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A further Invisible City ( VI )

The traveler approaches Olembach by train at sunset, over a flat expanse of cropless paddock, of profitless soil. There is the smell of burning rubber or something worse and occasionally the dejected forms of little wooden houses, leaning forlornly and surrounded by worn out machinery. A kind of smog seems to hang over everything as if one were observing the world through a series of grubby windows.

Strangers pass in the corridors of the train like smears being wiped from glass, always disappearing before they can be made out; faceless faces peering into the cabins and dissolving just as you turn to notice.

But what is unusual about any of this? Isn't every city encircled by similarly dreary outlands whose destitution is rendered extravagant by the dusk? And isn't every train journey, after all, a dream of death?

Olembach rises from these thoughts, a metropolis of huge, thin towers glittering with lighted windows and the promise behind them of meals being prepared, of conversations taking place across tables, of steam rising, of illicit glances passing from one building to the next, tremulous in the high air as kites. Who, approaching Olembach does not imagine the dusty trams racketing through the streets or the drifting sound of a music lesson coming from an open window? Who doesn't edge forward with anticipation thinking of the hanging baskets of flowers, the commuters alighting beneath the haze of street lights, the bubbling song of their language and the long, glad climb of each towards whichever room it is that will have them, that desires them?

Olembach is no such place. The men, for there are only men, are seldom seen, except darkly, hurrying exhaustedly past close to the wall, like stray cats. The buildings are unenterable steal chimneys, endlessly manufacturing smoke and the lights you imagined so much of are mere bulbs attached at intervals to the chimneys, flickering intermittently. A search light prowls the streets at night. What is this uninhabitable machine?

As those little houses were to Olembach, so Olembach is to something much larger, something unimaginably worse.
 
The sky is a never quiet machine

In london, between the underground world and the sky.

Like that intricate system of corridors hidden beneath the surface, the sky is a never quiet machine. It fizzes coldly, it fades and returns with aeroplanes.

There is nothing quite so beautiful as to immerge from beneath the earth and to look up at those vapour trails; long, thin, man-made clouds, annointed by the last colour of the day, as if innumerable space ships were plummetting and burning through the atmosphere, having failed.

In the blue night, distant planes like little intermittant stars. Perhaps oneday we will look up towards whatever it is that hangs above us and realise that all the stars have become aeroplanes, crossing forlornly between foreign cities, dragging crowds of tourists and businessmen from one indefinite memory to another.
 
Civilization and the Memory of Weather

Memory of weather is curiously unreliable. I think summer takes London by surprise every year. No one really expects such solar audacity from this city, people are too used to being disappointed. London is a city built to hold in the heat, a private, hunched-shouldered city where it should always be raining, or threatening to. Certainly, when I arrived in the stone-heart of winter I could not have imagined such a transformation. The sun bakers in the parks, the pubs spilling over into the street, long muggy nights with the windows open, the summer noises from the street, the temperature beneath the ground and the state of controlled panic which, fanned by the heat, greets me at Oxford Circus Station.

The tube in the morning.

If it wasn't for the sighing of trains and the steady clatter of polished shoes and the incessant safety announcements, then the speechlessness would be eerie. Amazing to see, to be among the exodus of such a mass of silent people, united, perhaps, solely by our weariness.

The tabloids here are in a perpetual state of outrage, a kind of malevolent dissatisfaction which takes aim variously at immigrants, petrol prices, prison sentences and even the weather. This latter discontent is, because of a certain meteorological indifference, redirected instead at the public transport system. The underground train system is in fact so ill equipped to deal with the heat that rails intermittently buckle and temperatures not unusually reach 50 degrees. The headlines refer to this, and any other disturbance for that matter, as TUBE HELL, and the usual sources fill with pictures of sweating, be-suited individuals passing each other in the corridors of the furnace, while the centre of the earth comes slowly to the boil. It is another world down there, a kind of shadow life which runs according to a less defined system of human relations. A world where nervous, overdressed businessmen will risk their life by leaping headfirst through viciously closing doors.

London, it might be said, runs on an atmosphere of productive dissatisfaction, tempered by incredibly cheap trips to continental Europe, to countries where there are beaches and no tubes.

I found this quote last night in an essay by the curator Anuradha Vikram, who is referring to Dean MacCannell's book Tourist:

As increased compartmentalization of workplace roles leaves us disconnected from one another, we use our free time to seek out and reconnect with a community. Leisure and the attendant travel industry have a role to play in society—that of regreasing the cog, or persuading the worker to return to work another day. Leisure is a ritual; a simplified performance of interconnectedness that is replacing established social bonds. It is a means of letting out energy that might otherwise be focused on revolution.

Yet a brief glance at the political climate lends credence to the idea that British dissatisfaction might in fact be one of its most valuable instruments of social change. You can see in the demise of New labour, the manifestation of what might, and should have happened to the Liberal Party if in Australia we had a functioning media, an even mildly coherent Opposition Party and a sense of public outrage commensurate to the situation. The levels of corruption and incompetence, the arrogance and the attacks on civil liberties and human rights are startlingly similar. Yet while Blair is paralysed by his own failures, derided from all sides, John Howard’s triumphant, insidious and seemingly benign indecency looks set to continue for the next hundred years.

I was speaking to a friend the other night about Franz Kafka. He observed that Kafka's characters, despite their horribly illogical circumstances, never really ask why this has happened, but instead go about trying to deal with the situation as best they can, submitting willingly to the absurdity. It got me thinking of a Leunig cartoon in which crowds of people rush madly about for some reason that seems to escape everyone. "Why do we do it?" he asks.
 
A Further Invisible City (V)

You wake in Karatej to a ringing or a cry. The bells around the neck of a horse perhaps, which is driven by a zealot or a milkman. A church marking time or a mosque’s call to prayer. An alarm clock or a policeman’s truncheon. You rush to the window expecting the sea-smelling morning, the wheel and parry of gulls in the high air, the market’s exotic smell and the promise of slow but insistant heat. From behind the curtain the world greets you instead with its cold, accusatory stare, wet with rain.

These are the first announcements of the day in Karatej, the city which echoes throughout with proclamations. The people there exist resolutely, divided and assailed on all sides by government gossip, and by the endlessly recycled official news which the government disseminates at every available opportunity.

From speakers positioned on the lamp posts come warnings and defamations. Leaflets fall from the sky providing directives and incentives. Signs have been erected to describe the behaviour required of almost every situation. Giant screens project perfect images of the revolution. Unseen cameras record your movements and relay them to central control towers, where every gesture is examined for its suseptibilities. This footage is replayed on an endless loop in rooms where bureaucrats engineer policies tailored to each individuals particular weakness.

