Monday, January 31, 2011

RIP Charles

I first met Charles Nolan in the Fire Island Pines on July 4, 2005, during the annual Invasion. I was wearing a very cheap lavender lace dress I had purchased at the Ice Palace in Cherry Grove couple of weeks earlier, but the sultry summer weather quickly did a number on the mascara and blush a drag queen had quickly applied to my face before we boarded the ferry. Charles, who was standing alongside my Fire Island News publisher on the Pines dock, officially welcomed me into the hamlet after Nicole introduced me as her East End reporter.

From his and Andy's annual July 4 lobster bakes at their oceanfront home to Pines Party and Ascension and the steady stream of politicians who came to the beach, Charles always made me feel welcome in the Pines. He was one of the people who made the beach such a special place for this reporter. And I simply cannot imagine Fire Island without him.

My deepest condolences to Andy, Charles' friends and family and everyone on Fire Island and elsewhere who know and love him.

Another Boston snowmance of sorts

My latest trip to Boston did not feature a blizzard-induced transportation meltdown, but the deep snow pack certainly reminded me why I should have stayed in Chile.

Here are some pictures I took around Boston on Sunday, Jan. 30.

The Back Bay skyline from Arlington Street.

Arlington Street along the edge of Bay Village.

Melrose Street in Bay Village.

Near the intersection of Stuart Street and Columbus Avenue.

Along Newbury Street.

Along Newbury Street.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Egypt, Uganda and the global village

The ongoing anti-Hosni Mubarak protests in Egypt and to a somewhat lesser extent Ugandan gay activist David Kato's murder have made headlines over the past week. And both stories raise questions mere sound bites and tweets cannot answer. Who will prove a suitable alternative to Mubarak if his regime falls? Should anti-gay American evangelicals who operate inside Uganda be held accountable for Kato's death? And should Americans even care about these and other events that take place thousands of miles away from the homeland?

My friend Paul became an American citizen at Boston's Faneuil Hall on Thursday, Jan. 27. One of the most poignant parts of the ceremony was when the judge asked the new citizens to stand after he called out their countries of origin: Angolans, Brazilians, Haitians, Jamaicans, Sierra Leoneans, British and Egyptians--yes, Egyptians--were among them. This simple, yet powerful act once again demonstrated the world is a global village. And Egypt, Uganda and other countries that continue to dominate headlines are not as far away as one may naively think.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

State of the Union from Penn Station

Another snowstorm has altered this winter-weary writer's travel plans, but the free wifi at Amtrak's passenger lounge here at Penn Station allows some quick reflection on last night's State of the Union speech.

Speaking from a purely LGBT perspective, President Obama had his own "mission accomplished" moment with his proclamation gays and lesbians will begin to serve openly in the armed forces this year. Anyone who actually thinks the commander-in-chief will go out on a limb for marriage equality and other LGBT-specific issues ahead of a presidential election year is simply naive and/or stupid. Obama did, however, throw a bone to the GayTM that largely continues to enthusiastically back him.

The State of the Union is a political spectacle that occurs every January on Capitol Hill, but Obama delivered his speech under the backdrop of the aftermath of the Tucson massacre, a sluggish economic recovery, high unemployment rates and millions of Americans who continue to struggle to stay in their homes. The commander-in-chief arguably struck a chord with moderate voters who actually expect their elected officials to get something done. The primary season is a little more than a year away...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Serial killer on Long Island?

Suffolk County officials announced earlier today they have identified three women whose remains were found on Gilgo Beach last month.

Authorities identified the women as Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, of Norwich, Conn.; Melissa Barthelemy, 24, of Buffalo, N.Y.; and Amber Lynn Costello, 27, of North Babylon, N.Y. Investigators identified Megan Waterman, 22, of Scarborough, Maine, as the fourth woman whose remains were found in the same area on Dec. 13.

Some media outlets and blogs have incorrectly reported the women's remains were found on Fire Island, but Suffolk officials are offering a $5,000 reward for any information that leads to an arrest in this case.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Adios from the edge of the world

Originally written while sitting on the terrace of our room at Medio Mundo in Algarrobo around 9:10 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 17.

The sun has largely burned away the early morning clouds. Swells continue to break over the rocks. And a couple and their toddler age daughter just sat down for breakfast on the patio beneath our terrace.

One can truly appreciate the inspiration Pablo Neruda took from the ocean by simply sitting on our room's terrace—or watching the sun set into the Pacific as waves crash just a few feet away. Chile literally clings to the edge of the South American continent. And while certain things about the country are certainly less than ideal, sitting on this terrace writing this last dispatch before beginning the long trip back to New York proves the edge of the world can prove particularly breathtaking.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A remarkable recovery amid unanswered questions

Less than two weeks after Jared L. Loughner allegedly shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords [D-Ariz.] in the head outside a Tucson supermarket, the fact she could leave the hospital as early as tomorrow is nothing short of remarkable.

