Chile, Frostbite, hiking, Pucón, South America, Sudamerica, Uncategorized

A hike of new expectations. Pucón, Chile.

As it gets colder, I’ve been thinking about a winter I spent in South America.  I was living in Pucón, Chile, teaching conversational English to school kids.

You’re thinking, having me teach “Conversation” is like having Long John Silver demonstrate “Ballet.”

 Actually, we had a good time together, and often talked about music, movies, pop stars, and everyday life in the USA.  The kids were pretty great, as were the teachers and the townspeople – honest, straightforward, and friendly.

But my entire stay in Pucón, every day, I would look up at a mountain looming over my small wooden village.

The “Volcán Villarrica” is the country’s most active volcano, over nine thousand feet tall, erupting as recently as 2015, and forcing an evacuation.  Poisonous gases from the ’74 eruption killed a dozen people in the village.

It’s been carrying on like this for centuries, and the conquistadores recorded events back in the 1500’s.  After I returned home, I read that the indigenous Mapuche called it “The Devil’s House,” but I never heard that while I was there.

 

Every day it exhaled smoke, and some days, eating lunch in the teachers’ lounge, I’d look up to see it bellowing out.  At night, I walked under a sky of unfamiliar stars (different from those on my side of the equator), feeling disoriented, and I’d see it, snow-capped year-round, a mass of blueish white against a backdrop of deep black.

I strolled through Pucón’s streets, and down to the lake, down an unlit lane that gave me the creeps, between the baying stray dogs and the croaks of death-bird ibises, and from that pitch-black area, I’d look up to see there was a dim reddish glow above the summit. It looked almost fake, like a movie set, maybe the Paramount Studio’s mountain. But this was real, and that glow was from the lava lake, thousands of feet above the town.

 

 

Every day, I would look up to see this menacing-looking mountain.  I often wondered when it would next erupt, but figured the smoking was good, it was letting off some steam, so to speak.

Over coffee, my friend Paul suggested that instead of watching the volcano every day, we might as well climb it.

I was surprised that I hadn’t come up with that idea; I guess I didn’t think it was feasible. I’m not a mountain climber.  I grew up in a town a few hundred feet above sea level, and liked it there.  Pucón was only a couple hundred feet higher.  Perfectly fascinated by looking up at the volcano, it had never occurred to me to climb it, and thus look down from it. I was surprised not only that I had agreed to the climb, but also that despite my fascination, it never even crossed my mind to do so.  I think of myself as being fairly responsible and not at all daring, and yet, without a moment’s hesitation, I agreed to climb an active and smoking volcano. Not surprising, was that my planning and preparation were entirely non-existent. I suppose, had I planned or had any expectation of what it might entail, I wouldn’t have agreed to do it.

 

So we set out to find which one of the local eco-tourist outfits offered the best deal on volcano hikes.  Then, we set out to climb the beast.

It was an early morning, and as the realization dawned, of what I was about to undertake, I was a bit worried. We were given an obscene amount of gear, all of it strapped to our backpacks and belts that were loaned to us for the hike. We drove up to the basecamp, and from there we were to hike up with a guide. There’s a chairlift that gets you as far as the snow zone, but our group didn’t take it, adding an extra hour to the hike. It was not as easy as I had expected. Foolishly, I figured it would be solid rock, a bit steep in parts but no biggie. It wasn’t. It was like walking on a beach, except uphill, and over bits that would sink deep below our feet or sheer off. Volcanic tufa on top of hard rock. Slowly we zigzagged across the mountain until we reached the ice. That was when we were instructed, to put on the heavy winter coats we were carrying. And then the winds picked up.

 

 

As we hiked it became evident that we had a long way to go. Our guide was very nice, but kept us moving, telling us several times we couldn’t stop or we would die when the wind changed, something that had happened to a French family who went without a guide a year or so ago. As we walked, eventually with crampons strapped onto our feet to get a grip on the icy surface of the volcano, I became a bit uneasy.  There was 25% less oxygen than I was used to, and I was getting short of breath. Our pace was at a decent clip; we had to reach the summit in a certain amount of time, for some sort of safety and weather protocol. When we had breaks, we would sit down on the cold surface and feel how our muscles ached all over. Everyone was tired, thirsty, and no one looked like they were enjoying themselves.

