Chile’s Home Trotter: Why Visit Chile?

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The longest, thinnest country on the planet boasts an enviable geographic diversity. From the driest desert on Earth up north to the rainforests and glaciers of the south, through the Polynesian traditions alive and thriving found on Easter Island, Chile has it all. The fault-line between the Nazca and Latin-American plates gifted us the Andean mountain range, oft-visited by international skiers, and not far from the snowy terrain lie our sandy beaches to the west.

40033414_1675514325909637_5503474817107492864_n.jpgThe North: San Pedro de Atacama

This region possesses the driest desert in the world: the Atacama. Surprisingly, this is an area full of life and community, where the indigenous heritage is culturally front and center. The town of San Pedro de Atacama’s old and plain adobe houses are firmly planted at a crossroads between modern travelers and ancient culture. The town square is a great place to experience tradition and shop for goods in the true sense of the word; crafts and textiles. For those who love expansive territory for long-haul biking, wish to sand-board down dunes, or feel a desperate need for a privileged view of the stars (the region is host to world-class astronomical observatories), San Pedro is just the ticket.

 

40037114_1801454669904211_2229035456224296960_n.jpgThe Center: Santiago and Valparaiso

Given that Chile’s financial and cultural hub is in its Capital, Santiago is undoubtedly Chile’s most metropolitan city: from chic restaurants to museums and nightlife. This is where the local traditions meet the international scene. Impossible to miss is the Andes Mountain range which towers over the city and is often an unexpected surprise for visitors.

Chile’s center is host to a range of ski lodges which rank amongst the best in Latin-America. More importantly, many of them are open all year long. This means you can go to the beach and up the mountain to ski, in one trip (this depends naturally on the amount of time of your visit). The Pacific Ocean and the Andes mountain range are separated by only 2 hours of travel by car.
Santiaguinos are valley-people. Cozily tucked away between two parallel mountain ranges, the uniquely hospitable weather provides an indulgently ideal environment for wine production. Wine is one of Chile’s biggest exports and no visit is complete without a wine-tasting trip to one of the numerous scenic viñas that a short ride away from the city.

39986186_521000221671825_944883832933318656_n.jpgFor a different quick getaway, Valparaiso is a welcome change of scene, only an hour and a half away from Santiago. This coastal city is known for its many hills, artsy-colorful houses, quaint shopping opportunities, plentiful art galleries and delightful views. Historically an artist and activists hub, the town is a favorite among most Chilean artists working today.

 

40044402_1094095150758576_2472958803721584640_n.jpgEaster Island: Rapa Nui

No place on Earth is as isolated, geographically, as Easter Island. Annexed in 1888, the island has since become a powerful attraction for tourists that are curious to see the Moais, stone statues that have been silent witnesses to the island’s history. Unfortunately, some Moais were stolen from the Island in the past, by the British, as well as the French. Luckily these are but a minority, given that most Moais are still located on the Island. The small town of Hanga Roa is the Island’s capital. The beaches are always 20 minutes away. Scattered around the island are the Ahus, the bases upon which Moais stand. There is also a large volcanic crater Rano Kau which is undoubtedly worth a visit. Word on the beaches is ripe, sweet figs grow inside that lusciously green crater, if you dare retrieve them.

 

40008397_317956495420413_5911218808663572480_n.jpgThe South: a land of green

The south is the heart and the magic of Chile. Comprised of rainforests and lakes that are well protected, this area is noteworthy for its volcanoes (such as Villarica), many of which are open to hikers. The dominant culture here is courtesy of the Mapuche, the biggest aboriginal ethnicity in the country. The south also has a noticeable German influence, given that the Chilean state encouraged the arrival of German immigrants to the south of the country. This is obvious in picturesque cities such as Valdivia, Puerto Varas, and Frutillar, and in small bodegas where the baked good of choice is “kuchen”. These same bodegas usually have cheap, delicious home-made white bread (along the whole length of the country). Order marraquetas if you like light and fluffy, or hallullas if you prefer dense and chewy. Leave behind any pretenses to whole-wheat preferences. These will await you in your country of origin. And don’t forget the salted butter on top.