You walk among the streets of Karatej as if retracing your own steps in search of something you have dropped. The lights of the traffic shift and blur in the rain and it grows dark early. The street vendors sell news of famine and plague, of a cloud of foreign poison hanging dangerously over the city, of death lists and trials. For a few coins they will describe the latest murders in clinical detail. From the billboards and posters, the exuberantly smiling campaign models seem to follow you, as if passing your secrets amongst themselves.

And each evening you return to your room like a traveller, like someone who is capable of leaving this strange city at any moment. You have forgotten that you were born here, that you have never left, that you never will.
 
Death In Venice ( City of Masks, City of Ghosts)
In Venice, let us admit, there is no place for objectivity. Everything said about it is unverifiable, a tangent forgotten in a room by a window which overlooks something or other. Smoke arching into the air.

In Venice I recall that other great city of holy-water, of boats and intricate decay, Varanassi, India. In each, the high walls of the alleys cling to you on either side as you pass, the sky a thin, vertical strip above. In each, colourful washing hangs like ripe fruit from the windows. And in each, the engine which propels its existence is death.

People go to Varanassi to die, to be burnt to dust in tendered fires by the edge of the Ganges, and so return to the scheme of things, free, finally, of all this incarnation. People go to Venice before they die, to experience for a moment the nonsense of a city built according to the pleasure principles of beauty and mystery.

Venice is absurd. Surely it cannot exist. In fact, I think it's fair to say, it doesn't.

Venice is the product of mass hysteria. It is a deliberate hallucination of the human soul. If it exists at all, it exists deep within the human make-up, and from where, somehow, we have dredged it up through sheer desire and willed it into near-being.

Venice is The Idea of a City, before the idea of a metropolis, a perverted concept, came in being. Everything about the modern world as we know it, denies the possibility of a thing such as Venice. And you will find, in the midst of the city itself, at every turn, the busy proponents of this modern denial working furtively, undermining what is already so tenuous with their key chains and Gucci sunglasses and designer bags and novelty aprons. It is true, we deserve to be exploited for not knowing what we want. Or for choosing it too late, or half heartedly. For being content to sit in the theatre and applaud, but unwilling to change out lives because of it. Perhaps Venice is a limbo where the dead go to wait out that divine indecision, lost on the outskirts of a heaven they cannot enter.

In Venice there are those same groups of Americans (and Germans and Italians) you encountered in the last city, and the one previous to all others, talking as if their hearing-aides have been turned off, so accustomed to their own laborious exclamations, as if the world might cease to exist were they to stop reiterating their own involvement with it. They come with their sun-hats and their large cameras. They have walking difficulties and osteoporosis.

Yes, Venice runs on death, whose imminent approach fuels the economy. It fills the restaurants, takes the video footage and buys the ugly glass-things which people, in forlorn hope, refer to as "beautiful", for fear they will die not having recognised it. Where election posters would be plastered in other cities, in Venice you will find obituaries.

This is true to the extent that Venice is without doubt a city-sized museum, a theme park for grown-up's, rides and all. Barely any one can afford to live there, save for privileged students, and wealthy foreigners who fly in to occupy crumbling apartments for a few weeks a year. Occasionally you will see a boat unloading tons of toilet paper in a cramped canal.

And yet Venice is not entirely its reality. Absurd as it sounds, it would be fair to say that Venice is only superficialy its reality. Rather it is the image of a city which no longer exists. You conjure it yourself, and it in turn, conjures you. Like two ghosts walking in parallel lanes, who will never meet.

At night the streets are empty and silent, save for the clatter of shutters being rolled down across shop fronts, or the sound of a broom sweeping the pages of newspaper in a small plaza, or the soft clap of water on stone. Footsteps echo and disappear at an unreadable distance. A light goes out, and another. Quiet voices. If you turned a corner you might find people dancing and drinking orange coloured alcohol. But here everything is waiting. You look up, and in the vertigo of compressed night the churches seem to move, sureptiously exchanging places. Almost imperceptibly. In front of you, a gondola sweeps past, like a proud, inaccessible animal. It's gone. It cannot exist!

In Venice mask shops outnumber all but the restaurants. The oversized and ornate heads of harlequins, frogs, birds, elephants, cats and zebras charm us through the glass, as if people might come here to wear another life - a small act of reincarnation. But this carnival of metamorphoses is about something else also, about the fluidity of reality, about the dream of a city whose inhabitants, animal and human, might pass in and out of one another, like water. Surely this is the defining dream of The City, which carnivals of all sorts briefly and extravagantly admit - the erotics of such close habitation. Venice is the dream of The Final City, whose water and land penetrate and interlock with each other, leaving and returning in an endless labyrinth of controlled deceit, where each turn conceals what and where we were a moment before and opens before us an endless array of further possibilities - the lives of others and other selves which we might momentarily experience. (The demise of such perfect chaos as Venice embodies, might just explain our obsessions with the televised banalities of other lives.)

I will wander forever in the background of countless home-movies.

Venice is absurd. It doesn’t exist, except perhaps as a city of ghosts. And we are them.
 
A Further Invisible City ( IV )

In Doninium, the City of Drafts, there is a great engine at work. The engine is centreless and invisible but its presence can everywhere be felt. In fact a complex system of draft-tunnels was built long ago beneath the surface of the streets and through which the engine continues to expel huge gusts of stale air, the bi-product of its functioning mechanics.

The inhabitants of Doninium are likewise propelled beneath the ground through an endless matrix of coridors. It is the job of each and everyone to sustain the engine, and at any hour the visitor to Doninium can find processions of these sullen people rushing to appointments, each ensconsed in his own dull panic. The atmosphere among these crowds is one of indominitable resignation. Rarely does anyone acknowledge the person rushing beside him, except to mutter angrily or push past.

Yet occasionly, the eye of one will catch that of another as they pass on the escalators or brush against one another in the bustling doorways. And so, even in the most purposeful of crowds, it is possible to recognise a vast array of illicit glances; brief desires, secret rebellions, passing like a conspiracy among the population of this cold, heavy city. For a thousand moments every second, in Doninium, the great City of Drafts, the engine stops.
 
London: unreliable first impressions
I've been thinking about London
nothing good ever came from this town
and if the Thames weren't so filthy
I'd jump in the river and drown.

- Nick Cave

Perhaps it was the lack of sleep, but from the the aeroplane before dawn, the lights of London seemed to flash on and off, as if the whole place was suffering from faulty wiring. I befriended a guy from Belgium on one side, and a Brazilian girl on the other, who because of her cold, attempted sleep with a mask covering her eyes and a tissue secured beneath the mask so that she didn't breath on us. Her faceless head hung between me and the window when I tried in my sleepless delerium to catch sight of Africa or Portugal floating in the sea far below. As is the custom on aeroplanes, they had packed us in so tight we felt like battery hens who could never spread their wings. After twelve hours folded up so close together, it was as if we had known each other for years. I watched the same movie three times, and listened to Brian Eno's Music for Airports till I ached. But I didn't sleep for a second.