There were some pretty spectacular views, but as I looked up, to my dismay, it looked like we had at least another half a mountain to climb, it was hard to gauge until we got higher up. There was a large lip of ice hanging off of the volcano about 3/4 of the way to the top, and from the basecamp it appeared to be the summit. I was less certain I could make it and increasingly unsure I would be able to breathe at the full altitude of 9400 feet. I was already struggling and feeling light-headed and began to imagine passing out and rolling off the mountain to my death.  No one but Paul knew me; my family did not know where I had gone.  The distance between us and the other groups grew wider and wider and soon even our guide was ahead of us a bit, though at last he stopped for us to catch up.

I recall sitting under an icy ledge as the wind picked up. I don’t know how fast it was but everyone was straining against it, and we felt cold through our bodies. As we lay against the ice, on mats that weren’t quite big enough, I began to really panic. What if I didn’t make it all the way up? How was I to get back down? I couldn’t quit. One of the guides was going up the mountain, UPHILL, the entire way, on downhill skis. The amount of strength and stamina humbled me and shamed me into walking more.

Paul, a fellow English teacher from Dublin, was the one who got me through. Just as running is best with someone to help you go farther, so is hiking. I do not think I could have made it had I just gone myself. But Paul encouraged me step after painful step, and got me psyched up enough to continue. It was painful, with my sides cramped up and legs like lead and my head heavy, but we made it to the top. He got me into this mess, but he got me through it.

 

 

The view was stunning. Pucón was tiny, as was Villaricca and all the many other villages in the distance. We could see to Argentina, the mountains and volcanoes on the border of the two nations were an incredible sight.

 

 

The crater itself was releasing gas and despite the gas mask my eyes were burning and I kept coughing. I wasn’t able to spend more than four minutes looking, as I felt myself feeling more and more sick. So much for that, I thought. Despite the spectacular views, I was underwhelmed, I’d expected reaching the summit to be more rewarding, somehow.

 

 

The highlight turned out to be the way down. We used the small round disks we had lugged up there, like heavy-duty versions of the “flying saucers,” when we were sledding as kids.  We strapped it on, and rode down the slope, using our ice picks to slow our descent so we didn’t die, careening along the mountain. My pick was ripped from my hand, so I had to claw my way back up the mountain to retrieve it. Paul couldn’t control his and crashed, banging himself up pretty badly. It was the most painful sledding I had ever experienced, but the ride was exhilarating. We descended about 2000 feet starting at the 8000 foot mark, so the world was literally racing by us and it was quite the thrill. Also the fact that it seemed we could be severely injured, or actually die at any moment, made it more thrilling, even if terrifying.

At that speed, all of my remaining energy was focused on making it down in one piece. It was only after I had made it to the bottom, crampons removed, ice pick stowed away so I’d never have to look at it again, that I began to realize what I had done.

In many ways, the hike was a bust. I was in pain and exhausted. But the experience taught me humility. I think part of that stems from being let down. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I experienced. In fact, I think back, three years later, but my expectations remain unknown even now. The following morning, bruised, stiff, sunburned (the sun is a lot more intense when you’re a mile up a mountain), I looked at the volcano again. This time, my slowly functioning brain registered awe. Before, it seemed unreal. After the hike, it became almost too real. This was a monstrosity of nature, bent on breaking our will, and difficult to climb. I felt less like a champion who bested the mountain, and more a sense of awe. I survived without any preparation and zero thought given towards this venture. I was so confident when I began and then so thoroughly humbled by a natural force much greater than myself. Hardly a stroll in the park.  I also learned that I could test my strength and overcome my previous limits,  and it was all thanks to a combination of the urge to survive mixed with an encouraging friendship.

 

head in the clouds

I will probably never climb a volcano again, which should not be an issue living in New York or Wisconsin.  But still. It was a heck of a trip and won’t soon be forgotten. Occasionally, when tasked with a “mountain” of work, I return to this moment. Not to feel too cocky, but to be realistic with my expectations of what can be accomplished and how to get the job done.

 

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Blogging, memory, music, South America, Sudamerica

The power of a song ~ ~ ~ Musical journeys in my mind

Every day, I’d look at the volcán Villarica. At night, there was a glow in the sky above it, from its lava lake.

 

A little over a year ago, I was living in Chile, teaching English to school kids.

I think about my time there quite often, but whenever I try to write down my impressions of that country, I find it very difficult.

