SermonsGabriela Mistral

Three Museums, Constitution Plaza, and Interesting Chilean Drinks

On March 9-10, we made three short to very short visits to three more museums, the Gabriela Mistral Education Museum, which we visited on the afternoon after our visit to the Memory Museum, the Pre-Columbian Art museum, and Pablo Neruda’s House.

Gabriela Mistral had an impressive career. Famous for her poetry, she became the first Latin American to win the Nobel Prize for literature. The government also appointed her to be a diplomatic consul to 10 different cities in Europe and the Americas.

But her first career was in education. She grew up in poverty and left school at 11 to support her family by sewing and then working as a teacher’s aide when she was 15. Her teaching career attracted notice and the Ministry of Education appointed her as director to several prestigious high schools in Santiago. Later she moved to Mexico to help reform the education system there.

The museum itself was mostly about the history of education in Chile.

Shortly before the Pinochet dictatorship fell, he handed over the education system to private corporations, who continually raised fees and reduced services. In 2006, students throughout the country rebelled. Called the Penguin’s Revolt, a reference to their black and white school uniforms, students demanded that the Chilean government stop allowing corporations to make a profit from their education. The signs below (clockwise from the top left) say, “It’s going to fall; it’s going to fall, the education of Pinochet.” “Let’s go, comrades. We have to put a little more effort into it. We quickly go out onto the street. Chilean education is not sold; it is defended.” “Education is a right.” “The rebel penguin doesn’t sleep.”

That evening we went to a Chinese-Venezuelan restaurant that included ham and cheese egg rolls on the menu. I will say no more.

The next day, we went to see the National Museum of Pre-Columbian Art. At first, the plaque commemorating the inauguration of the museum by General Pinochet put us off. Michael asked at the front desk why the plaque was there, but the guy at the desk had no answer.

Then, as we entered the second room, we realized all the pieces of art in that room had been looted from Indigenous burial sites, so we left after maybe 15 minutes.

We then visited Constitution Plaza, site of La Moneda, a combination of presidential palace and seat of government.

For Chileans September 11 will always refer to the day in 1973 that the Chilean military, with the support of the U.S., launched a coup against the democratically-elected president, Salvador Allende. And the most famous images from that day were the strafing of La Moneda by the Chilean Air Force, which used unguided rockets and cannon fire.

When we were visiting Sandra in Uruguay, she told us that Allende had arranged to go into exile, but he heard military radio communications indicating that his plane would never reach Cuba. So he delivered his final radio address, part of which is engraved on his statue in the plaza, and then committed suicide. The quotation on the plaque reads

Pablo Neruda’s home in Santiago, called La Chascona, after his mistress, was the third museum we visited that day.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but you can see some of the rooms here. Neruda, Chile’s most famous poet, also won the Nobel Prize for Literature and was friends with Gabriela Mistral. One of his most famous poems is “Ode to a Watermelon”:

Currently, the watermelon has become a symbol of Palestinian resistance, because Israel punishes those who display the Palestinian flag. With its black seeds, green rind and red fruit, the watermelon serves as a stand-in. When we saw this apron, with a line of the poem in Spanish, Michael knew immediately that he wanted to give it to a Palestinian friend, who posted this picture on Facebook.

Finally, we encountered some beverages in Chile that we did not in any of the other countries we visited. I got spoiled by the cheap expresso drinks I was able to order in most of the places we ate. At this particular restaurant in Chile, I decided I would go for something simpler, and ordered cafe con leche, coffee with hot milk. Below is what I got. In Palestine, this type of coffee is a special drink that Palestinians serve to guests (despite the boycott), but for me, it symbolized a return to reality.

However, even though Chile doesn’t have cheap expresso drinks, it does have some interesting soft drinks. Top left is sugar cane juice with lime. Now, it didn’t even sound good to me, and it tasted just like it sounds: watered-down molasses with lime juice. I guess I just like trying new things.

Inca Cola is actually a Peruvian soda, with lemon verbena as the main flavor. Bilz, after Coca-Cola, is the most popular soda in Chile. The company describes the flavor as “fruit.” The pictures for Pap and Kem I downloaded from the internet. I didn’t actually see the former, and didn’t think to take a picture of the latter. One has the taste of papaya and the other the taste of pineapple. Guess which is which.

I believe next post will be the last of the trip.

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