11 January 2006

From Los Parroles to Santiago

It's been a great few days in Chile. All the workshop participants arrived by Sunday morning, and we had our first session that afternoon, a sorta getting-to-know-you session. Did a bit of writing too, and though a couple of the participants are most drawn to conventional poetry (think Mary Oliver) and a couple to the tradition of British rhyming verse (Roger McGough), they´re an open-minded bunch and don´t seem to mind my tortures.

Los Parronales is a lovely estate, a 120-acre property that stretches, pie-shaped, up a small mountain nearby. Though I haven´t yet made that climb. El Novciado is the closest village, a half-hour walk, a charming minimal place: small church, lovely school at the main intersection, three empanada joints, and a couple of little tiendas to buy pop and chips -- as well as a laundry detergent called "Poett." The people are friendly and patient with my faltering Spanish (though I´m surprised at how quickly it´s coming back). Monday was a full day: the morning session featured a few writing projects and some discussion, plus readings of Tate, Kizer, Padgett, and others, while the afternoon I´ve decided to devote to discussion of a writing topic, followed by an hour of critiquing (perhaps three pieces), and then another project to finish the day. I took off for Santiago after the afternoon session, and just being on that local bus to the Metro was exhilirating! The subway itself is modern and spotless and it took us right into the city centre from the distant suburban town of San Pablo.

I loved Santiago, especially the grottier bits I walked through. But some gorgeous museums, tons of parks, a prole market where I bought some cheese (to supplement the vegetarian possibilities among the meat-eaters who make up the rest of the group -- though the meals have been mostly fantastic, and so pleasantly served out on the patio -- lunch -- and in the Siddeleys´ cozy dining room -- breakfast and dinner). Back to Santiago: the park near Plaza de Armas is busy and full of couples making out. It was amazing. I wondered if I just stood in mid-park, puckered up, would someone have come along? Or do you have to bring your own?

We wandered into a few bookstore, and the third was the best: a serious literary place, with helpful staff. I hovered by the poetry looking a little confused, and when the store dude came over, I just knew he was expecting me to ask for a Neruda book -- when I asked for Nicanor Parra, he lit up! There were a couple of Parra books, and I chose a large-format volume called Hojas de Parra, from 1996. I´m sure they were amused that a guy with such bad Spanish was buying a book of poems in Spanish, but they were nice, and the woman at the cash threw in a local literary magazine for me. I gave her one of my "Dos Poemas" leaflets and she was very gracious.

I think I was grinning like a goof the whole time in Santiago. It felt so good to be there. Though I gotta say, the bus ride through working-class San Pablo was a real thrill too. Very nice to stay in the luxury of Los Parronales, but be able to experience the places that ordinary Chileans live in as well.

Looking forward to the next Santiago outing on Friday.

Over and out y hasta pronto.


At January 14, 2006 3:29 am , Anonymous Kev said...


Great to hear you're having such a wonderful time. That's one place I've always wanted to go, though I sometimes think it comes from as basic a place as which shape of continent I liked best when I was a child. Re: public necking -- Gil and I ran into that in Dublin in 1993 -- everywhere, total tonsil-hockey with the young folks, which seemed odd at first, but only until we remembered how prevalent it was when we were late teens, and how it's such an unusual sight to see it (en masse) in Toronto these days. Maybe those comedians who get laughs for Canadian sex manual jokes are onto something.

Bring back some of that Poett detergent wouldya? I got some new poems in my office that are starting to smell something fierce...



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