Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Street Like Any Other, A House Like No Other

Peñalolén—Avenida José Arrieta 8401, Santiago, Chile.  Villa Grimaldi, now named the Park of Peace.

It was not a park of peace for the thousands of political prisoners who were taken there and tortured during the military dictatorship in Chile under Augusto Pinochet.  More than two hundred are known to have been executed there.

Note the neighbors' houses behind the wall.

The Chilean Army took over this large house and enclosed grounds, and its special intelligence unit DINA used Villa Grimaldi as a torture and detention center for several years.  Before leaving, they destroyed the main house which had been converted to a cell block.  The cell locations are now marked with brick outlines, and a single tree grows in each one.   A great deal of information about Villa Grimaldi, DINA, and Operation Condor is available on the web, and so I won’t go into that here.

Carmen Bueno was executed here.

 Who was Claudia Valenzuela?  I don’t know.  She is not here to tell us.

How does a horror like this get started?  I am sure that is a complex question, but I believe that one pre-condition is usually there:  An organization with power that believes it is the repository of national honor, pride, and identity.  One that believes that those who disagree with their point of view are outright traitors to their country.   Read Sinclair Lewis, It Can't Happen Here.

Avenida José Arrieta—a street like any other.  Villa Grimaldi—a house like no other.  I wish that second part were true.  As many as 10,000 Chileans disappeared at the hands of their armed forces and their police during the dictatorship, and in Argentina, that number is 30,000.  Some claim that those figures are exaggerated. 

But it doesn’t really matter, because one single victim is too many.  And there were many Villa Grimaldis, here and elsewhere.  Still are.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Where is Home?

Our Facebook friends may have just noticed that we have changed the "Current City" on our profiles from San Francisco to Santiago.  We don't have a home in San Francisco right now, except maybe for the storage unit.  We are not supposed to sleep there anyway.  We moved our legal residence to our niece's house in Oakland, and that way we can still vote since we intend to resettle in San Francisco...at some point.  We are programmed up until leaving New York City in mid-November.  But if something came up, a house-sitting opportunity for instance, we might well do that instead.  Anyone taking a semester sabbatical from BYU need not contact us.  It would have to be in some place where we would actually want to live.  In the United States, that generally includes Hawaii, the West Coast, and the East Coast north of the Mason-Dixon Line.  Not Utah.

So as our walkabout continues, we will be changing our current city to Buenos Aires, Argentina; Montevideo, Uruguay; Cork, Ireland; and Paris, France.  That is where we will be living, so in turn, each of those will be the current city.  But, where is "home?"

I grew up in the Air Force, and my father used to say that home is where you hang your hat.  I really didn't buy that, especially when we lived in Duluth, Minnesota.  But that is just what we are saying now, isn't it?

Yesterday, David and Louis went with us on a tour of the Concha y Toro winery just outside Santiago.  On our tour was a Canadian couple who were about to start a cruise in Valparaiso.  When Penny explained that we live here now, and what we have planned for this year, we got the usual reaction of utter amazement.  But then you could see the wheels turning in the lady's head.  She was thinking so hard that she almost had smoke coming out of her ears.  Then she started asking serious questions about the logistics of being homeless gypsies that don't live in a park and push a shopping cart.  Maybe there will be another bonkers couple on the road soon!

If you are still with me, then please consider this from Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "Self Reliance."  Here goes:  "It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Traveling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for all educated Americans...The soul is no traveler, the wise man stays at home, and when call[ed] into foreign lands, he is at home still...and visits cities and men like a sovereign and not like an interloper or valet...  He who travels to be amused...his mind [becomes] old and dilapidated...Traveling is a fool's paradise.  Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places.  At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty and lose my sadness.  I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from."

I must take strong exception.  I may be Emerson's fool in paradise.  I may be a fool to take issue with a great philosopher although he, himself, says elsewhere in that essay that I would not be.

I firmly believe that travel has broadened me and made me a better person.  Living in Japan broadened and shaped me immeasurably.  I love it.  So does Penny.  Some environments are conducive to some endeavors, and others may not be.  But I can't agree that the wise person stays at home.  Some may do so, but some others may travel.   But Emerson does have another good point here, and that is that one cannot escape one's self by travel.  One cannot run away from one's self.  That part makes sense, and having traveled a great deal, I can agree with the philosopher on that point.   If you are not already happy, then you won't find happiness by going on walkabout.

We are quite happy on walkabout, just as we were quite happy in San Francisco.

Prices in Santiago

One of my friends recently said that he and his wife were considering retiring to Chile from the United States.  I don't know about all the immigration and tax matters that would arise from such a move.  I don't think I would want to be so far away from family and friends on a permanent basis like that.  She is an American Airlines flight attendant, and with passes the long distances for transportation are perhaps not such a consideration.

