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Chile I: The Show- "You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming." (P. Neruda

CHILE | Wednesday, 20 April 2011 | Views [1810]

Brilliant yellow diamond sparkling of golden promises, Santiago huddles in the shadowed embrace of the strong and silent Andes. Farther and farther she fades back into darkness as the plane so easily takes me away from my dreams and back towards reality.  By the time we land it will be hard to imagine that Chile ever really happened. But right now, in the space between lands filled with sky and stars, Chile stays with me as a quiet friend reflecting in the magic of the moonlight.

     The Dancers and Crew landed in Santiago dragging eyes and limbs uncertain if we were here or there. Hours of travel might have dulled the will to live, but the heat of the sun soaking into our wintered skin awoke wild enthusiasm for this week’s “home.”  I always have a bit of culture shock with each new country I visit. The moments of ‘Oh shit, I don’t speak Spanish’, ‘how in the world am I going to figure out what bus to take?’, ‘Am I really capable of doing this on my own?’, ‘where AM I? what if I never find my hotel again’, and my personal favorite ‘WHAT?!?! Is that guy EATING?!?!?! And will they expect me to eat that?!?!?!’  Matt and I took cover in a tiny little coffee shop that seemed to function on a level we could relate to. Or so we thought, figuring out the words to say that would be rewarded by caffeinated goodness, figuring out where to sit, how to get the check… all tricky at best.

We wandered to the Plaza de las Armes and into the Cathedral. Both introspective souls stunned into reverence by the reverberation of Belief pulsing from every surface, we spent time drinking in the moment. Finally here. Chile. I give thanks to every god of every religion ever thought of by mankind, maybe even a few more. I give thanks to my brother Chris, to my parents. It feels like a good way to start a new journey- remembering with gratitude how you came this far.

     In the afternoon I struck out on my own. I love cities with a distinctive grid. Santiago is easily navigable. Streets seemed to caress me on my way, guiding me exactly where I wanted to be. Starting the central market with the tough girl exterior earned through years of solo travel, I glanced at the fish stalls and wandered through the massive wheel of waiters hawking their wares like sideshow men. After exchanging brief pleasantries with the High Ups now dining in the market, I wove my way across the river to the more gritty and native produce market. Vibrant Green, striking reds, enthralling hues of every color that the earth can imagine piled from floor to ceiling enticing culinary Olympians to step up to the table. Still gaining my piernas (travel legs) I decided to explore the hill crowned by a giant Virgin Mary statue towering over the city. The streets along the hill had few people but lots of dogs napping in the sun. Buzzing noises like a swarm of bees purred from the cracks between the boarded up windows. I peeked inside to see countless rows of sewing machines performing in a synchronized ballet of textile creation. Fascinated by the mechanical wonder of it all, I watched filled with envy of their ability to take raw goods and transform them into beauty…

I found my way to the FUNicular. The little slanted train going right up to the top of the Mary Hill. At the top, I crossed trains with a posse of dancers a tourist trap ahead of me. It still amazes me that our company can be dropped in a major metropolitan city of the world, and still manage to find each other five times a day without trying! It’s nice to feel like the experience is shared. The Virgin Mother was both stern and angelic. The views of the city were spectacular.  Enjoying the slanted sunlight of the afternoon and the quiet peacefulness of my thoughts, I shunned transport downhill and took to the tentacle paths winding in all directions from top to bottom. Central Park on steroids- at some points you could not even tell that the city exists so persuasive were the trees. I found the Japanese garden and sat with all the lovers making good the panorama of skyscrapers and mountains glowing in sunset hues.  That night I did not search out the company of friends. I dined in the company of Pablo Neruda (have I mentioned he is my love?) at one of his favorite restaurants. The waiters seemed to laugh at me for being the gringo girl eating alone with a book of Pablo Neruda at my side, but then again I am probably just fulfilling the obligatory stereotype that began with the beatniks decades before I was born…

     That first day a fleeting memory by the time we started our work the next day. In theater, you start knowing there will be a certain amount of unforeseen disturbances that setback your schedule. The cargo was delayed by a fuel explosion in Miami, won’t be here until the afternoon. Fine. Everything we can do around it, we do. The local crew works just like we would at home only in Spanish. We supervise the finer details of what we need to do that is somewhat out of the ordinary technical standards of design. Without language, it’s fun to see how people are basically the same everywhere we go. The carpenters act the same as the carpenters back home (if I get into specifics here the Stagehands may revoke my membership as giving away the rivalry that grows deep between technical departments in a family feuding kind of way). When I had just finished cutting up my paperwork to an origami shape better suited to my work, I saw the cuttings of paper on the table below me- the local master electrician had made the same surgical proceedings on HIS paperwork!!! He was not too receptive to my flailing charade pantomimes trying to get him to see the similarities and laugh with me. Ok, ok, I will let you work today, but eventually you are gonna LIKE me!!!!

