The significance of President Michelle Bachelet’s arrival to Columbia University campus this past Monday was overwhelmed by the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his denial that homosexuality existed in his country, an evasion of a yes or no question of whether he believes Israel should be destroyed and a long, rambling piece on historical revisionism and persecution of scholars who question the existence of the Holocaust. He was given a pre-emptive, but appropriate introductory smack-down by School Dean and First Amendment lawyer Lee Bollinger.
But no worries, Bachelet’s speech here at Columbia, part of the World Leaders Forum held by Columbia, was not significant. From all I could tell, it was stock talk for the risk analysts, democracy studies buffs, womens studies groupies and followers of Democratic Socialism, and according to my companion, a former reporter at La Segunda and M.A. student at the Journalism School, had been repeated many a time before. Her English was not perfect.
The front row of the 300+ audience front of her sat the presidents of all the major parties, and US based Chilean attache’s. I guess if I had a story to report on, could have had my way with them. But because I was there just to get my picture taken with the President, it didn’t happen.
The thirty or so Chilean Columbia students arranged ourselves obediently in a stately, wood-paneled back room of the Low Auditorium, the cuicos, the in-betweens, the mongos, the mechas and whoever else you want to throw in the pot. It was a small Chile, actually, all uncomfortable and wierd, but just for a second, because we were all at Columbia, and hot shit in our own respects, right?!. Some of those in the group got the Presidential Scholarship, and probably the Fulbright too, meaning FULL RIDE!.
Soledad Alvear enters, in presidential candidate mode, kissing and saludando a todos, reaching about half the group. And then La Presidenta arrived, Alvear looks around, seeking her escape route from an awkward moment that for a moment was hers, and more quickly than she could react gracefully, was about the President.
Picture taken, she seems to actually want to get know who we were, explains she needs to leave for meetings with the Council on Foreign Relations. Earlier in the day she was at the Empire State Building for a cocktail party held by Human Rights Watch. Before she leaves a shady guy steals a piece of her soul, dashing in out of nowhere to request a handshake photo. Very reminiscent of Luis Patricio Bascunan, a fraud and collector of official photographs.
So, there I am, in Columbia University, a member of the class of 2008 of the School of Journalism and a member of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism. I am not in Chile, and won’t be going back for another two years, unless I get a book deal…
Its all over for now, the adventures to Patagonia, the mountains and volcanos, the exploratory, hallucinatory, trips through the history of my family, Maturana 1–, and obsessions with girls on the bus.
I have since added new, edifying, plastic cards to accompany my Chilean carnet de identidad in my wallet; a DC non-drivers license, a credit card, two bank cards, a Columbia identification card, a Columbia Press Pass, a health insurance card, a metro card and two business card sized maps of the Subway system for Manhattan and Brooklyn.
My beat the neighborhood of Red Hook in Brooklyn and my goal is to cross the Atlantic on a cargo ship for my winter break. I am working with Village Voice investigative journalist Wayne Barrett and Phillipino investigative journalist Sheila Coronel for my year-long investigative project, most likely about the shipping industry and Michael Shapiro, New Yorker writer and baseball fanatic, for my core Reporting and Writing course.
It is a whirlwind, similar in pace only to working with the Amazing Race, and it is great. Posts will primarily be comprised of random things related to Chile that I see and feel from here. My reporting for Columbia will be compiled at reportingredhook.wordpress.com.