Those who have been reading this blog from the beginning know that I took this picture of the Santiago skyline from my friend A.'s balcony in 2006. When I wasn't looking, the PhotoShop monster attacked it and made it look like this:
For a long time, I've been meaning to take a camera over to A.'s and snap a shot of the exact same patch of sky to see how much has changed. Regardless of whether or not it would be evident in that particular photograph, the area has undergone significant transformations in recent years. The low rooftops of old houses and modestly sized apartment buildings now hunker in the shadows of towering high rises. When I used to live in the neighborhood, I looked on through narrowed eyes as the most garish of them all -- which I began to refer to as "El Falo" -- climbed higher and higher each day.
You don't have to have been following this blog from the beginning to know that I've been completely bewitched by the soul of Santiago's historic neighborhoods and consider this type of concrete colonization a travesty. Back when A. and I were neighbors, I used to glare at these looming invaders as if they were my personal enemies.
Strangely enough, I never felt any kind of resentment toward A.'s building, which is new(ish) and tall (although, at under ten stories, it is dwarfed by the likes of El Falo). This is probably because I have a lot of fond memories of his apartment, due in no small part to the balcony.
I met A. when I was studying abroad and we were both students in a judo (a.k.a. Leigh gets her ass kicked) class at one of the Chilean universities I attended. After class, we would frequently go over to his apartment and do some homework, then mix up a couple piscolas and drink them on the balcony. All told, we stood out there for hours absorbing nighttime views of Santiago. We would squint out at the tiny lights of the ski resorts in the mountains, try to point out faraway buildings we knew, and speculate about what people were doing behind their drawn curtains. On one occasion, we even bent over backwards and contemplated the city upside down. A.'s balcony was pivotal to the development of my awareness of and love for Santiago; as much as I hate to admit it, I never could have experienced the same perspective from street level.
Recently, my friend F., who used to live in the neighborhood but moved out long before I met her, was telling me about her family's old house. When I asked if it was still standing, she told me it had been bulldozed years ago to make way for a new apartment building. Given recent development activity in the area, this didn't surprise me. What did surprise me, however, was her old address: The house used to stand on the same corner where A.'s building now does.
I'm still struck by the coincidence. There are six million people in this city. What are the chances that I would befriend two who had lived in the same place but years apart? My conclusion: There is a certain street corner in a certain neighborhood in a certain city that tends to produce people who are important to me. I find myself actually believing in the mysticism of it all. This is not the case with A., who told me that I should think instead of all the people who live or have lived there whom I have never met and therefore are not directly important to me. I, however, maintain that I have a special connection to that patch of earth.
Regardless of whether or not I'm right, there is a certain poignancy to it, one that resonates deeply with my current situation. I'll be leaving Santiago soon and don't know how much time will have passed or how much will have changed by the time I return. Maybe my friends' corner will be home to a completely different structure -- or to no structure at all. Whatever I find there in the future, though, I have no doubt that it will be meaningful to me, even if only because I find some way to give it meaning.
Based on the way she's described it to me, F.'s old house was one I would have been enraged to see flattened so A.'s building could go up. If it hadn't been bulldozed, though, I wouldn't know what Santiago looks like upside down. So I guess the lesson is this: No matter how much Santiago changes, there is something about this corner of the world that will always resonate with me.