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Dispatches from South America – The Personal Version

Posted on Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

Now if you ask me the summer seems a strange time to choose to have winter but those happy folks down in South America seem OK with that idea and it suddenly struck me that an idea that I’ve lived with for forty five years on this planet, you know like Santa coming when it’s all snowy and July being a good month to hit the beach, are not in fact, universal. I mean, we could learn something from that, given that the shops aren’t nearly so busy in the summer than they are at Xmas. Several other ideas seem to differ slightly from my assumed knowledge, firstly that, over there one only has a ‘good chance’ of reaching ones destination alive when taking a cab and that guinea pigs are not, as we northern hemisphere types believe, cuddly little pets for our children rather tasty little appetisers for our lunch. That said, I’ve eaten weirder stuff in Japan and even survived a few Muscovite cab drivers, both in Moscow and New York, I hasten to add.

We we’re greeted by our hosts at the airport after a 14 hour flight from Paris and whisked off to our accommodation under an overcast sky along a typical airport highway and was assured that all the large piles of trash were were due to the trashmen being on strike. Shame on me, I was a little dubious but was pleasantly surprised a few days later when the accumulated piles of trash in the neighbourhood disappeared. The sun came out also revealing the majesty of the snow capped mountains which glisten in the sun in a way that beguiles and seems to overshadow most things, always reminding us how small and insignificant we actually are. It’s really difficult not to look at them, if you are there as a tourist, just as it is difficult not to look skywards whilst in Midtown Manhattan. Simply, I’m happy, I’m somewhere else. There’s lots to see on this planet and I’m running short of time. However I start to feel if I take a cab it may not exactly speed things up but terminate things forever.
With jetlag hitting myself, but not my seemingly tireless wife, Florence, we dropped our bags and headed into town for a quick look around. Just before I left home I’d bigged up on the whole Chilean deal with an article in one of my (stupidly expanding) collection of National Geographic Magazine but, in my usual untimely manner, it was from August 1973 and, I have to say, about as useless a document as my ‘concert contract document’ , more of which later.
So while I quickly updated myself on the, not exactly, breaking news of the military coup of September 1973, the repression of the people, the music of Víctor Jara , his persecution and all sorts of other fucked up shit which made Margaret Thatcher seem like, well, you know, still the worst thing that happen to the UK in the 20th century but just a bollock hair less evil. Despite the death of the dictator and ascendancy of democracy and the building of a large 80’s shaped cell phone building, built by, presumably, the cell phone company in the 80’s and such things, I couldn’t help but be compelled to take photos of a jackbooted military presence with an inordinately large number of armed ‘ninja turtle armoured militia’ presence. The event they were “protecting” was a protest by about 25 pre-school teachers about there not being enough red crayons to go around, or something of the like. The military presence seemed really threatening, even to someone who lives in France and goes out on a Saturday night. The best was seeing the armoured water cannon vehicle, I believe nicknamed ‘llamas’ as they spit when they are pissed off. I don’t want to paint a bad picture because it’s not at all like that, it was just unlucky to see that stuff before seeing anything else. Actually Santiago seems a very cool city and it’s not been spoiled by a certain chain of ridiculously over priced Pacific North Western coffee shops yet. You should go.
Happily I can report that in all my stay Chile I saw not another gun or shiny leather boot, even when I begged. However the whereabouts of some pre-school teachers remains unknown. I think they may have gone to MacDonalds.
After that, well, wander around downtown Santiago, trying to look like someone who doesn’t need to be shot just at that moment. Go for a coffee. Hey, y’all, this is a beautiful city. Fuck all your European shit, you can feel the struggle of those who walked before us as you walk the streets here. Those grand thoughts along with the more Guthrie-esque “hey I can afford coffee here without taking out a mortgage’ .. Happy.
Went to the Central Market.
Fish in mind
Those of you who know me personally will wonder how it took me so long to get there.
Didn’t buy a fish but saw this.
Please Identify
On the last day that we were there we spent the day near Valparaiso, a delightful and historic port city, just up the coast at a friends apartment, where we ate Ceviche and Chilean Sea Bass the size of a small child. I saw pelicans which, although are surely not the brightest birds in the animal kingdom, have such grace and beauty that it seems a shame to eat them.
just joking, they wouldn’t sell me one
I have been in the company of really nice people with very interesting things to say.
I’ve been introduced to so many familiar things in a new way.
I even saw my wife taken into police custody for being sober.
I cannot complain.
I Never did get to eat Centolla.

