346 Retracing Darwin's voyage thru Neruda's Chile back north to a glaciated Hudson
Jan 6, 2014—Punta Arenas, Chile
Back on the southern tip of the world ... after experiencing the Patagonian glaciers, we traced our steps back across the border from Argentina to Chile for the 3rd time ... it was snowing as we crossed the border even tho it's summer here ... equivalent to early July for us ... & we weren't even that high up ... maybe a few hundred feet. Crazy weather. Stopped in Puerto Natales for a coffee ... then the long flat drive back to Punta Arenas ... staying at the same estancia we stayed at for New Year's ...
Woke up at crack of dawn, which in Punta Arenas in January is 4 a.m. ... was already getting light out ... early flight to Santiago. Read Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle on the plane ... his journals as he travelled around the tip of South America to the Galapagos ... the observations of which led to his Origin of Species (which we talked about already from southern Italy). Interesting in that we see the evolution of his thought that led to his theory of evolution by natural selection & also interesting in that he talks of many of the places we've been to on this trip. What makes Darwin such a great thinker is that he is a great observer. We'll have more to say about The Voyage of the Beagle later ...
Our hotel room wasn't ready so we stored our shit & walked around & went to the fish market & had a seafood feast of ceviche, abalone, clams, shrimp, mussels, etc. & even barnacles, which is probably a first for us. You could even see the retracted feathery appendage inside the cooked meat (if you could call it that) ... & in the market the live ones were sticking their feathers out ... feeling at the air.
Walked around downtown & wound up Santa Lucía hill ... stopped & got a granita & laid down in the shade of a tree ... nice to have at least 1 day of summer in the middle of winter ... didn't feel that way down in Tierra del Fuego despite the 18 hours of daylight. Walked to the castle on top of the hill ... we member walking up this some 20 years ago when we were in Santiago last, otherwise not much seems familiar. One observation we made then that still holds true now is that never have we seen so much P.D.A. as in Chile, especially in the parks ... people making out & groping each other everywhere.
Serendipitously there was a plaque up near the castle dedicated to Darwin ... quoting a passage from the journals we are currently reading where he talks about climbing up Santa Lucía hill (we haven't gotten that far) ... & there's also a garden in the park named after him.
Continued flâneuring thru barrio Lastarria ... ate at Bocanariz ... they have wine 'flights' that let you sample the wines of Chile ... tried 3 whites & 3 reds, along with all sorts of delectable cheeses, salmon eggs & ceviche.
Lots of graffiti & street art in Santiago, especially in the Lastarria neighborhood where we are staying. One artist in particular makes these 3-d collages out of found objects—cassettes, dolls, shoes, etc.—a bit like Joseph Cornell but more amateur-kitschy like the wall of a teenager's room.
... & then ended up in the neighborhood around the University of Chile ... Camila Vallejo's old turf (no signs of discord now).
This morning we got up & went for a walk/run up Cerro San Cristobal to the virgen statue ... really steep, 2.6 km up ... we were running ahead & backtracking to j who was hiking it ... & then down the long way ... ending up on the other side of the mountain so in all probably ran/walk 15 km ... back thru some barrio (Bellavista) w/ night clubs & lots more graffiti, tho much of it seemed more like commissioned murals.
Some random spatial/informational observations ... 1. in showers & sinks here the hot faucet seems to be always on the right & 2. whenever there is a sign in both spanish & english, the english is on top—we (from northern hemisphere) think the top is more prominent or important, but in South America maybe they think the bottom position holds more weight?
Walked around Providencia area ... nothing special, lots of malls, tall buildings, men w/khakis & tucked-in polo shirts. Had lunch there, walked back on the other side of river, thru some sculpture park, back at the base of the hill where we ran earlier ... everything in Santiago is spread out, like walking in LA. According to j's fit bit, we covered 16 miles ... we'd like to say it was in fresh Andes mountain air, but it was super smoggy ... Santiago is already one of the smoggiest cities in the world (because it sits in a depression & the air gets trapped) but also because of some nearby forest fires ... our eyes & throat are still stinging.
