Don Giovanni and Quilapayún

It’s incredible that this time in a month, I’ll already be back in the states. The time has really flown here.

This is just a short post before we leave as a class tomorrow at 6 a.m. for San Pedro de Atacama, the driest desert in the world, as Pamela told us. There, we’ll be trekking, swimming at a lake, rising at 3 a.m. to see a glacier erupt…cultural “things.” We didn’t get information about this trip until literally today, because our airline, LAM, is on strike. Our original flight got cancelled, so Isa was freaking out trying to get everything straight. All is well, though.

We had no class Monday or Tuesday so we could work on our final papers: 10-15 pages on basically any topic of our choosing, so long as it was Chile-related. Most of us camped out at coffee shops – in Parque Bustamante, about 10-15 minutes from my house, there’s actually a sweet library/cafe that I checked out for the first time on Monday. New favorite place.

Much to my chagrin, however, we were forced to attend an opera Monday evening that lasted three and a half hours. Don Giovanni, an Italian opera…sorry, why are we spending money on this when it has nothing to do with Chile? I just feel entitled to complaining because I have seen my fair share of operas (Italian, English, Chinese, I think even Japanese, too) with my grandmother, and I can say it’s just not my cup of tea. I don’t find the singing style beautiful really at all, just laborious and incomprehensible, hence the need for subtitles even when the lyrics are in English. I like how both Paula and Claudia responded to the question, “Do you like opera?” with,”I prefer the ballet.”

So, the answer is no, you don’t like opera. Don Giovanni was a typical over-dramatic tale of betrayal and lust, lots of womanizing – sometimes in ways that made me actually feel ill. And I already was ill. I’d had a fever all day. I was relieved to just survive the show, then crawl into bed at 11:30, way past my bedtime.

Yesterday, I woke up late, met with my professor, then came home for lunch with Paula. On the news was another story of Mapuches burning down buildings. “I get why they’re angry – they’ve had so much land taken from them – but what is the sense in destroying things?” I asked Paula. “In reality, it’s not the Mapuches that are destroying things. It’s people who “support” them, “join” them, and convince them to be destructive. Communists.” (Classic.) “It’s the people who are coming into Chile. I don’t mind them coming, but it’s getting out of control. Before, you didn’t need to have a visa to enter Chile, but now you do. The thing is, Chile doesn’t require you to buy a visa to go to the United States, because Chileans have no interest in staying there. They go, earn some money or attend a school, then come back. So a lot of these immigrants are just using Chile as a departure point to the U.S., so they don’t have to pay.”

Man, am I getting the 411 on Chile from Paula.

Last night was arguably my favorite night of Chile so far. We saw Quilapayún, a famous Chilean band from La Nueva Canción movement (spearheaded by Violeta Parra), who was exiled during the dictatorship. Nueva Canción is basically taking traditional folk music and instruments, but packing a punch with new rhythms and addressing social-political themes in the lyrics. These guys were awesome. So talented and hilarious.

I had told Paula that we were meeting at Plaza Egaña for the concert, and she said, “Oh, that’s not far from where Dani played last week.” It was EXACTLY where Dani played last week. In fact, outside of the theater, Dani was seated, typing on her laptop. I ran over to her and she explained that she had forgotten the laptop there last week with the tech guys, along with a few other things. She wasn’t there to see Quilapayún, but it was a funny coincidence.

Quilapayún has existed for 50 years, and members have come and gone. However, of the 7 or 8 members on stage last night, many are from the early days and truly experienced Pinochet’s political repression. Naturally, they paid tribute to Violeta Parra with some of her best songs, but also to Victor Jara, who is almost equally important. After meeting Violeta, Jara, already a theater director, singer-songwriter, and musician, embarked on a investigation of indigenous musical roots. He contributed heavily to Nueva Canción, writing innumerable songs contradicting the government and advocating for human rights.

What was so fun about the concert was the energy in the room. Quilapayún mixed up the rhythms constantly, and at any point, there’d be several members on panflute, flute, guitar, bass, and drums. The audience, for their part, knew all the lyrics and we’re jamming along. It was infectious. Quilapayún were clearly such pros at this; they were cracking jokes that had to have been rehearsed. For example, they’d stop and each member would contribute to the same joke:

“If you think all Chilean politicians are honest, you are completely wrong! But if you don’t think so…you’re wrong too.” (Si no…también.)

“If you think all women are faithful, you are completely wrong! But if you don’t think so…you’re wrong too.”

“If you think Donald Trump is a sane man, you are completely wrong! But if you don’t think so…you’re wrong too.”


One of the lead singers also stopped at one point and said, “Friends, tonight, we have an opportunity to practice our verb conjugations. So! Let’s practice: I sing. You get fat. He initiates a military coup. We are exiled. They dance.” Way to just slide that mention of the golpe in there.

The most telling part of the show was the encore, in which the Chileans in the audience (at this point, clearly all socialists) sang along to what is essentially Quilapayún’s fight song for the Popular Unity, Salvador Allende’s political party. Its refrain goes “El Pueblo/ Unido / Jamás será vencido!” (The people united will never be overcome). When this chorus arrived, all the Chileans were on their feet yelling the lyrics, so I felt compelled to just join. I hadn’t felt quite this way since “la Marcha de las Antorchas” in Cuba. In that episode, we essentially marched 2 miles with hundreds of thousands of Cubans, all of us holding wooden sticks with cans stapled to their tops, filled with gasoline, and lit on FIRE. With the torches over our heads, we screamed with the Cubans passionately, “YO SOY FIDEL! YO SOY FIDEL!” You know, I’m not saying I’m going to go Socialist, but these chanting things are pretty exhilarating.

Today we had our final class of the block. We shared our research with each other, ate some muffins, watched some Violeta Parra music videos, then went out to lunch. For two hours. The lunch was at Rincón de las Canallas, a restaurant famous for being a secret Socialist meeting place during the dictatorship. “Canalla” was Pinochet’s word for Socialists, meaning “swine” or “rotten.” So the restaurant is the Swine Corner. Most people got traditional Chilean dishes. Cazuela, as Paula had served me, as well as one she gave me the other day, porrotes con riendas. It’s basically a noodle soup with pinto beans, veggies (pumpkin, carrot), and sausage (Paula left that out for me). Also charquicán, a stew with pumpkin, beans, carrot, beef (Paula made it with soy for me), peas, corns, etc. And for dessert, papaya con crema or castaña con crema. I got the latter, and it was essentially sweet, softened chestnuts in syrup with cream. Really good, but odd.

Since lunch, I have been digesting and packing. Excited to hit the desert and see somewhere new!

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San Pedro de Atacama

April 23, 2018

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