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I’m in a Hurry . . . to Slow Down!

My poor cluttered office!

My poor cluttered office!

I spend most of my time here these days, sitting amidst piles of books and papers, never with less than three or four projects underway simultaneously.

And this is just part of this wall, with the opposite wall also full of books, and several 6' shelves outside in the hall... yes I have too many books!

And this is just part of this wall, with the opposite wall also full of books, and several 6′ shelves outside in the hall… yes I have too many books!

I’ve begun a research push for a new book I’m working on. More to come on that when it starts to feel real. If things go well, I’ll have a draft by early next year. Meanwhile, I’m still writing a lot of essays for various others, either on local history, or in this case, for a small bicycling magazine in Santiago, Chile called Revista Pedalea. Regrettably, their website seems to have a virus and I can’t access it at the moment, but hopefully the Spanish version of this short piece will be back up soon.

I’m in a Hurry . . . to Slow Down!

As an urban cyclist for the past 40 years, I have seen the world around me change considerably. My initial impetus for choosing to cycle instead of using cars or public transit was my frustration with traffic congestion, underfunded and inadequate buses and trains, and a general impatience. I hate to wait! On my bicycle I could arrive at my destination in less time than going by car or bus, and I had none of the agony of searching for parking that my friends suffered through. As a young man, I would speed through city streets, recklessly weaving in and out of traffic with a sense of invulnerability, and by good fortune, I never suffered any serious collisions in all these years.

In the late 1970s mobile phones were only a science fiction fantasy. The internet had not yet emerged as a common space of communication (even if it was taking shape behind the scenes), and for many people it was still a point of new convenience to have an answering machine attached to their home phone. To visit friends it was common to go across the neighborhood to knock on their door to see if they were home, without knowing if they would be. In 2016, we hardly have time to see our friends. If we want to meet up it takes several emails and phone calls, and a dozen text messages, and finally we agree that our schedules will allow us to meet in three weeks for 20 minutes to share a quick coffee! What happened?

In the 1970s, the world economy was still largely nation-based with most of the goods for daily life produced within the boundaries of our own countries. In the last decades of the 20th century and first part of the 21st century, the world market completely altered our lives. Now, most of the goods we consume are produced in far-away factories across the ocean. Money is speeding around the planet 24 hours a day at light-speed, seeking the most profitable opportunities in every obscure nook and cranny. More people have been uprooted from their traditional homes than at any previous time in world history. The iron dictatorship of money pushes them to seek better economic opportunities within countries and across national frontiers (legally or not). Our own lives have been reshaped by these dynamics. Whether we relocated or stayed put, we too have endured an enormous “speed-up” of daily life. Especially in the past 20 years, our lives have accelerated in ways no one could have anticipated.

Where I live in San Francisco at the epicenter of the much-heralded “tech boom,” everyone is so busy all the time that friendships are fraying and many don’t have time for a “real relationship.” The speed-up we are living through is treated as somehow inevitable, like the weather, and in any case, our adaptation to it is necessary if we want to be employed and have “a future!” People rush from work to eat to sleep and have little time for anything else. The eight-hour day that our ancestors fought such bitter battles to establish is a forgotten relic of the industrial era. Nowadays it is common to work 12-14 hours a day, including the time commuting on wi-fi equipped buses and trains.

The bicycle has become a sanctuary from this madness. On my bicycle I am not plugged in. I am in my head, I control how fast I move through the city, and I can take any opportunity along my route to stop and talk with friends or passersby who I happen to encounter. While it is still true that I can cross the city faster on a bicycle than many can by car or bus, the bicycle has come to represent a different pace of life, a slower form of movement. In this case, ‘slow’ refers less to velocity than to a philosophy of life. In a world that pushes us incessantly to work longer, more intense hours, to spend more and more time dedicated to expanding our skills and making ourselves ever more employable, the bicycle provides a rare opportunity to “check out” of this rat-wheel and reconnect to our own thoughts. Moreover it allows us to fully experience the air, the rain, the sounds, and the smells of the City that we miss when locked in the glass-and-metal boxes that clog the streets while dirtying our air and water.

When bicycling we experience life directly, without the mediation of corporate or government propaganda on the radio that dominate the driving experience. We can talk to people we meet, find out what’s going on at a demonstration, a collision, a scene of police or political action, without having it framed and explained by editors working for the owners of society. Bicycling through urban environments challenges our intellectual capacities to interpret reality directly, to arrive at understandings and explanations based on our own ideas and immediate knowledge rather than relying on the hysterical and distorted reporting that passes as “news” in most of the “free world.”