That got me to thinking about prices of things here, and so I took a few notes.  I had the impression that supermarket food prices were about 80% of what they are at home, but Penny says she thinks they are about the same.  Since she is the better money manager, I recommend using her impression instead of mine.  My sister-in-law sent some prices from Fred Meyer in Medford, Oregon for some things that I requested, and so here are the comparisons.  There are also a few items that I priced online at Target, and using Kelley blue book.  The U.S. price will be first, and followed by the dollar equivalent price here in Santiago.  Family-sized picnic cooler $20/$55;  Whistling stovetop tea kettle $14/$12;  pound of  butter $3/$4;  half pound of Kraft Philadelphia cream cheese $2.19/$4;  pkg of three Romaine lettuce hearts $2.50/$3.00;  small can of tomato sauce $0.40/$1.00;  center-cut pork chops per pound $4.99/$4.73;  big box of corn flakes $4.39/$2.80 (this compares Kellogg's vs. the Jumbo store brand).

A bottle of Casillero del Diablo 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon on the supermarket shelf here is around $9, and I seem to recall it being $10 at Trader Joes.  Maybe $11?

Having a car is expensive:  one gallon of regular unleaded gasoline $3/$5, 2007 Mitsubishi Montero $17000/$22000.  Car rental prices have also struck us as high, and they are also high in Argentina.

Restaurant prices are not especially cheap.  Now, they are not Manhattan prices, but it is definitely not as inexpensive here to eat in a nice place as it is, for instance, in Lima.  Miraflores in Lima is a district similar to Providencia here in Santiago.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Picture Reduction

blogspot tells me that I have reached the maximum space for pictures.  If anyone knows how to reduce the size of jpg files, please let me know how.  For now, I will be pruning the pictures in the blog to make room for more. In the future, they will be more carefully chosen.  Most of them are on Facebook anyway.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Santiago de Chile, December 2010-January 2011

We flew to Santiago from San Francisco without incident.  Our previous arrangements all worked as planned.  We had rented an apartment in Providencia for two months, and made this arrangement when we were in Santiago earlier in 2010.

Providencia is one of many comunas, or municipalities, that make up the Santiago greater area.  Santiago itself is the historic center.  Each comuna is self-governing, so the set-up is a bit like Los Angeles in many regards, except that there isn’t one big city with all the satellites.  Providencia, Las Condes, Vitacura, and the other comunas to the east are rather well-to-do.

Above is La Moneda, the presidential office building.  It dates from about 200 years ago, and looks very typical of late colonial Spanish buildings.  Notice the more modern building across the street.   La Moneda was extensively refurbished after the Chilean Air Force bombed it on 11 September 1973 during the overthrow of President Salvador Allende.  We were fortunate to tour this building, and later to meet with Sra. Ena von Baer, the presidential spokeswoman.  Ena is a sister of Karina von Baer, our friend from Gorbea that we first met on a train from Mongolia to China.
Penny and one of the duty Carabineros at La Moneda.  

The apartment is on Avenida Francisco Bilbao, near the Bilbao metro station on Avenida Tobalaba.  It is convenient to a medium-sized Santa Isabel supermarket a few blocks away, and to a larger Jumbo supermarket a litter farther in the other direction.  All the conveniences of home, which of course, was exactly the idea.

Santiago was listed as the Number One of 41 places to visit in 2011, as written in the travel section of the New York Times.  It has been quite nice temperature-wise.  Because it is trapped in a valley between the coastal mountains to the west and the Andes to the east, the pollution can be bad.  Penny was sick for the first week we were here, and the smit and viz in the air probably contributed to that.  On many weekdays, the haze is so bad that we can’t see the coastal range from our window, and those mountains are not very far away.
This day is actually rather clear, although there is quite a bit of pollution.  Sometimes we can't see the mountains in the background at all.

We had visitors and saw friends, of course.  This was the first Christmas since we have had children that Penny, David, and Charles were not together.  Andreas and Karina invited us to their farm in Gorbea, 700 km south of Santiago, near the city of Temuco.  We had a great time there, as you can see from the pictures here.  Bruce thinks, right now, that to leave the United States during the Christmas holiday season was possibly not such a good idea.

We went from Santiago to Gorbea by bus.  Bus and train stations are fascinating places, with people coming and going, to and fro, at all hours of the day.  TurBus operates mostly from the Terminal Alameda, above, which is a few blocks from the Estacion Central that serves most of the bus lines.  If you are from California, then you may think you are home as the bus runs down Ruta 5 Sur (Route Five South), passing towns with names like San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Actually, it looks more like 99 than 5, because the agribusinesses are right by the roadside.  But the farmland, agribusiness, and mountains on either side look just like the San Joaquin Valley.