 

I arrived, and dove right into it, caught up in a fast-paced orientation program, then moving to a small town in the foothills of the Andes, during the wintertime. I got off the bus, found my host family and moved into their hostel.

Next day, started teaching, often bewildered by the constant shifts in language. Textbook Spanish, to “schileno,” to some indigenous Mupache words, to “huaso” (a “cowboy” dialect used by the rancher kids), to “flaite” (ghetto slang).  My Spanish was so-so, and elements of “Spanglish” had crept in, from my City Year in a Milwaukee school.   Chile’s “English Opens Doors” program is taught entirely in English, in theory, but I was the only native English-speaker in the school, and needed to communicate with the staff, as well as the kids.

I was using every bit of spare time to think about creating lessons, to travel, find a hot shower, visit friends. I never took time to consider or reflect about my experience in Chile, until I was no longer there.

Now, I can look back, peering at that place and time in my mind’s eye, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to being able to describe it in a meaningful way.

Take Santiago, for example.

A fascinating place, but I don’t think I can really describe that city, apart from a series of brief memories. A walk up the Cerro Lucia hill, or the eerie silence of the city from atop the Torre de Americas, the tallest building in Latin America.

photos of the hillsides by Paul Quealy

 

But these memories already feel distant, like I’m watching a movie. Snippets of memories from Chile are vivid, but mostly they seem like a well-edited video.

 

 

I didn’t take many pictures, and most of those were taken with a cheap cellphone, and are clearly low resolution.  But I can close my eyes, and recall countless images, in clear high definition.

I can recall an emotional link (as you may get during a good movie), but as I replay these experiences in my mind, I cannot bring them back to life.

 

 

In an instant, I can conjure up a stream of images, that blend and flow seamlessly into each other, but they feel like a picture gallery, beyond reality.

 

 

That is, anyway, until I listen to music.

People often talk about scents, the aromas and smells that evoke memories. But for me, music is the strongest link to memory. Places, people, and even emotions come alive again when I’m listening, and it’s the sounds that are extremely evocative.

You usually don’t get to call the tune. For me, Chile is a song I would never have heard, had it not been for my fellow teacher, and good friend Paul, from Dublin.

Assigned as roommates in Santiago during training, by chance, we ended up posted to the same region of Chile, in towns on either side of Lake Villarica.

He was teaching the kids his kind of English, with a strong Irish accent, and would talk about his family in Dublin. And he introduced me to the music of an Irish singer I’d heard of, but never actually listened to, James Vincent McMorrow.

And like soda bread, or mutton stew, McMorrow is an acquired taste.

Not my usual rock & roll, or Motown soul.  I heard a high, light voice, like someone quietly singing to themselves.  Usually described by music critics as “delicate,” or even “whispy.”   It was good to hear someone singing in English, but McMorrow was really not my cup of tea.  At first, if I had to pick a single word for this terse, falsetto style, it might be “strange”.

And yet, the first song I heard, “Get Low,” immediately stuck in my head, and became the song of Chile for me.

I’d like to relate, that my theme song for Chile was a hauntingly beautiful folk tune, in 3/4-time, for the traditional cueca, the national dance.  But instead, every time I did anything by myself – riding the bus to Villaricca or Temuco, walking along the beach, on my way to school, when I got out bed – it was this almost airy Irish tune that played in my head.

And when I didn’t hear Get Low in my mind, this persistent, odd song, I’d put on headphones, and listen to it.

Chileans are a welcoming bunch.  Sincere, kind, and generous.  The teachers I worked with, the kids, and people I met day-to-day, were all honest and straightforward folks who love life.

But I was just desperate to hear English. It was exhausting to think and operate entirely in another language, especially when complicated by an unfamiliar accent, dialects and two distinct sets of slang, and there were times I felt like I was unable to think, unless I would be listening to music in English. So I would listen to any tune, any sort of dreck, so long as it was sung in English. Some of it, really terrible.

But, every day, I also listened to Get Low.

 

Now, over a year since I left Chile (almost to the day), when I hear that song, Chile is brought back to me in vibrant Technicolor! And with it, the memories of my friends, students, fellow teachers, glimpses of the landscapes from a bus window, the walks around town, all tinted with a happy glow. It all comes flooding back to me. I listen, and, during the span of that three-and-a-half minutes, I am revisiting Villaricca.

