“The Avocado Republic of Chile, because it’s too Cold to Grow Bananas” is laugh-out-loud funny and insightful. American writer, Walker Rowe, sick of the pollution and noise in Santiago moves to the country for peace and quiet. What he did not know is when you move to the country, you exchange one set of problems for another. Click through the arrows to read.
29 September 2014.
Most people know what a Banana Republic is, especially as one San Francisco retailer has adopted that name as its own: The Banana Republic. A Banana Republic refers to the political and social instability and corruption of countries where it just so happens that they grow bananas, like Ecuador. In such countries the president or dictator usually leave offices in a helicopter, one step ahead of the raging mob.
Woody Allen made fun of Banana Republic in his movie “Bananas,” in which he plays the dictator of a Banana Republic.
But Chile is not Ecuador. It is far more stable and has working political institutions. Plus there is a smaller gap between the rich and poor than in, say, Paraguay.
Chile is a member of the OECD, Organization of Economically Developed Nations, and home to some of the world’s safest banks. Yet there is much here that a writer would say is dysfunctional. I am here to explain that.
This is not a travelogue, a book filled with lists of places to stay and places to go. You can find plenty of those on the internet or buy a book filled with pictures and maps from Fodors. Instead, what I am trying to do here is write something like George Orwell would have written: make a point with satire and do it from the vantage point of actually being there.
I live here now, having moved from The United States in 2011. I first came to Chile in 2005 to work at a winery, where I wrote a book about my adventure there. So I have spent a decade here on and off. Now I work as a freelance tech writer and live in the country 50 km outside Santiago. My wife lives in our apartment in Santiago. She says I live like a bohemian hippie. That might be true, but I have earned the right to live where I want and work when I want to having worked 30 years in cubicles all across the USA traveling 15 years for business. Now she understands this.
When I first moved here, I joined the huddled masses in Santiago and took the subway to work twice a day just like millions of other workers. In the country I am free from all that. I plant a garden and have room to stretch out, breath clean air, and reflect upon the world around me and the country where I live. I have no car; I ride a bike.
I want to share with you what Chile is really like, so that if you come here and visit you will have a deeper understanding of the culture that lies beyond the impressive geography. I have always felt that one should read a country’s writers before one goes there or at least read something besides a colorful travel guide. So in addition to reading my book you might read a novel by Roberto Bolaño or some poems by Nicanor Parra (Cervantes Prize), Pablo Neruda (Nobel Prize), or Gabriela Mistral (Nobel Prize).
If I had to compare this work to another it would be Peter Mayle’s “Toujours Provence,” a funny look at living in Southern France and a culinary tour. I still laugh when I recall that one of Peter’s neighbors in Provence put up a sign that said “beware of snakes” to try to keep German campers away. But this is no culinary tour. There’s no point: Chilean food is boring and bland. Go somewhere else if you want something good to eat. Instead of exploring the menu, or the lack of a palatable one, I will introduce you to my neighbors, in particular Oscar, whose life is a constant source of amusement.
There is a TV show here each Sunday called “Santiago is not Chile,” which is the point I want to make. It would be dull to write about the city, because I find one city just like another: too many people in one place. If you are 20 years old and into the bar scene, cities are a thrill. Now, I can’t stand the noise, and my back hurts if I stand too long in a bar. I spent two years commuting to New York City and lived for 12 years in Washington, so I have had my share of martinis and velvet ropes. I had a farm in Virginia where I lived for 10 years planting wine grapes and raising goats. I am happier here in the country, farming like my father taught me.
So relax and read and let me take you on a tour of The Avocado Republic. Then judge for yourself whether Chile will soon be a developed nation, as the politicians say, or whether it is just another backwater Banana Republic, ripe for the next revolution.
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