Detour to the Unexpected

A strange sight greeted us as we stepped out of the downtown metro station – no traffic on the Alameda, the city’s main artery, no roaring cars, buses, trucks, taxis and motorcycles. Nothing. Nada. At the end of the block, in front of the Moneda, the presidential palace, a series of barricades were detouring cars.

I’d come with two sisters-in-law to attend a free noonday Sunday concert downtown. At the theater, we found all the doors closed, people wandering about with puzzled faces. We learned that the concert was cancelled because this was the route of a protest march to the general cemetery to commemorate “los desaparecidos”, the disappeared, victims of the military coup which occurred 42 years ago on a September 11th.  We considered our options and then called a friend who lives downtown. She invited us for coffee.

It was my first visit to her apartment, located in a grand Bauhaus-style building built in 1928. The polished brass railing at the entry stairs gleamed. In the elevator, the metal grill door rattled shut. A trip to the past. Dora and her schnauzer Franca greeted us at the door, leading us into a spacious entry hall and living room, filled with antiques, paintings, art-deco lamps, enameled Chinese boxes and books in every room. We’d stepped into a museum. We made our way around the apartment stopping to take in interesting objects and asking their stories. Among her books lying about on table tops, two caught my eye. One very familiar. My memoir. I thumbed through another, biographies, photos and drawings of renowned women writers over the years. I jotted down its title. Dora then invited us to see her daughter’s apartment on an upper floor – white, modern, bare, minimalist.

We stopped for a bite to eat on the outdoor terrace of a nearby café. A tall, bearded, none-too-clean man in loose-fitting clothes entered and offered to draw our portraits. He said, “Such nice-looking ladies. A portrait?”

We smiled. “Thank you, but no.”

He wasn’t easily dissuaded. Looking at me, he asked, “How many boyfriends have you had?”

I flashed my ten fingers several times in the air. He laughed.

A good stretch of the afternoon lay before us. One sister-in-law suggested we explore a new, elegant boutique hotel across the street. In the lobby, we told a uniformed young man that we were just looking. He offered to take us on a tour. In a smooth, silent elevator we rose to the roof garden that included a pool and a bar. The elevator whisked us to another floor where our guide showed us several rooms, all in tones of black and soft grey. Below street level, we visited the spa. Leaving the lobby, our young man handed us brochures with special honeymoon offers. I left my copy on my husband’s night table to see when he returns from his two weeks in Italy.

Our next stop was the Museum of Visual Arts, just around the corner. A sculptress, who lives in the same apartment building as one sister-in-law, had a major exhibit there, entitled “Tiempo de Piedras”, Time of Stones. The exhibit – a mix of installations, paths, and photographs of stones gathered from river beds and the seacoast –evoked in me the special love I have for stones. They connect me to nature. I couldn’t take my eyes off an exhibit of overlapping, wafer-thin charcoal grey stones arranged in a long horizontal line, simulating the ridges of the Andes. A soft overhead light shone on the ridges, which were suspended from the ceiling, projecting onto the wall the shadow of the bare Andes. Stone is the essential element, the raw material, of these mountains and the detritus carried from their ridges, smoothed and rounded by rushing rivers.

I came away from our downtown visit with two riches: not the memory of music, but of the beauty of stones and the name of the book that called to me from that table in Dora’s apartment, Stefan Bollmann’s “Women Who Write Are Dangerous.” I must have it.

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