Tag Archives: Santiago

Hands up, Hands Down: a message from Chile to the USA?

Santiago Countdown 1 095The cultural center in Santiago, Chile is the type of place one dreams of having nearby: a government-funded center where kids learn to dance, juggle, play the cello, just because they want to. If they walk in, they get to learn something.

When we visited, I couldn’t stop taking photos as the Tours4Tips guides talked us through the various forms of dance and street art we were seeing. Finally I understood how all those stop-light entertainers acquired their skills. (When cars wait at a red light, kids don’t rush out offering to clean your windscreen; they pedal out on unicycles, carry devil sticks, do yo-yo tricks. It’s fun to drive in Chile.)Santiago Countdown 1 093

But then our guides Carrie and Flores led us down to the main auditorium. The building was in active use when Pinochet’s coup descended and things in Chile changed rapidly–including the ability to express oneself. When it first opened, the bronze door handles on the Cultural Center displayed fists pumping toward the sky, an artistic expression of victory. Pinochet had them flipped over, so that they looked like the fists of someone being handcuffed.

Artists joined the poor students and labor workers vanishing; perhaps the most famous was the songwriting guitarist Victor Jara (in Argentina); the police broke his fingers before they shot him.

“These handles were a hint,” Carrie said, tracing an upward fist with one finger. Her body blocked the other handle. “Don’t forget what can happen if you sing too loudly.”

When Pinochet was voted out peacefully in the late ‘80s, many things were quickly set to rights in Chile, but in one of those “healing is in the details” moments, debate over the center’s door handles raged. Should they be turned back up; left down as a reminder that artists sometimes paid in blood; one up, one down, remembering the past while looking to the future?

“Whadya think they did?” Carrie smiled at her group of Scots, Australians, and Germans, plus me and one other American. Then she stepped aside so we could see both handles; two fists reached for the sky.

Santiago Countdown 1 096A soft murmur rose from the group, but the other American locked eyes with me and I saw we were thinking about the same thing: police handcuffs, don’t shoot, equal justice for all … maybe someday America would be two fists up in victory again?

God bless the families suffering loss in this ongoing violence, and grant us strength to create peace born of justice. We have better music in us than this.

Leave a comment

Filed under Big Stone Gap, blue funks, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, YA fiction

Coffee with Legs?

This afternoon we went on a Tours For Tips of Santiago’s main cultural attractions. These tours are always fun in any country: students picking up a bit of extra money lead you on a 3-hour tour (is the theme from Gilligan’s Isle going through your head right now?) complete with drinks at the end and fun insights into bits of local culture.

Today, we learned about Chile’s fairly unique coffee shops. I’m a big coffee folklore person, fascinated by all the stories and traditions that surround the caffeinated elixir of life, but this one… well, I was gobsmacked.

In Chile there are four kinds of coffee shops: “coffee with legs,” “coffee with legs dark,”  “happy minute,” and Starbuck’s. Tea is the preferred hot drink in Chile, so when a group of businessmen got together to try and promote ground coffee beans as opposed to the instant coffee most places prefer to serve, they fell back on a tried and trusted formula: use sex to move the product.

In Coffee with Legs shops, the windows are clear until about two feet off the ground, then frosted, then clear from about four feet up. This is so you can see the lovely legs of the waitresses wearing miniskirts as they serve the ground beans, roasted fresh. In the “dark” version, the windows are black, and the girls are wearing bikinis. In the “happy minute” shop, for one minute each day, the girls remove the bikinis. Santiago Countdown 1 069

I’m not making this up. The coffee with legs places are also about half the price of Starbuck’s. This is our tour guide standing outside one of the “dark coffee” places. While we were there, three men came out and had to walk through our group.

They had very big smiles. Unlike our tour group, who were staring in a kind of fascinated horror at the place…..

Santiago Countdown 1 068 So now you know. Coffee in Chile is kinda special. Me, I’m drinking tea. It’s good.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Big Stone Gap, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Wendy Welch