I went to sleep in a city with relative anonymity. We’re not Buenos Aires. No one comes here for the boliches (discos) nor to go to a milonga (tango hall). Some friends of mine visited from LA one time (and by friends I mean people I met on the road and who helped me cross into Chile from Peru with their their guidbook under their arm, and me, floating free, with nary a guidebook but a healthy arsenal of Spanish and a growing infection on the left side of my right ring finger for which I would later get treatment at a local private health clinic in Arica, but not before being thrown out of the public hospital for having private health insurance). So these friends from LA. They wondered what kind of stuck I’d gotten in Santiago, what had happened to me, why I didn’t leave.
And then they got here. And they adored it. Loved walking around, seeing architecture, eating more than a healthy number of completos (Chilean style hotdogs slathered with mayo, avocado and tomatoes, I think they may be an acquired taste and I don’t eat meat, so don’t look at me), and washing them down with gallons of tuna (prickly pear cactus) juice, which is much tastier than it sounds. And they said, we get it. We know why you live here.
I don’t know if the New York Times knows why I live here. I’m not even really sure they’ve ever been here, or spoken to anyone who has. They trot out the same examples of fancyness I profile on NileGuide because they pay me to (and because the things really are nice, and hey, who doesn’t want nice on vacas (vacation), and choose a very strange example of up and coming culture in Santiago. the Museo de la Moda, which is nice because it’s in a converted old masion, and interestingish for a one-time-visit for its displays, but when I went there a couple of years ago, I was there alone (except for the trusty Mamaj, who is always up for an adventure). It’s not on the metroline, is not on the tourist trail, and is mainly frequented for the posh café outside where ladies who lunch well, lunch.
But yay, the New York Times noticed us, put us number one on their list of 41 places to visit in 2011. That’s good for me on some level, puts an official stamp of approval on a city I’ve been encouraging people to visit for almost seven years. Professionally it’s good for me, because I can start pitch letters saying “recently-touted as one of the top destinations for 2011 by the New York Times”, etc. And I’m still playing by-the-click for NileGuide, and everything I wrote in this piece about how the NYT found Santiago worth of visiting is true.
But there’s a part of me that loves the undiscovered, the secret, the mine and yours but only if I choose to share it with you. And I’ve got the sneaking suspicion that Santiago’s not much of a secret these days. Maybe that raises the bar. Or pushes the envelope. Or begs the question, or wags the dog. Whatever it does, it doesn’t make me want to be anywhere else, just to get to know this city better and on my own terms. And offer help to tourists standing with maps squinting at the horizon, and let them practice their high-school Spanish with me if that’s what they want to do, so they can run off and tell everyone how nice and helpful people in Santiago are. Because they really are. Even if some of us aren’t originally from here.