25 January 2006


My three days of morning workshops in Santiago are over. They went just fine. I was happy to see that Suan has such a great community of expat writers here. And now I’m free of work, and have only to work on my novel. And swim in the pool. And take my long walks into El Noviciado to remind myself that I’m in Chile, in case the mountains aren’t doing their job.

I took a bus into Pomaire, about 60 minutes from Santiago. A beautiful little town, its main street is lined with pottery shops and small restaurants and tiendas. The side streets were far more tranquil. It’s a real tourist spot – for internal tourists, Chileans, mostly. And yet the bus from Santiago drops you off a couple kilometres from Pomaire, where you have to walk through a ditch and scamper up an incline to catch a local bus into town. I chose to walk, and on the outskirts of town, wandered into a small restaurant – really just a living room with a table in it for guests – where a very friendly woman named Aurora made empanadas to order. We got to talking, and I showed her my two poems in Spanish, and she told me that she too wrote poetry and asked for my address so she could mail me some. She explained that hers were “poemas romanticos” while mine were “contemporaneas” (or something to that effect) and that I might not like her work. I assured her that my tastes were broader than my own crazy poetry. Seems everywhere you go here, there are incredibly nice Chileans.

This afternoon I asked my friend Jorge Garreton about the niceness of Chileans. He said that they (and he is one of them) are always so eager to please, so helpful, that at times they become annoyingly subservient. He said they are sort of like Canadians in their slightly formal politeness. I used to work with Jorge at York U’s radio station, and I hadn’t seen him in years. We met up at Los Leones Metro station and he dragged me back to his office, where he files stories for print and radio news. To my great surprise, he was sharing an office with Patricio Mason, who I haven’t seen since 1989, when we – along with Jim Smith, Gary Geddes, and a couple of others – went to Nicaragua as the unofficial Canadian delegation at the Feria Internacional del Libro in Managua. I remember being pretty intimidated by the cerebral Mason, but he was so warm in Santiago. (He’s a born Chilean, and moved back in 1991, from Toronto.)

Jorge took me on a tour through his Santiago, which, though it covered much of the same ground, was very different from my previous wanderings. He knows the country’s political history inside-out, and he took me to the presidential palace (we weren’t allowed instead because they were preparing for Monday’s visit by Vicente Fox), Centro Civico, where most of the major government buildings are, Plaza de Armas, and other major downtown landmarks, telling me of the incredible transformations his country has been going through. I mentioned that what I loved most about Santiago were all the public spaces: parks, squares, terraces where people just sit and relax and play and make out. He said it’s been a really gradual process since the return of democracy: the people are gradually reclaiming their public spaces. For so long they were off the streets, things were tense. Now, more and more, it’s becoming a city for the people again. If only Toronto had a small fraction of the public spaces that Santiago has.

I wandered back to Metales Pesados, my favourite bookstore in Santiago, and I picked up books by a couple of surrealists Beatriz Hausner had recommended. The people working there all recognized me by now, and Jorge told them that I was really famous in Canada. There was a poet from Buenos Aires there, and he spoke English, which made things much easier: to my astonishment, when I said I was from Canada, the poet he mentioned was bpNichol! He also knew the work of Steve McCaffery and mentioned Black Debt in particular. Increible. He and I are going to try to keep in touch. And I plan on returning one more time to Metales Pesados to give the staff a copy of my Surreal Estate anthology.

The visit with Jorge was great, and we embraced farewell at the Metro. On the way back to Los Parronales, I wound up on the most decrepid bus 817 so far. But, in usual Chilean spirit, the people on the bus were just laughing at all the broken-down seats and the vehicle’s unbelievable rattling. When I hopped off at the end of the dirt road leading home, an old guy got off with me and smiled. He rattled something quick to me, in heavy slang, I think. I asked him to repeat it. Turns out he had been on the bus a couple weeks ago when I’d been unsure of my stop and he had helped. And he remembered the gringo.

I called him "amigo" (cornball!) and headed to the dirt road. The sun was nearly down, and it was the end of the most beautiful couple of hours in Chile, from 7 to 9, when the light does incredible things with the mountains, the trees, the dirt road.

Over and out.


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