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.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A wake up call

This is actually a total timing coincidence, because I was going to write relating to something Kyle posted a couple weeks ago, yet meanwhile Kyle herself posted a followup with a recount of the entire story at TONIC.

One of the events that most heavily influenced me in Chile happened in early 2007. It not only affected me out of shock because I truly believe I might’ve died if it weren’t for the Chilean carrete, but it put a lot of cultural and social issues into perspective for me.

After partying late in Vina, my boyfriend and I got home to his place sometime nearing morning. Because of staying out so late were still awake far later than I usually like to stay up, trying to pick out a movie in his room with the door shut. At this point he asks “do you smell smoke?” And I stopped to sniff… but detected nothing at all.
He waited a short moment and said “No seriously, don’t you smell smoke?” So I sniffed again, and almost choked as I inhaled what felt like pure soot. Having no idea where it came from and startled at the sudden change in the air, we rushed to the door thinking we’d check the kitchen. But as we opened the bedroom door we were overtaken by all the smoke and soon barely able to see each other, and even trying to do so hurt the eyes.
As we got outside to take a look back we were completely shocked, obviously, as this was what we saw:

He ran back inside and upstairs because we had arrived home late so we weren’t sure if any of his cousins were in the house; anybody with their door shut like ours probably wouldn’t have noticed the smoke for quite a while because it entered the rooms so slowly.

During all of this I watched all of the neighbors go in and out of the building rescuing things that few would risk to do in the US- hairdryers, old radios, outdated box television sets. Families had piles of as many of their possessions as possible sitting out on the sidewalks, and had to require someone to watch the possessions, because they were worried someone else would come by and steal everything if they were unattended during a trip inside. The whole scene was shocking and nobody was much help.

We spent the rest of the night and early morning outside watching the whole deal, climbing the cerro (hill) to watch the fire advance and the firefighters attempts to stop it from above, all the while nervously trying to determine whether the flames and water damage would be reaching his section of the building yet or not. Eventually near morning we fell asleep on a bus bench next to an old lady crying with her cat in a box.

The newspaper said almost six dozen people were affected, many with health complications due to smoke, and one dozen families losing all their possessions.
In the end, my boyfriend's place was relatively OK, the fire didn’t directly reach it and it wasn’t flooded with water. It was, however, completely BLACK. The smoke had settled into the most disgusting mess, where the only color to be seen was when you lifted an item from its previous place.

At the community meeting after the fact, I learned about all the legal and economic problems people faced in putting their lives back together. Even the most simple things were an ordeal, as most had lost all papers, their Chilean ID cards, etc… which were needed for so many processes. Most people didn’t have health or renter’s insurance, money, stable jobs to recover their clothes and possessions, extended family with enough resources to help them out, etc… It was a whole aspect of challenges that, though I imagine is hard for everybody who ever is affected by such a horrible event, really brought out a lot of the economic (etc..) complications that are the reality for most people in Chile. Getting back on their feet seemed like twice the ordeal with a fraction of the support that I would have assumed based on my general knowledge of how these things work in the US. People explained to me that it was completely logical that a family would run back in after a hairdryer, because "how was a family going to get enough money to buy another hair dryer?"

Resources and procedures here are just not the same. Sometimes when I feel bitter or unhelpful about something here I try to remember that, and think of how many behind-the-scenes factors I’m not taking into account.

On a somewhat related side note, I also at times feel more bitter about these things here because of how lightly people take them, the lack of care of help people are willing to show sometimes, how people make things more difficult for rescue efforts and take less precaution to avoid bad situations (Case in point: they discovered how the fire started; some people were having bonfire indoors in the abandoned building next door and left it.)


Sara said...

That's a crazy story. When you said that about the hair dryer I wanted to cry. Things are not the same. I've seen ambulances stuck in rush hour traffic because nobody moves for them. However, if you have money they would just put you in a helicopter and fly you over the traffic.

Mamacita Chilena said...