In all truth, I had imagined that it’s be fun to tell of my trip to Peru, somewhat in the same manner as a tintin adventure, with me, of course, dressed in a white suit and panama hat, wiping my brow with my banadana from time to time like Charles Laughton. As it turned out it wasn’t like that, in fact it was somewhat more bizarre, but to my credit, I chose not to wear white, which as I had discovered in Chile, had been a big mistake but for different reasons, mostly involving the fans of goth bands from the eighties.
Peru, without a guidebook, was as captivating as one could imagine. It started with the stereotypical hyper-bureaucracy at customs, something living in France had prepared me for, you know, like smuggling 20kg of crack cocaine inside and old antique clock but having spend three hours there, while they valued the clock, ending up paying $15 timepiece tax or whatever. Thankfully I hadn’t the need to smuggle drugs to Peru, apart from the obvious reason that i t w o u l d b e r e t a r d e d – I don’t do them anymore.
So, between the pointless French style red tape, mixed with the guns, shiny leather and sweat of the Spanish influenced Peruvian border police, whose paperwork has to be filled in, apparently not in duplicate nor even triplicate (heaven forbid, the mere suggestion may have you put up against a recently bloodied pole at the airport to be shot), so… no, forget quadruplicate, everything has to be filled in in quintiplicate This made me feel ever so grateful that Madame Guthrie was accompanying me on this trip and had recently had to deal with France Telecom on my behalf and therefore found this not challenging in the least.
So we meet or hosts, get whisked from the aeroporte to our hotel, while we innocently gaze out of the van window taking in the small part of Peru, probably the most representative part of the real Lima, given that most folks live without room service here and I, for one, find it captivating, sort of reminiscent of Naples except chaotic (which will only make those of you who have visited Naples smile). In short, it’s like the South America seems like in the movies. However, I see nothing which seems more fucked than Grangemouth, Scotland… Peckham, London… Belleville, Paris or MostPlacesWherePeopleDontDriveHummers, USA. In short, life seems vibrantly chaotic and truly worthwhile. Please excuse my naivety as I come here as a tourist but the point is, Ok, if you watch the TV here you can see the problems, the life in the shanty towns, all of the over tired clichés of South America. But, really I’m only here for a couple of days and I am being welcomed by the warmest, most welcoming people I’ve met since, er, well Chile.. (Wait a minute, you know what I mean. Nobody from our production tried to shoot me here, hell no, I had to go to Illinois for that) More importantly, I’m being exposed to something which will, without a doubt, enrichen my life, expand my horizons and continue to influence my thoughts for a long time to come.
Oh, and I met the future president of Peru, who, with his learned friends, taught me a few things.