Time slows down when you are lost in your thoughts. Bicycling is one of the activities that cost us practically nothing and yet gives us so much. We can step off the speeding treadmill of daily life for a precious half hour or more to taste the city’s forgotten flavors, to think our own thoughts, and to determine our own pace.

We living in a globe-spanning culture that wants to reduce everything to the degrading slogan Time is Money! Well, time has run out on that absurdity. Bicycling has helped us regain our independence. Let’s hurry towards a world where we can slow down and smell the flowers, have time to share a conversation with a good friend, and to fully enjoy life. For Full Enjoyment, Not Full Employment!

 

On a March ride with my pal Dave Snyder, we wandered under the freeway ramps near the Bay Bridge and in West Oakland. Weirdly beautiful!

On a March ride with my pal Dave Snyder, we wandered under the freeway ramps near the Bay Bridge and in West Oakland. Weirdly beautiful! Especially because of the old railroad trestle running under it all…

 

Happy geometries!

Happy geometries!

 

There was even an almost bike path under it all...

There was even an almost bike path under it all…

 

We had a great sunset on Leap Day, Feb. 29, 2016.

We had a great sunset on Leap Day, Feb. 29, 2016.

Valparaiso: Getting a Glimpse

Valparaiso, Chile, view towards south from fishing pier in bay.

Valparaiso, Chile, view south from fishing pier in bay.

Valparaiso, Chile is a spectacularly beautiful city. It seems appropriate that it is a sister-city to San Francisco as it shares the Pacific Ocean and a very hilly topography, along with the historic connection that linked Chile to San Francisco’s Gold Rush in 1849-1850. Chileans were one of the largest populations to arrive in the early days of the Gold Rush, since they were closer, though their presence was quickly overwhelmed by tens of thousands of people from France, Germany, England, the U.S., and elsewhere. There’s no memory of that Chilean connection in San Francisco these days, though as I mentioned in the previous post, a more recent wave of Chileans arrived in San Francisco during the 1970s as refugees from the Pinochet dictatorship.

This stencil of Jack Kerouac and Neil Casady is an iconic image used for years by City Lights Books in San Francisco... and here it was on the walls of Valparaiso, keeping alive the connection between the two cities?

This stencil of Jack Kerouac and Neil Cassady is an iconic image used for years by City Lights Books in San Francisco… and here it was on the walls of Valparaiso, keeping alive the connection between the two cities?

If we historicize that a bit more precisely, those Chileans were the first escapees from the harsh imposition of a neoliberalism determined to smash the organized working class. After the 1973 Chilean coup, new military dictatorships from Argentina to Indonesia, South Korea and the Philippines were backed by the U.S. as bulwarks of the “Free World;” at gunpoint they freed markets for international investors by breaking unions and selling off publicly owned assets. Milton Friedman’s “Chicago Boys” provided their throwback economic theories to Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and their market fundamentalism drove the reorganization of the global order that landed us in the mess we’re in now.

"Death to money" graffiti on coastal boulevard in Valparaiso.

“Death to money” graffiti on coastal boulevard in Valparaiso.

I went to Chile full of curiosity to see it and get my first glimpse of its culture and people. My time there was very brief so I can’t make any claims to real knowledge, but I did learn a bit about Chilean history:

  • The 1879-83 War of the Pacific with Bolivia and Peru that seized territory rich in saltpeter and copper, and left Bolivia landlocked without the sea coast they had when the war started.
  • A brief civil war in the 1891 between the President, backed by the Army, and the Congress, backed by the Navy, won by the latter.
  • The curious coincidence between Chilean national politics and California when in 1938 both saw the election of left-leaning Popular Front governments.

Valparaiso, or Valpo as it is sometimes called, had long been a city that I imagined, and the real place did not disappoint, even if my uninformed fantasies proved to be entirely inaccurate. A bustling container port, an elegant dying old financial district, funiculars climbing from commercial lowlands to residential hillside neighborhoods, a seaside bikeway connecting Valpo to nearby wealthy enclave Vina del Mar.

Valpo has a thriving container port.

Valpo has a thriving container port.

One of many ascensores, or funiculars, traversing the steep slopes.