Andreas Shick and Karina von Baer have a fundo, or large farm, in the south of the Chilean valley.  He is from Germany, and she is Chile-born of German immigrant extraction.  Their house is like a little enclave of Germany, as you can see from these pictures.
They had a large Christmas tree, which they put up on Christmas eve.

Karina is a wonderful friend and a great hostess.  This is the Christmas Eve dinner table.

Andrecito, Karina, and Andreas.  Note Andrecito's costume, and Andreas's Bavarian jacket.

Also included here are some pictures from other places in Chile.  Some of them were taken during earlier visits, and you can see what a typical Chilean town looks like.  Except for Viña del Mar, which is a famous coastal resort and looks more prosperous.

Gorbea has its Plaza de Armas, and also typical side streets.

Karina started a processing plant to produce canola oil for internal sale and for export.

Plaza Mayor in Viña del Mar.

Monument in Viña del Mar to world-renowned Chilean poets Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral.

Viña del Mar rooftops.

Casablanca is a fairly prosperous town in a wine producing area just west of Santiago.  The Plaza de Armas  is always a most attractive aspect of any town, but the adjacent streets are often not so picturesque.

Mapuche style statue in Casablanca's Plaza de Armas.

Penny and her new friend, Iñaki, in Viña del Mar.

Through a connection of Karina’s, we were able to spend a week in a beach apartment in Algarrobo, a beach resort on the coast south of Valparaiso.  It is quite pleasant, but not a place that in itself, would merit coming to Chile.  If you are already here, then this is a place to visit.  But it isn’t like Buzios in Brazil, Waikiki, or the south of France.  That can be a plus!  All in all, Bruce still prefers Dennisport, Massachusetts!

Erika and Elke were with us for the Algarrobo visit.  Erika returned to Gorbea, and Elke flew home to Vienna right afterward.  We were able to make several day trips.  One was down the coast to Isla Negra, the site of one of poet Pablo Neruda’s homes.  No pictures were allowed inside, but we got some good ones outside.  In its style and décor, Isla Negra was very much like La Chascona, Neruda’s Santiago home.  Very nautical…in the way that only a landlubber fascinated by the sea could do.  One that had the ability to collect lots of things such as ships’ instruments, figureheads, etc. etc.  I don’t mean to cast dispersions.  But, you would never catch me painting my house haze gray outside, and inside with white walls and dark green baseboards.

Florida state government tourist rip off scam on Don Shula Expressway

I chose this title to put as many keywords in it as I could, in the hope that someone googling those words might find this advice.

Penny just looked at our credit card bill.  Once again, the Budget rental car had an unexpected charge added on to it.  Once again, she called Budget to resolve the issue.

In this case, it turns out to have been tolls.  We paid all the tolls in cash.  It turns out there was an electronic toll device in the car.  We drove on the Don Shula expressway, which we learn has electronic toll collection.  The toll was $3.85, but the Florida state government's e-toll collectors added on another eighteen bucks to raise it to more than 21 bucks!  No warning!

A phone call to an 800 number got the charge taken off.  This gentleman was in New York, at a phone center on behalf of the official Florida rip-off artists.  He had no idea why the huge surcharge was added on.  The New York man was quite pleasant about it, which is more than can be said for the Budget lady in Florida.  Grrrrrr.

So beware!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Logistics of All This

When we tell people what we are doing on this year-long walkabout.  We get one of two reactions.  One is that we are totally bonkers.  Others are envious, but shake their heads at the complexity of it all.

I will add to this from time to time as things come to mind.

So here are some things:

Personal documents:  We had to make sure that our passports were up to date.  Also, Bruce's driver license was about to expire and he had to get it renewed when we passed through California in November.  Permission to enter Chile and Argentina is obtained on arrival at the airport.  We want to go to Iguazu Falls, and that can mean crossing into Brazil.  We already have five-year visas for Brazil, so that is not a problem for us.  If you want a Brazilian visa, you will have to go a Brazilian consulate and go through the same treatment that we give Brazilians at our consulates there.  $130 and ten working day delay while they hold your passport.  No way around it.  The blogs say that many American tourists only do the Argentine side of the falls because they didn't address the visa issue in time.

You should make photocopies of the photo pages of your passport in case you need to go to a U.S. embassy or consulate to get a replacement.  You should put those photocopies in your checked baggage when you fly.

Lodgings:   The idea of this walkabout is to live in places like residents as opposed to tourists.  So we have tried to get places with kitchens as much as possible.  Also washing machine and hopefully a dryer.  Going out to restaurants all the time gets old, and self-service laundromats are often hard to find overseas.  Every place that we reserved was found by Penny on www.tripadvisor.com and then reserved by going to the place's own web site.

Car rental:  Shop around on this.  For the Eastern United States part of this, we had originally thought to rent a car in the New York area and return it in Miami.  It turned out to be cheaper to fly to Baltimore and then to Miami, and rent cars at each of those places.  This was a big surprise.  When we went around the world in 2008, we got a very good price on a one way car rental from San Francisco airport to the Newark airport.   So you need to investigate this rather carefully.