Welcome Home
It would appear that in the narrow corridors of the Elysée, my name has been passed from government agency to government agency after my recent insurgent behaviour as a disgruntled France Telecom customer. Well, hats of to them, m o t h e r f u c k e r s, they must have got some of their wires to work as they managed to pass my name to another branch of the, thinly disguised French regime, (thinly disguised as a first world democratic country that is), namely Air France.
When arriving back in Santiago, Chile after a few days in Peru, to take the direct flight to Paris, I was somewhat startled back into the reality of the ‘so called’ developed world by a, pretty, but altogether pretty retarded, check in person at the Air France desk who informed me, with that, oh so missed ‘fuck you’ attitude, that I hadn’t witnessed for the last 10 days, that if wanted to take my musical equipment home with me I’d have to pay $40/kg for the privilege. Now, I’m travelling with more than 40kg of musical equipment, so you do the math as if I do it again it’ll drive me to tears again.
No matter that the Air France luggage policy allowed me to bring the equipment from Paris CDG in the first place.
No matter that I’d just flown up to Lima and back to Santiago with little more than a smile and a ‘have a nice flight sir’.
No, that’s evidently not the way that the national flag carrier of France chooses to work.
This perhaps should help fanfare to the world quite a lot about the selfishness and greed of, well apparently, pretty much any organisation with the word France in the title.
France for example.
Had I been told in Paris that I couldn’t take two bags, I could have made a decision (for I am 45 and can make decisions myself, sometimes, you know… ) to leave some things, you know, a guitar, my effects pedals or my clothes or something. However, at my Paris check in I’d been greeted like just any other stupid France Telecom, oops I mean Air France, customer, welcomed on to their flight with all my baggage and I swallowed all of their bullshit like the naive piece of shit that they believe that I, as a customer, am.
So, as I’m sure regular readers don’t need to be told, in short, to get my equipment home cost me the most part of the money that I made playing in South America.
I, for once, have the last laugh.
oh yes
you see, I gained about 3 kilos on this trip indulging myself on various tasty South American foods.
Didn’t tell them…
saved $120

35 hours after leaving Lima I arrived home.
I didn’t smell too good.

20 Responses to “Dispatches from South America – The Personal Version”

  1. Ivan Rivera

    hey robin, i’m very happy that you find great country Chile, i live in a city in the coast of Pacific, “Antofagasta” city, i hope you’ll remember us and come back soon. Your music is amazing i listen it every day… well see ya

  2. vanderlei

    I kind of find it funny all your complaining about France, and this time around you outdid yourself. Tell me, after all these years, having lived in Scotland, England and France, do you hate them all? Not that I find it a problem to live in a country and hate it, I for one live in one which, almost all the time, I hate living in (Brazil), except for some few occasions or facts, like it’s easy to vegetarian down here, one never runs out of fresh vegetables.

  3. robin guthrie

    No, I never hate France.
    Sometimes I complain about life here…
    That’s different.

  4. Ricardo Salvatierra

    A work of art is more than a single show, and thanks really for your concert in Santiago.
    By the way, I took advantage of the opportunity of buying some of your last albums(before…/after…), and I should say it is very interesting the way you structure composition, maybe similar to Phillipe Glass or some artists, architects(I am one) or physicists who uses layers systems(maybe useless for you but… whatever be)

    My regards from Chile

  5. Agnes

    they look like oysters living with barnacles or crabs(?).

  6. jose

    Hi Robin, I think this blog is one of the most amusing things I’ve come to read in ages. Well done.

    Can’t wait to see you in Seville in some weeks!!!

    Cheers from Spain.

  7. RosinFairchild

    the picture – ‘please identify’:

    is it some chubby oisters or seafood??

  8. Roberto Retana

    Bonjour Robin,

    Je ne connais pas le nom du fruit de mer dans la photo mais je sais qu’il s’agit d’un molusque qui se mange des fois cru ou en ceviche (mariné au jus de citron).

    Sa chair est tres rouge voire couleur violette.

    D’apres ce que j’ai lu dans de livres d’Isabel Allende ce molusque aurait des proprietés aphrodisiaques…

    Bonjour depuis le Costa Rica.


  9. Jorge's Way

    In The picture “please identify”. it’s a barnacle with white crablike meat called “picoroco”.


    Robin.. ¿did you eat them?

  10. SM

    YouTube has clips of Robin’s recent Lumiere show in Lima (search with “Robin Guthrie in Peru”). Looks gorgeous, sounds gorgeous – can’t wait for the official DVD release…

  11. todd wolfson

    i just bought the two new cd’s of you and budd.
    they are beautiful.
    thank you.

