27 May 2008

Chilean Folklife

Another example of Chilean folklife introduced to me by my students. This film deals with gestures, specifically hand gestures, that are so common in the physically expressive Latin cultures. It's short and fast--maybe a bit too fast--and won an award in the short film contest sponsored by Nanometrajes, a five-year-old event that documents contemporary Chilean life.

Perhaps most distinctly Chilean is the last crotch-grabbing gesture known as the Pato Yáñez. Patricio "Pato" Nazario Yáñez Candia is a retired football player who famously invented his own folk gesture during a controversial 1989 match against Brazil. It seems that Chile desperately needed to win the match but toward the end of the second period were behind 0:1. So when a firecracker was thrown on the field the goalkeeper faked an injury in an attempt to somehow suspend the match. The Chilean National team rallied around the goalkeeper which is when Pato turned to the Brazilian fans to show explicitly his disdain for their actions. The Chileans refused to continue to play and a subsequent brawl broke out.

In the end the firecracker was real but the injury was not; Chile was disqualified from the finals. The final scenes of the match, including the inauguration of the Pato Yáñez can be seen on this You Tube video. The gesture itself happens around the one-minute mark.

The birth of folklife. ¡Qué Rico!

24 May 2008

Winter Projects 2

Cerro La Paloma (4,910m/16,109ft)

(None of the photos are mine. All are taken from two climbing sites: Andes Handbook and Escalando.)

Clearly visible (on those rare pollution-free days) from most points within the city limits, Cerro La Paloma, along with El Plomo, is the other glaciated peak that towers above Santiago's skyline. Though both are contained within the series of peaks known as Grupo Plomo the peaks are otherwise unconnected by a singular ridge system. La Paloma and it's slightly higher neighbor Cerro El Altar (5,180m/16,995ft) stand at the head of the Yerba Loca valley.

Like El Plomo, this would be a multi-day trip. Unlike El Plomo, I think a mid- to late-winter trip seems best. The approach is long and flat--about twelve to fifteen kilometers to the first night's camp--and any amount of snow at the valley bottom would allow for skiing rather than walking. The long, gradual valley eventually bumps it up a notch at a waterfall and a place called Piedra Carvajal. Beyond that the trail separates at the base of Morro Negro, a rocky outcropping that divides La Paloma's glaciers into three: Glaciar del Rincón, Glaciar Central, and Glaciar Sureste. Glaciar del Rincón (pictured above) is the Normal Route and the one that, seemingly, offers the best potential for skiing. I think.

From Morro Negro it's not too far from the glacial moraine itself and then the long, wide snowfields that go nowhere but up.

And if that doesn't pan out there is always this bit of cryptic but intriguing information taken from the hardcopy version of a Turistel guidebook: Backcountry skiers should check out the stunning chutes on the south side of the Cordón de los Españoles, visible to the north of the Yerba Loca valley on the approach to La Paloma.

Here's to daydreaming!

Inca Son: Viaje a la Montana.mp3 from Mi Cambio. Website, Buy
The Album Leaf: Drawing Mountains.mp3 from
The Green Tour EP. Website, Buy
Radar Bros.: Mountains.mp3 from
And the Surrounding Mountains. Website, Buy
The Kingsbury Manx: Ol' Mountainsides.mp3 from
The Fast Rise And Fall of the South. Website, Buy

17 May 2008

Winter Projects 1

Cerro El Plomo (5,424m/17,795ft)

I think this time it's real. Though it seems like I've been saying this for months now, this time there is no going back: heavy snows are forecast for the week; currently in Santiago it's raining and blowing; the Valle Nevado webcam looks like a whiteout. More than anything, though, it's that time of year. The weather up high and also down in Patagonia is notoriously unpredictable but, it seems, the larger cycles are fairly consistent. (And, as a side note, that's one of the reasons the wines from this part of the world are year in and year out a great value: like Napa, and unlike, say, Bordeaux or Northern Italy, there is rarely a devastatingly bad vintage.)

But back to the mountains. The above photo was taken from the top of Cerro Pintor (4,180m/13,713ft) on a ski tour in 2006. El Plomo's summit is clearly visible as is the trail to summit that switchbacks up the long rocky spine and curves down toward the bottom of the glacier itself. This is the Normal Route up to the top. My choice for the way down is to ski the long, broad Iver Glacer. It's steep but, unlike the massive ice bulge of the Glacier Colgante, seemingly skiable. The other option is to ski the longer and more mellow glacier that passes behind the spine of the Normal Route, turns skiers right and wraps back down toward the main Rio Cepo valley. The problem with this is that you would ski down below high camp and have to climb back up, maybe 300 meters or so.