The island of Chiloe belongs to this region. A legendary spot, you’ll here find colorful houses on stilts (palafitos), plus 16 wooden churches that were declared Unesco national heritage. The island is a great place for those who demand a stunning backdrop to go with their trekking or kayaking.

 

But wait. There is still more south to be found, well, further south. Keep heading down, and you’ll feel you’ve fallen onto another planet entirely; the land of Patagonia. The Carretera Austral will bring you here. This point in time-space is home to one of Chile’s most incredible national parks: Torres Del Paine, a sprawling place that requires at least a week to explore properly. Delightfully safe (only a small family of reclusive mountain lions pose a risk) choose between luxury sleeping quarters or old-fashioned eco-friendly camping and soak in the beautiful territory. You won’t miss the iconic towering stone peaks, nor the impeccably blue glacier-water lakes. Watch out for the adorable Guanacos- essentially miniature llamas.

40019648_675181776195116_1907873774812790784_n.jpgOnce you’ve made it this far south, you might as well keep going and visit the Glaciers of San Rafael. Climate change has unfortunately reduced its size, but it is still possible to hike around the glacier via the “Zodiac tour”. Or, if you’re truly ambitious, hop on a brief plane ride and check out our icy slice of the south pole!

Home Trotter: la Nueva Canción Chilena

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     The 60s were years of global change in politics, philosophy, and notably music. The student protests of May ’68 in France, the Woodstock Festival, and the anti-Vietnam protests are but a few examples of the spirit of the age. This spirit of change extended even as far Chile. Students became engaged in politics, motivated by a nascent hope in the possibility of social reforms. It was into this atmosphere that the musical movement of La Nueva Canción Chilena (the New Chilean Song) was born. La Nueva Canción movement, overtly left-wing, (it contributed to the election of socialist candidate Salvador Allende as President in 1970) was sparked by a yearning for music that was both Chilean, and Latin American. At the same time as Bob Dylan was composing The Times they are a Changing, and John Lennon Imagine, Chile was searching for a new type of sound.

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The birth of this movement can be credited in large part to the work of Violeta Parra, who by reviving previously scattered Chilean folk songs, and other national musical formulas such as the Parabienes, the Canto a lo divino (song to the divine) , and the canto a lo humano (song to the human ) was essential. This heritage, previously unknown or forgotten, was made accessible and reinvented by Violeta Parra, as well her son Ángel and daughter Isabel. Parra (Violeta), herself a prolific composer, greatly contributed to the musical development of the movement. A major breakthrough in the birth of the Nueva Canción was the founding of the Parra family peña (folkloric gathering place), which united several musicians who would go on to be leading figures attaining international recognition. Among these were, naturally, Isabel and Angel Parra, as well as Patricio Manns, Victor Jara, and Rolando Alarcon. 

36177124_1793662890673003_1717094007584063488_n.jpgThe principal group, that would serve as the model for those that came after, was formed by the Carrasco brothers in conjunction with Julio Numhauser; it would take the name Quilapayún. In the beginning they received musical guidance from none other than Ángel Parra, but the group would establish themselves more firmly on the national scene when they incorporated Victor Jara as musical director. Jara introduced a discipline to the group which made its composition sessions more fruitful and productive. Quilapayún would go on to win, in 1969, the first festival dedicated to La Nueva Canción Chilena. Though the group went through many metamorphoses throughout its existence, it maintained a firm commitment to Latin-American folklore.

35955111_1793663234006302_3149591683860004864_n.jpgAnother fundamental group was founded by a group of university students, who would come to be known as Inti Illimani. Noteworthy was their incorporation of instruments such as the charango, the quena, and the guitarrón, with the objective of attaining a ‘new’ sound (Paradoxically only new in the sense that it had been forgotten). Much like Quilapayún, Inti-Illimani’s music mixed the national with the Latin-American by incorporating musical expressions present in different Andean countries such as Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador. In the present context of divisions and/or distance between Latin-American nations it may seem strange, but in the 60s unity and cultural solidarity was significantly more common-place. In doing so, Inti-Illimani made accessible to the world, tunes that were a representation not only of the Chilean folklore but also of that of all Latin-America. This was a very noble form of cultural appreciation that existed throughout the music scene in Chile of the 60s and early 70s.

