Feeling somewhat travel weary and itching to get back to London and get started with The London Jukebox proper, more so since we have signed up the first gig, Tamikrest (more on that later), I chose to spend the next ten days in one place, Santiago de Chile, to recuperate, to do the necessary for the Tamikrest event, and to gather my thoughts around how to get The London Jukebox off the ground. So having booked my accommodation for ten days and a return flight to New York, I head out over the Andes and into Santiago.
I know little about Chile, other than her shape (long and thin), geography (mountains on one side and coast on the other, desert to the north, vineyards and a Lake district in the middle, and glaciers to the south – mainly) and the CIA sponsored bloody coup of 9/11 1973 (another 9/11 event that is now overshadowed by one more recent, but with a not insignificant impact on the lives of Chileans). I watched the film Missing with the indefatigable Jack Lemon and the talented Sissy Spicek, a true story set in those turbulent times, and also Allende, a Chilean film recounting the last few hours of the then President Allende before allegedly shooting himself rather than give in to the junta, so was a little prepared for the city. I tried to imagine what it must have been like in those early days of the coup on the Santiago streets as I was wondering around, but could not reconcile the safe, bustling, relaxed and happy 21st century Santiguans with the terrorised people of the 1970s. Until, that is, I went to the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights) – 3 floors of memorabilia, including data about the disappeared, detailed account of the hours of that fateful day in 1973, and the brave and defiant reactions to the junta from some women demanding to know what had happened to their husbands fathers brothers. A middle aged woman nearby had a breakdown when she was watching a video film that must have brought back some painful memories, and I confess, I too had one – watching her.
This is possibly one of the best such museums I have been to, and I am comparing it to Auschwitz and the killing fields in Phnom Pen. It is fresh, real and leaves no stone unturned in the retelling of the story.
One is the harrowing account of hundreds of bodies found at the prestigious but now notorious cemetery at Patio 29, where these bodies were exhumed and a proper burial given to the dead.
The cementerio here is highly comparable to the one in Buenos Aires. It houses the rich and famous, including the exhumed remains of President Allende, but is also an active cemetery today
But Santiago today is bustling, the Santiguans love eating out, every cafe bar or restaurant is full, at any time of the day. The lunch ‘hour’ seems to have no boundaries. The city is as vibrant as any in South America, colonial art, colourful frescos, characterful streets, many green parks and squares and a vibrant nightlife with music, theatre and cinema, and excellent museums.
I found one museum for pre Colombian art, which covered most of the western coastal countries of South America before the colonialists arrived – highly recommend it.
While perhaps not as ‘high healed’ as Buenos Aires, it compensates by its more laid back Bohemian and arty atmosphere, where photographers and painters alike sell their whares on the pavement, and where music bands seem to just pop up, like this duo outside a restaurant I was eating at …
Finally, as I prepare to head home, and as this will be the last of the travel blogs for The London Jukebox (for now), I have three observations about my time in South America:
- Less eye contact and more screen contact
- How and why I love the vegetable markets
When my son was in South America about 7 years ago, he stayed in a hostel in Cusco which he described as being socially really great, with a wonderful communal atmosphere. I remember him telling me about how he cooked paalak paneer for 20+ people. So I decided to stay at the same hostel in Cusco hoping to connect with other travelers, only to find it largely occupied by sullen teenagers with umbilical chords tied to their smart phones. And Cusco was no exception. Wherever I went I found people often in groups of 2 or 3 or more where many if not all were on smart phones. At the risk of sounding a Luddite I find it a shame that people are not where they physically are, but really somewhere else that the smart phones take them. Eye contact is replaced by screen contact, with the result that there is less laughter and friendly chatter and more silent texting / social mediaing etc. The only exception is when I am in a live music event.
There is definitely a release of serotonin and/or endorphin every time I find local markets, in particular fruit and vegetable markets, and almost every town or city I visited had one. Possibly the most notable one was a Sunday market in Nasca, with rows upon rows of stalls selling every variety of potatoes and maize (several colours of)! I deduce from my reaction that I have probably lost any nomadic gene that may have been lurking, replaced wholly by the agrarian farming gene that resulted in the hunter gatherers evolving into agriculturalists. Whether it be a dozen varieties of corn in Nasca, antique market in Buenos Aires, a chillies stall in Salvador, or wines in Sao Paulo, the feeling of finding ‘home’ was common. I have selected a sample of some of the best South American mercados on my journeys …
On safety and security, first I am coming from a place where, after just over five months in South America, and despite various warnings and war stories, I have not been subject to muggings, robberies, theft or any other such problems. The only thing I’ve lost is a camera lens cover which I seem to have dropped somewhere while on a hike. Quite remarkable given all the aforementioned warnings.
But when you speak to local people, it is always ‘the others’ that are more criminal and need to be watched out for. If you’re in one city it is ‘the other’ city that is mas peligroso (more dangerous); if you’re in one barrio (neighbourhood) it is always ‘the other’ barrio that is mas peligroso; and if you’re in one country then it is always ‘the other’ country that is mas peligroso. In Bogotá it was in Cartagena that you had to ‘look after your belongings’, and when in Medellin I was warned that I must be very careful in Cali. Strolling down one side of a street in Buenos Aires I am warned that the other side is mas peligroso. I listened wistfully to all these warnings and just used my 6th sense. If a local street or barrio felt dodgy, then I’d change location or jump into a taxi or walk faster – simple really.
It was not always possible to take precautions, for example in Quito quite often I’d go to a bar or restaurant when the streets are full of people, only to step out a few hours later to find them deserted. I’d shrug shoulders, put hands in my pocket to look relaxed, hold the handbag that little bit closer, and walk briskly back to the hotel/hostel. Perhaps it is the colour of my skin, or being of a maturer age, or both, I was always left alone. And now, very much in one piece, and my belongings intact, I am homeward bound, confident that fear and insecurity while travelling are all in the head, and that there is almost certainly a higher likelihood as a solo traveller of being molested in my home country of India than mugged in South America.
Of course my most precious takeaway from South America is the playlist accumulated these last five months, which can be sampled at …
That’s all for now from the travelogue, but before I leave, just to let everyone know that, in partnership with Vince Power, I am proud to be presenting Tamikrest, the best blues band from the Sahara.
Teaser from their new album:
Save the date: 8 May 2017
Venue: Nell’s Jazz and Blues, 3 North End Crescent, London, W14 8TG
Tickets only £15 from:
More about Tamikrest:
Onwards – to promote world music in London…