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 into camps; perhaps the most famous was the songwriting guitarist Victor Jara; 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.

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The Monday Book: THE MAN WHO QUIT MONEY by Mark Sundeen

Jack handed me this book, said it had wafted into the bookstore, and that I would like it.

He was right. Daniel Suelo, the title character, grew up in a Christian household where, as he put it in an interview, he was at university before he realized “You could be a Christian and a Democrat at the same time.”

How this guy wound up living, not just off the grid, but out of the system, is a wonderful timeline in and of itself, but I admit freely I loved the book because he set up milemarkers at some of my favorite intellectual curiosity points.

Switching from pre-med to anthropology, he worked on a book about the sacred feminine, started thinking about social justice mixed with theology, joined the Peace Corps and watched what “missionary” meant when money turned into salvation, and pretty much decided “Nah.”

Sundeen is a sensitive writer, his telling of the story digging deep into roots but leaving blooms untouched. He handles very spiritual discussion with what can only be called pragmatic respect.

But his analysis isn’t limited to the big ideas. He also explains, in head-swimming detail, how to conduct a successful dumpster dive, one of the many ways in which Suelo eats. And eats well.

He sleeps in a cave, uses wifi at the library, will not beg or use social services, but does trade labor for stuff. Suelo volunteers at a women’s shelter. Sundeen takes care to paint a picture of a man who is not surviving, but thriving. And having fun thinking it through.

The discussions, the ideas, and the practical hints for people who may not want to get off the road entirely, but would like to travel more lightly, made this a lovely read for me. (Not that the book is a how-to; it’s a “what he did,” and Suelo takes pains to explain to Sundeen, and by proxy those reading about him, that there is no way to “sort of” live this lifestyle. If you use a little bit of money or trade or social services, you wind up using all of it.

And for all that the concepts are huge and thought-provoking, Sundeen’s writing style makes the words slide past your eyes so fast, you’re surprised later at how much you remember, how much time you’ve spent thinking about them. When Jack handed me the book, I was busy and started reading just to see if I’d like the writing. Sixty pages later, I glanced up, still standing up by the dining room table. Jack had just left me there when he couldn’t gain my attention.

This is Suelo’s Facebook page if you want to visit: https://www.facebook.com/themanwhoquitmoney.

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Senora DeFarge

arpillera protest 2I went to Chile hoping to see textiles in action, to visit women who spun wool and practiced traditional weaving and carved their own crochet hooks. This I found, but also something more.

The world’s most famous knitter is probably Madame DeFarge, of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Via her stitch code recording wrongs perpetrated by the autocracy during the French Revolution, many an innocent (if irregular-looking) scarf doomed someone to the guillotine. Portrayed largely unsympathetically until the end of the novel, she is herself a victim of the crimes she records.

In the aftermath of Pinochet’s Military Coup in Chile, Senora DeFarge emerged. Several Latin American cultures have a tradition of arpilleras. These are a combination of applique and embroidery depicting a typical scene from everyday life. In order to understand how they became a central fixture of a protest movement, you need to know that in 1973 Pinochet took the country by military coup from Allende (who in 1970 became the world’s first socialist party president to be democratically elected—and you can imagine how scary that was during the Cold War).

I encourage you to look up the English translation of the speech Allende gave when he knew not only death, but also revocation of his reforms to date, was imminent. His moving final address applies to a wider situation than his immediate one.chile protest

Pinochet’s promises mutated into repression. People began disappearing. Many left voluntarily after seeing the handwriting on the wall. Some received “if you’re still here next week” messages and took the hint; more than 200,000 “voluntary” exiles left between 1973 and 1988. About 3,000 people disappeared into camps–as in no one ever found the bodies–with another 40,000 detained and released.

Freedom of the press ended; unions for miners and transport workers were emasculated; and food shortages grew. The Chilean exiles talked non-stop about their homeland being taken apart, but since they were from a “Communist country” (America in particular did not like Allende) not everyone listened—at first. Inside Chile, mostly poor men and students were disappearing, so who cared?donde estan

Enter the arpillera-makers. Sad as it is to admit, attracting international attention to injustice can be hard. There’s just so much of the stuff going around, who gets attention can literally depend on how well you sell the message. Women in prison smuggled out embroidered scenes, made from threads pulled from their own clothes and wood splinter needles, showing the horrors. Outside the camps, mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives began marching, but not about the political issues; instead they made famous the question “Donde Estan?” (Where are they?) shouted from arpillera banners as they silently walked.

chile arpillera protestFrom as small as 10×12 inches, to bigger than five feet square, the arpilleras also went up on walls, got smuggled out of (and into) the country, and caught the interest of television stations.

It’s amazing how loud a silent art form can be. Pinochet was peacefully voted from power in 1988 after international sanctions showed him that he’d run through his foreign friends. The “Mothers of the Disappeared” protests didn’t just help get Pinochet out with no shots fired in the change-over, they also helped locate and close the camps no one wanted to admit were out there. Never underestimate a woman’s love, plus needle and thread.

reconciliationBut the arpillera legacy continued. When the Chileans who’d left came home to a different country, when their children who’d matured elsewhere couldn’t identify as Chileans, when those who stayed scorned those who fled for abandoning a country that needed them, again the arpilleras came out, this time as an act of reconciliation. Scenes depicted returnees welcomed, Chile united, hands reaching across water.reconciliation 2

Stitching up wounds, women’s true colors show.

 

 

making them

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Too Many Books

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“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

-Robert Browning

 

I’m depressed.