Stepping out at Heathrow I was greeted by the headlines, Diana's face still gracing the front page of one paper, and popping up everywhere, an assortment of wonderfuly mysterious phrases:

FACE TRANSPLANT WOMAN: REMARKABLE PICTURES

COCAIN KATE: MAN QUIZZED

KNIFE CHECKS AT RAIL STATIONS

THE EXTREMISTS THAT THREATEN US ALL

CAN YOU HYPNOTYSE AWAY THE PAIN OF CHILDBIRTH?

London I was surprised to find, looks alot like London. From the airport by train, the waking outskirts receeded into the distance just like I imagined they might, long, cold rows of stoid, brick houses with their chimneys and stuborness. Not inelegant, but dreary. There's a dampness in the bones of the buildings, and the bricks look like they're shivering. This, and the beautiful, sad, familiar outline of bare trees against a white sky. A sky which seems to permeate everything. Without scrapers to puncture it, the sky seems huge. It dominates miserably, like a wet sheet hung out in the rain to dry.

On the train from the airport I caught a glimpse of a wonderful image. People sat facing each other in that silent, exhausted early morning way, but all of them asleep. Rows of sleeping commuters, a train full, a whole city of sleepwalkers perhaps, going off to their offices to sleep in front of their computers. London is not a city which dreams while it is awake, but perhaps it is a city which moves and works while it dreams. I was reminded of a poem by the british poet Micheal Ayres in which a drowned city continues to exist, "the skyscrapers oozing gigantic weed", "sharks appearing from the shafts of ruined elevators" and a "slow unravel of silver bubbles rising" from the throats of the sleeping cummuters.

I walked beside the Thames, where seagulls floated like bits of litter, or squabbled over a square piece of bread or mourned with that raucous, lost sound. I wandered half-conciously through the TATE gallery where paintings I have been pursuing through art books since I was in high school, actually existed. Having starved for art and words in South America, I feel like I could gorge myself on the gutter-scraps of culture here. I spoke spanish by accident everytime I asked for anything and was dazed by the shameless majesty of the place. I counted my few pounds very carefully and suffered from the tendency to translate things into Australian dollars, and worse, into Bolivianos. I drank the worst beer I've ever tasted, warm and flat and sour, and found on the street a scrap of paper which turned out to be an essay on Shakespear: "Social class ostensibly bars the jailor's daughter from marrying Palamon" it said. It sounded like a headline from a drowned time.
 
The Chiaroscuro of Rio de Janeiro
Within five minutes of arriving in Brazil we had lost the Portuguese phrase book and realised we were in the wrong city. The taxi driver looked at us strangely as we pointed out in a garbled, guessed-at language places on a map which obviously didn´t correspond to the city he knew. I thought of the Situationsists briefly, who used another city´s maps to navigate through Paris in the 1960´s. But the romance of that tangent was short lived. The next day we had straightened our compass out and were heading expensively toward Rio.

There is something undeniably mythical about Brazil. Mountainous unending green, broken only by flowering trees, and low clouds as we were drawn toward that infamous city, Rio, like a ship moving through thick fog. There was something exhilerating and ominous, the threat and pull of what seemed to me a new system, a new series of laws, an ulterior logic which was somehow more than human. I saw a tree which looked like the moss covered masthead of a ship which might have ploughed up from the ocean hundreds of years ago and crashed into the jungle to decay. As night fell, fires blazed in the green dark and the shadow of a horse and rider moved swiftly beside the highway. The hurtling anonymous gravity of passing trucks in the night. The snaking caravan of tiny red lights moving through the black mountains, us one of them, one of many, part of that strange cargo being pulled irreversibly in. We woke in the outskirts, the silhouettes of bike riders moving in the quietly toxic, orange dawn, black rivers lifeless with garbage. It had taken us 93 hours in buses from La Paz, including one 35 hour rollercoaster ride through a Bolivian swamp where we were required more than once to climb out through the windows and push, where the bus broke down I don´t know how many times, which almost saw us strip-searched at one in the morning on the Paraguayn border, and which brought us safely to Asuncion 15 hours late in 44 degree heat.

Rio is that rare, startling jungle flower, which may or may not be poisonous, the scent and sight of which, in fact the mere idea of which intoxicates. It is perhaps the greenest city I have ever seen, its street corners thick with tropical shadow. It is a city which seems at times to have risen up spontaneously from the jungle. The trees are sensible of course, providing shade from the heat, but more than that they seem to lend a mysterious life to the city. Because of them Rio seems capable of a certain metamorphoses. Trees form a vital part of a city´s architecture, they are not seperate in my opinion, but part of it. The current plague of architects worldwide no doubt disagree. Unlike other cities, whose buildings, however beautiful, are basically unchanging stone, Rio´s organic architecture means it is a city forever in motion, receptive to the wind, pungent, lit by filtered, inumerable greens, a rich chiaroscuro, a moving city with a life that is more than simply human.

Coupled with the presence of the beaches and with the mountains looming from between the skyscrapers, it is no wonder that the Carioaca´s, (the name given to Rio´s inhabitants) are the way they are: friendly, smiling, energetic, helpful, unnaturally good looking, almost naked and very informal. In Brazilian Portugese there is no formal word for ´you´, as there is in Spanish or the Portugese spoken in Portugal, and the dress code for even the swishest restaurants usually requires little more than a pare of thongs (flip-flops) and some bathers. The symbol most befitting Rio is the the thumbs-up, a universal gesture not disimilar from the Indian head wobble, used to indicate gratitude, friendship, greeting, agreement, to get attention and to say goodbye. Even old women can be seen directing traffic with their thumbs. In conversation Cariocas often seem to be angrily screaming at each other. They´re not. That´s just the way they talk, wildly gesticulating all the while. And invariably one of them will break into outrageous laughter. Rio is populated by people who seem to be forever going or coming back from the beach, if they´re not already there that is. And a pair of Speedo´s is a perfectly acceptable thing to wear for the entire day. Everywhere.

I have no idea about Portugal, but in Brazil, the portugese sounds, as one Canadian guy we met put it "Like a drunk Russian trying to speak Dutch". Thats a better description than any I thought of, but to be fair there also sounds as if there´s a spattering of Chinese in there too. Occasinally we lament the fact that the French were too busy fornicating with the natives to do much of a job colonising the place however many hundred years ago.

