Feliz Centenario, Puerto Natales!
100 years of history as a town. Things move more slowly around here...te conserves bien. Progress and change may be at your doorstep are already transforming the town center into a Gore-Tex-happy tourismville, but something tells me that this town will always have a core of unpaved streets, wandering dogs, fishermen's boats in dry dock, and loose cows being chased by gauchos in boinas to keep your true essence.
It appears, as my "Chilean cousin" Maria-Claudia says, that I came here in just the right year to be able to take part in the festivities. In the last month there was some activity every day. I've seen two concerts by Chilean bands, a beautiful presentation at my school showing aspects of Natalino history, dances, parties, banners, sales in all the stores, a huge fireworks display. Finally today (the actual anniversary of the founding of the town) there was a grand parade with all the schools in the whole region participating and important people watching from a platform in the brand new plaza.
I jumped into the parade at the last minute, since people at school have rather been leaving me out of the communiication loop lately (probably due to the enormous effort of putting together the centennial...nothing like this has ever happened here in the past). As we were leaving the house, my Tía Maria-Ester admnshed me for my shabbiness.
"You're not going to parade (yes, in Chileno "to parade" is a verb) like that. Tennis shoes and pants?! Don't you have a skirt or something?"
I ran upstairs and grabbed one of the skirts I had already packed to send home (Remember? I am now trying to travel as lightly as possible.)
"Chucha," the Chilean swear came to me faster than any in English, "It's all wrinkled." The iron is in the kitchen, where Juanito and Claudia are making lunch for everyone. Nothing for it. No time. Must take off my skirt and iron it in my tights on the kitchen table.
"No mires, Juanito!" ("Don't look, Juanito!")
Twenty seconds later: "Coleen, te están llamando!" ("Coleen, they're calling you!")
"Momentito!" ("Just a moment!")
"Ja, ahora antes que te dejan!" ("Yeah, now before they leave you!")
I threw on my skirt and ran out the door.
I did not realize that a parade was such a big deal and so formal in Chile, but it soon became apparent why it is so. Everyone must be dressed up and the students dressed the same, down to white gloves on their hands and exactly the same braid in the hair of all the girls. Everyone has to march Left, Left, Left, Right, Left. We have to keep our hands at our sides and look at the authorities to our right when we pass. Better not to smile too much, this is a serious undertaking. The students had been rehearsing for weeks.
Despite this, our school's organized lines quickly devolved into the students' customary chaos. We waited nearly two hours in the street, freezing our asses off (well, mostly our hands). The students were climbing fences and breaking things, throwing things at each other and fighting. Normal, for us. I noticed that neither the school in front of us nor the one behind appeared to be having such problems. Two of the girls missed out completely on the parade because they left to talk to someone ahead of us. Left, Left, Left, Right, Left.
At some point after we began marching, I realized that I felt mildly uncomfortable with the military feel of the whole thing. It felt like a relic of the period under Pinochet's junta, and to top off my sense of discomfort I realized that the entire armed force of the region, in full battle gear and clutching fully automatic weapons, was not only present but a central part of the march.
It's not a subject that I have approached with anyone since coming to Chile, in part because I simply do not want to know if people I know and like are still supporters of his regime (and yes, there are people in Chile who still are). Pinochet only died in 2006, and thousands of supporters came to his funeral. They are currently in the process of exhuming Salvador Allende's remains to conduct a further autopsy. The wounds of "The Other September 11th" (the coup d'etat) are still here.
As I watched the armed forces and the rapidly disintegrating order of the parade, I realized that the deeply ingrained difficulties with organization and execution of plans that I have experienced in many forms since I moved here ("Oh, you mean you wanted your visa in one month instead of three?" "What do you mean, you want a list of the rules of the school?" "Eh...when the plane leaves, it leaves...") may have actually worked in Chile's favor when push came to shove under an authoritarian government. If one cannot organize a parade or a meeting, it is very difficult for an ultra-organized junta to really take hold.
So the moral of the story is that disorganization is a secret ally against authoritarian rule. Nice. I waved to the authorities in their safe little box high above the crowd as I passed, and knew that tomorrow I have to face the students again...and all the problems that manifest themselves in the micro-culture of our school. And for the moment, I was proud that we were the most disorganized group of all.
More information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Augusto_Pinochet