Some bars just have it.
That combination of noise and brightness and darkness and alcohol and food and colors and smells and seats and music that just allow you to relax, engage in stimulating and expansive conversation, and, on some basic level, be who you truly are.
Here in Santiago, the Bar Liguria near the Manuel Montt Metro station is one of those places.
I’ve been there twice in the past three evenings.
Even though the company was different both times, I emerged with a similar uplifted feeling.
On Tuesday I met with Eduardo Riveros, founder and head of VisionBionica.com, and his friend Geishy Rondon.
Eduardo and I had connected at last week’s Data Tuesday at the Movistar Innova space further south on Providencia Avenue.
He had told me about his work with augmented reality, a technology that allows him or whoever else who uses to essentially embed additional images, video or a web site on a print page.
Short and energetic , Eduardo has a high-pitched laugh and moves his hands in decisive motions. He had prepared a sample page from an award-winning Chicago Tribune project friends and colleagues Gary Marx, Alex Richards and David Jackson did last year about school truancy in the city.
Eduardo pointed his phone at the page.
Three circles swirled on the phone’s face.
Then the options appeared.
One was Gary’s Twitter account so that people who enjoyed the article could then write a Tweet or send a direct message to Gary.
The second was a video with Diane Sawyer about the Chicago Public Schools’ teacher strike last fall.
And the third was a YouTube video of an irate CPS student berating a teacher and walking out of the classroom.
All available for consumption.
Eduardo explained that he had developed a tourism site for Santiago where, while you were in one place, you could point your phone at that landmark and a bunch of other sights to see in the city would appear.
I asked Eduardo what had prompted him to go into this area of work.
He explained that he’s Chilean with Venezuelan roots and had just spent a decade in Chavezlandia, much of it going between Barinas y Cumaná.
Although he enjoyed the people and has many warm memories of his time there, the country’s relentless violence hit him directly.
Two friends were killed, and he had a gun pointed at his neck.
The last experience prompted Eduardo to get out of on the street reporting and into learning how to tell stories through augmented reality and other means.
His journey led him to earn a Master´s degree in Communication from the University of Havana-Castro’s Cuba and Chavez’s Venezuela had many cultural, academic and social exchanges-to gain certification from Junaio, a German company that he said is considered the top in the world, and to take online courses from Stanford.
Eduardo had also invited Geishy Rondon, a friend who had just earned a diploma in Chile and found work at the Telethon.
Geishy explained that while she had not herself been a victim of violence in her native Venezuela, the pervasiveness of it and the volume of incidents she witnessed and walked by were such that she wants to stay here, rather than return to her homeland.
Huddled around the sturdy wooden tables, leaning in to hear each other over the steady rumble of other customers. In addition to their work, we talked about the political situation in Venezuela and the seismic difference in charisma between the late Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro, his comparatively pedestrian successor.
If Tuesday night’s conversation focused on work, social violence and politics, Thursday evening was like a river with many dips and bends that flowed fast and wide.
In addition to Dunreith, fellow Fulbrighter Stephen Sadlier, Gonzalo Salazar and his lovely wife Jacqui, a Brit, joined us.
We met Gonzalo and Jacqui last week at the civil registry, where we were going through distinct yet related Chilean bureaucratic challenges, and it turned out later that Steve shared those same struggles with Dunreith and me.
Gonzalo, who was born in Chile to a wealthy family, has a British and Chilean passport. The Chilean one has expired, yet he explained that this is the only country in the world in which he is considered Chilean. As a result, if he left the country, he’d not be permitted back in because of his expired passport.
Like Steve, Dunreith and I were trying to have our visa be successfully entered at the civil registry.
Like him, we had had each finger and thumb dipped in black ink.
Like him, we were told that the stamp the Chilean authority put on our passport was not legible.
We prevailed upon the woman, perhaps the same one as Steve has encountered in his visits, to not have us got back to the federal police station where we had been the day before.
She consented, but she told us we had to check online to make sure the task was completed by August 8, adding that we would have to start all over again if it was not.
I ran out to the gate to go to the store around the corner to make an additional copy of the document the women said she needed.
On Thursday night, though, administrative difficulties were the last topic on the proverbial table for discussion.
To give a representative sample, we took a deep dive into family history-Steve comes from Haitian Creole and Catalonian stock, while Gonzalo can trace his roots back to the eighth century with documents and talked about an ancestor who fathered 120 children-before tackling national and regional levels of self-esteem in Chile and the United States.
Steve asserted that Americans are fascinated with death and being victims.
Together, we talked about some of the major items Chile has exported to the rest of Latin America and the world: a roster of poets that extends deep beyond Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda; Mistral’s progressive educational vision; and the Chicago Boys’ model of economic stabilization and a certain technocratic sensibility.
Whereas Tuesday I had a rich stout, on Thursday we had a strong pisco sour and the first carmenere wine I’ve ever drunk to accompany a plate of goat cheese and macha a la parmesana.
Thursday night also saw a band of older men playing traditional Chilean folk music, along with the theme from the Godfather, at a volume that made it increasingly difficult to hear each other.
We kept talking, though.
The truth is that I don’t know either how often I’ll see Eduardo, Geishy, Gonzalo, Jacqui or Steve again, or how deep the ties will go if we do.
But what eventually becomes of our relationships is not the point.
Rather it’s that in a period of transition, at different stages of our lives, from countries around the globe, we met, we drank, and we shared time that was both memorable and invigorating.
Bar Liguria’s welcoming environment helped make that happen.
We’ll be back.