 

 

I can picture walking along the Costenera, see the volcano in the distance across the lake, the children running along the cold water on the black sand beach. I can picture coming up on the big terminal of the Jac Bus station, built from large wooden beams, which signaled that I had arrived back in town. I can picture the walk to Paul’s house, up the hill apart from all the other houses, back along the windy back roads.

 

My village, Pucón, sitting next to an active volcano, often felt creepy, despite being a “eco-tourist hub” with its trendy bars, tour stands, even a nightclub, its legions of bikers and hikers, getting gear on, getting a buzz on, loading up the trucks and buses for their guided outdoor “adventures.”  The teachers and kids were wonderful, but their town, during the winter months, is a dark, rainy place, saturated in smog from the countless wood stoves.  Some days you could taste the air, a pea soup of green wood smoke and carbon monoxide, with a soupçon of formaldehyde and ashes.

Across the lake, Villarica felt like a balanced, happier place, furthering my theory that Pucón’s volcano exerted some sort of magnetic pulse that negatively influenced my mood and emotions. There was a constant disorienting feeling of the surreal in Pucón, a sense of unreality.

 

Villaricca felt normal and safe, apart from the scattered remnants of the old city, most of which was burned during a Mapuche reprisal attack in the 1570s. A local told me the history of the region, and his in-depth recitation of its wars and slaughter also left me with a feeling of unease. The Mapuches, never subdued by the Incas or conquistadors, are resistant to colonization to this day;  some of the church-burnings prior to the Pope’s recent visit were blamed on extremist Mapuche factions.

But back to the music.

As the song plays, Chile suddenly becomes real to me.

I can picture going out for a beer and fried potatoes with onions and cheese (sounds bad but tastes good) with Paul and our local friend, Valentina. I can picture walking on the old concrete of a former dock, trying to dodge the waves off the lake as the wind picked up. I see the church, which meant I was lost, as I only ever saw it when I wandered in the wrong direction. The clothing stores, surprisingly nice and high-end. Fruit stalls that struck me as honest and authentic, with their colorful concrete walls, stacks of oranges, apples, and other fruits. I went there for cheap fruit frequently, at least until I was informed by Paul that the stacks of boxes harbored a considerable colony of rats. I never saw evidence of them, but figured that he was better informed.

 

While the music plays, I feel and recall everything .

We had a party in Villaricca, well, really more of a low-key get together, some of the English tutors and some locals. I can smell the gas of the heaters, feel the chilly biting cold wind, and hear the endless baying of the black-faced ibises on the rooftops around us.

 

Some of the English Opens Door teachers.

But, the song does more for me. Perhaps as my discrete, detailed memories fade and meld into one single dream-like experience, I listen now and see more.

I can see, all at once, the entire journey from Santiago to Valparaíso and everything in between, six months of memories and experiences, compressed into a few minutes.

 

 

I listen and recall our side trip to Argentina, riding bikes into the mountains, the lakes azure blue in the dry heat and the resinous smell of the pines and monkey puzzle trees. I clearly see Valparaíso, perhaps the highlight of my time in Chile. A place that felt magical, and was one of the more amazing cities I have been – very much a place in the here-and-now, and also a place off in a kind of time warp.

 

Now, when I hear Get Low, while I see mostly Pucón and Villariccca, a third town Temuco floats into the recollection, a place where I spent a fair bit of time. A little regional capital, with limited things to do and see, but a place where I was happy.

It’s not that the song is great. The song isn’t great, in fact I find McMorrow’s voice a bit weak and whispery, and the tune has become annoying, or at least, it is, when it’s playing endlessly in my head.

But as a tool, as a means of recalling and reliving highlights of the past, it is phenomenal.

 

The view from Volcán Villarica (in Mapuche, Rucapillán) 2,860 m.

 

You can take a chairlift most of the way up the Villarica volcano, and then hike up the snow-covered bit. Coming back down is faster, and fun – you can slide on your back, using the ice ax as a brake.

 

I have other songs. I recall Hong Kong with “We Were Kids” by Turtle Giant. I can listen to tunes to remind myself of college, or to recreate various trips. One piece of electronica instantly takes me to my college library, third floor, right side, fifth window from the bathrooms, overlooking the quad, with my countless books about the Iroquois stacked all around me.