El Plomo is number one on my list not because I will tackle it first but because I've already attempted it once and was booted off the mountain without success. Two years ago, the dogs and I tried it in the early spring--sometime around Halloween weekend--and made it as far as the high camp at the foot of the glacier (known either as la olla or la hoya, basically either the pot or the valley) before one of those notoriously unpredictable storms blew in and soon thereafter blew us out.

This is looking up the Rio Cepo valley from the first night's camp, called Piedra Numerada. While El Plomo's third glacier is still in view, it was clearly a moment of foreshadowing.

And another taken from the first day's ski over to Piedra Numerada. El Plomo's three distinct glaciers
are visible as are all the available lines to ski.

El Plomo's claim to fame, besides being the biggest peak outside of Santiago proper, is that in 1954 a corpse of a young Inca boy was discovered by some arrieros or local herders. They were up there looking for some legendary Incan gold that was often buried, along with the sacrificial young boy, at high altitude shrines. It seems that the boy was offered to the Gods in the ceremony known as Capa Cocha. The mummy has moved to the main museum downtown but the shrine is still there and located in the rocky knob at the top of the Iver Glacier in the saddle that separates the long spine and the summit itself.

Here is the six a.m. parting shot taken from high camp the morning after the big wind storm. Though it looks like a perfect day for a summit bid, the high clouds were whipping around fast enough that I knew things would soon change. And they did. I hightailed it out of there and within two hours the dogs and I found ourselves in blowing wind and snow and whiteout conditions for the rest of the retreat home. A summit bid would have been a big mess and that beautiful looking line on the Iver Glacier directly below the Inca shrine would have been a disaster to try to ski. We'll give it another shot this year.

A musical memorial:

Holopaw: Igloo Glass.mp3, from Holopaw. Website, Buy
Horse Feathers: Honest Doubters.mp3, from
Words Are Dead. My Space, Buy
Lewis & Clarke: Blasts Of Holy Birth.mp3, from
Blasts Of Holy Birth. Website, Buy

13 May 2008

Fried Potatoes

Last night I dreamed about waffle fries. I have no idea why I dreamed about waffle fries. I like waffle fries. Though, I can't remember the last time I ate a waffle fry. Maybe at Chick-fil-A in the late 1980s? Is it possible to buy waffle fries anywhere but Chick-fil-A? Is there such a thing as Chick-fil-A

In my dream I ate waffle fries made at a place, a sort of deli, that specialized in cured meats. I remember dried sausages and legs of jamón serrano or Prosciutto hanging in the front window. And they also made waffle fries. Then I was outside the cured meat and waffle fry deli and noticed a group of women taking a tea break and enjoying their own waffle fries. These women all had long dresses on and I came to the realization that I was in some sort of Pennsylvania Amish or Mennonite community--a traditional but not necessarily exclusive or closed society. It seemed fine that I was there. In fact, so to speak, nobody paid me no mind.

And that was about it. Not very exciting but, apparently, significant enough for me to wake in the morning and think, Wow, I just had a dream about waffle fries. It's difficult to apply pop psychology theories to a dream like that. Repressed desires for novelty food? No. Food as my connection to a world that makes little sense to me otherwise? Uh. My inner confusions over the intersection of popular and traditional cultures? Maybe.

It probably has something to do with skiing, though, or the lack thereof. Something to do with my mind slowly warping because I haven't seen a significant snowfall since--when?--last October? September even? Something to do with these monotonous, cool but hideously dry days with early morning sunshine and afternoon polluted haze. The mountains hover above me like abandoned castles, slowly crumbling, unnoticed by anyone but me.

Good god let it snow soon.

Roy Orbison: In Dreams.mp3
Cowboy Junkies: Dreaming My Dreams With You.mp3 from
The Trinity Sessions. Website, Buy
Hem: A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes.mp3 from
I'm Talking With My Mouth EP. Website, Buy

08 May 2008

Weirdo Rippers


Would anyone but me find it strange to see a completely leathered lone male ripping around the foothills on his high-powered dirt bike at 9 a.m. on a Thursday morning? Not a sixteen year-old ditching class; clearly a fully developed man. No hot chicks in bikinis waiting to spray him with sparkling wine at the finish line. No group of mulleted friends to share high-fives with after tabletopping off a boulder or an unsuspecting cow. Probably not even a can of Cristal back in his truck. No, only a leather-clad stormtrooper with a machine under his crotch spinning solitary circles in the dirt first thing in the morning. The sight of him made me a little sad.