In Catete, the suburb where we stayed for the first three days, if you want a drink in the hot, breezy evenings, as people invariably do, you need only step onto the street, where any number of shopping trolleys full of beer are unloaded into what must surely be antique-polystyrene eskies. The only licence you need to sell alcohol is one of these eskies. The clatter of trolleys can be heard well into the night returning from the beach, or arriving newly refreshed from any other direction. To add to this, impromptu bars rise up like mushrooms from the street, fold out chairs and tables spill from little shops, wooden stools materialise, cars open and empty their furniture. It´s as if, at some point everyone just stops where they are and decides to drink.

Old men set up domino games on cardboard boxes, and the occasional homeless person lies down in the middle of the footpath to rest. The air smells sweet. At dusk a thick mist envelopes the beach front and during the day thin-winged things can be seen circling high in the air, birds I presume, but more like pterodactyls. Coconuts are available from every corner, and their milk, something I can´t remember drinking since I was a child in a white apartment in Noosa, is the most refreshing thing on earth. On a corner near where we are staying, there is a big friendly-looking homelss man. Day and night he sits with a look of such intense concentration, his face contorted like a piece of paper someone has scrunched in their fist. He is drawing with a pen something which appears to be a system of patterns in an ink so thickly aplied that it glistens and the paper seems ready to rip.

For a city its size there is very little graffiti, and none of it is political. Most of it is so neat and palatable it has clearly been commisioned. People in Rio have better things to do than worry about politics, and most of them can be done while lying on the sand. There is nothig of the protest culture of Buenos Aires or La Paz, no remnants of election posters clinging to the vine encrusted walls and though I can´t say for sure, I reckon the arguments in the bars are about a thousand years away from whatever political manoeverings are going on in the parliament house.

When Brasilia replaced Rio as the capital in the 60´s, the centre heart dispersed and took up residence variously along the beaches. Today, Centro is a business centre which retains certain colonial masterpices, especially around the main square, and which slowly divulges its secrets, it´s alleys and bookshops, it´s cafes and communities but it seems, nevertheless, to be missing something of the distinctive Carioca spirit. It lacks a real street life, that flamboyant pulse, and at night and on the weekend it´s dead and dangerous.

The favelas, Rio´s notorious ghettos are set amongst everything else, often occupying some pretty prime real estate, which makes them dangerously easy to wander into. It´s hard to really get a sense of them and I´m not interested in the voyerism of the guided tours which hostels can arrange. They are a presence which people tend not to speak about, a shifting shadow of violence against the carefree glare of Rio´s other life. From a distance though, they look a good deal better than pretty much every Bolivian city I have seen.

The other night, for want of somewhere better we drank on Copacobana beach in a bar which served as a meeting place for ageing men and prostitutes. The women sat on a bench at the edge of the street, looking bored, the guys sat drinking, waiting for the girls to choose them. It was a scene that seemed to get sadder as the night wore on, like the eyes of one black girl who feigned interest in a fifty year old German. What struck me most was the incredible falsity of the whole situation. "You pretend to like me" says the unspoken contract, "and I´ll pretend not to know you´re pretending." That amount of lying is like altitude, like a thinnning of the air.

According to Lonely Planet the line between promiscuity and prostitution in Rio is a thin one. There´s a New York chef staying at the hostel, maybe 45 years old, infamous for his Robert De Niro accent, and his dry, unreadable tone. I ran into him in the corridor one night, where he spoke at me for 20 minutes without breathing. He had been divorced for 12 years and he came to Rio to meet women it seemed, though it was unclear whether he had read the guide books advice on them. I had no idea whether to laugh or not.
"I just walk, you know" he told me. "I go on lot´s a dates. That´s what ya do in Rio. Just tonight, this one wanted to marry me"

One such date came back to the hotel with him a couple of days ago, but the chef was upset to learn that he coundn´t bring her inside.
"I know this woman", the owner of the hostel told him. " She´s a prostitute".

They sent her away, and she walked dejectedly down the street to a public telephone where she called the police and claimed that an American chef who had had sex with her was now refusing to pay. The police lights revolved in the hot Rio evening, ten feet from the hostel door while they straightened it out in full public view.

The small, white figure of Christ the Redeemer can be glimpsed now and again looking down on all this from his perch on the mountain. Up close he is huge and his eyes are curiously blank but his face is as gentle as a melencholy lover. I think perehaps his gaze is not so void after all, but is directed internally instead, where perhaps someone is drawing with furious concentration a system so complex it makes Rio look tiny.
 
The Randomness (Christmas Eve in Cusco)
The heart of Cusco is the elegant, beggarless Plaza Armas, surounded by exquisite wooden balconies and two almost miraculous churches, which sometimes step up into view and remind me that I must be dreaming. Cusco is the longest continuously inhabited city in South America, although most of the Inca buildings, including the king's palace which once stood where the cathedral is now, were smashed down by the Spanish. In an act of almost sublime colonisation, the very same rubble from the destroyed Inca buildings, was then used to build the churches which still stand, perfectly recasting Peruvian faith and history.

In the plaza, and the alleyways which lead off it and up the hill, the selling is relentless. Moving at night past the touts armed with their menus and deals, is like running a gauntlet. On a seat in the plaza, a quiet moment is impossible without a dozen people imploring you to buy their wares, eat their food, or take their tour.

Walk ten minutes from the plaza though and Cusco again reforms itself, the laws of necessity and ordinary life reassert themselves, the tour agencies dissapear and the city is once more inhabited by its own people. Strangely, people here seem immune to the shock of tourism which circles the heart of the city and climbs like a kind of ivy up the steep, cobbled alleyways and gradually diminshes.

A short walk from the centre allows you to enter what seems like a series of seperate cities; the still elegant colonial first ring, where the streets are jammed with women selling green vegetables and branches for some reason and where shoe-shining booths proffer their eight silver foot rests, and allow men to enjoy a few moments respite from the hustle. These respectable men dissapear behind reasonably pornographic newspapers while the shiners, seated on little stools, go to work on the leather with furious vigour.

In the central market nearby the butchery section overwhelms everything else. It is as if a hundred James Gleeson paintings have been intimately dissected and laid out in exquisite and grotesque order; a lexicon of bloody tissue, skin, toungues, organs, noses, teeth, nails, and true to the art, eyes, peering unexpectedly from pounds of flesh. Yet all this sits naturally beside shoe repair stalls, boiling pots of soup, underware stands and whatever else you could think of, while snotty nosed, gleeful children play hide and seek between it all.

Further out, the shops become barbers, television repair rooms or little eateries where the prices are 90% cheaper than in the centre. The road eventually dissapears altogether and becomes a blocked-off line of dirt and rubble, where boys kick balls and dogs sniff around for a place to shit. At a desk on the street, two people repaired an assortment of dolls, gluing and repainting with fine brushes.