The furthest back I can go with this trick, is six years ago, a trip through the Southwest, and specifically to Colorado, with The Killer’s “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine,” and a song called “Roya Re” sung by a Punjabi whose name escapes me. Both tunes provided by my Venezuelan friend Luis, with traveled with two things: a big collection of tunes on an iPod, and even bigger knife, and who took the time to introduce me to some new music.

I am now in Boston, and I am still waiting for the song that will define this city for me, but that will come in due time. I don’t even have to listen for it, it will just start playing one day.

 

 

P.S.  If anyone is interested in the “English Opens Doors,” here is the link centrodevoluntarios.cl/

It’s a wonderful program – the concept, the staff, and the volunteers –  run by Chile’s Ministry of Education and the U.N., and here’s a bit from their website:

The National Volunteer Center is a branch of the English Opens Doors Program and is supported by the United Nations Development Programme-Chile. The National Volunteer Center recruits native and near-native English speakers to work as teaching assistants in Chilean classrooms, specifically to improve students’ listening and speaking skills. Volunteers also assist with other initiatives of the English Opens Doors Program, such as debates and English Camps.
Volunteers teach and encourage the study of English while living with Chilean host families and interacting with members of the local community.

McMorrow “Get Low”

[www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ryi20DglVJM]

And War with “Low Rider

[www.youtube.com/watch?v=6A0U7jakUY8]

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Chile, South America, Sudamerica, Uncategorized, Valparaíso

A Walk in the Twenties ~~Valparaíso, Chile

 

photos of the hillsides by Paul Quealy

 

I re-watched a movie recently, that reminded me of a walk I took, in the early morning hours, around Valparaíso, Chile, a couple of months ago.

Those familiar with Woody Allen movies surely know “Midnight in Paris”.

(If you haven’t seen it, stop reading this, run out and rent it, it’s great! And this is a spoiler alert.)

A despondent writer walks the streets of Paris, and at midnight, is transported back to the 1920’s, the era he’s longed for his whole life, to meet his artistic idols.  F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and all the other artists and writers of Paris between-the-wars.  He meets a beautiful woman from that time, but then finds that she in turn, yearns to escape the ’20’s to live in an even earlier time, La Belle Époque (what we in the U.S. call “The Gilded Age”).

 

LOC

 

I would love to visit Paris, or New York, during those long-ago eras.

And it turns out, another great place to stroll around, then and now:  Valparaíso.

During the Gilded Age, it was a major world port, called the “San Francisco of South America” — a key stopping point for Europe-to-Asia shipping, for clipper ships and steamers “sailing around the Horn” through the Straits of Magellan.

Valparaíso’s harbor handled a huge volume of lumber, wheat, beef, sugar, nitrates and saltpeter, copper and silver, as well as European cargoes bound for Asian markets, and vice-versa.

Farther back in time, in the 1850’s, there was a huge traffic in guano, at that time, being mined on the coasts and islands belonging to Peru and Chile, and then shipped to farmers in the U.S. and Europe.   At that time, guano (the dried accumulation of seabird droppings) was an incredibly valuable soil amendment.  Franklin Pierce,  reckoned to be one of our worst Presidents (although, of course, he’s moved up one slot recently) displayed a politician’s natural affinity for, let’s say, “fertilizer,” and signed the “Guano Islands Act of 1856,” allowing U.S. citizens to claim any unoccupied island, covered with centuries of bird manure, sometimes hundreds of feet thick, as a new, fragrant part of the United States, at least until we’d mined it out.  It was a proud moment for American statesmen, doing that voodoo, and bird doo, that they do so well.  But I digress.

 

 

The docks in the old days. Sometimes, these stereo cards are the only images that survive of a particular time and place. LOC. (I love these stereoscopic photos. Next fall, my sister will be going to college in the town where these cards were printed – Meadville, Pennsylvania.)

 

This was South America’s single most important Pacific seaport.  Immigrants from UK, Germany, Italy, and France poured in.  The cosmopolitan community grew and spread up the hillsides, with two dozen funiculars to carry people up the slopes.

Then, as historians like to say, something happened.

It was called “Teddy Roosevelt”.

In 1914, the Panana Canal began siphoning off the ships and trade.

 

The harbor, on a different, sunny day. Beautiful, and pretty empty of ships. Photo credit Paul Quealy

In recent years, the city is awake and bustling again, as a tourist destination, and a center for universities and the arts.  This is a vibrant, fun city, with art museums and amazing street art, too. And it’s still a seaport, of course, with fishing boats, and cruise ships, and the Chilean navy is based there, but it has nothing like the cargo traffic of Shanghai, Singapore, or Rotterdam.  Nowadays, the lesser ports in the U.S., like Savannah or even the much-diminished New York harbor, handle far more shipping.