OK, maybe depressed is the wrong word. I’m here in Big Stone Gap, knee deep in kittens, good food, and friendly people. I’m happy, I’m content. What’s better than living in a bookstore? It’s kind of a dream come true, right? So why am I…wistful?

I believe it’s the unavoidable realization that I will never be able to read as many books as I would like. This may not seem like a big deal. I mean, there are plenty of things I’ll never get to do in my lifetime, that’s what the Travel Channel is for. In the normal course of things, I can accept that my life will contain the pleasure of reading only a small, finite number of books. There are times, however, when I feel the weight of all those unread words. This feeling is strong when I visit libraries, and naturally, bookstores.

When I first arrived at Tales of the Lonesome Pine, the shelves bursting with books whispered possibility as only bookshelves can. The knowledge that I had all month to peruse left me giddy. Who knew? Maybe I’d take a gander at the romance section; I’m not proud. Or the Westerns. I’ve never read a Western! The craft section! The gardening section!!! THE MYSTERY ROOM!!!! It was all at my disposal. I imagined tiptoeing through the shelves at midnight, as The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy played softly in the background.

Two weeks in, I’m feeling a little less giddy. Maybe it’s because I’ve only finished two books since I arrived. Maybe it’s because I can’t decide what to read next. Maybe it’s because, with only two weeks left in December, the dream of endless reading possibility has been effectively cut in half.

I can take books home. As many as I want. But that doesn’t alter the fact that I will never read all the books on my ever-shifting list. Maybe this is OK. The ultimate Zen lesson. A reading life can never be fully satisfied. But why would you want it to be? Imagine the tragedy of actually, literally, having nothing to read. When I die, I will not have read the vast majority of the books my fellow humans have produced. Dreary thought? Perhaps, but I will certainly have enjoyed the time I spent trying.

 

 

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The Monday Book: PEACE MEALS by Anna Badkhen

This book drifted into our shop and I read it on and off throughout our recent Chilean travels. It was a great choice for travel reading because it is easy to dip into, chapter by chapter. Badkhen writes in newspaper articles, each chapter complete in itself and pretty self-contained. People looking for a start-to-finish story may not enjoy that so much.

I liked that it was basically a series of short stories themed around food: how hard it can be to get it in war zones; how different getting it is depending on your nationality, ethnicity, and place of eating at the time; how differently mindful of food people are in different countries; how good or bad it tastes depending on why you’re eating it, with whom. Psychology meets food in her thoughtful writing, but she is rarely sentimental. There’s a chapter in which she fights with herself after lambasting her son for wasting food growing in their garden, trying to decide how much of the world she wants him to understand at a young age, trying to figure out whether other people’s food needs influencing her behavior really makes a difference, or is just a feel-good sop.

Recipes accompany each chapter, but I’m not a cook and skipped them. If you enjoy trying to make different types of food, the recipes include where in the US you can get hard-to-find ingredients, or good substitutes for them, which I imagine real cooks would appreciate. Me, I stick to devouring words and ideas, and this book is replete with both. It’s not just that she wrote about her pizza in Iraq, or the hospitality of those with nothing handing out half of it to guests (her favorite meal of all time was a handful of dusty green raisins shared with a man who poured half of his supper into her palm). It’s that between those descriptions she does some thoughtful investigation of her own mind and comparison to other experiences.

In other words, this is an insightful and often analytical book about the emotions and experiences that surround food, in places ranging from overstocked to seriously shortaged. If that sounds interesting to you, you’ll love this book.

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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.

 

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I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts!

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Boo!

That’s a lie. I totally am.

I’m not saying I actually believe in ghosts, but I’ve been blessed, or cursed, depending on your perspective, with a vivid imagination. I also made the mistake of watching The Changeling with George C. Scott, when I was in the fourth grade. If you haven’t seen this movie, I recommend it…IF YOU WANT TO BE SCARED OF THE DARK FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE! 

But I digress.

Not only is my imagination more active than most, I am also inexplicably drawn to the macabre. I enjoyed graveyard tours when I was in grade school. Still do, in fact. I’m one of those wide-eyed nuts that asks, always with the benefit of broad daylight, “Is it haunted?!”  I’m eager to hear all the stories. I want ALL THE DETAILS.  And then I need to sleep with the lights on.

When I arrived at Tales of the Lonesome Pine, I was delighted. It was exactly what I had expected. A wonderful old house, certainly with an interesting history, stuffed full of kittens and books. My two favorite things!

I met wonderful people. I played with the cats. I learned to crochet.

And then I did it. I asked the question that was sure to leave me sleepless for the rest of my stay.

“Is it haunted?!?!”

“Only a little”, I was told.

“Just the kitchen”, Kelley said.

“It’s a friendly ghost”, Erin assured me.

“Nothing to worry about”, they both agreed.

And I wasn’t worried. It was three o’clock in the afternoon, after all.

Now it’s night. Everyone has gone home, and I am getting ready for bed. I’m not scared. I don’t believe in ghosts. I walk quietly about my room. NOT nervously, I can tell you. NOT listening for every little house settling sound. No way. Not me. But then I hear it. A sound that does not sound like an ordinary house sound. A small cry. A small mournful cry. A small mournful GHOST cry! It’s the Kitchen Ghost! It’s coming for me! It’s…it’s…it’s a loose floorboard. I step back and forth a few times listening to the small squeal that now sounds perfectly innocent. I get into bed. As I drift off, my last thoughts are how happy I am to be here. How much I love the bookstore, and the town…and didn’t I close that closet door?

 

 

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