An abandoned train line marks a further shift, from where rambling, mudbrick and tin houses, frozen in the postures of dangerous collapse, climb far off into the distance.

In another street market one man sold vegetables which looked like branches until cutting into them revealed a pinkish, whitish flesh. Another man called out their name and price through a megaphone, competing in the caucophony against half a dozen other megaphones, against the christmas music, against the Michael Jackson video clips, against the police whistles, the car horns and the smell of everything which was strong enough to be a sound itself. Up the hill, laid out on the ground in neat, fairly arbituary piles was the best collection of secondhand 'things' I have ever laid eyes on: taps and pipes and balls of string and broken watches and broken sunglasses and faintly eerie piles of used shoes, broken brooms, toilets, beds, kitchen sinks, coins, keys without locks, lock without keys, keyboards, irons, blenders, cameras, typewriters, clothes, gumboots, fireworks, tyres, disassembled bikes and cars, screws, belt buckles, axes, knives, the cuttlery someone just finished eating with, chains, books on sex, radios and a million other things which, even if I didn't see them, I wouldn't be wrong saying were there. Anything you could imagine wanting (or not wanting for that matter) you could get, as long as you didn't want it to work. Lone men struggled intermittently through the crowd with dubious looking televisions balnced on their heads.

The only public toilet I could find consisted of a room the exact size of four telephone boxes. At the entrance a boy folded toilet paper and sold it for 40 centimos. Three other compartments were sectioned off with blue plastic and contained a whole in the ground. When you finished doing what you were doing in the pitch black, a small girl filled a bucket of water from an oil drum and threw it in. This was all accomplished amid the impatient bustling of a dozen large women with no respect for the laws of an orderly line, and no problem wipping open the blue plastic to see if you were finished or not. Outside, in the left-over water a girl was washing a puppy to within an inch of its tiny life.

The idea of public art has long fascinated me. At home in Melbourne I have been trying to create installations which open up the possibilties of urban space in an increasingly commodified city. The other day, driving toward Cusco, the bus passed through a dusty little town. Across the railway tracks were three pool-tables at which a hoard of boys were fiendishly competing. Further along, in the wide, unsealed main street, almost in the middle of nowhere, a woman was standing beneath an umbrella. In front of her, piled high on a blue, wooden desk, were huge slabs of raw meat. A dog sniffed cautiously around the edges of the scene. I am still wondering what art can compare with these images, with the vitality, the randomness, the reality of the South American public space.
 
A further Invisible City (III)
In Estufa, The City of Justice, steam rises from the grates in the street. Sometimes it is smoke instead, it is difficult from a distance to decipher. Whichever it is, Estufa is a city of cloud, through which its inhabitants emmerge and dissapear, and one must listen carefully in order to determine whether he is surrounded by five people or five thousand. This task is complicated all the more when you consider the myriad screams, the stories, the weeping, the laughter, the gunshots and the conspiracies which, like the steam and smoke, rise up from beneath the ground.

Estufanians, true to their suspicious nature have introduced harsh penalties for those acting suspiciously and, in order to accomadate them, have constructed a vast prison system beneath the surface of the footpath.

The Prisoners, who are left to their own devices sometimes huddle together for warmth and the steam from their collective breathing rises and warms the inhabitants above. During the coldest months, the inmates build large fires around which they can cook and keep warm, and the smoke similarly rises into the streets of Estufa.

It is unclear whether the suspicious nature of the Estufanians is the result of their isoltated, uncertain existence in the city of smoke and steam and echoes, or the cause of it. However the facts remain; more and more prisoners are dying. The smell rising up makes us sure of this. Yet the prisons have never been so full. The sound of the arguments, the vendors, the music and the elections from beneath, makes it almost impossible for travellers above ground to sleep at night.

The pollution from the prisons hides the fact that the city's transition is complete: Estufa, The City of Justice, which has imprisoned itself under the ground.
 
The Rain in Cochabamba
Climbing through a wet night, towers of green on either side, I imagined we were travelling toward an ancient city sunk in a pocket of forest. In the middle of the night we waited for hours while soldiers undid our luggage, a procession of buses stretching each way further then we could see. Along this road an improvised, nocturnal community has sprung up, plastic and wood shacks which serve as both houses and shops - the smell of meat cooking, the intricate pyramids of soft drink bottles, plastic packets, fruit, and the shadows of people moving in the fire light, in the red and yellow lights of buses. A stray dog patrolled up and down for scraps or kindness. Children called out to us with chicken and water and Coca-Cola. I fell asleep and dreamt that I was in a large warehouse, where groups of soldiers were huddled in bunches, heads dipped together noislessly in conspiracy. They chased me out and I ran as if I was under water, searching to recognise my bus amongst the thousands.

On buses through the night, you wake from dream to dream.

Just after dawn, the bus conked out on the edge of a mountain. We watched as they improvised with plastic bottles and buckets and sharpened stones. Who knows how many original components remained in the engine amongst the assortment of found objects pieced together through the years? That the bus was still moving with this new system was surely the work of a greater genius than the invention of the original motor had required.

A family lived in two little huts which clung to the cliff where we were stalled. They kept two scruffy sheep, chickens, a couple dogs and two tiny pigs which one of the children, a boy of barely 4, bossed around and lead along with pieces of string attatched to their legs.

The city of my mind never materialised. Instead the forest gave way to dusty dehydrated plains, to Cochabamba - sprawling city of half built outskirts. Like other Bolivians, the people of Cochabamba seem an optimistic bunch, but their optimism doesn't seem to be matched by their perserverence; about 70 percent of the buildings remained unfinished, while the evidence of new ones being started is everywhere. Finished or not though, many of these houses lick up a fresh coat of paint every election year, in the colours of whichever party. Bolivia's tenuous political situation keeps things looking flashier than they otherwise might; on the 18th of December Bolivians will elect their 6th President in as many years.

In the centre of town the air smells of pop corn and hamburgers and the smoke from ritual fires which everyone seems to burn at sunset. The pungent smoke from these little smouldering pots literaly fills the shops so that the squinting attendants can barely breath, and it becomes almost impossible to tell what each particular shop is actually selling. I stumbled across an alley where people seated behind tiny, old, school desks will type up documents for you on typewriters, and a market where flies buzz over the raw meat while the butchers, all of whom are women, watch vaguely erotic mid-day soaps on miniature televisions built into the stacks of produce.

Tiny two hundred year old women wander around the streets grimacing with the weight of so many memories, the virtual screams of dying combatants leap out from video-parlours as you pass, grubby children play tired games in the dirt, and at night, like clockwork the thunder pounds the sky and the rain comes in.