A hundred years ago, when the fleets of cargo ships stopped coming, the rich folks started moving out, and in the old downtown, it’s as if the grand city drifted off to sleep in 1914, when the canal opened.

So, here in the land famous for poetry and “magic realism,” a perfect place for a bit of time-travel on a foggy morning.

Whistler. “Nocturne in blue and gold. Valparaiso Bay 1866”

People compare Valparaíso’s climate to that of San Francisco, basically pleasant and moderate, but also including frequent fogbanks rolling in from the ocean.  Whether it’s Yorkshire, Hong Kong, or the Eastern Shore of Maryland, I’ve always found fog to be conducive to a history walk. It quietens the roar of modern life, keeps the crowds indoors, gives an old-painting look to things, and acts as a theatrical scrim for old buildings.

 

So when I arrived, a bit foggy myself, after an overnight bus ride from Pucón, I was happy to step into a gray, misty morning, just before sunrise. The rain had just ended, the streets were wet, and it was still overcast and half-dark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walking through the historic district, down by the port, and the old-fashioned financial district, I was struck by just how empty it felt. When there was a break in the clouds, you could see the hillsides surrounding the city, as everyone notes, like a big amphitheater, jammed with tiers of houses, in beautiful colors, like a box of crayons.  There are still quite a few operational funiculars, going up the steep slopes.

But where I was walking, the streets were empty at that hour, the shops still shuttered, and the city felt old, grayed, and even slightly foreboding.

I was happy to see a Kodak sign, a reminder of back home in Upstate NY, and a time when our economy was thriving.

It was around this time I really began to pay attention to the stone-faced buildings, from Valpo’s boom years.  A lot of the blocks near the harbor have an early 20th century feel.  The Spanish conquistadors established a village here in the 1500’s, but most of the buildings I passed are late-Victorian or from the early 1900’s.  Earthquakes over the centuries, and a bombardment by the Spanish navy in 1866, destroyed many of the older buildings.  The worst destruction happened around the turn of the last century.

Over several months in 1906, a series of severe earthquakes hit all around the Pacific Rim, knocking down thousands of buildings, and killing thousands of people.  Columbia and Equador were hit first, followed by a tsunami, sixteen feet high. Then Taiwan, one of their worst, followed by the infamous San Francisco quake, that leveled almost the entire city.

An even more severe one (8.2) hit this city, and killed almost four thousand people. The cathedral and churches, museums and government buildings from the 1800’s were repaired and reassembled, so you see some neo-classical and beaux-artes styles, but near the harbor, blocks and blocks of buildings had been built on fill, just like lower Manhattan, and had to be created from scratch, so I was roaming around in a substantially post-1906 world.  The streets are sometimes curving, sometimes at angles, so there are some interesting angular buildings.

I looked around at the handsome old buildings in the mist, and decided I was taking a stroll in the, say, 1920’s.

The provincial government building, the Palacio Armada de Chile, is from 1910.  The national library, 1925.  Banks that wouldn’t look a tad out of place in the older parts of Manhattan lined the streets.  I passed the Bolsa de Comercio, the 1917 stock exchange, and the offices of El Mercurio. the oldest continuously published newspaper in the Spanish-speaking world.

 

I stopped to examine the statue of the winged messenger god, perched on the newspaper building.  Another reminder of home – there’s a similar statue of Mercury in Rochester, from 1881, that used to be on top of Kimball’s Peerless Tobacco Works.  Placed in storage for many years when the factory was torn down, it was then moved to the Lawyer’s Coop building. (Rochester loves the statue, although when this naked man was re-erected over the city, if you’ll pardon the expression, there was an intense, sometime cheeky debate over which part of town his derrière would face.)

 

One wing of the Palacio Baburizza. A 1917 Art Nouveau mansion, built for an Italian immigrant named Ottorino Zanelli, and then owned by a Croatian immigrant named Pascual Baburizza, overlooking the Paseo Yugoslavo.

 

A couple of blocks away, I caught a glimpse of a trolley going by. (As I found out later, it was actually a vintage trolleybus, from the ’50’s, rather than the ’20’s, but from a distance, it helped with the time-travel illusion.)

photo by Paul Quealy

 

Then something else caught my eye.