Wow. I had no idea you had something like this happen to you. That's absolute insanity. And I can only imagine how devastating the fire must have been for all those families.

I think that any kind of disaster seems to affect poor people disproportionately. Hurricane Katrina is a good example of that.

Thanks for the link, I really appreciate. Fingers crossed I don't get fired from that blog too!

Emily said...

Those pictures are insane - I can hardly believe they're real. And ditto to what others have said about poverty and disaster. It's so sad that people would risk their lives for what I see as minor possessions, but it's even sadder that they basically have to because they know that afterward they won't have much (if any) help.

lydia said...

Sara-exactly, the ambulance thing is one of the best examples. I think last week I was at an intersection where cars have to yield to people when an ambulance came rushing up with its lights. All the people kept crossing in one stream people without anybody stopping to finally give it chance to go. I was like... wow guys, you're making a speeding ambulance stop so you don't have to deter your walk by 4 seconds?

Kyle- No problem. (I giggled, as if my blog were soooo high traffic) It actually kinda weirder me out cuz as I was typing it said you posted 11 minutes ago and I clicked and it was about the same.

I don't know if it really happened "to me", I mean, I was just there, not actually my place. Luckily, it wasn't my boyfriend's family home either, rather a place rented in the city, so they didn't have absolutely everything there, though the majority of neighbors seemed to be more nuclear families that would've had a lifetime of possessions inside.

I think you're right, because people better off $ wise would have an easier time getting back on their feet, they would probably have insurance, a bank account with some savings, friends with resources and extra of things they could pass over, etc..

Emily- I know! I didnt mention it but I felt like such an insensitive jerk for taking photos, I mean, without the cover of being part of the media at least. Inside I went nuts though. It was one of the weirdest things I've ever seen to have everything black (haha... actually ironically my only real possessions that I had stored at my boyfriends were my pure white clothes for capoeira)

Even for example their place that wasn't considered "damaged" ...can you imagine how much that cost for all the supplies and what a time consuming thing it was to clean EVERYTHING in all the rooms?!?! Not to mention uncovered cloth things like bedding had to be tossed, I remember his female cousin had intricate things like earrings sitting on that shelf in the picture... what a pain!
Luckily, I believe the owner was responsible for some help, and paid someone to clean the walls. She might've had some insurance to work with.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

EMPANADAS in the V Region

I know, right? Who doesn't like empanadas?

I personally am a HUGE fan of fried empanadas. My favorite is cheese, though I love seafood ones too. Shannon was asking for recommendations for a trip to the 5th region and all that could really come to mind is all the places that sell greasy cheesy food!

So here are my top recommendations for fried empanadas, not in any significant order:

Cafe Journal [Viña del Mar, corner of Agua Santa/Alvarez] - This restaurant/bar is a huge attraction especially for gringos, and turns into a club atmosphere some nights. Its owned by a German family, is decorated nicely, has 2 floors and a great outdoor patio, an amazing selection of drinks. Prices are generally above average but not extraordinary (Ex: a daquiri or the like costs ~2,500). The wonderful thing is that you can order the empanadas until well into the night(/morning), and a cheese empanada costs only 600 pesos. 99% of the time they are super fresh with melty, burn-your-tongue cheese.

Horcon- [I'm cheating. Horcon is a city but you can't go wrong] - Take your pick, this little seaside city is full of excellent empanada shops in the medium price range. The city is about an hour bus ride from Viña de Mar, is great for a day trip or an overnight. Its a little fisherman's village with nice beaches (famous for the "nudist" one). Pick up the bus on Av. Libertad, the plaza Viña, or Alvarez in Viña, Avenida España, or Errazuriz in Valpo. It'll say Horcon on the front.

Entre masas [Viña del Mar - Cinco Norte 377] This is one of many tiny shops offering empanadas in the maze of ponientes/nortes in Viña. Prices are a little high with most of the 20+ varieties costing around or over 1,000 each. However, they are fresh and delicious. Better in summer as the area is much more vibrant.

