The scariest movies aren’t necessarily gory or full of mask-wearing dudes chasing potential victims armed with their weapon of choice—a disturbing atmosphere or a theme that taps into our deepest fears can keep you awake at night long after the credits rolled.
Santiago’s creepiest house is a mansion located in an otherwise tiny, lovely neighbourhood, barrio París-Londres. It’s actually just a couple of cobblestone-paved streets behind the former orchard of the Iglesia de San Francisco, one of the oldest colonial-era buildings in Chile. You feel like you’re somewhere in Europe when you stroll down Calle Londres or Calle París, and both streets are always very quiet even though La Alameda is metres away.
If you don’t pay attention to the numbers, you’ll walk right past 38 Londres. It’s just a regular two-storey building with a large wooden door and a total of eight French windows with balconies. Sometimes, there are graffiti and posters around it, sometimes they have been cleaned up and the walls are bare.
This year, there was only one sentence painted in big, very legible yellow letters at the bottom of the wooden door: “Aquí torturaron a mi hijo” (“My son was tortured here”).
“27 years old… 21 years old… 22 years old… They were young,” a Chilean guy commented out loud, reading the tiles in front of the building with the names of political prisoners who were held in the clandestine detention centre.
Because that’s what this mansion used to be right after the coup, when it was seized by Pinochet junta—a clandestine detention and torture centres used by the infamous Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA) secret police. In 2005, it became a memorial, an “Espacio de Memorias.”
Not too many people step inside the building, but you’re welcome to do so.
The first thing you’ll see is what prisoners could sometimes discern while blindfolded—the black-and-white tiles in the hall, beyond the entrance. The rooms are bare, there is hardly any furniture but if you pay attention, you will notice plenty of suggestive traces, like pipes protruding out of the wall, broken tiles and burn marks on the wood flooring.
Upstairs, the windows are usually left ajar. It’s bright and sunny outside, it’s dark and eerie inside.
The view from the balconies is great.
I briefly wondered if the windows were open or closed when prisoners were here.
The neighbours must have heard everything, but what can you do against state-sponsored torture? Keep quiet, probably, resist if you can, leave if you have the chance.
Londres 38 is best visited after the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, since many of the testimonials refer to it.
Enough with the past, now. Tomorrow, I’m giving you cats and kittens (no, really!)