Off to the right, I caught a glimpse of a clock. Partially out of curiosity as to the time, and partially because it struck me as sort of familiar, I walked towards it.

If you’ve ever seen pre-WWI pictures of city streets, you’ll remember the webs of electric, telephone and telegraph wires overhead, from poles and brackets on buildings. Each phone and telegraph, was connected to an exchange by its own, individual copper wire, creating a crazy tangle overhead. A century ago, the larger U.S. cities began putting the wires underground.

But in Chile, the overhead wires for the electric trolleybuses, and some telephone lines are still strung over some of the streets, adding to the old-time feeling.  Philadephia and Boston are the only U.S. cities I’ve been in, where the trolleybuses still run.

Cities in New York State abandoned streetcars and trolley systems many decades ago, most of them gone before WWII.  But in the early ’50’s, Valparaíso bucked the trend, installed this system…and the original 1950’s vehicles are still running somehow.

 

And, so, when I went around the corner, and saw through the fog, an odd, almost triangular building, with trolley wires crossing overhead, on a street that looked like old-time Manhattan, it suddenly felt like I was walking in a Gilded Age incarnation of New York City. The angular building reminded me of a miniature six-story Flatiron.

 

 

(In reality, an example of how we compress and blur events in the past. I checked and found that in NYC, the wires went underground sooner than most places, following a disastrous blizzard in March 1888. So the telephone/telegraph wires were gone before the very modern, 22-story Flatiron went up in 1902.  NYC went on to embrace subways, and phased out trolleys.)

The building I was walking toward, as I later learned, was the Reloj Turri, completed 1924, in the French Neoclassical style. Like the Flatiron, it drives a wedge between two streets. It’s one of the city’s landmarks, topped by one of its oldest functioning clocks.

Later in the morning, Valpo began to come to life, and my fantasy stroll through the Nineteen-Twenties was fading out. But next to the tower, I wandered into the café of an old, elegant hotel. They served caffè italiano, instead of the usual instant Nescafe, and had wonderful pastries, and offered lots of newspapers.  I wished I had a linen suit and a Panama hat.  But seated in the quiet turn-of-the-century hotel, I sat back like a rich boulevardier, eating pastries, drinking excellent coffee, reading the papers, and watching the people slowly strolling by, and stayed immersed in my daydream of the ’20’s for just a bit longer.

I didn’t get to go back in time and meet Hemingway or Dalí, and it was only a few hours, before the city woke up, and got noisy again. But when I think of Valparaíso, it is these images and feelings from that foggy early morning, that surface in my mind. A taste of a city as it once was, and a feeling like nostalgia, for a prior incarnation of Valparaíso, and New York, too, that I would have liked to walk around.

The Flatiron in 1905. LOC

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breakfast, Ecuador, Galapagos, Mail, Post Office, South America, Sudamerica, travel, Uncategorized, Winter

Message in a…barrel ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ The Galapagos Post Office.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve just finished up my third winter in a row.  Pretty much twelve months spent in the winter seasons of Milwaukee, then Chile, then New York.

It’s natural that during this Ice Age, my mind would wander sometimes, and take a little vacation from the cold.

Leaving my frostbitten carcass behind, it would daydream of sun, gentle breezes, and warm beaches.

So when I got a break, and actually took a short trip to a sunny, warm beach, I stood in the warmth and sunshine, and naturally my mind strayed again, like that one pesky third-grader on a field trip, and left me with thoughts of…

Cream of Wheat?

 

 

By sheer good luck, in February I got the chance to tag along with a student group going to the Galapagos Islands, pretty close to the equator.  Walking around Floreana Island, under the most intense sunlight I’ve ever felt, suddenly my mind was thinking of my favorite hot breakfast cereal.

Sometimes I worry myself.

 

On the island, looking at a weathered barrel full of postcards, what came to mind, was a famous advertisement from the turn of the last century, which I’d seen for years, on a tin canister in our kitchen.

The ad ran in magazines over a hundred years ago, but a lot of folks would recognize it still.   “Rural Delivery”, painted by N.C. Wyeth in 1906, shows a cowpoke on horseback, six-shooter on his hip, dropping a letter into a wooden box on a post.   “Where The Mail Goes, Cream of Wheat Goes” says the caption.