Because of its political affiliations to the Socialist Unidad Popular government, La Nueva Canción was brought to an abrupt halt in 1973, when the Socialist Allende government was overthrown by the military junta. The new regime prohibited Andean music for some time by banning the use of certain instruments used by artists of La Nueva Canción. Various music groups, having supported Allende with their music, became enemies of the state overnight and were persecuted. Victor Jara was brutally assassinated, whilst Angel Parra was sent to a concentration camp. Inti-Illimani had been touring in Italy at the time of the coup, and was left with little choice other than exile for the following 17 years. Quilapayún was also caught off-guard by the coup, while touring abroad in France, and they too began their life in exile.

35988945_1793664300672862_7996273427683999744_n.jpgDespite the arrival of the coup, and the exile of several of the main groups, some musical affiliations carried on with their music. One of these was Illapu, a group founded in 1971 (2 years before the coup) by university students. Being of a later generation, Illapu inherited the musical style of greats such as the Parras, Quilapayún, and Inti-illimani. Their office in downtown Santiago, too, was destroyed with their instruments included as well during the coup. The members of this group were well aware that the music they were producing put their lives at risks, yet they persevered nonetheless. Given their newfound international popularity, Illapu embarked on a European tour that lasted some time. Upon their return to Chile in 1981, the DINA (Chilean secret police) attempted to arrest these musicians at the airport. Given the presence of cameras from international networks that had been following the trail of the young musicians, this became a scandal, and they were instead exiled abroad (on the same plane they arrived), first in France, and later in Mexico.

For many of those in exile, the idea of returning to Chile seemed out of the question. This changed in 1988 when the Dictatorship agreed to hold a plebiscite over whether to continue with the current state of affairs, or transition towards democracy. The results were 56% against the regime, and 44% in favor of it. Democracy was re-established, and in 1990, Patricio Aylwin, a Christian Democrat, became the first president of the post-dictatorship years. This period saw the return of several of the groups that had been living abroad, many of whom continue performing and composing to this day. La Nueva Canción Chilena was a musical movement that marked the nation, both politically and culturally. Folk music remains one of the main genres of the Chilean tradition as a third generation of musicians carries on the work and tradition of those that came before.

Below I have listed some of the exponents of this movement that have been mentioned in the article. Happy listening!

Playlist:

  • Violeta Parra: Gracias a la Vida / Volver a los 17 / Parabienes al revés
  • Victor Jara (photo): Plegaria a un labrador / Luchín
  • Quilapayun: Vamos mujer / Qué culpa tiene el tomate
  • Inti Illimani: Samba Lando / El Mercado de Testaccio / Vuelvo
  • Rolando Alarcon: Si somos Americanos
  • Patricio Manns: Cantiga a la memoria rota
  • Isabel Parra: Centro de la Injusticia
  • Illapu: El Negro José / Lejos del Amor / Vuelvo para Vivir
  • Santiago del Nuevo Extremo: A mi ciudad

35884111_1793662477339711_2633665540656201728_n.jpg

Chile: A Country of Poets

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I was wondering, up until the last minute, what I should dedicate the first Chilean article on Babel Tower to, and I decided that where better to start than with its literary culture?

Chile is a country of poets. The nation’s literary traditions have deep roots that can be traced to the colony, and even before to its native heritage. Chile’s literary reputation, however, was earned in the 20th Century. Specifically thanks to what are now known as “the four greats of Chilean poetry”, that means, Pablo Neruda, Vicente Huidobro, Gabriela Mistral, and Pablo de Rokha. All of them were born near the turn of the 20th Century; and two of them, Mistral and Neruda, would go on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in recognition of their contributions to poetry.

I’ll begin with Pablo de Rokha. Most of his poems reflected his life in the countryside, but he also explored some other themes throughout his life. He had a chronically tense relationship with Pablo Neruda, who he viewed as excessively bohemian. Both of them would become to take an active role in Chile’s communist party, as would Vicente Huidobro for that matters. Here is an extract of a poem he composed in 1916:

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I am like the absolute failure of the world, oh, Peoples!
The song, face to face with Satan itself
dialogues with the mighty science of the dead
and my pains spills the city with blood.

