern Chile measuring 6.7 of the Richter scale with caused the evacuation of over 100,000 people from the coastal areas of the town of Iquique where we had spent a few days the previous week.

Earthquakes happen frequently in Chile. A devastating earthquake occurred in February of 2010 measuring 8.8 of the Richter scale. It was the 6th largest earthquake ever recorded. That earthquake triggered a tsunami which devastated several coastal towns in south-central Chile and damaged the port at Talcahuano. Tsunami warnings were issued in 53 countries and the wave caused minor damage in both San Diego, California and Japan. According to official sources, 525 people lost their lives, 25 people went missingand about 9%!o(MISSING)f the population in the affected regions lost their homes.

17 March 2014 – Monday – St Patrick’s Day – Santiago, Chile

We spent the morning of St Patrick’s Day in the Italian Barrio, which is also the Antiques quarter. We had lunch at Da Noi, a long-established restaurant Italian restaurant that made its own pasta that was also for sale in a shop at the corner. The restaurant is best known for its lasagne, which Joan had. It was baked in its own dish that had lumps of meat in it but the tomato sauce was far too sweet. It was not a genuine Italian meal, according to Joan, but more an Americanized version of Italian food. I had a dish of three cannelloni: spinach, chicken and ricotta, covered with the same sweet tomato Bolognese sauce. We sat outside and enjoyed our meal and watching the business people at their working lunches and a young couple courting and three very fashionable young women who ate big bowls of pasta. In the afternoon we went to the film Philomena, starring Judi Dench as an Irish woman whose child was taken from her fifty years ago. Based on a true story, it was a very moving portrait of the pain and suffering and guilt this woman felt throughout her life. After the film we went to the Dublin Pub, hoping for a pint of Guinness to finish off the evening. The pub was filled with people in green hats and scarves, but they had NO Guinness. And there was no place to sit; the pub was packed to the rafters with people pretending to be Irish for the evening. They were all Chileans, as far as we could tell, but enjoying St. Patrick’s Day in true Irish fashion – drinking heartily!

18 March 2014 – Tuesday – Santiago, Chile

We began our day by taking the metro to the Museum of History and Memory. This museum documents the human rights violations committed by the Chilean state during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet between 1973 and 1990. It was opened in January 2010 by the then President Michelle Bachelet, whose father died in prison a victim of the regime. She was recently re-elected and took office earlier this month. It is an interesting and disturbing museum that documents the military coup, the repression and the resistance movement through oral and written testimony, documents and letters, press clips and documentary photographs, historical material, and visual and radio material. We spent a couple hours viewing the exhibitions and watching the video clips and learning more about the suffering and abuse of the Chilean people under Pinochet.

We also heard a recording of the famous last words of then President Salvador Allende. With gunfire and explosions clearly audible in the background, Allende gave his farewell speech to the country on live radio. ‘Surely this will be the last opportunity for me to address you. ... My words do not have bitterness but disappointment. May they be a moral punishment for those who have betrayed their oath: soldiers of Chile. ... Placed in a historic transition, I will pay for loyalty to the people with my life. And I say to them that I am certain that the seed which we have planted in the good conscience of thousands and thousands of Chileans will not be shrivelled forever. ... They have strength and will be able to dominate us, but social processes can be arrested neither by crime nor force. History is ours, and people make history. ... Surely Radio Magallanes will be silenced, and the calm metal instrument of my voice will no longer reach you. It does not matter. You will continue hearing it. I will always be next to you. ... Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers! These are my last words, and I am certain that my sacrifice will not be in vain, I am certain that, at the very least, it will be a moral lesson that will punish felony, cowardice, and treason.

Just prior to the capture of La Moneda (the Presidential Palace) by the Chilean military, Allende took his own life. It was 11 September 1973. This coup was sponsored by the US government against a democratically-elected government, primarily because of its leftist-Marxist political philosophy.