Somewhere in mid-afternoon, when we should have been progressed much farther along than we were, we started asking more direct questions through the translator. When can the console get set up? Why are the numbers not working for the lights? Soon it becomes apparent that this is the first big show in the theater since the earthquake. The dimmers are brand new and not even assembled in the racks. The rental board is plugged into a router to nowhere. Oh my, this is going to be a loooooong night! We worked from 8am until near to midnight with a one hour lunch and a 5 minute dinner of empanadas in the crowded, windowless dressing room which smelled faintly of dinosaurs. The hotel bar closed between the time we walked in the door and the time we said Hola! to the bartender. No drinks, no sleep, no problem.

     The next day started early and never ended. The sun isn’t even awake when at 7am, I restacked the cues on Andy’s computer while downing coffee shots and toast.  The morning dissolves into trouble shooting new problems, the afternoon rewarded our hard work rewriting all the cues in the shop when we went blindly into tech. Skating by with only a few unintended blackouts and two rehearsal stopping breaks for light mistakes. Hee hee. Pay no attention to the light on the curtain. Damn. The show. Must. Start. Must. Start. Must. Go! The relief when the curtain finally goes down is paramount to getting your tax envelope stamped at 11:59p the day before it’s due. The need to break the tension, morphine??? Ok, cervesa.

     After a night of celebrating our tenacity, I still woke up in time for a bit of exploring before rehearsal started just after noon. A girl with a plan, I hit directly for Pablo Neruda’s Santiago house: La Chascona. Breathe. Obsessed with all things maritime (like me

Along the little stream trickling through the garden the first house is the boat for their love to sail the world. Captains quarters with the bar, receiving room, kitchens, and dining room. Knickknacks from his world travels inhabit spaces like a thousand happy faces in a crowd, smiling with their memories of the past and welcoming visitors to guess at how Neruda came into their lives. My favorite detail (as all great lovers of the literary world devour the detail of a house as the intricacies of understanding the heart within the dweller) the dining room, relaxed and reeking of wine and laughter- has a secret door built into the cupboard so that Neruda could escape the boring company of state dinners he was forced to have a senator. I want to have such a door. Once you have spent enough time at sea to start your journey into the depths of Neruda and his love, you shore up at the lighthouse.

The lighthouse has windows encompassing the whole of Santiago and the Andes behind.The bedroom. A quiet place full of pillowed conversations and deep seated reverence for the most important joy of life- amore. The knickknacks take on a deeper meaning here. Fertility gods from Africa, long life totems from Asia, love charms from the gypsies, and tarot cards to guess at the future of your life together. With all love the desire is to know it, to keep it, to let it grow wild with wonder and mystery. I can picture his joie de vie, savoring the sensuality and poetry as she becomes the muse of his heart. Love is not a commitment, not a prison to hold you down. Love is a glass of wine, an afternoon in the sun-soaked bedroom, a moment of completely understanding the other. The evolution into marriage: the structure created by society as security, as comfort, as acceptable affairs. As Matilde grew in friendship and love to be the center of his world, here they would watch the sun rise and set together. A life past the dreaming reckless of youth, cured into appreciation of all that has transpired. They lived among the most brilliant creative minds of the century, lived through the most horrific unspeakable persecutions, lived to explore the span of the earth, but utlimately their lives were fulfilled by creating a home. The lighthouse is the afterglow of a companion that shares the story, accepts aging, loves the worst intrinsic faults- a love for all his years.

The last link to the life on land is always the bar. The place where sailors go immediately after docking to let off steam. And Neruda’s bar is no exception. Fully stocked and reported to have no closing hours, it was THE place to be in Santiago’s raging 60s scene. After soaking in the camaraderie of good conversation, he would make his way up the stairs to his writing room. Filled with books of the world, globes, philosophies old and new. He put a picture of an anonymous but ugly woman above his desk, so she would keep him from distraction. I thanked her for her labor. The most wonderful words were strung together in that room. Poems to inspire generations long after the muses have lost their beauty and their lives. Ideas conceived that would transcend the borders of nations the world over. A Nobel Prize. And the heart of Emily…. Sigh.