Perhaps more than anything, Cochabamba can be defined by its rain, not because there's an unusual amount of it, but because it's a phenomenon made even more precious by the unscrupulous engines of corporate greed. In 1999, in order to facilitate debt repayments to the World Bank, Cochabamba privatised its water supplies, selling them to a company called Aguas del Tunari, a consortium most prominently owned by the American construction company Bechtel and the Italian energy company Edison.

Aguas del Tunari came to 'own' not only the water in the resevoirs, the rivers and the lakes within the catchment area, but also the water in the air; the rain, as it fell and when it landed. If you happened to live within the catchment area, which many people did, it became a crime to collect water from your own roof. The corporations first point of bussiness was to raise the price of water some 200%, thus forcing many rural poor in the region to choose between water and other neccesities, such as medicines. As reported by the Public Services International Research Unit, (a U.K.-based group that carries out empirical research on privatization) "the average water bill was estimated to equal 22 per cent of the monthly pay of a self-employed man and 27 per cent of that of a woman"*

The people of Cochabamba took to the streets in a series of demonstrations blockades, strikes and, increasingly violent protests where a number of people were killed or injured by police and military, and a state of emergency was declared. Eventually the government renegged on its contract and the people succeeded in regaining collective control of their own water. The issue of water remains highly politicised in Cochabamba and negotioations continue as Bechtel and co fight for a renumeration package of close to US $40 million. This from the poorest country in South America.


Related Links

* http://www.psiru.org/reports/Cochabamba.doc
http://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/agp/free/imf/bolivia/cochabamba.htm
http://www.democracyctr.org/blog/
 
A Further Invisible City (II)

Areus is a city of perfectly manicured verticals. Huge, smooth trees line the streets, perfectly distanced form each other. Every morning these trees are clipped and brushed and almost polished so that they resemble stone as closely as possible. Behind these lines of trees are the sky-scrapers, immense marble columns which peirce the clouds and are, more often than not, surrounded by a spiderweb of scafolding by means of which their constant renovation and expansion can proceed.

Unlike other cities nearby however, Areus' sky-scrapers are not filled with offices and desks and bureaucrats and meetings. Those that arrive there in the morning do not leave at sunset as they might in the neighbouring cities.

Instead these glistening, cold edifices are adorned inside with millions of black and white photographs, with real and plastic flowers, with trinkets and memorabillia; clay animals, favourite books, crucifixes, talismans, jewelery - and with the entombed bodies of the dead.

Areus has made a fetish, a religion and a life out of death. And as the years go on, the slum dwellings of the living give way a little more to these encroaching, impeccably stacked corpses.

It is said that only when the last living inhabitant has climbed to the top of the last sky-scraper and taken his own life in the final tomb, will the city be complete and the goal of all its lives accomplished. Then, once again, the world will belong to the trees. For it is also said, though always in whispers, in darkened rooms, that it is in the trees and not in the marble and glass tombs that the dead trully dwell - breathing the sky, breathing the earth. And perhaps the lives of the people of Areus will not have been in vain after all.
 
Mixed Feelings in Montevideo
If you arrive in Montevideo by boat, it is the tumbling, balmy streets of the old city which greet you first. The smell of the sea, the industrial machinery of the port, bare-chested fishermen along the sea wall, and whole families of children leaning from the colourful top windows of crumbling buildings, calling out hello. Things are drastically different if you arrive overland, where the lush green landscape gives way almost between blinks to the slummy low-lying outskirts, where the heat ceases to be tropical. That's the first contradiction in Montevideo, the first of many.

The old city is one of those places where time seems to have stopped. The buildings seem paused in the act of decaying, a Colonial patchwork on an almost tropical coast, the architecture eaten away by warm salt winds. It's the sort of place where men stand around chewing toothpicks, where dogs sleep in doorways, where kids still haggle with their grandparents for a coin to play some archaic pre-video machine.

The new city is dominated by one sleazy and fairly oppresive main strip, along which jostle crummy, brick appartment blocks, faded but wonderful Art Deco places and a number of buildings which look like giant replicas of air conditioning units. Young guys hand out ads for girls, and the sound of singing can be heard emminating from contemporary church groups. I wondered what it was about dark windows and white platic chairs that left me so spiritually cold.

Upon arriving I sat in a cafe in the old city, where the doors stood wide open to the sea air and the smoke off the street. Fans wobbled from the roof, dispersing the flies. You could ash on the floor or you could ask for an ashtray. Outside at the news stand, the papers might have been from ten years ago, or from ten years in the future and it woudn't have mattered. The news would have been the same whichever. It's the sort of place where things don't happen and life is slow, even tender in its worn ordinariness. Flies watch the street from inside the bars and old men stare into their drinks, hypnotised by their own indefinite misery.

Montevideo is often thought of as the runtish younger cousin of Buenos Aires. Yet it is a city with a very particular atmosphere of its own, one that is constantly alluding you, because the view around every corner defies what has come before. It is also a city where, for a few days last week, clusters of Australians were wandering around, with what I was at first tempted to describe as 'a particularly ordinary affability'. And though I have chosen not to decribe them in that way, they were there nevertheless, because the Uruguayan soccer team was to play Australia in the first of two qualifying matches for a place in the 2006 World Cup. And amongst their numbers, at some point, was me.

Someone spread the rumour that they were handing out free yellow t-shirts at the hotel where the soccer team was staying. I'm not sure who 'they' were but I was sure that it was coming out of our taxes. And so the Irish bar filled quickly with yellow clad Australians scrawling messages on each others t-shirts. "We love Uruguayan chicks", read one message, accompanied appropriately by a kind of drawing of a penis between two large circles which I took to be breasts. "John Howard hates you" read another, about which one insulted Uruguayan asked later, "Who is John Howard and why does he hate us?"

We walked to the stadium in lose gabbles, a little drunk, curiously looked at, smiled at, jeered at. Horns blurted from cars, thumbs pointed down. And it was amazing how little we had in the form of a ritual of any sort to bond us (though a surprising number of people knew a particular chant about a bear getting fucked). We really were a mottley bunch, Americans and Kiwis included, just as yellow as the rest. I can't say I wasn't embarrassed, but perhaps there was something telling in the improvised way we threw ourselves together, the ragged sense of comaraderie which sprung up.

It was strange the tinge of pride I felt though when they played the Australian National anthem, the gratitude I had for the dutiful respect the 70,000 Uruguyans paid it. The image of the the riot cop saluting as we sang, brought with it not only a kind of embarrasment for our own irreverence, but also a kind of awe too, fleetingly, for the idea of the Nation, despite everything done and being done in its name.

