As a small child vacationing in Vina del Mar, Chile, bus rides were the highlight, especially when surrounded by strange people speaking in a language you couldn’t understand. And then imagine you are only 4 ft tall hanging onto the horizontal steel bar as the bus driver accelerates for green lights, whips around corners and maxes out their hydraulic brakes with quick exasperating releases of pressure for a possible passenger or a particularly daring car cutting in front, the feeling is like that of one on a rollercoaster, or a moving version of the monkey bars (except in this case you just chicken fight with the shrunken old lady whose head is unfortunately at the level of your sneakered feet).
One swings from left to right, front and back, until your arms can’t hold on anymore.
Similar experiences were to be had on the yellow micros of Santiago, which hurtled at incredulous speeds in amazingly poorly maintained buses down Providencia towards Santiago centro. Their shocks were worn out making the bus sway and lean with even subtle steering adjustments. One futily looked out the windows, only to encounter scratches insignias and cracks. Although one time the window was clean as I hurtled around a roundabout, or circle, looking out the
window to a girl doing the same thing from a bus running parallel around the curves. Our eye contact and smile at 40 miles an hour, in synchronous and vulnerable passage on those buses, made me think I was in love. Other times a time buses broke down, warning passengers of their engines impending demise by emitting that foul smell uniquely associated with the heat generated by unlubricated metal rubbing together.
Glaring fluorescent lights cast contrast (creating intimate spaces) upon dingy interiors and tired workers, drunk revelers from Avda. Suecia, young wealthy girls venturing from hillside homes to the flats of the dangerous and daring party neighborhood of Barrio Brasil or the club Blondie, flaites, recently released (escaped?) poet-bards from the looney bin (la Perrera I think) in Cajon del Maipo and a friendly manicurist from Maipu with diva-like jet black bangs who gets off at my stop.
Josh Cohen, the director of Microfilia, take viewers on similar turns in his docu-fiction of life on the yellow micro-buses, or Micros, of Santiago. Only someone as consistently desquiciado, absurd and observant as this 11 year resident of Santiago could do a film that does justice to the extremes of the former Chilean bus system, premiering at the Santiago International Film Festival Wednesday, 22:25 pm, Thursday August 16th, at 6:20 pm, at the Showcase Parque Arauco and Saturday, August 18th at 10:35 pm. He is also a cameraman by trade and so the sensation of hurtling buses through the darkness is aptly captured. But don’t believe me. You can also believe the La Nacion article of Santiago, which previously included this film as one of the top ten reasons to go to the Sanfic festival.
A product of Washington DC public schools and a politically-minded family, Josh came to Chile in 1996 inspired by Rodrigo Rojas, the 18 year old photographer and child of exile from Wilson High School who was burnt alive by Chilean police when he was covering a protest in 1986.
“The american Nehoc Davis suffered a true shock upon arriving to Santiago de Chile in 1996 to see the yellow “micros” barrelling through Santiago streets at unbelievable speeds. He knew immediately that he would make a film that reflected this craziness, which was confirmed when he got on a bus driven by a 15 year old girl. Initially developed with the now-deceased screenwriter Jaime Capo, this film is a mix of documentary and fiction, filmed with a minimal budget in 2003, when Transantiago had not yet revolutionized the public transportation system in the Chilean capital. This work documents a night in the life of Isabel, the 15 year daughter and niece of bus drivers who learned to drive when she was eight years old. While she is driving a curious range of nighttime passengers travel with her, as on any night in Santiago, as she battles the regular attacks of the “Correcaminos,” the most dangerous driver in Santiago. Its Jim Jarmusch’s Night On Earth meets Third World Globalization.”
Also, lets not forget about the excellent performance by actor Julio Briceno, star of various famously funny commercials in Chile, like the following:
“The Mapocho River once carried away the bodies of opponents to former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. These days, it’s just a sluice of raw sewage cutting through the heart of Santiago.” When interviewing a street kid at the river-side homage for a teenager whose body was swept away after he jumped from one of the many bridges crossing the Mapocho, I spied the sad, bloated carcass of a dead dog on its concrete bank.
The great lede by Matthew Walter, of the financial news service Bloomberg, was for a recent article on changes in Santiago which was picked up by the Miami Herald (who, in a side note, have an increasingly reduced budget for freelance articles). Santiago is changing its image in an attempt to become a financial hub of activity for multinationals operating in Latin America, and thus stimulate economic activity and jobs here in-country. These changes are reflected in a plan to rescue the Mapocho River waterfront, new toll roads and new office building construction. It is a livability drive, apparently.
In his Chile blog, C.hileno strikes back, questioning the definition of livability, and for whom. He unloads a constructive, and occassionally erroneous, rant criticizing the view of Stgo as described by Walter.
C.hileno has recently been more constructively critical, as opposed to when he was approximating XXX XXXX arguments, on his experience in Santiago. Still he is overly critical if one reads the whole Walter article. The following are some of my issues with C.hileno’s post, which all things considered, are minor. Lets start from the top, getting things straight:
I quote C.hileno:
“What’s behind this frenzied yearning to whitewash Chile? … Is it forgivable ignorance about a small, relatively unimportant Latin nation that causes these journalist-typists to accept whatever “news” makes it out of here, like Chile is on the rise, socialism is robust and the vast middle class have now become intelligent, naturally-blonde consumers and the last wisps of smog are being blown out of clean-air Santiago?
Reading Matthew Walters article today’s Bloomberg, titled Chile, Seeking First World Status, Tackles Santiago River Mess, one would think so. A happy-go-lucky Gringo, ignorant yet optimistic. Except he doesn’t pull it off that well. Matthew Walters lives in Santiago.”
That’s fine as a general declaration. First Matthew Walters and then C.hileno.