He didn't buzz me as they often do when the hordes of them swarm the hills on the weekend, kicking up dirt and rocks as they blow by me and the dogs. I don't even think he saw me as I slowly plodded by. And, he would probably find it equally strange to exert so much energy to run to the tops of hills only to run back down them, heart pounding, head spinning, lungs heaving, when you could much more easily fly to the top with a simple flick of the wrist. So, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure he was just out for a breath of fresh exhaust air, a little morning joy ride exercise; a quick chance to take in the high speed tranquil sights and dust sunshine and experience some noise solitude.

My source of truth and inspiration tells me not to criticize what I can't understand. Ok, fine, Bob. I apologize. I certainly don't understand. Nine a.m.? Thursday morning? Alone? ¿Por qué?

No Age: Neck Escaper.mp3 from Weirdo Rippers. Website, Buy
Oh No! Oh My!: The Party Punch.mp3 from
Between the Devil and the Sea. Website, Buy

03 May 2008

The Promise of Folklife

Chile is wealthy with traditional culture. I'm not always sure that it's ready to embrace it, though. At least in Santiago. It seems the common wisdom here is onward and upward, forward and faster, newer and better at any cost. Rural or traditional culture reeks of ignorance and poverty and most Santiaguinos would rather forget that part of their history. Except, of course during the month-long Independence Day celebrations in September. Then it's acceptable to wear the hats of your ancestors and listen to their music and dance their dances.

Fortunately, the more common wisdom in this diverse country is that Santiago no es Chile. There are plenty here interested in celebrating the unique mezcla cultures that compose the entirety of this nation.

One of my students introduced me to Tikitiklips. Pronounced just as it's written, Tikitiklips are the Chilean equivalent of the US-based Schoolhouse Rock series featured prominently in my upbringing during the mid-1970s and early 1980s. Rather than teaching basic ideas of mathematics, science, grammar, and, um, the three ring system of checks and balances within the US legislative process, Tikitiklips emphasizes regional folk crafts and traditional folktales set to contemporary musical compositions. Like Schoolhouse Rock, these are short two to three-minute films that see the light of day on Saturday and Sunday mornings between cartoons and other programs for children. The crafts, images, and tales presented within the clips span the length of the country and highlight Chile's indispensable diversity.

The first comes from the extreme northern Aymara region within the Atacama desert. The song, apparently, is a Christmas carol from Iquique. Featured within the film are the sculptures made from the volcanic soils of the Altiplano, the colorful textiles, black olives and their fruit bearing trees, and, at the very end, the ever-present llama. The sculptures, textiles, and music are decidedly Bolivian and Peruvian in influence but I have no interest in entering the political debate surrounding this still-contested part of the world.

Also from the north is El Soldado Trifaldón. The lyrics deal with a would-be soldier who lives in a melon and battles hordes of ants. Or something like that. The artwork is based on the famous protest murals of the Brigada Ramona Parra that date back to the political turbulence of the 1940s.

Moving toward the center of the country we have Don Crispin and the black ceramic figurines from the area around Talagante. The film also depicts the Cuasimodo procession that takes place during Easter in and around the rural areas of Santiago.

Also close to Santiago is the little enclave of Pomaire, famous for its earthenware pottery called greda.

Tikitiklips even offers a voice for the otherwise marginalized Mapuche population. In El Rey de Papel we see the volcanoes and Araucania trees that populate the Lake District as well as paper puppets and a Mapuche girl in traditional dress.

Los Gorrioncitos also comes from the Lake District and highlights the woven birds and other sculptures from the area.

Two clips from the island of Chiloé--itself a storehouse of traditional culture--feature the famous architecture (and specifically the wooden churches), wool hand puppets, and ceramic pots (for making cazuela de pollo?).

And on and on. There is one filmed in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Valparaíso. One about traveling to the city of Concepción that includes more woven birds as well as the black pottery of the region. More puppets, loom woven tapestries, and sea culture surrounding the area around Melipilla are illustrated in Barco en el Purerto. Finally, La Señorita Aseñorada offers crafts made from crin (horse hair) in the town of Rari, in the Maule Region.

All in all, a fantastic series of klips made even better with great songs and an abundance of examples of expressive culture. Enjoy!