The Silver Eel

"A gape-jawed serpentine shape of pale metal crested with soot hung high for a sign."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


From "Travels in a Thin Country" by Sara Wheeler:

After dinner pisco was supplanted by wine and tobacco by marijuana (most Chileans I met seemed to have a little bag of the latter about their person). They took off Pink Floyd and put on Chilean blues, and two people danced. Later Pepe began reciting a Neruda poem, and the others joined in. They knew it by heart. I couldn't think of a poem which all the guests at a dinner party in London would know.


"This is what you need to know of our country," said Enrique, sliding another cassette into the machine and passing me the case. The label said Violeta Parra, and showed a bad drawing of a woman with large eyes and long black hair.
"Now our culture is to consume," he said. "But this is what we were, and we still know it. She sings our north, our south, our centre."
What she was singing about was pain and betrayal.
Although he was by now quite drunk, I was struck by the words 'our north', 'our south' and 'our centre' from a man who had barely left the central valley. I had, in my ignorance, looked at the shape of the country, considered the massive social, economic and climatic differences between the north and the south and concluded that there couldn't be much of a national consciousness. But the reality was that their sense of nationality bound them together as closely as if the country were a perfect circle.
"Violeta, Neruda and La Gabriela, these are the ones who express what we are," said Enrique's wife, swaying slightly. "Their work is an expression of our culture - our real culture."
When I left, Enrique stood at the door.
"This country, it has many problems. We want to be more like you. But underneath there is pride. Sometimes it's difficult for us to find it now, that's all, because there's so much junk on top."


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