So it is day 5 already, I can’t believe it’s nearly halfway, it feels like the adventure is only just beginning! Mainly because I feel I am left with more questions than answers. Valparaiso is a place that is so busy in so many ways, but wondering round this big splash of colour, you begin to think about the larger view, and so question everything.
I shall start at the beginning. When I interviewed for this fellowship, I had put my proposal in for Valparaiso. When explaining why I had chosen here, one of the reasons I gave was the strong similarities I had noted between here and where I am from; Liverpool. Now you might think I am a little strange here but here are my reasons.
Both cities are port cities. Port cities are unique. They will have strong histories within trade circles but also the social histories unique to ports, such as migrants, unruly sailors and links to crimes; such as illegal gambling and prostitution.
They had both faced the boom times, riding high as centres for wealth. The trappings of these found mainly in the architecture left behind. With the boom, came bust. Both cities suffered at the end of their golden eras and in many ways have had to change their purpose, both using tourism as a way to reinvent itself.
Here in Valparaiso, the locals are called porteneos, they are a very different breed of person according to other Chileans. You can experience this on the streets. They are visibly hardworking and proud. A wheelchair bound man shines shoes for a living. He places a huge pride in his work and refuses outright charity or help, even to get back in to his chair. The fire service is all voluntary, a position that commands great respect. The politics of the city is predominantly left wing, protesting through graffiti is commonplace. Porteneos are adaptable and reflexive, ready to embrace the challenges regardless how hard.
Today it was really hot, unusually hot for winter, so after walking the route to the open air museum and taking pictures for about 4 miles, I headed to the port to go on a boat ride. This is another of the ways in which porteneos have turned towards tourism, fitting out old fishing boats for pleasure cruises for tourists. It was great to see Valparaiso from a different angle, almost in its entirety; left to right, port side to the top of the cerros.
I found myself wondering why is it here that the communities, up on the cerros, are all accepting of street art. The guide yesterday suggested it was a better alternative that tags, and I’m sure that may be true now, but how did this begin? Porteneos are obviously creative people, they can turn careers as sailors in to tour guides, they work as house painters by day and artists by night. Maybe the street artists allow community expression through street art. After all it is illegal here, but if an owner invite or allows an artist it is fine.
This may explain why so many pieces tell stories of the area and the local Chilean people. If the art explains them, is about their collective pasts, then it brings a multicultural, somewhat fractured community together. Through boom and bust.
Life and death..
A celebration of the tribes from the north and the tribes from the south meeting within this area