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I learned the facts about the dictatorship of Chile in school. I was born exactly a year after the coup making Augusto Pinochet president of Chile, and his junta the government. The dictatorship only ended when I was 15, in grade 10.
I spent my first month in Santiago simply wandering around, getting used to the city. One day, very near my apartment, I happened upon a stunning area of 19th century houses, made of two streets named Paris and Londres–after Paris and London, of course. Most of the buildings are now offices, hotels, and high-end cafes. I stood in the middle of the street that day admiring one lovely hotel, then turned around to look at the house across the street…and my brain blanked out. I didn’t understand what I was looking at. I saw cobblestones with people’s names and ages inscribed on them. The beautiful house was completely covered in rough, sprayed-on writing, saying “tortura”, “muertos,” “memoria.” It finally, sort-of clicked that, in this gorgeous, genteel enclave I had genuinely stumbled upon a site from Pinochet’s campaign of fear.
I got home, got on the internet, and looked up the address: 38 Londres.
I didn’t go back there until two days ago, and I’m leaving Chile today. First, I went to El Museo de Memoria y Derecho Humanos — the Museum of Memory and Human Rights — dedicated to showing what happened the day in 1973 when Pinochet and Chile’s military forcibly took over the country, and then what happened in Chile (and to Chileans outside the country!) until the dictatorship finally ended in 1990. It’s one of the best, most extraordinary exhibits I’ve ever seen, very effective, and affecting. It contains a bit of everything — video of newsfeeds the day of the coup, voice recordings of the president of Chile telling everyone goodbye over the radio, of Pinochet’s first address, of people recounting how they’d been interrogated, jailed, and tortured. Hundreds of photos, of people being detained, protesting, sites where “disappeared” bodies had been uncovered. Torture devices, a bent metal cross of an unknown victim buried in “Patio 29” of the General Cemetary, and pictures drawn by the children of people who’d been murdered, with “¿Donde están?” written again and again, “Where are they?”
Most of the inside of the house at 38 Londres is still empty: it’s clean, but there are holes punched in walls, exposed pipes. Near the one tiny bathroom detainees were permitted to use, a video plays, showing how a forensics team took samples–evidence–from every surface. The toilet has since been removed–everything else in the house remains exactly as it was when DINA–the army’s secret service–shut up the house and tried to hide it by changing its number to 40. The map I received explained what every room in the house had been used for. The entire second floor was for interrogating people for being “left-wing,” and then tortured. Being in that house, knowing what happened in those near-empty rooms… I can’t truly describe it. Unsettling. Moving. Overwhelming.
Just yesterday, I finally visited the General Cemetery of Santiago. The parts I most wanted to see were Salvador Allende’s tomb — which is lovely — and “Patio 29.” “Patio” in this case means “section” : the cemetery contains over 150 patios, and maps of the cemetery are marked in patios, making it easier to find gravesites. Finding Patio 29 was a bit difficult though — like 38 Londres, it appears the whole cemetery was renumbered in the past, possibly in part to hide number 29, which is now at the far northern edge of the cemetery, beside 156! They’re essentially pauper’s graves, all marked with the same bare metal crosses screwed into concrete. It’s become the site of marches by people angry that the immunity Pinochet gave himself and his junta is still in effect.
I strenuously suggest everyone visit every corner of Chile, which is mind-blowingly beautiful…and see what a dictator did this beautiful country for 17 years. It’s very, very illuminating, NOW.
I wanted to know who did it. I was so anxious to know I was on Twitter all day. Which, we should know, is a BAD place to get up-to-date news.
I realized yesterday afternoon I was contributing to the bile by even looking at it, and made myself log out.
In the end, one person was arrested.
From now on, BE PATIENT. Police have a job to do, LET THEM do it.
STOP getting your news off Twitter. STOP. I know that’s hard, given the possible forced deportations which no one can find out anything about. BUT, this happened in CANADA. For right now, we do still have some reliable media outlets. Here they are.
Vote with your money: Start PAYING for news again. We have to. News has gone downhill, and Part of the reason is likely because ad revenue has cratered, so they feel compelled to take “native advertising” and pander to customers instead of sticking to journalistic integrity. PAY FOR reliable news so they can pay reporters and researchers to do the work.
My mom died when I was fourteen. Remember that for later.
When I was 17, I knew a guy at my Roman-Catholic high school named Jason. He was tall, nice-looking, and the prototypical life of the party. He died of a massive heart attack when we were in grade 12. He’d had a congenital heart defect which he and his family knew about — but very few people at school did. Our school held a memorial service for him, and I happened to sit near the front. I clearly saw Jason’s closest friend, and later wrote in my journal “Please help him God, he looks like I did three years ago.”
He was sitting in the pews beside the altar. With the family.
My first thought when George Michael died was for Andrew Ridgeley. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go was released in 1984. I was 9 years old, in grade 4. I loved George, obviously, but it was Andrew I had a crush on – he looked more attainable to me (for a superstar adult who lived in Britain). He looked nice. It always bothered me a bit whenever I heard a joke about him years later (“the other one from Wham!”), because I had felt overlooked all the time too. But think about this: they’d known each other since they were 17 years old. He was likely the first person George ever told he was gay…in the early 80s. Yes, George Michael was the utterly talented, charismatic sex symbol. Yet I think it’s now very clear, there would have been no George Michael without Andrew.