The organisination of people, the potential of a community to construct rational ways of helping each other had struck me as a kind of miracle a couple weeks earlier in Buenos Aires, watching the fire brigade arrive to put out a black, smoking blaze. How wonderful it was, I thought, that society organises for people to arrive in big trucks, that water systems have been constructed under the surface of the street for just such an occasion. Back home, there remains also something humbling about the lengths even our politicians have gone to in order to save the life of an Australian sentenced to death in Singapore. Heart warming even, despite the glaring inequality made manifest by the way we consider the life of 'one of our own' so much more important than the thousands of foriegners dying elswhere. Within the idea of The Nation, there remains still, the potential for great humanity. Yet without the practical and particular realisation of social justice and the nurturing of a specific culture, nations are reduced to a set of empty abstractions; in our case, mateship, egalitarianism, a fair go. These are notions which in contemporary Australia are now being shown to be, not only empty decorations, but outright falsehoods. The destruction of 'society' which is now taking place in Australia, is surely the destruction of legitimate nationhood. I pondered these things as we sung the few songs we all new, Walting Matilda, and Aussie Aussie Aussie, trying to make a dent in the wall of sound which came from the Uruaguans all around us.

Perhaps there is certainty in numbers, and we were well and truly outnumbered but it was interesting to note in comparison to the Uruguayans, the sort of uncertain, improvised relationship we each had to Australia, to each other, to the anthem. At times what was on display among our numbers was a kind of rabid patriotism, one that would have had a hard time explaining itself. Perhaps all patriotism is a bit like that, stronger than you expect and irrational. I don't know. But Later when I learnt of the crowds reaction to the Uruguayan anthem at the second game in Sydney I wasn't surprised. When you don't have a strong enough idea of what you yourselves stand for collectively, perhaps it's harder to respect the Idea of Another People.

I spent the day after the match, waiting in a round about way, for a bus back to Buenos Aires. I didn't have the slightest desire to go back to the hostel, where an assortment of Australian guys were still drinking and loudly, monotonously appologising to the girl at the desk for insulting her the night before. Instead I fell asleep in the sun, balanced precariously on the sea wall, waking intermitently to the ocean, twenty feet below on one side and to a high-way on the other.

Particularly on the weekends, this coastal area of Montevideo, gives the impression that something isn't quite right. In fact it seemed to me that this part of the city might have been built and abandoned by an entirely seperate race of people, and that the Uruguayans had moved one night, perhaps a little guiltily, into the bleak and empty Corbusier-style apartment blocks, and had invented a faith to fill the strange Pantheon-like churches which are surrounded by ragged palm trees.

The next morning I was so sunburnt I could barely open my eyes. I felt more Australian than ever. In Montevideo you are always happy to arrive, and just as happy to leave.
 
The Announcement from the Ministry
Jas and I are living a quiet life on the 4th floor, cooking polish peasant food, attempting to learn spanish, reading, and trying to write plays about how cruel the world is. This latter attempt has no doubt been aided by the kind efforts of the Australian Government and their latest plans to do away with all that outdated stuff about particpatory democracy. The buses below our window heave like old asthmatics, bottles smash in the night, the air is filled with barking as if all across the city there are entire soccer fields packed with abandoned dogs, and the sirens pour through the streets. On some mornings we wake to the sound of a horse drawn cart bearing two men and a megaphone, making incomprehensible announcements; a call to prayer or a call to arms I wonder from the end of my dream. We wake up groggily, as if from an opperation, and find ourselves in this city again.

The manager of our building, an old, jovial and generous man called Demetrio sits all night in the lobby, his body hunched over a small table with his ear to a tiny portable radio. He is the sort of man who slaps his thigh when he laughs, whose body unfolds and folds again with sudden, contagious joy. The other day he rewound the tape he had been listening to and held the little machine up for me to hear. It was a recording, apparently taken from the radio, of two men singing heartily in spanish. One of them was him.

At other times he is to be found watching the grainy black and white images of politicians on television. Our political exchanges are sadly all too brief. He speaks very little english and we, very little spanish. We are reduced to the pronouncement of political names and left with a kind of good will we don't have words to explore.

In the fruit shop around the corner the tiny old woman has a smile which seems to overtake her entire body. No doubt she thinks; "Here comes that semi-retarded couple again", when she sees us approaching, and she cackles hysterically as she listens to us fumble with these strange words: cebolla, berenjena, zanahoria, (onion, eggplant, carot). I used to think I knew something about words. Here, it is as if a certain previously infallible system, (which I took for granted) has been taken apart piece by piece, and reassembled using wholly unrecognisable components, the logic of which continues to ellude me.

Politics is everywhere in Argentina. Elections posters still cover almost every wall near where we live. The milky eyed and slightly awkward political portraits jostling for prominence, ripped away and built up again, maybe half an inch thick. The eyes of one candidate giving way to the mouth of another, the message of one impinging on the blond perm of the next, so that the streets have become a ragged, changing collage, a humerous, incomprehensible kind of scream. The other night I dreamt I met the conservative Argentinian politican Maricio Macri, whose face adorns many a wall and lamp-post, (sometimes with added fangs) and who is also the President of the Boca juniors soccer team and (scarily) the recent winner of the much prized seat of Buenos Aires. We had a long conversation about his right wing agenda (he spoke excellent English) wherin he admitted to knowing very little about politics at all.

It has been said that alcohol brings out the truth in people. Perhaps Argentinian politicians understand this, and fear it, because from 10pm the night before the election until the next night when the result is clear, it is illegal to buy or sell alcohol. It is however, common campaign practise to buy the votes of the urban poor with washing machines, TV's and, more notably, large quantities of drugs. Cocain, apparently does not adversly effect your decision making processes (although I hear it makes you think that things are better than they really are, in which case it sounds like pretty sound welfare policy).

The anti-Bush sentiment here is palpable. Even the newpapers give out free books taking the piss out of him. The streets are scrawled with graffiti and stencils, the over riding theme of which equates Bush with Hitler. The other day we attended a huge anti-Bush rally to mark Bush's attendence at the summit of the Americas, hosted by Argentina. A million anti-Bush pamphlets blew in the wind. There is such a things as preaching to the converted. Tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, marched down the Avenida de Mayo, singing, chanting, beating drums and carrying flags or weapons.

At regular intervals through the long rally marched slow, ominous lines of militant left-wing 'picaderos', their faces masked in scarves, bandannas or balaclavas. Each with a very hefty stick or a metal pole. As we passed the Mcdonalds, with its standard cordon of riot police, these fellas suddenly broke rank and hailed the police and the building with stones, bottles and fire crackers. The police hid beneath their shields and absorbed the attack, nothing else. Then waited for the next line of militants to do the same. If someone ran to scrawl another ubiquitous spray paint sentiment on a shop front, again these same guys, (mostly young men, but also women) would break rank and stand guard around them. They also patrolled the intersections where cars were banked up for hours waiting for us to pass, weapons swinging lazily in the growing wind. They fire bombed American buildings and smashed windows and add shelters and phone boxes. The televison news that night spent hours picking, with curious fondness, through every minute remant of destruction.
 