     Filled with light and peace, I went back to work. Rehearsal. Show. Beautiful dancers who make me feel I am not on my own in the world. I am understood. A heavenly day. The next was a full day until the show. I hitched my buggy onto a group of dancers setting out to hoof the city. The four of us were exploring by feel, camera lens, and an occasional half-hearted glance at a map.

 Barrio Brasil- the perfect combination of revolution and ramblas. Trees stood like distinguished gentlemen waiting for the mad rush of cars to pass along the manicured medians of the avenue. We peeked in windows of sweeping Tara mansions (from Gone with the Wind) imagining a life of dance cards and drawing rooms. Further, a man carefully steers a horse-drawn cart around ambush-hungry potholes. Houses lean against each other,  broken soldiers surviving earthquake tremors and residential neglect. Shops in Santiago spread out along tradesmen lines- the hardware district, the furniture district, the textile district, even a cheap crap mall district. If there is something to buy, price comparison is as simple as walking along a few streets. Museums and parks, the richest boutiques and the roughest second hand markets; there is no consistency to the good or bad- it all plays without judgment in Santiago. Have or have not and then just get on with it.

The discrepancy lends itself to one symbiotic relationship- the poor artist supported by the rich socialite. The appreciation for art is vibrant in the city. The graffiti has a finished, respected nuance to its rough medium; the museums step into grace with the broad strokes of appreciation. The architecture of the streets: landscaping of the parks, dignitarian expressions of statues: grandiose elegance of cathedrals; even in the melancholy rubble of destruction the variety of the visual spectrum is fascinating.

     The show that night was the worst I have had in a long time. Every mistake possible to make, I made it. I curled under my tail and ran as fast as my legs would take me from the theater. Luckily, Matt never judges my mistakes to be failures, and his understanding voice tempers the harsh critic built into my mind. It's nice to have an accomplice, a bonefide friend as the head of my department; we have forged with steel a foundation of respect withstanding the most frustrating of days.

We went to dinner in the fancy part of town. The Lincoln Park, the Kensington High Street to see and be seen as fashionable and elite: St. Lucia disctrict. Patagonia restaurant. We squeezed through the crowd and locked a table in relatively little time. Crafty and skilled in our attack. We looked with drooling eyes at the dishes parading around us. One of everything seemed to make the most sense. We started with a tablas- a plate of cheese, meats, vegetables, and exceptional accoutrements for savoring with wine and good conversation. Putting on our highest snootery, we tried to cover our lacking comprehension of the waiter’s persuasive sell. When the service arrived, our Class took a hit when our eyes bulged out of our heads- it could have fed a family of six easily. At this point, we figured out the hidden message of the waiter’s Spanish: The tablas includes a whole bottle of wine. No wonder he though it strange we ordered a few separate drinks. Oh boy! We were playing against a stacked deck. Never had a chance. Bowled under the table, we left half of the “meal” behind without even making it to an entrée and had to take our bottle of uncorked wine to go. A difficult defeat. One final battle of incomprehension erupted into laughter as our waiter Auctioneered some crazy conversation at our nodding facade of understanding smiles. Do you understand what he said? Yeah, neither do I...         

     We decided to roll out one last Team Electrics escapade. First a museum of the life of St. Francis. I could hardly process the sheer amount of works in the endless rooms of the abbey. A painting for every event in his life. Screeching devils of temptation, ethereal angels guiding grace. I am pretty sure there was a painting depicting the loss of his first tooth! The epic proportions of knowledge that the trio of artists put forth are a few lifetimes of dedication. Trying to de-stimulate some of the overactive brain, we climbed the fortress of St. Lucia Park: a piece of a country estate snuck under the radar of city bustle. Another place to imagine that the city does not exist. I envy cities that manage to accomplish this herculean feat. Central Park in New York, Hyde Park in London they both provide escape from the madness of traffic and the concrete monotony of living in a city. I could not bear to break myself away but the final show was waiting to be cultivated. The show was a beautiful rendition of what we aim to create for every performance night. Full of magic, they danced smoothly with serene fluidity movements that would break a lesser being. A high spirited party finished the trip with boisterous celebration from a victorious team. I was going to miss them all tomorrow, but eventually I always carve an adventure of my own. Valparaiso, Argentina, Easter Island, Ushuaia- names of places that sounded so exciting I couldn't imagine the road that I should take. All I knew was that I wanted to do EVERYTHING, but there never is quite enough time….

Tags: chile, dance, emily predny, pablo neruda, predny, santiago

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