Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Graffiti on a wall in Barrio Brasil: "Nos hacen usar uniformes porque nos quieren uniformar". I presume this was written by high-school students, who all wear uniforms here. Couldn't help thinking that you'd be unlikely to see this kind of commentary from kids in New Zealand, tying a personal hassle to the wider ideological context. I used to really admire the political awareness and involvement of students and young people from Latin countries, and think the apathy and ignorance of their English-speaking counterparts a real defficiency. Now I'm not so sure - I wonder if it's not a symptom of the troubled histories of their countries, rather than any greater innate thoughtfulness. The sad fact seems to be that the societies that work out the best are often ones where people can't be bothered to argue about ideologies, and just unimaginatively get on with trying to make money.

There are lots of stray dogs in Santiago. I only noticed this on Friday and Saturday, when there were fewer people around because of Easter. Apparently a lot of people here get dogs as puppies, then ditch them when they grow up. They are mostly quite big dogs, cross breeds. Mostly they seem quite clean, and the majority aren't too skinny. The most notable thing, though, is how casually well-behaved they are. They sleep anywhere, seeking out bus stops, telephone booths, or any other suitable spot. They look before crossing the road, aren't excessive about following people who have food, and just generally behave like reasonable citizens. Someone I talked to agreed that they are probably better-behaved than domestic dogs. A lot of the nastiness and annoyance that comes from dogs seems to be due to their territorial nature, and desire to defend their designated enclave. But with the whole city to roam in, it´s all public space, and no one feels too threatened most of the time.

Santiago is also full of embracing couples. On Cerro Santa Lucia there are kissing lovers esconced in alcoves all the way up the hill. But even on the main streets it´s common to see effusive public displays of affection, people stopping for a hug and a snog. I don´t know whether this is something intrinsically Chilean, or a reaction to it being frowned on or forbidden during the Pinochet years (it´s not really the kind of thing you can ask people). Either way, you can´t help feeling rather envious.

One more prevalence that I´ve noticed in Santiago is that of the police, or "los pacos" as they´re called here. Mostly young and intense-looking, their rakishly-cut light khaki uniforms and holstered pistols give them a vaguely menacing paramilitary aspect. They often seem to move in groups, and there are clusters of them by the government ministries around the Plaza ConstituciĆ³n. Almost nobody stops at pedestrian crossings here, but one time when I was waiting to cross there was a policeman standing at the same crossing; two cars that had considerable momentum ground rapidly to a polite halt and let everyone cross.

Street vending seems to be officially illegal but generally tolerated here. The other day I stopped to talk to some guys selling their homemade necklaces, earrings and bracelets laid out on a little blanket on the pavement. They had wanted to bum a cigarette, and then we got into a conversation about where I was from, where I was travelling,what I thought of Chile, etc. One of them reached into his pack and offered me a glass of beer, which was great as I was pretty thirsty. As we were talking, some police on motorbikes approached, and the vendors started rolling up their blankets and making as if to walk off down the street. The pacos slowed right down, frowned meaningfully, then drove on. The two guys turned round and rolled out their blankets again. I asked if it was prohibited to sell things on the street. They shrugged. "It´s just that you have to show them some respect" said one. Apparently, they would have been more concerned about any drinking on the street (which at that time only I was doing). But, they said, "they´d never do anything to you, never". Why I asked, because I´m a turista, and they nodded yes.

No comments: