The International Writers Magazine
: Chile Diary No 14

Dermot Sullivan's South American Diary No 14

I don’t know what the weather is like back home but here it is the winter. I constantly marvel at the Santiaguino refusal to comes to grips with the simplest concepts of drainage and watch how the streets become rivers and the buses create tsunami as they plough though them, soaking all the pedestrians walking on the pavements.

Santiago Sawdust

They put down sawdust at the entrance of buildings in an attempt to absorb the water and so one’s shoes end up looking filthy dirty. How can a first world city function like this?

As well as keeping an eye on the television about the city underwater, I have been watching the news about the recent earthquake. Chile is the most earthquake-prone country on the planet and on the 13th of June there was a major one in the north measuring 8.something on the Richter scale. Fortunately the epi-centre was 100km underground so not many people were killed. A lot of the villages in the north have the old-fashioned adobe houses and naturally they didn’t withstand the quake. Generally, Chile has the highest standard of earthquake safety in the world but the poor often live in glorified shacks … some of them aren’t even that glorified.

Next month my parents and my brother will be coming down to visit me! My sister is staying In England due to reason best known to her. My father will probably place her under an asbo (anti-social behaviour order) or have the house under lockdown to prevent any possible partying antics. They will spend a little under a week in Buenos Aires (probably one of the greatest cities in the world) and then they will head to Santiago. We will most probably go north to the Atacama Desert as Santiago is most unattractive in the winter.

There are certain things that I’d like them to see whilst they’re here. I want it to rain for a day so they can see that what I say is true. It’s great though when the rain clears you can see the majesty of the mountains … followed swiftly by the sky filling up with stinky toxic pollution so you can’t see the mountains again. I want to travel with them on a local bus (which are insane) so they can see how awful they are! People come onto these buses and sing for money or try and sell things (or just beg) and it would be good for them to see this too. Most of all I’d like there to be some sort of seismic activity whilst they’re here. For my mother’s sake I would rather not a full-blown earthquake but at least a decent enough tremor, preferably whilst they’re in my flat on the 24th floor! One can really feel the movement the higher up you go. It’s something they’d never feel back home in England. Something around a 2 or a 3 on the Richter scale would do the job nicely! Anything higher would just complicate things.

In all honesty I was a bit fed up of late, hence me my lack of writing. I had started writing something where I was accusing my neighbours of being Pinochet’s torturers but I felt that maybe I needed to get out and about and experience a change of scene … in the end I just ended up working more and didn’t have time to write … my neighbours still might be Pinochet’s torturers … I’ll leave that topic though for another time.

I tried to change my style of writing, trying to write in different voices. I had been reading a lot of Fernando Pessoa and Philip K. Dick and tried to create a Salvador Allende speaking with the voice of Mr. T but the language of Eazy-E from N.W.A. but it didn’t quite come off (by the way, B.A. is renamed ‘Mario’ in the Spanish version of the ‘A-Team’! How many black American men are called ‘Mario’? The show itself is called ‘Los Magnificos’). I think that’s a treat that can be saved for another time as well.

The best way to liven one’s self up is to get out and about. I have a new Canadian flatmate and they find the best way to bond is through beer … unfortunately this has led to me drinking like a student. My body just can’t purge itself of the booze the next day and I suffer awfully. The plus-side is that beer aids language. I had people come to me saying that they know me and that I’ve talked to them in Spanish … and I’ve had no memory of it whatsoever! The moral of this story is to be pissed all the time! Right now I’m on the wagon as this place is unhealthy enough as it is with the pollution. This means that I’m not practicing my Spanish, which seems to be getting worse by the day. If anyone wants to learn Spanish then don’t come to Chile.

I went to a cool party that was held in a house that was about to be demolished. It had the strange feeling of a teenage party; probably in part also that 95% of Chileans live with their parents until they get married. Through my Irish chums I met an extraordinarily attractive girl who was half-American and half-Venezuelan and who had the gross indecency to be leaving Chile forever. Anyhow, she made a good companion for 24 hours.

The culmination of my time with her was trying to find a nightclub at three in the morning on a Sunday (or Monday, depending how you view time). It doesn't help that Santiago is bloody boring as well, but this girl be a clever so-and-so managed to find a place. As we went in (no entrance fee) I immediately noticed that a guy in front of me - dressed as a woman. I cocked my head left 90 degrees and saw some other bloke dressed the same way. I was in a gay club! It was a bit of a shock to the system but it was a hell of a lot livelier than a normal Santiaguino haunt. Actually, it was packed with straight available women but one can never be sure what one might take home. Unfortunately I was with an Irish guy as well who was straight off the boat and freaked out when he saw that the chicks had dicks. We had to leave after 30 minutes as he feared a bum-burglary. He had nothing to worry about but I must confess avoiding the toilets in the establishment.

I have noticed a new type of traveller (for want of a better word. It could be an ex-patriot worker as well) of late. This traveller comes in two halves: one is American, one if European. The American will apologise for his/her nation and describe himself/herself as ‘anti-American’. Personally, I find these people pathetic. To describe yourself then as anti-American when you are American is even more pathetic. Surely America has a lot more to offer than its government? Would this same American judge me by Tony Blair? It seems like a short-cut to thinking.

By far the worst though of the two types is the European anti-American. I have met so many of these idiots now it’s making me sick. These people spout absolute hate about America, practically foaming at the mouth when they do it. Often there will be an American in the room having to listen to this crap. I wouldn’t care if it were Donald Rumsfeld who were being subjected to it, but the majority of the time it’s some young Yank bird who’s come to explore South America. The worst case I saw was a lovely girl who had been born in Brazil to Peace Corp parents and was heading north to Peru to do some charity work. I was trying to chat to her but over my words was some random European Yank-hater spitting venom on how America was the devil incarnate (that prize belongs to Belgium) or some other nonsense. I was so embarrassed for this poor girl, especially as she took it with such good grace. Contrary to popular opinion I am not an anti-American, I’m just anti-stupidity. If the majority of Yanks happen to be really stupid then that’s something different. I would never pre-judge a nationality. Even my anti-Belgium feeling is borne out of experience.

After defending Americans everywhere, I have to say I keep bumping into American women in South America who keep testing my goodwill. Such prize comments include: ‘what do you think about inter-racial marriage? I think that you should always stick to your own’ and ‘American prisons are a picnic. I’d love to be sent to a prison in the U.S.’ … what can one say in the face of such utter stupidity? I have found I am tolerant to Yank birds who are attractive, but if they are truly repellant underneath their skin I tend to dislike them even more. Such are my faults.
I have many ridiculous contradictory theories that I just love to share with you all.
Spare a thought for me in your summer!
© Dermot Sullivan July 2005 - To Be Continued in September

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Dermot Sullivan's Chile Diary

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Dermot begins teaching
Letter From Santiago No 3
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Santiago Diary No 4
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Santiago Diary No 5
The Naruda House

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Diary No 8: Mendoza
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Chile Diary 10
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Back in harness
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Santiago politics
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Mixed Feelings

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