Return to the Vertigo
Return to the vertigo, to Buenos Aires a city of rust symphonies. Return to the energy and anonymity, where even the clouds speed, like the traffic, through the night sky.

On balconies which are built like dragons, I watch the streams of dissapearences. The city hung elegantly with wires, like an old machine. The day breaks apart on the corners of these buildings, invisable horses clatter past on the cobblestones, a taxi stops, the lovers kiss, two birds try to make love, watched by a shoe shiner. The dark flight paths of aeroplanes low overhead, like the air burning, the night picked apart by rubbish sorters, plastic bags hovering about the roads. Crowds of images, wave upon wave, retreat and return.

In Buenos Aires, I feel as if I have been handed many keys and given a city in which to use them. More often than not I am destined to wander, excluded by language, culture, self; and given to dream - to invent the lives behind the doors, to create sense amid the chaos, to imagine the stories emerging from between people's lips. And yet sometimes these keys click and turn in the lock, the doors actually open and I am able to stand, barely believing it, on the threshhold of the other side. The genorosity of people has been amazing and aquaintences fork like family trees - so that on occasions I have found myself in strange rooms talking to vaguely familiar people, and it is almost impossible to trace back in my mind the series of fortuities which led me there.

Most of the time not understanding spanish is incredibly annoying, like always being on the wrong side of a secret, like a city of slowly closing doors, of sillouettes in lighted rooms, of opportunities passing unnoticed ...wandering in an ecstasy and frustration of denial. Soon I will take my ignorance more seriously and begin some lessons.

I am staying with an American guy in a run down, torquise, long term hotel, where many children run chattering laps and stare boggle-eyed at us. It smells quite bad, but it's cheaper than it should be, and there's something improbable about us being there, which I like. I think in twenty years these children might have bizzare flash backs to the image of a strange man, sitting in a doorway reading and smoking. Ghost like.

The failures of my mind to stretch as far as I would like sometimes bother me, and there is always the job of strengthening that bridge between the eyes and the heart. But it is always a journey through subsequent, unexpected doorways. And that quick moment, when the other side materialises is worth everything.
 
In Patagonia
Waking up on buses to this landscape, exhausted, bewildered, was like being punched in the heart. I have spent more than a hundred hours on buses in the last two weeks, passing through this desolate, beautiful place, which felt for much of the time, like the end of the world.

At any moment I half expected to see Mount Doom rising from the horizon, something terrible to end the flatness, but found only Mount Dooms out-stations; the obligatory factories, oil refineries, like giant amateur science experiments (some with their own churces). Their is nothing quite like the slow motion trajectory of huge clouds of poisonous smoke illuminated in the night, in the rain.

More than once I have felt like Jonny Depp in Dead Man; watching the silent pantomine of the world pass me by. Images detached from meanings, played out with a kind of inevitability, untouchable, sureal and complete in their brokeness:

The rusted carcasses of ships, conked out on the stone beach and picked at by the wind.

White three dimensional metal crosses on hills, like minamalist sculptures taking the piss.

A bird inspecting the crushed body of its partner on the road.

The energy of passing busses, like a glimpse of death.

At the border crossing, on a the bus, a small girl pushing her face into the glass, and whispering: "Viva Chile"

The wretched stumps of burnt trees, like moss covered wrything bones, strewn across a battlefield.

The circling birds.

The shrines to the accident dead which line the highways, decorated with flags and flowers and crosses and plastic soft drink bottles.


It is enough to say that walking through the mountains when they finally let me out was extremely hard and incredibly beautiful.
 
The Ashes of Other Possible Cities
For the first days I felt as if I was walking around in someone elses dream, 33000 feet above the land. At Aukland Airport a Korean woman from Buenos Aires invited me to her house and her small son put his hand very gently on my shoulder and reminded me of myself when I was once young.

Flying into Santiago was like being in Star Wars where they zoom off to another solar system to have a chat with some funny looking so-and-so in a computer generated otherworld. The mountains wading around in the clouds looked like heaven and the land beneath looked like an old war zone, blasted and punched with rubbish and rubble.

For the first few days Santiago evaded me. I thought I had found the centre, the meaning, only to realise that I had been walking in tiny circles around a pot-hole. Roads that seemed promising, that beckoned with lights and excited crowds and old ruinous buildings materialised into dead ends. The lights were street lights or unenterable cold buildings and the crouds were waiting for buses. Other roads which I expected to peter out opened instead into whole cities in themselves. The smog hides the distance. The horizon,which for the most part is indistinguishable, suddenly appears as immense snow capped mountains - the Andes growing out of the sky like stone clouds.

But finally, gradually, Santiago has started to reveal itself. Its streets open and become plazas, squares, parks, mountains. Crumbling, morose buildings appear from nowhere, churches grow up from the weeds. There is a park which rises from the middle of the city, a stone mountain with blossoming trees which climbs into an old fort. From the top, beside a tiny church, the whole city blooms into view, grey beneath its skin of smog and stretching to the horizon. All the park benches are occupied by Chilean lovers who kiss flamboyantly. It is rare for people here to move away from their parents until they get married, so the park affords them their only privacy.

At the stop lights jugglers and breakdancers and girls twirling flags perform for coins and there is an underground toilet industry where two people are employed to sell the ticket and others to guard the turn-styles and validate your ticket for you and others to clean the mirrors and others to sweep the floor. They also have the peculiar custom of placing the toilet paper on the outside of the cubicle, just in case you don't need it...
 
a further invisible city
When you enter Salida, you are driven through streets almost entirely obscured by fog. Pale street-lights hang in the air but the poles to which they must surely be attached are invisible. You see a sign for the bus terminal, the crematorium, and the petrol station - lit up like a mirage. And perhaps between the fog moving darkly, what might be the occasional bodies of Salida's inhabitants; cautious suspicious shadows, always alone. Then again perhaps what you think you see are not people but dogs, slightly diseased and half frozen to death; or perhaps again what you are seeing is nothing at all, just tricks of the fog.

What has become of Salida's inhabitants, who trust only what they can see and who see nothing clearly?

Is it true that they rarely step outside into the invisable world, prefering instead to gaze out the windows toward what they beleive might be happening?

Or is the more likely true? That Salida's people dissapeared long ago, that the houses are empty and that the merchants who come to buy and sell spices, soccer shoes, key rings, animals - with the mysterious Salidans are exchanging their goods only with each other, oblivious to the ghost city all around them, whose inhabitants dissapeared, without even noticing.
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