Dispatches from Abroad: Finding Hope in Valparaiso

Two months ago, I watched the US election returns on my laptop in a hotel room on the harbor of Valparaiso, a gem of a city in Chile, an inspiring country. Along with 51% of the 58% of the electorate who took time to vote (the lowest turnout since 1996), I sat in disbelief as the predictive arrow on the home page of the New York Times swung from rationality to chaos, much as I had done four months earlier watching the citizens of the United Kingdom vote to leave the European Union. In post-Brexit July, I found solace in the old-growth of Oregon. In post-truth November, I was in a country that, like many others in Latin America, overcame decades of U.S. interference in its domestic policy and indeed, its elections; endured nearly two decades of a post-U.S.-sponsored military coup (in 1973 on, of all days, nerudas-house-20161106-ame-123901September 11); the subsequent suicide of its democratically-elected president Salvador Allende, dictatorship, death squads, and disappearances; and has emerged as a vibrant democratic country, albeit not one without its own issues and challenges.

Vaparaiso—the birthplace of Allende (and the dictator who overthrew him, Augusto Pinochet), the adopted home of Chile’s own Nobel Laureate, Pablo Neruda (who died two weeks after Allende, likely at the hands of the military junta)—and the eventual re-emergence of democracy and civil society in Chile, are two reasons I do not despair at the upcoming inauguration of the 45th president of the United States.

But enough about politics. Here’s Part I of some random recollections—mostly photos—of Valparaiso.

We’re three weeks into winter here in Massachusetts, and so it’s three weeks into summer in Valparaiso. I was in Valparaiso for two weeks of spring, perched in an office in the Mathematics Department at the Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María (USM) working on a statistics project with my colleagues Ronny Vallejos (USM), and Hannah Buckley and Brad Case (who have since moved from Lincoln University to Auckland University of Technology). Daily I walked 45 minutes from the Ibis Hotel to the university campus along a dilapidated esplanade—passing freighters, pelicans, sea lions, and debris from the previous night’s alcoholic debauches—climbed 183 stairs from the university’s road-level entrance at sea level to the campus itself, and then a further three flights to my office.

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Along the esplanade
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The view from my office at USM
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Un cerro de Valparaiso

This daily stair-master mirrored the topography of the city, which clambers willy-nilly up steep old dunes.

Valparaiso is: a working port and artists’ haven; covered in murals and graffiti; possessed of four universities; blessed with some excellent restaurants; and home to about one well-fed and well-behaved stray dog for every three people in a city of 400,000. Its single train track runs up and down the shore, its buses go just about everywhere, and when the ascensores aren’t operating (or even if they are), there are convenient and colorful stairways that parallel or bypass the car-filled streets (click on any of the images below to see larger versions in a slide show).

As I arrived on a Friday, and Monday was a holiday, there was plenty of time at the beginning of my stay for sightseeing (click on any of the images below to see larger versions in a slide show).

And the sunsets from the Con-con dunes north of the downtown were simply stunning (click either one for larger versions).

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And about those dogs (click for larger versions)

But why does Valparaiso give me hope in dark times? Here are three photos of a single sculpture from a pop-up art gallery sandwiched in between a couple of doors (click to enlarge in a 3-slide show).

‘Nuff said.

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