Amores Perros


   On a bluff overlooking the jawdroppingly gorgeous town of Matanzas, one of the lost perros of Chile.

   When I first arrived in Santiago I noticed a lot of untended dogs, the majority with no collars, wandering aimlessly about town.  I asked about them and was told they were strays, or homeless.  How many?  Estimates range to over a million — and I believe it, because they're everywhere.  A high percentage appear to be some form of a Labrador breed, as if few other breeds existed here in Chile.  You don't see small dogs very often.  Of course, in the U.S. these dogs would be picked up by The Pound in a matter of days, if not hours, and then euthanized in 7 days if not adopted or claimed.  Here that would be, I've been told, unthinkable.  Yet, there's something interesting about these animals …

   In the U.S. all dogs are on leashes in urban areas — or are supposed to be.  And they're friendly, too friendly for my taste as they jump on you and slobber on you like you were their best friend, the dog owner's thinking that you're going to like their animal as much as they do.  Often the owners have to restrain their animals because they'll bark ferociously at you.  The dogs of Chile are totally different in temperament.  They'll come up to you, but they almost always stop a few feet away and hang their heads shyly.  They rarely, if ever, bark, and they never whimper or try to lick you or, God forbid, hump your leg.  The Chilean people are not affectionate with these animals that they've clearly abandoned to the streets — one winemaker explained to me that when citizens can't afford their animals — and it's all dogs, not cats — they just release them, figuring the populace at large will find a way to take care of them.  And they do, because, for the most part, the animals look pretty well fed.  Sure they're not particularly groomed because they're out roaming all day and all night, but they seem relatively content to me.

   But they look lonely.  Because they're not used to affection they don't beg for it.  They're quite humble.  Chileans are tacitly encouraged not to feed them, but they do anyway.  In some cities like Valparaiso the "problem" is so acute that garbage containers are mounted on poles so that the perros can't get to the food, but they find a way to do so anyways.

   I have come to the ineluctable conclusion that the Chileans treat their stray dogs like we treat our homeless.  We don't, for the most part, interact with them, but we give them money and clothes and try to help them out, and not totally disacknowledge their existence.  We wish they would go away and find a home, but we know that that's impossible, so we tolerate them.  Especially in Santa Monica where I lived for so many years.  However, in an interesting ironical twist, I truly believe the Chileans treat their homeless like we treat our animals.  I've spent enough time in the two major cities here — Santiago and Valparaiso — to conclude that homelessness (of the people kind) is virtually non-existent.  I can only conclude that the citizens, or their family, take them in.  Maybe there's a governmental program that I'm unaware of that helps them, but I just have not seen any sign of homelessness, certainly not like the kind I'm used to in my country.  We treat our dogs the same way.  There are nearly as many dogs in the U.S. as there are people — over 300 million.  And, for the most part, they are extremely well cared for.

   Maybe the Chileans have their priorities more in order than we Americans do.  It' just a thought, one which I'm sure will bring me grief for having voiced it.

Chile: Week One Notes

The Aubrey — Santiago, Chile

 It's been a whirlwind week:  interviews, social engagements, getting my phone unlocked and a new Chilean number (kind of cool).  Stayed the first few days in hip, student-y, Lastarria, a barrio in downtown Santiago.  The people are incredibly friendly, reserved in a way (which I like), and though I've been exhorted to hang on to my camera the admonitions feel like overkill.

   Santiago, at the foot of the Andes (where you can still see snow on its uppermost peaks), can be a congested city, but it has a terrific public transpo system.  Soon, I will be venturing out into wine country — there are more than a dozen famous valleys — Maipo, Elqui, Casablanca, to name but a few.  It's essentially May here in this antipodean city and the weather is very much like San Francisco or Sonoma, I would say.

   Right now I'm happily ensconced in The Aubrey, a beautiful boutique hotel set against a hillside near a park and the artsy, very bohemian — at night, raucous — barrio of Bellevista.  You can either choose to descend into the town or stay in the hotel where the food and other amenities are simply sublime.  I doubt it's going to get too much better than this in Santiago, though the weekend at an old aristocratic winery property was pretty stunning.

   I finally got my phone unlocked and now have Google Maps and a Chilean phone no. (which sounds kind of cool to write, for some reason).  In this virtual world we live in, being Internet-connected makes one feel less anxious about having left home.

   I don't miss:  L.A., its gridlocked traffic, its aspiring wannabes (God bless their beleaguered souls!) pounding the pavement with their scripts or head shots and other projects, the greatest Moths to the Flame city in the history of modern civilization.  I miss being at the theater on the weekends where Sideways the Play just closed after an astonishing, almost unprecedented, 6+ month run.  Insane wines poured for free at every performance, also unprecedented.  I miss talking to the patrons before the show, and the cast and crew after the performances.  I know they feel collectively sad that it's over — for now!

   Friday I leave for Valparaiso on the coast to visit the wine region of Casablanca and explore more of this geographically and topographically diverse country.


Lastarria, Santiago, Chile

   11.15.'12:  Arrived in Santiago after a canceled flight held me at LAX for a night.  Bags didn't make it with the connecting flight I was on out of Lima, Peru.  Sat in the VIP lounge of LAN Airlines in Lima and had a nice conversation in the middle of the night with an English-speaking Peruvian who waxed on and on about Lima being the culinary capital of South America.  I was introduced to Pisco sour — their national drink.  Pisco is a distillate made from fermented Muscat and is much like an eau de vie.  They mixed it here with lime and egg white and some other ingredients and make an interesting drink.

   I'm writing this quickly in diary style because I have to meet with Wines of Chile in an hour or so.  Yesterday, I conducted four interviews on only a few hours of sleep.  Then they had a big dinner in my honor at an unusual kitchen laboratory of sorts in an old part of Santiago that looked like what I imagine French Vietnam might look like. I'm staying in an apartment on Jose Victorino in Lastarria (see above picture), a hip, student-y area in downtown Santiago.  The street outside my door is lined with little cafes populated by students from a nearby universidad.  I found a wine bar that serves only Chilean wines and there were some amazing ones as there were last night, a standout being a Sauvignon Blanc produced from a vineyard only 2 miles from the ocean.  The winemaking went to UC Davis to study and spoke impeccable English.  (My Spanish is improving by the day.  Once I'll be able tel tell jokes in Spanish I'll be okay!)

   Today, I'll ride the subway for the first time.  Thursday I'll head to the coast of Valparaiso.  One of the actresses in my Sideways the Play (sad that I won't be at closing night this Saturday!), Kistelle Monterossa, is coming to Chile on Tuesday and I'll travel to Valparaiso — a coastal town that is supposed to resemble Venice, CA spliced with parts North County San Diego (Del Mar, Cardiff) and Malibu when you get to Vina — to have Thanksgiving with her parents.

   The weather is still cool here in Santiago.  The city can be smoggy and the traffic rivals L.A.  The Andes are visible to the east and are still snow-capped.

   More later after I get settled.