I first learned about the shooting—and the fact Loughner allegedly murdered six people and wounded 13 others—when I glanced at El Mercurio’s front page after I bought it at a newsstand a few blocks from our apartment in Santiago on Jan. 9. My boyfriend and I did not fully understand what had happened—let alone whether Giffords had even survived the assassination attempt—until we logged onto the New York Times’ Web site later that night. The full extent of what happened in Tucson left us deeply disturbed, saddened and angry.

El Mercurio published front page articles about the massacre and it’s aftermath in the days after it happened. CNN Chile broadcast clips of President Obama speaking at a memorial service in Tucson on Jan. 12. And local television stations also included stories in their evening newscasts.

As we tried to follow what was happening back in the United States, some questions came to mind. These included whether the country’s heated political rhetoric prompted Loughlin to allegedly kill six people and wound Giffords and 12 others on Jan. 8, whether U.S. Sen. John McCain [R-Ariz.] should have cancelled his trip to Chile immediately after the Tucson massacre and whether former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin actually has the ability to decline an opportunity to garner self-serving attention. The answers to these questions and others will continue to reveal themselves in the coming weeks and months. That said, however, it remains imperative to remember those who lost their lives and to keep Giffords and other survivors in our collective thoughts as they continue to recover.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

An acknowledgment of a not so distant past

El Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos in Santiago provides a stark and sobering reminder of Chile’s not so distant past.

General Augusto Pinochet led the coup that toppled President Salvador Allende on Sept. 11, 1973. The Chilean government has documented 3,185 people who were either executed or disappeared during the 17 years Pinochet was in power. The regime also tortured another 28,459 people.

Political prisoners’ letters and passports, unclassified Central Intelligence Agency documents, death certificates, news reports, videos that show the bombing of La Moneda during the coup and a device used to torture those the regime had detained are among the artifacts on display inside the museum. A photograph of men who were brought to Estadio Chile in Santiago immediately after the coup is particularly haunting. Poet Victor Jara was among those brought to the stadium, and the Chilean government’s Truth Commissions said he was among the 587 people who died in Sept. 1973. Another 273 people disappeared and 12,737 were taken into custody and tortured during the weeks after Pinochet toppled the Allende government.

The miraculous rescue of the 33 trapped miners near Copiapó last fall, vineyards, Santiago’s expanding skyline and even Chilean gastronomy clearly demonstrate Chile is a forward-thinking country. That said, however, the museum—and especially the photographs of those who died during the Pinochet era that hang inside of it—demonstrates the Chilean government is willing to acknowledge a very troubling part of the country’s history. And it also stands as a stark reminder of the collective responsibility to strongly repudiate those who seek to deny their fellow man or woman their basic dignity and human rights.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A glimpse into Colchagua´s gastronomy

El Club Social is the center of Santa Cruz´s gastronomical world. Tortillas de porotos verdes (green bean omelettes,) empanadas de queso (cheese empanadas,) lengua a la plancha (grilled tongue,) choclo (corn,) and a myriad of other traditional Chilean dishes can be had al fresco under the patio covered with grapevines that block the strong summer sun. And a bottle of wine from the Colchagua Valley compliments these dishes perfectly.

In many ways, the Plaza de Armas, on which el Club Social is located, is the heart of Santa Cruz. The Hotel Santa Cruz Plaza is adjacent to the Club Social, but the plaza itself buzzes with activity--children playing alongside the small fountain, locals gossiping among themselves, people eating pistacchio ice cream or eating maní (peanuts) or simply relaxing after sunset.

The earthquake that shook Central Chile last February largely destroyed the church that had stood along the south side of the plaza. Hotel Santa Cruz Plaza itself sustained serious damage. The Montgras vineyard outside Santa Cruz lost hundreds of thousands of gallons of wine because the earthquake topped the tanks in which it had been stored. And several vacant lots that once contained homes dot the road leading into Santa Cruz.

(I wrote this blog on the first anniversary of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people in the Haitian capital and in surrounding areas. Port-au-Prince and environs remain in ruins. In comparison, the earthquake that struck off the Central Chilean coast on Feb. 27, 2010, was 8.8 on the Richter scale. The tremor and subsequent tsunami killed more than 500 people, but one astute traveler pointed out there are no blue tarps in sight here in Chile.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Vino con vistas lindas en Valparaíso

One can literally describe Valparaíso as a city on the edge.

Ascensores (elevators) transport visitors and residents alike from el Plan into the colorful neighborhoods that precariously cling to Valpo´s steep hillsides. Murals along Calle Templeman in Cerro Alegre capture snapshots of daily life, while dogs and even the occasional cat in heat bask under the sun along the steep cobblestone streets. Colorful façades and tile and tin rooftops dominate the ondulating landscape. The one constant, however, is the sweeping vistas of Viña del Mar and the Pacific Ocean that literally appear at every turn.