And in the same week…Carrie Fisher. Whom I adored so much in When Harry Met Sally, but who had to forever after be Princess Leia. Princess. A princess who can lead an army, shoot a laser, fix a spaceship… oh that’s not normal? Oh well, that’s what 10-year-old me thought a princess was. Sorry Disney. Another reason I looked up to her: she was so pretty, yet not unachievably beautiful, like the supermodels my sisters and friends and I were inundated with in the 80s and 90s. , Carrie Fisher I could actually look like! (I didn’t remotely resemble her, but I felt I could.)
Amongst the explosions, taun-tauns, Ewoks, and VADER, my favourite scene in all the Star Wars movies is Luke asking Leia about her mother. Yes, I loved, loved, loved Han and Leia, but I identified with Luke and Leia. They were destined to be best friends. And I always felt that same twinge about Mark Hamill whenever I heard a joke about him. Whatever else happened (or didn’t) after, he was Luke Skywalker. And there would have been no Princess Leia, no Carrie, without Mark.
Hug your closest friends. Be the best friend who becomes family.
I realised something this morning, on a sunny day in the south of France. It’s a bit of a whinge. But it’s also a bit scary for me, and makes me sad.
I just sent off an application for a playwriting venture. One should keep track of how many competitions, initiatives, etc, one enters…but I’ve given up. Yes, everyone gets rejected, and I admit, tracking the number of things I entered and got rejected for became too much.
My FB and Twitter feeds have recently been filled with invitations to the Fringe shows of friends, as well as previews and reviews. I posted that I was a bit sad I didn’t have a show this year. That’s true…but not quite accurate. I’m also relieved I’m not doing a stage production, and THAT feeling makes me sad. I used to live for the insanity of putting on a show. Even when things went wrong, the result was a show I was proud of. I got the festival’s Artist Badge. I got reviews — good ones — and I could say “Yep, that’s me.” Audiences have told me how much they liked what I did.
Last year, I got my first ever 5-star review for It Started with an Allergy. I leveraged that, I promoted that show every hour of every day, and my houses still never got very big. The spectators who came loved it — there just weren’t very many of them. There’s a prestigious award given to theatre productions every year in Edmonton, and I really, REALLY hoped I might get nominated for Allergy. I didn’t. It’s occurred to me since that I don’t remember if I, or my director, invited the jury to the show! How can I not remember that? But I was also writing, producing, acting, flyering, doing the show. And I just…don’t… recall. That’s bad.
I submitted this play to yet another contest, out of resignation. I couldn’t muster anything to say in my cover letter: “yes, my play’s really good, these other industry people have said so, here’s my amazing CV of other amazing plays which nonetheless didn’t take off, PLEASE GIVE THIS TO ME.”
I wonder if that’s why I’m doing pre-production on a short film. Because it feels like I’ve done everything I possibly can in theatre, and I’m tapped. I’m on the French Riviera, on a writer’s retreat (which I paid for, didn’t get paid for, again). And still, today, I’m discouraged.
Seen from the sky, unspeakably beautiful. Puffs of white cloud floating over green mountains, blue water and red roofs. The airport’s very basic – the thought seems to be “you came for the beach, not the airport,” which is true. I couldn’t find the train into town, but the sweetest woman at a bus stop told me exactly how to get to my hostel – bus, tram, which stops, how much it was. The bus driver spoke NO English, but was checking up on me throughout the trip. I wondered if people in Nice were normally so quiet, or is a full bus usually be more chatty? I got checked in, went for a walk, and wanted to take photos of EVERY street and building. The SMELL – melting butter, melting chocolate, salami, smoked salmon, coffee beans being ground. All the women look they’ve just come from a photo shoot. All the men look as if they’re just going to or coming back from the gym. Everyone has a dog, most are French bulldogs. Too many people smoke…yet the cigarettes smell good too. Hearing French everywhere is amazing. I sat on a bench yesterday for lunch – just a banana, chips and goat cheese – and started giggling, then welling up. There are also police and soldiers everywhere, all carrying machine guns. The French flag is at half-mast. I find it’s comfortably bustling, but was told that this time of year, normally you can barely make it down the street.
Said to me, in 2004, by a friend I hadn’t seen in ages. It was a few days before I flew to London, England, United Kingdom. I answered him, “That’s why I have to go see it now.” I got to see Big Ben, and Southbank, and the Inns of Chancery. The next year, London was bombed.
As I write this, I am in Ataturk Airport, Istanbul, Turkey. Forty-five people were killed here two weeks ago, by terrorists who apparently believed the same things as those who attacked New York City, London, Madrid, Paris, Brussels, Baghdad, THREE cities in Saudi Arabia, and as of TODAY, Nice, in the south of France.
I am in Istanbul waiting to catch a plane. To Nice.
I have been teaching English for the last ten months in Southern China. Almost without exception, all of my students are from very wealthy families (and, obviously, because I’m teaching them, they’re learning a foreign language). Yet almost NONE of them has ever been outside of China, for a vacation, or to hear English. For Chinese citizens, visiting other countries is extremely difficult. My students are in awe when I’ve told them I have visited NINE places: Canada, the United States, England, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Italy, Iceland, and China.
I’m not going to see Istanbul beyond the airport today, but I WILL. And I am scheduled to be in France for a month. I’m not changing that.
I speak English and Spanish. I’m learning Mandarin. One of my favourite books growing up, Mischief in Fez, was about Morocco. I adapted it into a play because I wanted kids to know more about Islam, because I think Islam, and Muslim people, and the places where they live, are cool.
And YOU will not change that. You don’t get to tell ME or ANYONE else what they are allowed to be.