  12. Manuel

    Yep, you’re right.. there’s still some reminiscences of military in Chile. It’s part of our stupid recent identity.. and I think it’ll take a few generations to get rid of, at least, its esthetics… although I find it quite weird that we once had a stupid military as Pinochet in the presidency…
    The seashell is a Picoroco.. not really tasty I should say.
    Thanks a lot for coming to Chile! I enjoyed 2 of your shows.. I’m glad you liked my city, Valparaíso.

  13. Ardaluk

    I was on La Batuta, and I agree with you… But even then I want to thank you for playing on my country, Chile, It was a beautiful night for all of your fans in here…

    The picture I think is a picoroco, a seashell, That I never ate (It looks pretty ugly)… Next time you come to this lands (I hope there would be a next time… There’re lots of places where you can play without a bar or annoying stuff) you have to try “locos” (crazy, but it’s seafood), there’re really exquisite, you won’t regret…

    Greetings, and thanks again…


    Lorena V.

  14. nicky

    very very interesting…i was reading a site about the cocteau twins and there paste robin interviews telling something about how he recorded some of the old songs in CT..anyways…i hope this one would get answered..

    robin do you still make songs from time to time that could be a cocteau twins’ song? just for the sake getting to that old feeling again

    just wondering…oh yah…i really love continental

  15. Bernie Thomas

    I just received Before the day breaks and After the Night Falls over at my girl friends house in Lake County in the city of Willowick in the state of Ohio. I love your stuff. I look forward to more of it

  16. stephen roberts

    Effects pedals! get out of the eighties. You should be touring with a lap top and an inflatable guitar 😉

  17. Bernie Thomas

    I love the song “Turn off the sun” – This is great stuff.

  18. Carl Casinghino

    With your tale of returning with Air France, I’ve just got to share one with you. I live in the USA and my wife is French, so we go back and forth quite a bit. It is UNCANNY that nearly every time we travel with Air France some sort of totally insane thing happens like your story. A few years back, my wife was traveling with our son to visit with family in Paris, so we checked on all the necessities and arrangements. This was not long after 9/11, but it wasn’t officially necessary (at that time, at least) for a small child to have a passport, particularly if the child is on the parent’s passport. So, the two of them left the US through New York on Air France — NO PROBLEM. As I said earlier, we had called Air France, made sure all the paperwork was in order, etc., etc. Two nice weeks with friends and family pass by, then mother and little boy return to the airport to return home. They make their way through security and a lovely fuckhead from Air France says “No way, you can’t get on the plane, because they will send you back once you get to New York.” Naturally, we KNEW that this was not the case and had been completely assured by American authorities (and Air France reps in the USA!) that everything was in order. As you might imagine, it was nothing doing with this pinhead in a company suit. Alexandra and Matteo had to travel back to the American Embassy in Paris from CDG (naturally missing the flight) where the folks were incredibly pleasant and expedited a passport for our tot (it’s a priceless photo; he looks appropriately bewildered). They returned to the airport, paid the hundreds of dollars in fees for transfer of tickets, and took the last flight back across the Atlantic.

    Now, mind you, I’m just picking the most colorful story.

    Thanks so much for the posts, they’re quite an interesting read. Like many of the folks who’ve communicated here, I’m certainly getting into your twin releases with Harold Budd. They’re sinking in to me, little by little.

    Carl Casinghino

  19. Mike Artica

    You must go to and play in Cuzco.
    And visit Macchu Picchu as well.
    Two places that are a must in Peru.
    Either way you are so lucky to perform in Peru and Chile. I suppose you can play anywhere.

  20. medioamedio.cl

    Robin, it was an amazing performance down here in Chile, here’s some still memories from Valparaíso, if you want more, just leave us a message :), best regards… we hope to see you again, and again, and again…


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