Saturday, 25 December 2010

Welcome to Santiago

I’m awake at ten to seven on Christmas morning.

Either I’ve regressed to the second childhood I’ve been promising myself for some time now, or it’s jet-lag.

Outside the window of the solidly American-vision-of-English-Country-House Ritz-Carlton bedroom sprawls the beating heart of Chile, Santiago. Except it’s flatlining today with everything closed for the holidays and besides it looks nothing like the old colonial capital of a banana republic. With its new but not quite excellent modern architecture, and the buildings reflecting in each other’s mirrored facades, Santiago reminds me of Atlanta. An early empty bendy bus bowls down the six-lane street, a lone sweeper in bright blue coveralls tends the immaculate pavements and planters of the shopping centre. Its six million people must be elsewhere.

It was touch and go if I’d get here.

The atypical mid-December snowfall in the UK and its ability to paralyse our transport system has been well documented and indeed slavered over by the press, so I turned up at the airport with a pillow, a coat to use as a blanket and a couple of sandwiches in case the tabloids were right and I might have to spend two nights on the airport floor invoking the spirit of the Blitz before getting a plane. I’d even prepared a couple of Vera Lynn numbers in case I was called upon to lead community singing. It was, of course, massive exaggeration – two minutes to check-in and two more to be through security and I’m in the Star Alliance lounge with a G&T wondering what all the fuss was about and why I’ve got two hours to kill before boarding.

TAM Brasilian – on whose wings I have flown courtesy of air miles – turns out to be a perfectly competent airline, and whilst their crew don’t speak the conversational English of BA (nor, thankfully, do they address paying passengers as ‘mate’) everything’s lovely. If I was their time and motion expert I might suggest it’s not necessary to perform a fawning at-seat attendance with a wooden boxed display of tea bags every time a customer wants a cuppa, but I’m not arguing.

The personal movie screen was bigger than my laptop although that served to make Julia Roberts appear with even more teeth than usual, in a simply dreadful film wherein she’s a divorcee who first overeats in Rome, then visits an Ashram where she can suddenly read Hindi before giving the benefit of her worldly advice to a holy man in Bali until after spending two hours telling us she’s sick of people telling her she needs a man, ends up with Javier Bardem. Solace-for-shopgirls rubbish from beginning to end, but such predictable and easy rubbish I was able to watch it without the headphones reading the Portuguese subtitles. Even in Portuguese, Julia, this is facile crap. Make a decent movie.

Changed planes in sticky Sao Paulo where the early morning warmth heralded what’s to come and then dozed fitfully for another four hours on the sector to Santiago, waking only for a glimpse of the high narrow ribbon of the Andes as we descend.

The rather classy American travel company with whom we booked this junket has sent not just a driver but also a uniformed host to collect me, and in some state we progress to downtown Santiago where it's great to be enveloped not just by the embrace of a good hotel but by two of my most delightful friends Rhea and Curt who flew in earlier this morning from Baltimore. As they're famished for late lunch I have the quickest of showers and enjoy the kiss of clean pants before we stroll in the sunshine to a smart place specialising in New Zealand cuisine (well, it's all in the Southern Hemisphere) and some rare tuna and glorious Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.

All is suddently well with my little world.

Happy Christmas, more when I can ...


  1. JF - I just wanted to wish you....

    erm, I forgot....

    was it...oh, hell. What would Dame Elton say. Merry Xmas.

    From the alps.


  2. '...the kiss of clean pants' Indeed. Happy Christmas xx

  3. Glad you made it, John. Did you throw away the sandwiches?

  4. Well, what you said, I also have very much the same feeling, wish we can together to discussion!