Maps:  Penny prints out driving directions from Google Maps, or from Via Michelin if we are in Europe. We recycle the paper after using the directions.

Thanksgiving and Rushing Around to Leave for Chile

We flew back to San Francisco and stayed with our niece, Shawna, who lives in Oakland and who very kindly looks after our mail.

Then we enjoyed a couple of days in Sacramento with Bruce's cousin Gary and his wife, Deb.

We all got together at Priscilla and Jon's house in Medford again for Thanksgiving.  Dave and Charles were there, and it was nice for the four of us to be together again.

Then back to San Francisco.  Penny's cousin Joyce, and Rob Kurtz,  welcomed us into their new home in Noe Valley even though they hadn't finished unpacking.

We went to the storage unit where our stuff is, replenished what needed it, and changed out what needed to be changed out.

Then we were off to Chile.

Miami, Florida

November 15-18, 2010

Bruce had for years wanted to visit Miami, and in particular Little Havana.  So we did.  The storied Calle Ocho, 8th Street, is the heart of Little Havana.  Sort of, anyway.  As Tomas, our B&B host, told us, the Latin American influence in Miami has spread far beyond that enclave.

The best thing about our Miami visit was the Cuban restaurant near the B&B.  Bruce had a great picadillo there.  The worst thing was lunch at a cutesy place in Miami Beach where the service was unbelievably slow, and the prices too high for what you got.

We ended up not taking pictures here, so this is a short blog.

Tampa and St. Petersburg

November 8-15, 2010

Driving from Key West to St. Pete Beach took most of the day.  The Everglades are flat, flat, flat.  Animals live there.

We arrived at the Gulf Tide Inn there, and stayed for a week.  It is a very comfortable place, and has a great swimming pool to boot.  If you find yourself in that area, we highly recommend the Gulf  Tide Inn.

Besides simply relaxing, we came to the area to visit friends.  Catherine Middleton lives in Osprey, near Sarasota.  She was a bridesmaid in our wedding.  Rob Wilcox, whom we had seen in Key West, was Bruce's best man.  Catherine has a very nice house on a lagoon.  We went with her to the Ringling Museum in Sarasota and also had a great lunch.

Above is the view from her back window.  There were no alligators present while we were there.

The grounds include a circus museum, and also the Ringling mansion where they wintered between traveling seasons.

Sarasota is a comfortable place, and full of retirees.  Suburban, spacious, pristine, homogenous.  You might even call it Zombie Land, except that would imply that Haitians were present and they are not in evidence at all.  Lots of Yankees fans, though.

We also visited our friends Juan and Yoli Capin in Tampa.  We met them and most of the rest of their extended clan on a train "cruise" in Spain in 2000.  Yoli is now on the Tampa City Council, but she took time out of her busy schedule and we had a great time.  Ybor City is the traditional Cuban area of Tampa, and has been for a century.  This group is not mostly refugees from Castro.   Cigar rolling was the main business.

After a relaxing and fun week, it was time to head back to Miami for a few days.

While driving on Alligator Alley from the Gulf to the Atlantic side of Florida, I actually caught sight of an alligator, but the camera was not at the ready.

Key West, Florida

November 5 to 8, 2010

We checked out of the Annapolis Hampton Inn and made our way back to the BWI car rental facility.  That was certainly not a difficult task.  ;-)

We flew on AirTran down to Miami, picked up another rental car and headed to Key West.  Our friends, Rob Wilcox and Sharon Ward, live there with their three adorable children.  We had a very nice visit with them, and a great dinner at La Marquesa restaurant.

We stayed in the Key West Bed and Breakfast on William Street.  It is very comfortable and a classic example of Key West architecture.  Spacious, and with high ceilings so the heat can rise.  Balconies and porches.  We had a banana bread pudding for one breakfast that was so good that I ordered two copies of the Key West cookbook to get the recipe.  One for Penny, and she knew that her sister, Priscilla, would also want one.

Key West is the southernmost place in the continental U.S., but we didn't get any pictures taken there. I have also been to the southernmost place in on the island of Hawaii, and I don't have a picture of that either.

Key West is a fun-loving place.  Sometimes it seems like it is a place where adults can go to act stupid, but hey...whatever!  We were there on Parrothead Weekend, which is for fans of Jimmy Buffet.  I particularly liked the statues around the old Customs building.

It is only 90 miles across the sea to Havana, and so of course, Ernest Hemingway liked Key West.  His house there is a museum attraction.  I always found him a tediously boring writer.  The Sun Also Rises has put me to sleep within a few pages several times, so I just gave up.

The air service to Havana has been on a several decade hiatus.

After a pleasant weekend, we headed north on Monday morning.