Second day of thirty days of consecutive writing
Recently we moved to Valparaiso, Marina and me. She got a great job here, but apart from that, we’ve been hoping for an opportunity to move out of Santiago and to Valparaiso since weeks before.
Places influence. We sometimes forget about that.
I had been living in Southern Spain for something between 2 and 3 years before. In Sevilla, I had learned to not expect things to move quickly, or on time, or at all. I had learned to be friendly no matter what the circumstances, to eat while sitting down. Culture of a place influences. Then I moved to a farm in the countryside, about an hour south of Sevilla. I learned to go slower, to respect the rhythm the weather imposes, to allow things to develop by themselves, or accept if they wouldn’t. I learned that some people can adapt to a certain context, others can’t. The teachings of a place.
In Andalusia, my body felt at home. I enjoyed the heat in summer and the cold in winter, the food, the rhythm of life, the alcohols, the quality of interaction between people.
From there I moved to Chile in April, following Marina. Santiago de Chile is a stark contrast to a farm in the foothills of the Sierra de Cadiz in Andalusia. A city of several millions with some of the heaviest contamination on earth. One of the highest consumption rates of anti-depressants on earth. A very busy atmosphere and cold style of interaction between people.
I do not want to say Santiago is a horrible place (too many people seem to enjoy it there) – but it was impressive for me to experience how bad a place it was for me.
Expecting this, I came to Santiago with an alert consciousness and curiosity how the city would affect me.
One of the first things I noticed was how I very quickly lost motivation to go running. In Andalusia I had begun smoking occasionally. In Santiago I lost every taste for it – apparently my lungs knew that it was enough of a challenge just to breathe this air.
Santiago is a very colorless city, especially in the medium-higher-class area that we lived in. Going out there was nothing that my eyes would fix on that would be beautiful, or original, or even interesting. There were just houses and streets and cars and busy people. After one or two days, I would put on my headphones the moment I stepped out of our apartment – until I arrived at the place I was walking to. It seems I didn’t want to hear, see, think about or interact at all with the place I was in.
I noticed how over the month I stayed there, my energy began disappearing slowly. I’d spend more time inside, watching more movies. I didn’t really want to read, or write, or do anything creative. I felt like I had to move, but there was no taste whatsoever to go out and actually move.
I’m afraid that a chilean person reading this will take this as an offense to their capital. That is absolutely not my intention, rather recording my reaction to it. I know other people are different and react differently. At the same time, I have not seen many people openly happy, or emotional in any way. I have had more unfriendly encounters in Santiago in a few weeks than I had in Spain over years. Maybe there is something generally unhealthy about some places, just some people are more able to endure its effects than me.
I met someone at the end of my stay in Santiago. She told me how a chinese medicine practitioner had explained to her how the geography of Santiago (a city in a valley, surrounded by high mountains) creates an atmosphere of depression in the city. I’d be curious to learn more about it.
Since about 2 weeks I am in Valparaiso. Valparaiso is a city of 300.000 people by the Pacific Ocean. It reminds me a bit of Lisbon with more color. Houses in Valparaiso have been painted in all colors, apparently in order to tell one from the other, since originally there were no streetnames and numbers. Many houses have huge murals on their walls, very artistic graffitis. Also it is incredibly dirty, full of waste and dog shit.
Being here for only a short time, I notice how energy comes back. The views on the ocean, the colors in the houses, maybe the geography. People smile more, enter in contact more easily, are less reserved and less likely to react negatively in public.
Since we’re here, we’re wondering what is the difference. It’s about an hour and 15 minutes drive between Valparaiso and Santiago. It’s roughly the same people. It’s roughly the same culture. But it’s worlds apart.
Places influence – but what is it about a place that they have such a strong influence? What is the first influencer? Geography? History? Culture?-(Whatever that means) Colors in the street? Art?
I’d be really curious if anyone has any deeper insights on this, because I’m lost in the complexity of it.