With but ten days to go before I leave for another extended overseas trip (a six-week journey that is taking me to Sudan, Germany, and Australia), I’m still catching up on visions of Valparaiso. This post has a small parallel with the incredible displays of political energy in yesterday’s marches all over the US and around the world, in which good people everywhere spoke out against the forces of darkness threatening us all.
As I wrote in my last post, Valparaiso gives me hope. Long a hotbed of activism, activists, artists, and art, Valparaiso (and much of Chile) was in the midst of a municipal workers’ strike while I was there in November, a strike in protest of the inequitable private pension system that was set up in 1981 under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. As a visiting researcher and occasional tourist, I learned some things about the underlying issues, and also witnessed one of its impacts on a central attraction of the city—its ascensores.
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, September 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.
Less than two weeks ago, I was sweating on the equator, where there’s no snow and the Christmas decor of Santas, elves, and reindeer seems vaguely out of place. Now I’m back in Massachusetts, where there’s a little of the white stuff (although most melted out in yesterday’s driving rain) and re-learning my way around the American landscape I’ve been away from since late July.
Apparently, one of the big issues facing the good citizens of our republic in this transitional era is whether one should say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”. Fivethirtyeight.com even did a post on this vexing question. Living as I do in the northeast, I’ve usually gone along with my local majority, which shares exuberant Christmas displays with “Happy Holidays.” But the ground appears to be shifting a bit here in Massachusetts.
Perched in the São Paulo airport, in between Belém and Houston, thence to Boston, my 14-month sabbatical is coming to what seems an all-to-soon close. But it has been an awesome year, capped by a really excellent two-and-a-half weeks working with Rogério Silva, mostly in the rainforest at Caxiuanã. But Belém deserves mention, too. A sprawling, filthy, and yet exuberant city of more than 2 million people perched near the mouth of the Amazon River, it has a waterfront with pedestrian esplanades, museums and forts, working docks, and an iron market with all sorts of delicacies from the Amazon basin. And at least one superb restaurant. In this post, I share four of my most notable memories of Belém: a cool breeze, the flanelas, the iron market/waterfront, and a dinner out.