Friday, April 4, 2008

Heavy Metal(s) in Chile

Part of what I do, as a guidebook writer, is to visit and review hotels which, in reality, can be one of the most tedious tasks imaginable. There's a mistaken impression, though, that hotels shower guidebook writers with presidential suites and extravagant freebies in order to get the best possible coverage; in reality, freebies of any sort are a rarity--especially given that there's rarely space for more than a paragraph or two in a comprehensive guidebook to a country or even a city. Ethics aside, the effort it takes to get freebies, even if you're so inclined, is rarely worth it.

Thus, when I spent most of the last week in Santiago de Chile, I stayed at an inexpensive hostel (though I splurged on a private room) and spent parts of several days inspecting luxury hotels such as the copper-faced Santiago Marriott. As I sat in the Marriott's lobby, awaiting a public relations person who would show me around, I couldn't help but notice a short, scrawny man, dressed in black from head to toe, with straight black shoulder length hair and tattoos from his wrists to the armpits of his sleeveless shirt. He was, it seemed, an atypical Marriott client, but after PR arrived I quickly forgot him.

Reading the Santiago daily La Tercera the next morning I figured out what I'd seen and what I'd missed. According to the paper, Ozzy Osbourne was staying at the Marriott and that same night he packed 20,000 metalheads (this being Chile, I'm tempted to say "copperheads") into the Estadio Nacional's Pista Atlética. Ozzy, though, is bulky rather than scrawny, and I had seen his bass player Rob "Blasko" Nicholson.

Not so many years ago, Chile was a backwater for international acts of all sorts, but nowadays its prosperity has made it an almost essential stopover for foreign artists on world tours (Bob Dylan played the city recently and Rod Stewart is due shortly). Despite Chile's durable cultural conservatism, the country's youthful metal fans and other subcultures are conspicuous on Santiago's streets and elsewhere (one enthusiastic attendee interviewed by the daily El Mercurio had taken an all-night bus from the southern city of Concepción).

In a country whose traditional wealth (and presently strong peso) derives from the mining sector, there's a sort of symmetry at work here. Copper, after all, is a heavy metal.

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