A clear warm day in Santiago. We walk to Universidad Catolica subway station where I say to the cashier "Quiero dos boletos por favor. De ida." The cashier smiles, holds up a calculator showing the amount due, and then, correctly assessing me as a tourist, hands me maps and brochures to the city.
The subway is modern and clean and no one walks down the aisle placing items in your lap a la Buenos Aires. We transfer to another line at Los Heroes then get off at Cementario station. Once above ground, I find myself in front of a long line of flower shops, flowers for the tombs.The cemetery is said to have a population of over two million. I note that today it is growing by one.
This cemetery is the resting place of many of Chile's most famous figures. To the right is a long white stone wall inscribed with names. It is reminiscent of Maya Lin's Vietnam memorial in DC though Lin's is black and this one is above ground. A study of the wall shows names in two alphabetical lists, with one large name in between. The entries on the left consist of a name followed by a date, the entries on the right consist of a name, age, then date. Most died in 1973, many were in their teens and twenties, though the dates range up to 1986.
In the middle is the name Salvador Guillermo Allende Gossens. The left set are names of the disappeared, the right set are the executed. It is a sobering site. I sit for awhile thinking about how recently this occurred, and that it occurred in this very country in which I am sitting. My mind rolls around the similar recent histories of Argentina, where I've just come from, and, as I was in Barcelona a few years ago, Spain, which not that long ago suffered under Franco. And i think that I am fortunate to have never lived through such an event, though I know my own country the US, via the CIA and multinational companies, played a role in the horrors that occurred here in South America.
I walk the grounds for awhile. There are many people here, visiting, placing flowers. The above-ground cemetery resembles Buenos Aires' Recoleta but the latter is small, more densely packed with tombs, and more varied in tomb architecture. The Santiago cemetery has one distinctive feature: two- and three-story "condos" for those of lessor means.
I'm cemeteried out and the day is heating up. We walk back to the central city through a section of town that is less nice than where we are staying but likely more typical of life for the middle class. One neighborhood features block after block of clothing stores, many with rows of sidewalk mannequins, what looks to be an army of female Cylons in skin-tight jeans.
We stop when we reach Parque Forestal, a greenbelt that follows the Rio Mapocho, and eat our sandwiches, then we walk to Iglesia de San Francisco, one of Santiago's oldest buildings. Large and nondescript outside, it is attractive enough inside. It features the usual 14 stations with lots of bloody crucified bodies. It is old, built between 1572 and 1628, and looks like the next temblor could knock it down. I take a few pictures from the entrance to capture the aisle leading to the altar, then move about the church. There are many people inside, walking and sitting and taking photos with their little cameras, flashes lighting up the room. My camera doesn't need a flash so aside from its size I consider myself sort of unobtrusive. Suddenly a man walks up to me and tells me to stop taking photos, so I do, but there is no sign to that effect. I try to obey the rules.
We stop for a latte around the corner from the church. The neighborhood, Barrio Paris Londres, has a few windy cobblestone streets lined with attractive old stone buildings. Then we walk back to the apt. It is hot, walking city streets is tiring, more tiring than a hike in the country, and there are too many people, too many cars and buses, too much noise. I think we should skip the museums and relax until evening.
Just before dark we hike up to the top of the park next door, a wonderful park, a huge rock covered in odd little stairs and patios and waterfalls and topped by a stone turret with views of the city. A sort of adult playground. I have never seen so many young couples kissing. Most are straight couples but not all. Is it a Chilean thing? A university student thing? Or is it just this neighborhood? Maybe the giant rock in the park is emanating some weird vibe that makes kids make out. It is all fine, kind of sweet really. We end the evening with dinner at a Patagonian cafe (Sur Patagonico) on Lastarria, a nearby street lined with sidewalk cafes. Very good food and a delicious pisco sour.