Wednesday, 13 April 2011

A tale of two (or three) cities?

Famous last words... On Sunday autumn arrived overnight in Santiago complete with plummeting temperatures, grey skies, rain and leaves everywhere. This might sound strange but it actually made quite a welcome change after the constant blinding and often very hot sunshine for what seemed like an incredibly long summer. In some ways it is reassuring to witness the passing of the seasons and the fact that this happens even in Chile too is something of a relief. It almost seems as if a circle has closed since our arrival here last September, when we left behind the beginning of autumn back in Europe and suddenly landed in a parallel universe where spring was still in its infancy. Not only were we culturally shipwrecked but even our environmental signposts disappeared as we fought our way through a thick and confusing mist which has gradually cleared to show us a brave new image of the world.
Nearly seven months on since our move and we have adjusted not just once but twice, due to having spent three and a half months in temporary accommodation and the same again now in our more permanent home. It is as if we have lived in two quite different cities in this time: in the beginning in the centre we were situated in a half-decaying concrete jungle right in the middle of very busy and colourful street life, including a multitude of shops and road vendors many of whom we came to know well during the course of daily life. There weren't many green spaces and the sheer volume of human and vehicular traffic was often overwhelming, as was the noise level and air pollution. Now here in the elevated eastern part of the sprawling city there is still plenty of construction but newer and better maintained, complemented and offset by plenty of foliage in the form of parks, flowering bushes and trees not to mention sweeping vistas of the Andes which one only occasionally glimpsed from the centre. Even though traffic and noise can be irksome here too at times on the whole it is much quieter and exudes an air of being cared for, often to the point of exaggeration. Every morning manicured lawns are generously watered and leaves are now painstakingly swept up as they fall. The children can only ever find one conker or two as the rest have been cleared away by zealous gardeners, maids and park attendants. People are often dressed more elegantly though there is still quite a mix in looks and styles while downtown it was more as if the twenty-first century hadn't yet arrived. The difference is stark and almost Dickensian, with the workers confined to their ghettoes while the wealthy live like lords... Having said that I am told that where we live is only very middle-class and that in fact there exists an upper echelon even further away from the hoi polloi with bigger, newer houses and gardens with higher gates and better views of the mountains. Oh, and cleaner air, more modern shopping malls and more exclusive clubs and schools for their children. I'm not sure if this is supposed to make me feel better or worse...

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