Edit Blog Post
Published: October 21st 2014
Plaza des Armas
Do all Canadians feel nervous in the presence of armed men?
We drove through the deserted streets of central Santiago
– virtually unpopulated on a non-business-day morning. At least the bus could go slowly as we surveyed statues and buildings from Chile’s heyday – about 1910, its centennial. Lots of money came from mining nitrites (guano
) until the Germans invented artificial fertilizer.
Our first interesting stop was Plaza de Armas, where a contingent of about 50 – 70 police was in formation – no idea why. In another corner a loudspeaker broadcast the distorted voice of a haranguing speaker – Pablo commented that some people took religion very seriously. In the centre many Peruvians sat chatting – the favourite social gathering place for them. And near the great Metropolitan Cathedral, many Peruvians were selling plaited palm baskets filled with herbs and grasses – my first consciousness that this is Palm Sunday. We did visit the Cathedral for a few minutes – large, not too ornate.
Our next stop was the national Government Office. The big plaza in front was closed for restoration, part of a multi-year project throughout the city. Pablo gave us a long talk on the history of Chile. The Government Office building
in front of us was the mint
An imposing presence on the civic square
from 1804-1925. Minting money was a significant factor in Chile’s independence in 1810. The building was the presidential palace until after Pinochet
; because of space shortage, the presidents now live in their own homes. Pablo pointed out the windows of the presidential office, where Allende
was murdered. The ceremonial entrance gave us a glimpse into the enlarged courtyard and the fountain called the “Orange Tree”. All the major buildings around the square now house ministries, bought from private sector owners.
Another drive brought us to a large park with several museums, including the Natural History Museum
, Pablo’s favourite. He gave us half an hour to look at the exhibits. A little thin, they formed nevertheless a well-planned display of Chile’s archeological history and native fauna.
We completed our tour on the bus, looking at some older neighbourhoods from Chile's height of influence. We passed the large central station and saw the nearby market, clearly very large. Pablo revealed that the excellent rail system that once served the country was left to fall apart by Pinochet, who owned Chile’s largest non-rail transport company. As the train lines closed, people stripped every asset, including the rail ties. Now an effort is underway
Lovingly restored into today's home
to restore service, this time with electric trains.
For those of us who wanted to join Pablo for lunch, our tour finished in a trendy district. (The others were taken back to the hotel.) We ate in an outdoor complex full of shops and restaurants. It was relaxing to sit in the warm shade, drink beer and eat in complete leisure.
Lee and I wanted to visit Pablo Neruda
’s Santiago house, not far from the restaurant. We checked out artisans’ shops along the way - about four blocks. Unfortunately, the Neruda house could be seen only by tour, and we would have had to wait 1½ hours for an English tour. Instead, we decided to walk the 5 km to the hotel, to once again enjoy the ambience of the city. The heat of the day kept us to the shady side of the streets. Stores were closed, but we could appreciate the flavour of lots of shops and businesses, including a few multi-national giants, such as IBM. As we walked, more and more people came out – after siesta presumably. The river park formed part of our way, and along there was a small public library with a
La Chascona garden
Neruda's home in Santiago, a place of fairytales
café at one end. Lee was surprised it was open on a Sunday because most US libraries are closed Sunday and sometimes Monday for cost-cutting. We kept checking our map, since the way to the hotel seemed long, but finally we arrived at the landmark shopping mall, and then the hotel.
After fiddling around for a while in my room, I went up to the roof-top pool, thinking it would be warm with the late afternoon sun. The water was breath-takingly cold! Still I plunged in and swam around the small pool then dried off in the sun. A few others were sunning themselves while one man braved the frigid waters.
This evening was our farewell dinner, arranged at the hotel. Everyone put on their best clothes of what remained clean enough. We were escorted to a private patio and served Pisco Sours and hors d’oeuvres. In the dining room, Claudio introduced a company of folkloric dancers. Between each course, they did a few dances: first from the north, then from Easter Island (similar to Polynesian dances), finally a waltz, for which a few of us were recruited, including me. My Chilean partner kindly chanted ONE-two-three when I
Admiration for the dancers' passion
lost the rhythm. Lots of fun! We finished with a plate of luscious handmade chocolate truffles and coconut balls.
Tot: 0.152s; Tpl: 0.053s; cc: 6; qc: 27; dbt: 0.0168s; 1; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.2mb