Now “In February, the city inaugurated its first centrally operated transit system, which, despite some start-up glitches, put new, pollution-cutting buses on the roads.
Start up Glitches!? Transantiago is now a world famous transportation catastrophe that has increased smog by putting more cars on the streets! People have died in armed protest against Transantiago. An old man got smothered to death in the over-crowded metro, because of Transantiago. And even if Transantiago had worked, it would have reduced smog by 5%. But according to a recent editorial in La Tercera, car and truck emissions cause about 50% of smog in Santiago. And there are absolutely NO other initiatives to combat emissions, besides these billions flushed into failure.”
Questions for C.hileno:
1. Why are more cars on the streets? Give me statistics, or a citation. I’ve never understood this argument. Transantiago failure most affects poor people. Poor people don’t have cars, and if they did they would probably car pool. I would argue that rich people with the option to drive don’t make up a significant enough of a car driving demographic to contribute to pollution. That leaves the middle class, about which I have no opinion, because i have no fucking idea of the status of the middle class in Chile, what they do, how much money they have or what their priorities are… You are correct at least in principle on the no other initiatives to combat emissions in a significant way…who regulates big industry at night, for example. What is the budget for enforcement of emissions laws? Where is the EPA here?
2. Who died in armed protest against Transantiago? I couldn’t find it, nor remember when someone died in “armed protest.” Someone please help me.
3. An 89 year old man dies on the Santiago metro. Was he smothered, or did he have a a previous history of heart problems and whose family chose to throw out accusations against the Metro. (But, a 42 year old guard did die of a heart attack that same day in the metro.)
But in general, I agree with C.hileno’s analysis of Santiago. But not with the portrayal of the journalist, or the profession. While written from the perspective of a financial news agency, it was not a lazily reported story, nor typewritten by, for example, an El Mercurio reporter, a soft-bottom, as the English would say. Walter cites multiple sources, interviews multiple actors and gives a comprehensive vision of Stgo..now.
What it doesn’t do is take a critical look at development in Chile, and how people really are living, now. But the article didn’t try to do this…So don’t complain, C.hileno…read Walter’s other Transantiago article.
4. “Start up glitches”??? says Matthew Walters…
That is an absurd simplification of a complex and magnificent infrastructural catastrophe which has required millions and millions of dollars to patch, highlighted the manly arrogant incompetence of former president Ricardo Lagos and the womanly intuitive (yet inactive) incompetence of the actual president Michelle Bachelet, generated speculation on the international financial market about the short term effects on political stability and economic growth and now has major actors, like the Banco de Chile, threatening to pull out if the financial feasibility of the system is not fixed shortly. Transantiago can’t even figure out how to capture payments from passengers, and then distribute those funds to the bus owners, the so-called “clearing system”. Buses, like one I rode recently from Plaza Egaña to Vicuña Mackenna, run their daily routes for free because they haven’t installed the electronicmachines to receive payment from passengers. People want to pay, even.
When I emailed Walters congratulating him on a great lede, and questioning the usage of the phrase “start up glitches”..he responded with the following…:
“My point here was to acknowledge that the transantiago system has had problems without turning this into another story about transantiago. we’ve written so many stories about it already.”
“What was more important here was to show how the city has changed so much,” he continues. Fine, but man, that is a gross simplification that leads one to question the coherency of your editors.
C.hileno wonders why your story, or stories, doesn’t talk about:
“Dead babies, increased asthma, cancer, higher geriatric mortality caused by smog, which proportionally thickens as the income bracket drops, overcrowded prisons, abysmal reproductive rights, religious parliamentary moves to eliminate all forms of contraception, massive imprisonment of Mapuche Indians, grocery store clerks who wear diapers because their supervisors won’t allow them even 10 minute bathroom breaks (Santa Isabel/Cencosud/Horst-Paulmann). That’s Chile! ”
‘Tis true that Santiago is changing, rapidly, for the benefit of its masters, like the multiple construction companies building twenty story apartment buildings in Santiago center with miniscule square footage, “american” kitchens, thin walls, narrow passageways and ZERO architectural inspiration. They are neo-poblaciones for a rising middle-class purchasing illusions on credit. They still won’t be able to have sex in private or sit at the dinner table without hearing the toilet flush of their neighbor, above, below, or to either side, like they did when they had less income.
So now Ill engage in speculation and bring us back to the original sentiment of C.hileno, that there is a desire to gloss over a crude reality which exists in Chile, maybe so as to better serve the interests of the dominant business class which economic quarter by economic quarter profitably capture and hold the economic reins of servile, poorly informed and uncritical masses of Chileans who aspire to a better life in Chile post-Pinochet/post-Concertación.
The unfettered hold on the Chilean people reminds me of an auspicious time, that of the glory days of the nitrate mines in the early 1900’s. English and American mine companies exploit workers endlessly, paying them in chips, or currency only valid within company stores.
Consequently, in 1907 workers organize themselves in advance of the Bolshevik Revolution, in the north of Chile, and are subsequently massacred in the elementary school Santa Maria de Iquique.
This past week DyS (Lider) and Falabella merged together, creating a $15 billion dollar supermarket and department store conglomerate. Now, your in-store credit card, CMR/Presto, which charges disadvantageous interest rates with complicated conditions, goes that much farther to facilitate your social ascension and self-esteem via purchases of made in China, and if you can’t pay for it the day after…increasing your Faladeuda.
How are things different now, one hundred years later? Banks and groups like Falabella/DyS are making money hand over fist, on the basis of services with astronomical prices and often hidden fees, goods which are of mediocre quality and monopoly.
When will the people rise up and question their sad state? When will they cease to be complicit in their own corruption, and in the corruption of Chile?