Ended up at the Pablo Neruda museum (La Chascona) ... really his mistress' (Matilde) house ... who he eventually ended up with after getting divorced. Neruda grew up in Temuco, where we started our trip.
Jan 9-10, 2014—NY, NY
On the overnight plane back from Santiago we continued reading The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin ... we're still only about half-way thru, to the point where he is rounding the tip of South America at Tierra del Fuego, but some interesting observations made thus far ... in regards to a certain snake Darwin says:
Which is to say he is not afraid to be critical or judgmental ... especially in regards to his own race. He would probably even be self-deprecating, except that he rarely interjects himself into the narrative. But he insinuates (& we've heard elsewhere) that he is rather pathetic & weak & the whole trip suffered from seasickness ... far from a rugged explorer w/ good genes. But he is a good sport about it all. Not only does he have a critical eye, but there's a certain design/aesthetic sense to his observations that seemed paramount to his unfolding ideas.
From a contemporary p.o.v. he could perhaps be perceived as partial or racist, but we can't fathom half the shit he witnessed. For example:
And there are other passages where he is describing the women, trying to be objective (tho backhanded, saying things like: «some deserve to be called even beautiful») when you can tell he thought they were totally hot (especially as most of the time they were naked) ... similar to the subverted subtext of Lévi-Strauss's observation in Tristes Tropiques that we blogged of recently.
And other times his observations are downright surreal or hilarious, like the frozen horses perched atop an icy pinnacle high in the Andes ... especially in the way Darwin recounts the details (we kept hearing it in the voice of David Attenborough):
More than his naturalist animal observations, perhaps it's Darwin's anthropologic human observations which led him to his theory of evolution (in fact it was Malthus who inspired Darwin to realize what the driving force of selection was, namely that the procreative instinct of man is so strong that human populations invariably increase beyond the capacity of their environment and social systems to support them, thus excess population necessarily needs to be weeded out by famine, pestilence, war, etc.)
In particular, it was perhaps the Fuegians (the original inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego) that pushed Darwin's thinking over the edge ... the Fuegians were way hardcore, more «barbaric» & extreme than any other people or «savages» Darwin had ever seen or read about. Tierra del Fuego derives its name because as ships approached the land, the Fuegians (naked, save for tribal body paint) would light fires all along the shore & yell & throw spears & stones & generally act hostile. And they were fearless ... if any people on this planet could be identified w/ the bad-ass honey badger, it is (or was) the Fuegians.
You can't be fooled (like we were, encountering mid-summer snow even at low altitudes) looking at a map & comparing the latitude of Tierra del Fuego w/ its northern equivalent. As Darwin notes (backed by climatic data) you have to add at least 10 degrees of latitude to get the equivalent climate in the northern hemisphere ... & the winds & unpredictability of the climate in Tierra del Fuego are unlike any other earthly place. But despite an extremely cold & hostile climate & barren landscape, the Fuegians ran around naked & lived off rotten whale blubber & mushrooms. In Darwin's words:
Oh, and did we mention they were cannibals? Not only did they eat enemy war casualties, but (if hungry) when their own women got old & sick they'd choke them to death & eat them. At the end of his perhaps racist & ethnocentric observation tho, the conclusion he draws is the first insight we see into the development his theory of natural selection.
Anyway, perhaps we'll have more to say in the next post once we finish the voyage/book ...
We got back to NYC & even tho we fortunately missed the «polar vortex», out our window we were greeted by a Hudson chocked full of icebergs. Funny we traveled all the way to the southern tip of South America to see glaciers when we could've just stayed home ...
An article in the NY Times this morning says the Hudson hasn't really iced over since the 80s, but in 2003 or 2004 it iced over pretty good (& we noted it did in 2010 also) & we have pictures to prove it (probably the last photos we ever took with a film camera. This was also before they cleaned up all the cool looking junk along the west side ...
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