Santiago and a few miscellaneous photos

We’ve enjoyed Santiago a great deal, especially the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombiano where we went twice. The bottom floor is called “Chile before Chile” and as you walk in, you are greeted by these grand wooden grave markers at the end of a long hallway, some lit, some in shadow:

They are supposed to reflect the spirit of the departed, and provide a very eerie introduction to the pots and fabrics and other ancient artifacts.

Continue reading “Santiago and a few miscellaneous photos”

More street stuff

One of the features of Valparaiso is the Funiculars, called simply elevators. Apparently there used to be 15 of them, but only 5 still work. One, Ascensor El Peral, was right by our apartment.

It’s motorized, of course, but the two cars are also counterweights to each other, with a cable that rolls over a giant wheel at the top.

Riding it was only a little scary, and one time when we went up, one of the stray dogs joined us.

No one seemed to think it unusual that he just came along for the ride.

At the top, he hopped off and went on his way.


After my posts about wiring, which seems pretty much the same through both Argentina and Chile, you might think I’d be nervous riding a motorized tram up the steep hillside.

I was somewhat reassured when I saw that the wiring for the tram for once was all in a conduit. That is until I looked a little more closely at the conduit…









Continue reading “More street stuff”

The hills of Valparaiso

We mostly went to the seaside town of Valparaiso because Neruda had lived there and his house is a museum we wanted to visit. But what captivated us more than the house was the incredible street art. Art on walls, on doorways, on steps on lampposts, just about anything that can be painted or collaged. Here is a gate made of bicycle parts:

The city is  built on steep hills with ravines between them, and there are many concrete walls and concrete and stone sides of houses that lend themselves to large murals. To get a sense of the variety, look here.







Every time you turn a corner, there’s some new marvel. Here are a two of my favorites:

A skeletal sax player–on a house wall next to a barred window.










And an eye painted on a corner wall. Continue reading “The hills of Valparaiso”

The stars of the southern sky

We took a trip to Northern Chile especially for a visit to Alpha Aldea Amateur Observatory site to see these stars. A completely different sky than the one I’ve seen all my life.

It was thrilling to see the mysterious constellations of the southern hemisphere, Scorpion with bright Antares at the head, Aquarius, the Magellanic Clouds, and the famed Alpha and Beta Centauri, which glitter near the horizon.

Continue reading “The stars of the southern sky”

Strawberry juice for breakfast

As we wandered through the Santiago airport, I was stuck by subtle differences. Of course, the lines, the security, the crowds were familiar, but I loved the box of confiscated objects by the security line—what do they do with them, I wonder? They already have filled one box and are working on the second.

I understand most of the stuff, scissors, Swiss Army knives, kitchen knives, the odd corkscrew or fork. But who travels with wire cutters, I wonder.

A book swap stand by the gate also caught my eye.

Very much like our little libraries on the street, only unfortunately without books when I walked by. I’ll certainly leave a book when we leave Chile. Also, though I’ve seen this once or twice before, they had a big children’s play area between gates—such a great idea.

Continue reading “Strawberry juice for breakfast”

Glaciers, dogs, and birds

El Calafate, a town in Argentine Patagonia, has the look of a frontier town, with buildings thrown up slapdash out of whatever scraps were at hand. The landscape itself is sere and twisted.

The gorse-like bush at the edge of the photo with the yellow flowers is called el calafate, and despite its thorns, its berries are picked for jam and liquor, makeup and whatever else the industrious population can think to make of them.

But as the natural wonders that surround the town have become an increasing tourist draw, it’s as if a Disney theme park had appeared next door, and hotels, restaurants and shops have instantly sprung up to accommodate trekkers, sightseers, and tourists of all sorts.

Continue reading “Glaciers, dogs, and birds”


One of the pleasures and also the problems of travel to another country is that each simple transaction is slightly mystifying: the language, the currency, the customs. Your habits are left at home with the clothes in your closet, and everything is fresh and surprising.

As one small, graphic example, the electrical apparatus of Buenos Aires is alarmingly slapdash.

Wires hang in clumps along the main boulevards, and in tangles behind the apartment buildings.

It has a certain charm, but also makes one wonder what the next big storm will bring.

In the same way, being in a new environment without the protection of your accustomed routine has a certain liberating effect but can also be profoundly disconcerting. It usually leads to at least one day where everything goes wrong.

We had one of those days when we left Buenos Aires–Larry discovered he had lost his bankcard, I  grabbed wrong bag at the airport, and we spent the rest of the day unravelling these problems mostly in Spanish with phone systems that would not cooperate.