From the darkness of despair and anger of the museum we walked back out into the bright sunshine of a Chilean day and a country proud of its return to democracy and excited by the recent re-election of its first woman President. Today, Chile is one of the most prosperous and stable countries in South America. It has the highest income per capita and is also the continent’s leader in other areas such as human development, competitiveness and economic freedom. It has the lowest perception of corruption of the Latin American countries.

The wealth of the people of Santiago is obvious on the streets. The people dress very fashionably. There are many new, large personally-owned automobiles on the streets. The high-rise apartment buildings where most of the people live are beautiful, magnificent structures. The parks are pristine and green. The shopping centres are enormous and filled with brand-name stores and international franchises. While northern Chile is a very desolate place, Santiago is a city apart and very comfortable with its sense of itself.

We walked back toward the historic centre through Barrio Brazil and stopped for lunch at Fuente Mardogueo. This is a restaurant that specializes in massive sandwiches! ‘El Lomito’ is a towering, mammoth pork sandwich that is Chile’s most ubiquitous and beloved “fast food”. Chileans scarf them down enthusiastically. They are as large as a dinner plate and thick with meat (pork, beef, chicken) and vegetables and sauces. An Italian, for instance, has avocado and mayonnaise sauce with tomatoes to replicate the colours of the Italian flag. I love sandwiches and hadn’t experienced one quite like this before. It was outstanding.

We had to have a long walk back to the apartment and a short afternoon nap to recover from the lunch.

Later in the evening I returned to the Thelonious jazz club and heard two sets of adventurous jazz music from a piano-less trio led by a young Chilean saxophonist Cristian Gallardo. He and his band of bass and drums were pushing themselves and each other hard for a most appreciative audience.

19 March 2014 – Wednesday – Santiago, Chile

Tourist office on Plaza de Armas; photos of Central Market and Estapho Train Station; empanadas at Zunino; subway to sculpture street; mall shopping (no music stores, 3 book stores), walked back along Providencia; film documentary about Woody Allen

Santiago’s Plaza de Armas was closed for restoration and renovation work. We visited the tourist office where we had a useful and informative conversation with a young man with very good English. We have found wherever we go in Chile the people are very eager to assist when approached. Santiago is a busy and bustling city with sidewalks full of people walking in every direction and when we approach someone to ask directions they stop immediately and turn their attention to us with a helpful smile. When we were stopped at a major intersection consulting our map while on our way to the park where the jazz festival was being held, a fast-moving cyclist halted beside us and offered his assistance. This is a very warm and friendly city and we feel very comfortable here.

We returned to the Central Market and the train-less Estacion Mapocho to take some photos as on our first visit the camera battery had died. The servers at the market were as eager to seat us as on our previous visit. And the train station, unfortunately, was hosting an engineering tools exhibition, so it had a much different vibe than the vast empty cavern we had experienced on our previous visit. I took a few photos and a few freebie nibbles and a couple yellow pens that have ink at one end and yellow highlighters at the other (there are always loads of freebies at conventions!). We also returned to Zunino’s for another fresh-out-of-the-oven empanada: pino for Joan and queso for me.

We walked quickly back toward our apartment and then onward passed the impressive GAM cultural centre to a small art-house cinema to see the recent documentary on Woody Allen, which we thoroughly enjoyed. It made Woody Allen seem human. It was comprehensive and thorough and it made us want to see a bunch of his films again (but not the early funny ones!).

A quick metro ride dropped us at the street of sculptures, Paseo de las Esculturas de la Pastora in the Vitacura suburb. We slowly walked the short street and observed the 10 unusual sculptures by prominent Chilean artists and took a few photos (already posted). We decided to walk back the four kilometres to our apartment. On the way we stopped at another massive Chilean shopping mall. Among all the usual international and Chilean stores it contained very nice bookstores but no music stores. We passed by one older market type building which housed a couple dozen antiquarian bookdealers, but it was by now later in the evening and they were closed.

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