Yet my days are the reminders of huge, old furniture;
last night, “God” carried between worlds that go
like this, my lady, alone, and you say: “I love you”
when you talk with “your” Pablo, without ever listening to him.

Men and women smell like tombs;
My body falls over the raw land
Same as the red coffin of the unhappy.

Absolute enemy, I howl through the streets.
a dread more barbaric, more barbaric, more barbaric
than the hiccups of one hundred dogs left to die. 
Genius and Figure

The golden age of Chilean poetry would take place in the 30s when most of the aforementioned poets would publish their magnum Opus. I will mention Huidobro’s “Altazor”, a work that would fit in to his avant-gardist movement “Creacionismo”. The essence of the movement being that a poem is something new, and is created for its own sake rather than to please the audience or to describe something. Altazor is existential in nature and deals with the strangeness inherent to the human condition. The book’s illustrator was none other than Pablo Picasso, an acquaintance of Huidobro. Here is a small extract:

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The waterfall tresses over the night

While the night beds to rest

With its moon that pillows the sky

I iris the sleepy land

That roads towards the horizon

In the shade of a shipwrecking tree

Following on to Pablo Neruda: it is interesting to note that Neruda met Gabriela Mistral when he was young and sought her critique of his early compositions. At the time, she was directing a girls’ school. The following extract comes from Neruda’s “Residencia en la tierra”, a series of unified poems released in three volumes. In this work, Neruda would take it upon himself to explore the anxieties of the unconscious, while utilizing pessimistic surrealism. This opus earned Neruda the status of a world-class poet, which would be confirmed some decades later in 1971 when he received the Nobel Prize.

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If you should ask me where I’ve been all this time
I have to say “Things happen.”
I have to dwell on stones darkening the earth,
on the river ruined in its own duration:
I know nothing save things the birds have lost,
the sea I left behind, or my sister crying.
Why this abundance of places? Why does day lock
with day? Why the dark night swilling round
in our mouths? And why the dead?
Extract of Residence on Earth

One of the last outstanding works of the 30s was Gabriela Mistral’s “Tala”. The work is one where Mistral expresses her deeply felt emotions in a world marked by war (specifically the Spanish civil war). Mistral also uses this opportunity to reflect on the solitude inherent to those who are childless and spouseless, as was her case. One can really sense the impact that world events are having on her own perspectives and feelings. What money she earned with this publishing she sent to those orphaned by the Spanish civil war.

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She speaks in her way of her savage seas
With unknown algae and unknown sands;
She prays to a formless, weightless God,
Aged, as if dying.
In our garden now so strange,
She has planted cactus and alien grass.
The desert zephyr fills her with its breath
And she has loved with a fierce, white passion
She never speaks of, for if she were to tell
It would be like the face of unknown stars.
Among us she may live for eighty years,
Yet always as if newly come,
Speaking a tongue that plants and whines
Only by tiny creatures understood.
And she will die here in our midst
One night of utmost suffering,
With only her fate as a pillow,
                                        And death, silent and strange.              
The Stranger

I’d like to mention one last poet who, unlike the previous four, is still alive. Born in the 50s, Elicura Chihuailaf is a poet of Mapuche (native ethnicity which happens to be the largest minority in Chile) origin. His compositions therefore exist both in Spanish and in Mapudungun (language of the Mapuche). One of the main themes present in Chihuailaf’s poetry is a love/defense of Mother Nature in a context where capitalism and development are taking place in a form that is not particularly sustainable in the long run.

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I am withered grass
waving at the rain
but soon I feel the first drops
falling on the fields
Let this water soak me!
I hear myself say, dancing
amongst the flowers
When I wake up I will rise
touched
and held up by the scent
of lavender.

When the Waters of the East Sing in my Dreams

These are, of course, but a few extracts, given that this article is meant to be an introduction to the much larger world that is Chilean poetry. Chile was, and is, and will most likely always be, a country of poets…

Antony Rossi