 

 

The barrel post office I was standing by, on this remote island in the Galapagos, is even older than the ad.  The site (if not the current barrel) has been used  since the 1790’s.  Originally by sailors coming ashore for water or food – – whalers, seal-hunters, and sea-cooks looking to boil up a big pot of turtle soup – and now by tourists from all over the world.

Over two hundred years ago, a British sea captain set up the mail drop, with flags that signaled its existence to passing ships.  Outbound sailors would leave messages, and homeward bound sailors would retrieve letters left by others, to deliver when they got to port.

 

The legacy has continued – – each modern visitor leaves a postcard, and looks for one that they can deliver in person to the recipient.

I enjoyed looking through addresses in places as diverse as Mumbai and Moldova.  That last one, had languished here for twelve years.  One girl in the group, feeling sad for a letter marooned on the island for seventeen years, waiting to be carried to Turkey, said she would defy whatever curse came from violating tradition, and would mail it from the U.S., because she felt like matters had waited long enough.

On the day we were there, New Englanders seemed to have the most luck, and several kids found addresses close to their homes, that they could deliver at the end of the semester.  “This lady lives twenty minutes from my house!”

I am looking forward to hearing from myself, just a card, and it will be a nice surprise to learn what I was thinking, because I’ve already forgotten what I wrote.

The most poignant message, though, was very simple. I picked it up and in big letters it proclaimed:

“I will be back for this. If I die before then, my kids will. Leave me here, I’m coming back!”

 

 

 

Rural Delivery” painting is public domain, courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (a gift from the National Biscuit Company!)

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I saw this handsome iguana and took an immediate liking to him.

There he was just a-walkin’ down the street, singin’

“Do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do”

He’s a rock.

Pebbly skin,

head on a swivel,

eyes like marbles,

he cannot be curbed,

and takes nothin’ for granite.

Ecuador, Galapagos, Iguana, photography, South America, Sudamerica

On the stony lonesome trail.

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I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship, and a star to steer her by…

(John Masefield “Salt-Water Poems and Ballads” )

Ecuador, Galapagos, Gecko, Not an iguana, photography, Ships, South America, Sudamerica

A Lizard Dreams of the Sea

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architecture, Colonial History, Ecuador, Quito, South America, Sudamerica, travel, Uncategorized

Things looking up ~ ~ ~ Spires, Domes & Rooftops of San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador

dsc00809These are mostly pictures of the rooftops of the old city of Quito, the capitol of Ecuador.

They include shots of the oldest church, which dates back to the 1530’s, and many were taken from the balcony of the Presidential Palace.

Quito is a treasure trove of historic buildings, and home to some incredible rooftops. In this post, rather than my usual groundling-level photos of old buildings, try to visualize yourself as the rooster in the first photo below, standing up top, getting a great view and new perspectives.

(But perhaps not being quite as noisy in the morning.)

 

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A Bird’s-Eye View

 

 

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Poster for the local branch of “Cloud Watchers”

 

 

 

 

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At street level, there are down-to-earth shops, and churches, government buildings, and museums – imposing masses of stone, solemn and solid.  But up on the rooftops… the domes, spires, and cupolas compose an exotic village all its own, up among the clouds, populated by ivory-white and silvery figures.

 

 

 

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In the background is a hill called “El Panecillo” (Bread Loaf Hill) The statue in the distance, of the Virgin Mary, is a 134 foot aluminum version of a wooden original, created in 1734 by a local artist.  It is unusual in that Mary is shown with wings, based on a description in the Book of Revelations.

 

 

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Statue on top of the monument in Independence Plaza, brandishing a torch and fasces.  The latter, a Roman symbol of authority and strength-through-unity, was a popular symbol for democratic republics, including the U.S., before being tarnished by it’s later association with Mussolini and Hitler.  It was used on the so-called “Mercury” dime and you’ll see it on old buildings all over our Capitol.  Perhaps we’ll see more of it around Washington in the future.

 

 

 

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On The Sunny Side Of The Street, with Security Cam

 

 

 

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La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús. The Jesuit church, begun in 1605 and completed 160 years later. A fantastically ornate combination of Baroque, Neoclassical, Moorish, and even some indigenous notes.

 

 

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I cannot look at this tower without thinking the saint on top is Jacques Cousteau entering a “diving bell”

 

 

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