___[edit: Empanadas Varieta]________ I seriously blanked on the name. I'll edit this post when it comes back to me. [Viña del Mar - 2 Norte con Quillota]. They offer a zillion flavors, a cute sit down area similar to something pleasing in the US like a Panara Bread shop, freshly fried, etc... I have sometimes found mine to be almost too fried, but then again I'm the type of person that doesnt like crust. Again expect to spend around mil pesos per empanada. Or walk up the street as calle Quillota is like one big empanada fair.

Las Deliciosas [Concon - right off the traffic circle] These empanadas are the gooey greasy bundle of cheese+ you've been waiting for all your life. They're cheaper than many of their Viña competitors with a cheese empanada costing around 600 pesos, though the restaurant is less cute and personal. However, I have heard a story of an empanada not sitting well there, so maybe with care comes quality.

Empanadas famosas [Valparaiso - Salvador Donoso 1381, close off Bellavista and easy to miss]- Medium priced empanadas with lots of options and a high pass on the tasty factor. Accompanying Chileans have claimed they cook with dog meat but I'm willing to selfishly risk thats either an urban legend or a freaky story from long ago that will never affect my cheese or seafood empanadas. Still, they have kinda restrictive hours and frankly I haven't even seen them open in a while. Anyway they stay on my list.

My house- [Valparaiso] My boyfriend makes some great empanadas, specialty: cheese, tomato, mushroom, oregano, without lard (Yeah, manteca is lard, it sounds SO much less savory in English), and I fry them with very little burn on the crust and minimal kitchen injuries. Usually if everybody chips in for the ingredients its possible to convince him. :) Let me know if you're in town and want to meet up.

What am I missing? Feel free to recommend another for me or anybody else who stumbles across this.

[additional comment added January 17, 2012:
A Destajo in Valparaiso makes a GREAT oven baked vegetarian empanada for 800 pesos (and counting! haha).   Its got cheese, a black olive, zucchini... and some other stuff.  I'll have to go buy one to do further research!
They have two locations in Valparaiso, in Subida Cumming #55 and Subida Ecuador #6. Both locations are very centrally located and it's the type of place where you either stand around and eat the empanadas there or get it to go. ]


Emily said...
We had the most amazing empanadas of my life a month or two ago in Quintero, a place called El Hoyo downtown. The day before we'd had empanadas en Horcon, and those were good, but the ones in Quintero were just incredible. I actually posted about their delicious-ness when I did a recap of our weekend. And now I want an empanada!
Mamacita Chilena said...
"too fried." Blasphemy! There is no such thing. Haha, just kidding, I actually am not a huge empanada girl. I don't like the pino mixture much and I don't each cheese so your Valpo/Vina tour of empanadas wouldn't do much for me. However, hopefully S. never reads your blog or he'll be dragging me off to everyone of these places.
lydia said...
Emily- Yeah I've heard of that shop in Quintero. However, I've never been to Quintero with anybody willing to go there (just willing enough to tell me what I'm missing, hah!), so I unfortunately couldn't personally recommend it. Horcon's kinda got a reputation for the empanadas and is kinda fun for the trip and all. Someday I will make it back to El Hoyo! Kyle- hahaha (too fried is nudging on burnt!) Not eating cheese... yeah I can imagine that knocks nearly everybit of why I enjoy the empanada out of the running as far as useful advice. :) And yeah, I've eaten a pino empanada like twice and that was far too many times for my taste.
Clare said...
Entre masas is my faaaaaaaaaavorite!
Jill said...
EMPANADAS VARIETA is the name of the place on 2 norte :) It is good, but I love Entremasas!
Shannon said...
mmmmm I want an empanada!!!! or 2!!! if Ro and I go on our trip to viña/Valpo, maybe we can stop by and visit and pitch in to amke empanadas!!! :D
Amanda said...
I LOVE Entre masas. I make their shrimp, cheese and cilantro sauce empanadas here in the states to satisfy my cravings.