Café Turri on Calle Templeton is the perfect vantage point at where one can appreciate the view over congrio (a local species of eel), machas a la parmesana (razor clams with Parmesan cheese), ensalada chilena (salad with peeled tomatoes and thinly sliced onions with a pinch of salt) and sopa marisca (soup with shellfish.) A bottle of locally produced wine is the perfect compliment to this lunch overlooking the azure Pacific Ocean on a beautiful (and smog free) afternoon along the Chilean coast.

¡Buen provecho!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Santiago on Sunday

Cafés are certainly a great place to soak up a particular city´s street life, and Buonaroma Café near the Tobalaba Metro station is as good a place as any to watch Santiaguinos pass the time on a warm Sunday morning in January.

A handful of middle aged men were drinking cappuccinos while reading the newspaper and smoking their cigarettes. An elderly couple was talking with their grandchildren on their cell phone. And a woman with perfectly coiffed hair shamlessly flirted with the handsome waiter after she finished her beer (before noon.)

Santiaguinos literally abandon their city on summer weekends, but they trickle back to the capital on Sunday night.

Bellas Artes slowly came to life after sunset. Young (and some gay) Santiaguinos enthusiastically talked among themselves over a beer, a coffee, a milk shake or a small sandwich along Calle Monjitas near el Parque Forestal and Santa Lucía. The garbage truck that suddenly pulled up alongside our table brought our late dinner to an abrupt end, but at least the city of Santiago bothers to collect its trash (unlike a certain city in which this traveler lives.)

A stroll through The Clinic on Monjitas provided a kitsch-filled end to the evening. Hundreds of Santiaguinos were enjoying their beer and late-night snacks al fresco or on the back patio. The restaurant´s irreverency, however, was it´s most charming asset. And the poster of President Sebastián Piñera as the Rainman was simply priceless.

Overlooking Santiago from a friend´s roof near the la Escuela Militar.

Santiago from Cerro San Cristóbal.

Sugar cubes at Café del Museo.

The copper facade of Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral in Santiago. This was featured in the New York Times on Saturday, Jan. 8.

Street art in Bella Vista.

Mocachino at Buonavista Café near El Bosque.

Viven los 33 mineros en Bella Vista.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Smog, national pride and wine

I can hear jackhammers and traffic in the distance as I write this blog, but Calle Helvecia is quiet on this sunny Saturday morning here in Santiago.

A few things immediately stand out about the city: The smog that immediately stung my eyes and caused me to cough in the car leaving the airport yesterday morning is oppressive, the Andes loom over Santiago (when one can see them through the smog) and Chileans are extremely proud of their country and what it has accomplished over the last few years. The Chilean flag is prominently displayed at several intersections throughout Santiago. And even employees at the supermarket near our apartment have the flag sewn into their shirts.

From the point of view of someone who has never been to the country, Chileans are certainly looking towards the future. They want to prove to the world they are a force with whom to be reckoned. And one can easily conclude Santiago´s increasingly impressive skyline proves Chile has arrived.

BTW Chilean wine, apricots and cherries are three additional things that make Chile great!

Sunrise off the northern Chilean coastline.

The Andes as LAN 533 approaches Santiago.

Santiago from Andres´ cousin´s car.

The Andes foothills from the roof of our building just before sunset on Friday, Jan. 7.

The Andes foothills from the roof of our building just before sunset on Friday, Jan. 7.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

¡Viva Chile!

A quick note to let everyone know I leave for Chile tonight. I will return to New York on Tuesday, Jan. 18, but I plan to post pictures and travelogues from Santiago.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Chile to extend legal protections to same-sex couples?

Is Chile poised to extend legal protections to same-sex couples?

Members of a right-wing political party have reportedly acknowledged same-sex couples in the South American country suffer discrimination. The Independent Democrat Union's 1991 and 2009 platforms explicitly define marriage as between a man and a woman, but neighboring Argentina allows gays and lesbians to the the knot. And Uruguay could potentially follow suit.

Is this reported potential overture a baby step towards equality for gay and lesbian Chileans? One Chilean gay rights group scoffed at the idea the IDU would encourage unmarried couples to formalize their unions as a means to strengthen traditional marriage.

"Here we are talking about the dignity of two million people who live together," said Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual (Movilh) in a statement posted to its Web site. "We are talking about love and its impact and the UDI wants to impose marriage as the only option for heterosexuals and in the process deny it--only based on homophobia--to homosexuals. Conservative visions like this, that correspond to religious interests, violate the secular state."

Monday, January 3, 2011

Bushwick goes to the trash

Happy 2011!

The snow has begun to melt here in Bushwick, but the city's sanitation crews only resumed garbage pick-up earlier this morning. The blizzard buried the five boroughs a week ago, but trashy remains an apt word to describe Bushwick.