This coming week, and the 18th of September in particular, is very important to Chileans. Although the unofficial celebrations usually last a whole week, las Fiestas Patrias really is a two day holiday, commemorating two important events in Chilean history. The 18th of September memorializes the proclamation of the First Governing Body of Chile in 1810, which started Chile’s independence process, and the 19th, called the “Day of the Glories of the Army”, honors the Chilean military. The Fiestas Patrias are often referred to as simply the Dieciocho, because that is when the holiday is celebrated officially. But as I said earlier, Chileans usually celebrate (read, party) for the entire week, and most schools and universities declare a weeklong holiday (Universidad Católica, where all of my classes are, unfortunately only grants its students a reprieve from the tedious business of learning until Thursday of next week). Traditional Chilean foods, like empanadas and choripanes are eaten, especially at the large party areas, called fondas, scattered all over the city. Fondas can be more family oriented, with children running everywhere and with more stands, shows and competitions that the whole family can enjoy (these are usually open during the day and close at night), or more like giant carretes, where the alcohol flows freely and the music blasts loudly, and which are open much longer into the night. It usually costs around 4000 to 6000 to enter a fonda, although of course you can always find cheaper or more expensive ones – and the entry prices sometimes vary depending on the time of day One certain fonda, for example, costs 3000 pesos during the day, but 12,000 night. The fact that they cost money is to keep out some of the more “undesirable” elements, and indeed we were warmed that the largest free fonda can get quite danger at night. But generally that is not the case, as they are simply places where families and people of all ages can enjoy the festivities and share their pride in their country. Also, it is law that every house has to display a Chilean flag during this time (with up to an $80 fine for failing to do so, though it’s not very strictly enforced), and most Chileans put up the flag at the beginning of September (at that time you could see them springing up everywhere). It’s also a national work holiday, which means practically everything is closed. We ate all the bread at my house (my host mom had bought a lot before las Fiestas Patrias … but we are hungry people, my host family and I!), and she just told me that she would try to find some place selling bread, without much hope in her voice.
Also important to Chileans is the day exactly a week prior to el Dieciocho, the 11th of September, which marks the anniversary of the coup d’etat of 1973 that removed Salvador Allende from power and ushered in the Dictatorship that would last until 1990. On this day, various groups usually hold a number of demonstrations, which tend to be of the rather hairy type. In fact, both IFSA-Butler and the Foreign Student Organization of Universidad Católica recommended going home between 4 and 5 in the afternoon and then staying there, in order to avoid the unrest. I followed their advice, going home earlier than usual (though my real reason was so that I could watch the Austria vs. Germany soccer game, shhh don’t tell anyone), and not venturing out at all the rest of the day. This was a smart choice. The next day I found out that 255 people had been arrested, and one police officer had been shot to death, with a further 26 wounded.
This Wednesday I had the luck to be able participate in Universidad Católica’s Fiesta de la Chilenidad at Católica’s San Joaquín’s campus, where most of my classes are. As it was in the sports area of the campus, my soccer class was cancelled, a fact that also gave some time to actually spend at the festival before my 2 o’clock class halfway across the city. As you can see in the pictures, there were quite a lot of people there. It had a very carnival like atmosphere, and the soccer field on which it took place was ringed by little stands where you could play games – I saw my soccer professor (feels weird to say that, I must add) leading one of those games where you try to kick a soccer ball through holes cut into a tarp – buy empanadas and chorpipanes. There was a big stage too, where various music groups were playing, and some dance groups preformed traditional dances. There was also a lot of cueca – the Chilean national dance – to go around. They even announced a cueca workshop that I was unable to attend because I had to leave for my class at Campus Oriente.
On Saturday, I went to a real, official fonda (in fact, it was the official one of Providencia, the comuna of Santiago in which I live) in Parque Inés de Suárez, a park only 15 minutes from my house. I had often walked past it when on my way further into the center of the city, but I never realized how large it actually is. The place was packed with people, and the fair itself actually spilled across the street onto another green space. It cost 2700 pesos to enter, which is rather cheap compared to others I have heard about. It was really nice, with lots of stands selling traditional Chilean crafts and other artisan goods along with plenty games for kids and a smorgasbord of places to eat. Empanadas were ever present, of course, but one section of the huge park was filled to the brim with little make-shift pastry shops. Although I didn’t really have any money with me to spend (I was there mainly for the atmosphere and to check it out; it was my first fonda after all, I wanted to see what it was like. Plus, it’s open until the 19th, so I have plenty of time to back, which I may just have to), it certainly made my mouth water. I met up with some people from IFSA-Butler and we made the rounds, perusing the goods the venders had to offer. It was a lot of fun to see everything on offer, especially because it was all of such high quality. There were plenty of leather products for sale, along with many things made of copper (Chile’s “traditional” metal – its biggest export), and a surprising number of knitting needles and yarn. On a large green space – where there was also a stage set up, where a cueca dancing competition was going on – there were children flying kites. All in all, it was a great experience, and it was really cool to see all the Chileans celebrating their history. I hope the pictures can give you an idea of how popular – and how fun – this fonda seemed to be!
Also, my host brother Benja (the younger of the two) danced the cueca in a competition at his school. I was unable to go watch him, even though I wanted to very much, because I had class, so he decided to dress up in his cueca outfit the day before, so that I could what it was like. And I must say, it was pretty bacán (cool)! For the cueca, Chilean males usually dress up as a huaso, or Chilean cowboy (whose Argentinean equivalent is the gaucho). Only the most dedicated (which is what Benja is. He’s really good, or so the family has been telling me) actually dress themselves all the way up because the clothing can be quite expensive. Benja told me that the most expensive piece of the ensemble is the hat, followed closely by the boots and spurs. Oh and he got second place. Nice, right?
That’s all for now! I might write another shorter post this week, because I am planning on visiting some museums during my time off from school and will definitely bring my camera along!
P.S. I finally got my Tandem partner! Tandem is a program through the Católica where foreign students are partnered with Chilean students of the university, as a sort of conversation buddy type of thing. The foreign student pledges to help his or her partner with a language that student feels at ease communicating in, and the Chilean student pledges to help with his or her partners Spanish. I had gotten a bit worried because the other IFSA students here had already gotten their partners quite a bit earlier, but upon meeting my Tandem, I found out that was probably because he actually only came back to Chile toward the end of August, as he had studying abroad in Germany. His full name is Hans Wolfgang Schlechter Stecher, but he usually goes by Hans Schlechter. He is a Civil Engineering student in the last year of his studies. After graduation, he wants to work in Germany, which is why he is learning German. His very German name is explained by the fact that his great grandparents on his father’s side only came from Germany just before the Second World War, and that his mother’s side of the family has Austrian roots (though they go much further back – his great-great-great-great grandfather, a lawyer, came to Chile in the 1820s.). His parents, unfortunately do not speak German, but they did give both of their sons very German names (his brother’s name is Rudolf). I’m excited to help him with his German, and I hope that he can help me improve my Spanish!
P.P.S. I really wanted to include some videos I took of some traditional dances and music, along with a group of people dancing the cueca, at the Fiesta de la Chilenidad, but the uploading is taking forever, and the internet is a bit spotty, and I have to start from scratch when it goes for even a little bit. I hope you do not take too much offense! The pictures are scant comfort, I realize, but I hope you enjoy them all the same!