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Full Circle

Day 170: Santiago

Santiago, Chile 
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Old and new. The Plaza de Armas, Santiago.
Michael Palin - Full CircleChile is not a densely populated country, it's just that everyone wants to live in the middle. Santiago and its surrounding heartland are home to seventy per cent of a population of thirteen and a half million. The capital itself has five million people and, as soon as we arrive here, the familiar big city disadvantages like traffic and pollution seem worse than usual. Partly because we've come from the empty, unsullied south and partly because they are worse. Santiago, set in a bowl between the Andes and the Cordillera de la Costa is windless today and cold air traps the chemicals and the exhaust fumes. Like Manila they have alternate day controls on traffic, and like Manila it doesn't seem to make any difference.

But, as is the case with pollution, you don't notice it when you're in the middle of it, and though the sun is wan and pasty it seems suitable for late autumn, and in the general cemetery golden leaves are dropping to the ground unassisted.

If you want to know about the life of a city, the municipal cemetery isn't a bad place to start. The hopes, aspirations and ambitions of inhabitants past, present and future are laid out here for all to see. The General Cemetery in Santiago is enormous, like a city in itself. Two million people of every sort and condition are remembered here, from those who lie beneath a grass mound and a metal cross to those laid to rest in expensive marbled bunkers, Moorish palaces, Aztec temples or Greek basilicas, as if money could somehow temper mortality.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 170
  • Country/sea: Chile
  • Place: Santiago
  • Book page no: 227

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