Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Flying into Santiago

How do you describe infinity? Enormity? Endlessness? The end of everything?  I don’t know how to say it. But I do know that I saw it. We crossed the coastline at  25 000 feet and through the window,  I saw a line of clouds – giant king clouds strung out all along the horizon. After a minute of watching, we were close enough that I could see that they were not clouds, but mountains.
            I have seen maps and I have spun globes, and I know for a solid academic fact that the Andes cordillera stretches all along the coast of the Americas, from Canada to the Horn. But these mountains stood as tall as clouds as a solid, unyielding, unambiguous, unequivocal WALL,  as far as the world went to the north and as far as the world went to the south, so that it was everything in the whole world, until there was no more world in any direction you looked. I could worship mountains like these, but they would not be worshiped, I think. They would not notice me.
            Flying in to the airport, we passed very low over the first rank of these giants – they were bare and crumpled winter earth, rising from thick green  valleys and zagged by crazy switchback roads that seemed to come from no particular place and end for no particular reason in tumbles of loose scree. The mountains were capped with snow, and we passed so close that I felt I should be able to lean sideways and brush the ice with my fingertips.  
            These mountains make a cauldron of Santiago. The Cordillera lies to her east, and spurs of the Andes reach out around the city, which bubbles and seethes in a pot of smog and steam and mist in their laps.  They are so large. We are so small, we shouldn’t signify – but there, reaching almost to the snowline was a grotty gray and brown smear of tar on the sky. It was an obscenity. A sky-size graffiti, spelling out in letters a thousand feet high the careless and ugly and wanton side of the human condition.


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