If you set off to a mid-sized city in South America -- especially in the Southern Cone -- your chance of finding an idyllic spot are high. There may be, in a way, nothing to do there, at least not in the sense that your guidebook can report. But it will feel so fresh, so undiscovered, so representative of the vitality of everyday life, that you will at times think you have stumbled upon paradise. Everyone there will seem so apart from the world you know and there is a sudden (and quite silly) shock at seeing how seriously they take the world they know.
I wouldn't say that people down here seem apart from the world I know, at least at first, but there are some things--their mental distance from World War II, the fact that Christmas is in the summer, that the school year doesn't cross the calendar year, that the sun is in the north in the winter instead of the south--that remind me that they're completely accustomed to completely different things.
At any rate, Chillán is not someplace you'd normally visit, but my brief pass through left the impression of a low-rent, industrial, un-scenic Valdivia or La Serena.
This is Fanny. I thought she was using a pedal-driven sewing machine, which she is, but it's got an electric motor retrofitted onto it. I asked if I could take a picture, and she started to get up.
"Oh, can I take the picture with you?""Of course! I thought you wanted a picture of the machine.""What good is a machine without the person who uses it?"
Which she happily told her colleagues as I left. I think that modern technology does so much to change our lives so quickly, and so much of it is incomprehensible without special training, that we feel like Technology is something inhuman. But the word "technology" comes from the Greek téchnē, which means "art," "skill," or "craft." Setting aside non-human tool-using (which is significant, but not our problem), Technology is the stuff we make, as humans, and it has no meaning or purpose apart from human beings. We're in charge, and if it doesn't seem like it, it's because we're looking at things all wrong. We forget how important we are, because it's scary.
For the past two nights, I've had the World's Worst-Designed Bunk Bed:
Notice that I can neither see nor manipulate things on the bed, so in the room I have nowhere to organize my stuff. Note also that the ceiling is like 11 feet tall. Who the hell needs 5ft of clearance in the bottom bunk? Luckily, tonight I'm moving to a private single room, since that's what was available. That works better with my "Cocaine and Hookers" evening plan, anyway.
For some reason, La Serena has a Japanese garden! It's small, but in a country that could give two shits about Japan, it's pretty amazing that it's here at all. This picture just screams CHILE at me:
Yes, that's a Japanese garden pond and bridge. And someone's random dog wandering around.
The ever-increasing set of La Serena photos is here at Flickr.