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
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:
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
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.