One of many ascensores, or funiculars, traversing the steep slopes.

Mosaic-decorated stairs next to another funicular.

Mosaic-decorated stairs next to another funicular.

A once-bustling financial district, now rather hollowed out.

A once-bustling financial district, now rather hollowed out.

Some of the hilltop neighborhoods just above the downtown area are rapidly gentrifying while adjacent areas are left mired in the poverty that neoliberal prosperity necessarily produced. Wherever I went walking around Valparaiso’s streets I found street art from graffiti to spraycan murals to sophisticated large works by very talented artists.

View north from hill above downtown. Gorgeous mural below!

View north from hill above downtown. Gorgeous mural below!

Closer view

Closer view

Still closer

Still closer

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First Time in Santiago, Chile

I found this stencil on the wall in a bike/vegan collective warehouse in Valparaiso.

I found this stencil on the wall in a bike/vegan collective warehouse in Valparaiso.

I had the great pleasure of visiting Chile from March 23-April 5. My host there was Ricardo Jerez, who gave me an amazing time, great hospitality, wonderful history and stories, and made sure I was well taken care of throughout my visit. Ostensibly I went to attend the World Bike Forum, and you can read my Talk here and my ruminations on cycling as they continued after my participation here.

I had a life-long interest in Chile because of the September 11, 1973 coup, fully backed by the CIA and the Nixon-Kissinger White House. At the time I was a high school student in Oakland (at Tech) and a regular listener to KSAN-FM (“the jive 95”), at the time still in the glory period of freeform FM radio. The news department anchored by Dave McQueen and Larry Lee was an amazingly subversive source of information (supplemented regularly by the hilarious work of Wes “Scoop” Nisker) and I remember well hearing about General Pinochet’s attack on the national palace in Santiago, and the death of democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende as it happened on their newscast. By the time I was in college at Sonoma State College (now University) in Cotati/Rohnert Park in 1975 the Chilean solidarity movement was in full bloom, based largely on the dozens of Chilean political exiles that had arrived in the Bay Area since escaping the military dictatorship that was imposed in Chile.

Meaghan-Kachadoorian_image-1-active-resistance-poster

Poster by Lisa Kokin (1978), courtesy of Docs Populi

I learned a lot about Chile, the Allende period, the terror and barbarism of the Pinochet era, and participated in protesting the arrival of the “Torture Ship” Esmeralda when it sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge on a “goodwill” visit to the U.S. And I got a crash course in the “Left” when I found myself working with the Free Chile Center in San Francisco (largely full of supporters of Allende’s Popular Unity government) who were in endless conflict with the folks who founded La Peña in Berkeley (who were supporters of the MIR, the Movement of the Revolutionary Left, who had gone underground before the election of Allende and called for “arming the workers” as the antidote to the coming coup). The mid-1970s was a time when the bitter disputes between followers of the Communist Party and the Soviet Union and the growing ranks of those to their left seemed much more vital than they do in retrospect.

Meaghan-Kachadoorian_image-3-Stop-the-Esmeralda

Poster courtesy of Docs Populi

It was a bit jarring to come up on the Esmeralda docked at the Navy base that dominates the port of Valparaiso.

It was a bit jarring to come up on the Esmeralda docked at the Navy base that dominates the port of Valparaiso.

This post will feature images from my tourism around Santiago. The next post will be focused on Valparaiso where I had the pleasure of spending a weekend and look forward to returning for a longer visit another time. In general my appetite for Chile was both satisfied and further whetted by this visit. I particularly want to visit regions to the south and north of the capital city and its nearby port (120 km) in Valparaiso.

In my first hour in Santiago, Ricardo took me on a lovely walk around the place I was staying. The neighborhood walls are full of graffiti and posters.

In my first hour in Santiago, Ricardo took me on a lovely walk around the place I was staying. The neighborhood walls are full of graffiti and posters.

A short walk away was the "Concha y Toro" neighborhood, designed in the 19th century to replicate a cozy Parisian neighborhood. Ricardo had enjoyed several years in the adjacent building when it was abandoned, using it as a Social Center and bike workshop.

A short walk away was the “Concha y Toro” neighborhood, designed in the 19th century to replicate a cozy Parisian neighborhood. Ricardo had enjoyed several years in the adjacent building when it was abandoned, using it as a Social Center and bike workshop.

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