But these minor pains were salved by reading Borges’ lecture on his blindness which includes this paragraph, translated eloquently by Eliot Weinberger: Continue reading “Bumpy”

Borges and Buenos Aires

I once heard Jorge Luis Borges lecture. In 1967 or 8 he came to Harvard, and though I only dimly knew who he was, he impressed me with his uncanny presence, unlike anyone I had encountered. But I tried reading his most well-know work, Labyrinths, I never made much progress. Now I think perhaps it was the fault of the translation, as Larry brought a fat book of his nonfiction writing with him, edited by Eliot Weinberger, and I am finding it wonderful.

But as the most illustrious Argentinian writer who lived and worked in Buenos Aires, we have gone to two cafes that claim his frequent presence. Cafe Tortoni has photos and bronze busts, but Cafe Biela, has this ghoulish tableau of Borges and Casares at the entrance.

After that, we decided to eat in the outdoor area under the shade of a huge banyan tree. The park by the cafe was filled with vendors, strolling families, musicians and a vendor ingeniously displaying his feather dusters. Continue reading “Borges and Buenos Aires”

The many too many

Years ago, reading Ortega y Gasset’s The Revolt of the Masses, I first thought about the age of “mass man.” Yesterday was a holiday here in Argentina, Dia de San Martin, and along with the masses from Buenos Aires, we took an hour train ride out of the city to the delta, to a town called Tigre, named for a jaguar type cat that has long since been hunted to endangered species status.

In its place: an amusement park, McDonald’s, boats large and small–from kayaks to massive ferries spewing diesel. The many varieties of motor boats tote tourists around an hour loop of waterways to gawk at the strange houses on stilts built on the many islands, accompanied by a canned recitation of facts such as that 90% of the wicker used in Argentina is harvested here. The facts are in three languages, Spanish, Portuguese, and English, punctuated by truly awful music.

One of the oddest sites was the former home of D. F. Sarmiento, “Argentine activist, intellectual, writer, statesman and the seventh President of Argentina,” according to Wikipedia, completely enclosed in glass:













Not my kind of thing–have you guessed? Nonetheless, the elemental beauty of the river was good to see. I’m sure it will outlast us all.

Which reminds me of a short poem of mine

The earth
as a drop dead gorgeous woman
with bad taste in men.

Buenos Aires

Because we’d never been to the southern hemisphere we decided to travel to Argentina and Chile. We’ve been in Buenos Aires since Thursday, long enough to have a sense of where we are in the city, to travel the buses and subways, make dumb mistakes, and receive lots of friendly assistance.

The streets here throng with people, and the many, many cafes seem always full of people talking over a cup of espresso or cappuccino. There is a very rushed, chaotic feeling to the streets which are crammed with taxis, busses, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians.

The big boulevards have special bus lanes, and bus service is great except at rush hour, when lines are ridiculously long, and the crush is exhausting. The pedestrians jaywalk like New Yorkers, watching traffic, not lights, and the drivers only yield right-of-way when they have to. As for the motorcyclists, they really seem to be continually risking their life. But people seem genuinely cheerful, if always hurrying.

A friend who lives in Northern Argentina told me he had turned down a prestigious job in Buenos Aires because life is too pressured in the city–too hard a place to raise a family. As a vacation destination, though, it’s fun.

Pizza is the hamburger of Buenos Aires, it seems like there is a pizza place every other block, and it’s a crispy, very thick crust version.  We went to the “Best Pizza in the World,” at Pizza Guerrin, in business since 1932. Lively and delicious.

A chain we’ve seen all over is called Kentucky Pizza. But  of course we haven’t tried  it.

We’ve had one fabulous meal that I found through a site that offers private dinners–sort of pop up restaurants all over the world.  This one was a very intimate, organic, farm to table restaurant that we went to by taxi.   Continue reading “Buenos Aires”


I want to post a few photos from my New York trip.

IMG_2667The first two are from the Fischli and Weiss exhibit at the Guggenheim I posted about last week.  A photo of their credo, “How to Work Better,” and a clay sculpture of a pig and a book entitled, “The Reader” from their Inventory of Everything. As for the credo, I’d make one edit: “Say it Simply,” not “Say it Simple.” (More about the exhibit here.)IMG_2665








IMG_2657 (1)Then from the streets. Someone came up with the brilliant idea of chopping up discarded Christmas trees and using them for mulch. I saw this everywhere–around trees, in window boxes. All around the city. Then a blow up rat holding fliers advertising a union meeting. (Fischli and Weiss would have loved this, as one of their alter egos was a huge rat.) Continue reading “Combo”