Monday, March 30, 2009

Ex-Carcel, Valparaiso

One of the "don't miss" spots I send all my visitors in Chile is to the Ex-Carcel in Valparaiso. Its a place with a ton of history dating over a century, starting out as the armory, then prison, and now a cultural center. The evidence of these historical functions are easily visible when you go walk around there.

The main reason I love this place is that it has a very strong sense of community, something which I otherwise find particularly lacking in the way I experience Chilean culture. At the Ex-carcel, you can go wander, observe or participate. Most of the classes and ongoings are open and welcoming to anybody who wishes, and its acceptable and common to strike up conversation with a stranger (major bonus points in my book). Inside the common spaces, there are dance, music, theater, sports, etc... rehearsals, classes, presentations, etc... In the old cells, many artists have set up workshops. As you enter, there is a small casual restaurant like room where often you can try some tasty homemade or healthy food or snacks, run by a friendly and well liked Mapuche lady. At night on the weekends you can usually catch a show, often with theatrical or circus style, or even a big outdoor party complete with rounds of tasty things to try.

There have long been plans in the making about what to do with the space, and recent newspaper articles describe the new selected plan, which apparently conserves a lot of the positive social, artistic, and historical aspects of the Ex-Carcel, but I wish they would've included some sketches or something as I can't tell to what extent... (English/ Spanish). When I was back in the US last year I remember hearing about and reading about some of the conflicts and protests going on there over what should be done/conserved with the space.

Anyway, for those who haven't been I wanted to include a couple photos and an interesting story. The story isn't necessarily true in entirity as you will probably question in some of the details, (perhaps you've seen the movie Big Fish, I really like the ability to be able to enjoy an interesting story without getting caught up on all details and probable realities) but I like it none the less, it somewhat reminds me of some aspects of Shawshank Redemption.

As it was told to/translated/interpreted by me....
There was a guy that many years ago was in the prison for committing a crime, as he was underage, he was in the juvenile part of the prison, which is towards the back where you now-days go through the circus painted passageway. He was around 16 years old at the time he was playing soccer in the yard and the ball went over the side. He was allowed to go fetch it, and took the opportunity to escape. Years later he found himself back in prison after committing another crime, this time in the main section as an adult. Eventually he escaped by digging a tunnel, though was caught or committed another crime and brought back. Eventually he was released though he said he never felt completely accepted by society and always somehow marked or shamed for being a criminal. The prison was shut down and later became an open space for activities and a cultural center, and the man decided that in the end, it was there that he felt most at home. Til last year when it was shut down during the controversy, he lived inside the Ex-carcel, helping out mostly as a sort of resident handyman.

Anyway, the papers suggest that the project will begin fairly soon. I know all of you haven't been because I've asked, but many probably have, right? If you get the chance, it might be something interesting to check out before it undergoes changes.


Amanda said...

Wow! I have never known about this place. Such a shame I never made it there during one of my countless visits to Valpo/Viña. Valpo is such a great city, I love it so much. My husband, the engineer, does not, and thus I don't get to spend as much time there as I'd like. But next time we're there (which might be a while) I'm totally dragging him there with me.


can you visit us?

cachandochile said...

I've been twice. The first time was an incredible experience. We met "Papito," who is probably the guy you talked about. He showed us around and even took us to his old cell. Full of stories (your Big Fish analogy sounds about right). We were so disappointed the second time (about a year ago). The deteriorating cell block was closed to the public due to safety concerns and there was nothing much at all going on.
I hope the new project really does get up and going soon because the entire concept is absolutely fascinating!

lydia said...

Amanda- always something to come back for, its kinda halfway up a hill where you otherwise wouldn't walk up! Maybe they'll have made the changes by then. (Ugh, this took me like 10 minutes to type cuz my cat has some fascination with standing on the keyboard)

Viviana- OK.

Cachandochile- Well I guess there isn't literally always going on there, though that shouldn't spoil a visit- all the art, graffiti, structures, and history are still there for anybody to see whether its busy or vacant.

I'm really not sure how people feel about this new plan. Part of the reason people previously were unwelcome to the changes is that right now the ex-carcel is a very inclusive, open space for anybody to practice in, yet people worry that with the new project, it will become very exclusive, only allowing the top quality/equipment/etc to participate, and therefore disqualifying the majority of its previous users. People also worry that the new space will be regulated by the government and no longer the community. The new plan at least is done by Chileans and claims most activities will continue as they have been... but I guess time will only tell on that.

Renée said...

Thanks for posting this. I've never even heard about the carcel and am going to make what will probably be my last visit ever to Vina/Valpo this month. I'll definitely have to check it out.

(And the kitten on the keyboard thing totally makes me miss my gatitos.)

emilyta said...

your post gave me something to do yesterday (im currently jobless..) because javier lives super close to the ex carcel but i have never been up there. it is sooo cool! i took tons of pictures before my camera ran out of battery and plan to go back when there is more going on. i heard there was a sonic youth concert there recently?

lydia said...

emily- i haven't heard about the concert, or maybe did and forgot about it. i'm glad you liked going there, its awesome right?

renee- if you can, saturdays are usually the best bet.

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