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Museum of the Memory

Jun 17, 2011 by Layli Amerson in Latin America

(The beachside market in Cartagena with statue of San Pedro, patron saint of fishermen.)

From the outside, El Museo de la Memoria looks like an enormous hovering prism. This museum, like Villa Grimaldi, dedicates itself to preserving the memory of those whose rights the dictatorship abused.

In a sleek, high-ceilinged hall of el museo, I watched Pinochet’s coup on a monitor. It was 1973, and I hunkering down with a group of reporters in a hotel room, filming the bombardment of the presidential palace. Then I was listening through thick radio static to Salvador Allende’s final address. Years later, I was mourning the murder of a reporter along with his weeping family.

Why does this matter? I think now I have a better answer than I did at Villa Grimaldi. It matters because although this part of Chile’s history is over, it’s not dead. The legacy of pain, fear, and oppression still walks and breathes in the memories of the people in our midst and in the national mentality.

When we arrived at the final floor of the museum, I stepped out onto the balcony. The day was sunny and summery, and I drank in the view of the city. It’s hard to believe, Katie and I agreed, that much of the wounded history in the museum happened right here, and not so long ago.

Outside my forays into Chile’s past, I’ve been busy at the university, talking with students and helping teachers. I’ve given two presentations so far and led several breakout groups. I can thank SAW for preparing me for this role! In a presentation I gave on prewriting, I went over some strategies.

As a lover of metaphors, I tried to find one to express how fundamental prewriting is to the writing process. I came up with this:

To further emphasize this point, I had two volunteers perform a skit, a dialogue between a feckless travel agent who has failed to prepare any plans for his client’s trip (the writer who didn’t prewrite), and a traveler (the reader). It got some laughs, so I consider it a success!

I have been learning far more than I have been teaching. Looking through the eyes of the students, the United States is a peculiar place. Much of their impression of the United States comes from entertainment media—thank you, MTV—and they envision our nation brimming with families eating bacon and eggs for breakfast, sweet sixteen bashes, cheerleaders dating football jocks, wild frat parties, high-speed police chases, and bank robberies. It’s amusing, but then how much does the average estadounidense know about Chilean culture?

Last week I hit a milestone: 20 years old, although I’ve been feeling older (many of the students pegged me at twenty-five). Chileans don’t throw big parties for birthdays; instead they have a special family dinner and cake. I must publicly thank Isabel, my madre chilena, for that layered chocolate raspberry cake, above. ¡La torta más deliciosa del mundo! Apparently here they make cake using really thin layers, panqueques. I already know I’ll miss it!

I’ll finish with Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), Nobel Prize-winning poet and politician, internationally acclaimed but especially beloved in his homeland, Chile. We visited the second of his three houses in Isla Negra, on the Pacific coast. Neruda is buried with his last wife Matilde here.

His house is filled with the oddest collections: exotic insects, colored glass, busty ship figureheads, ships in bottles, fantastic seashells… String instruments never played, a sailboat never taken to sea. Neruda preferred to get dizzy the safe way, by drinking with his friends on his beached boat.

With Lety, Loreto, and Katie, I went into a tourist shop called Casa del Arte blooming with little crafts and souvenirs. I found a few gifts, including a panpipe (zampoña) lapel pin. The owner/cashier asked me where I was from and whether I liked Isla Negra, and then he said he would give me a book, which he signed. It turned out to be an anthology of poetry in tribute to Neruda. Alfred Asís, I discovered, is both the owner of the shop and a poet. The back cover reads: “El espíritu de Pablo está presente en cada rincón del mundo”—Pablo’s spirit is present in every corner of the world. 


Great photos. The book of poetry was a nice personal touch to your trip. Thanks for sharing.

Posted by Injury Attorney in Portland on June 17, 2011 at 07:35 PM EDT #

Oh, Neruda's house seems awesome, I do hope you have more pictures that I can rummage through later! I like your prewriting metaphor! And how awesome you look in a blazer. But the main reason I wanted to comment: 3 glasses of wine on that table in front of you? hmmmmm? (just kidding, hehe) I'm so glad you're having a great time! I miss you!

Posted by Lara on June 18, 2011 at 01:20 AM EDT #

Lara Bee: you can rest easy, because (1) I have a ton of photos and (2) Coca-Cola in goblets!

Posted by Layli on June 19, 2011 at 02:58 PM EDT #

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