Buenos Aires has been called the Paris of South America but I don't agree. (Sorry Argentine friends - please cover your eyes.)
For me, when discovering a place, it's not about scale or size or grandeur. What matters most is the feeling, the smell and the little things that give a place charm and character. So, what moods, thoughts - what is that elusive quality that evokes Paris? For me, it boils down to:
(kissing / pda) + (wine + strong middle class) + (pedestrians + hills) = Santiago / Paris Dichotomy
In Paris, you can't swing a cat without hitting lovers walking arm in arm. They make you blush with all their unabashed public displays of affection (pda).
In Santiago, under traffic lights, in the restaurants, between the grassy bits of the center dividers, you will see the lovers - holding hands, kissing slowly, bodies unashamedly rubbing against another and grooming (yes, even grooming, in that tender chimpanzee kind of way - we saw a woman being groomed by her hombre - he's picking things out of her hair, from her skin - shucks, isn't that cute?)
Two, like France it is not hard to find wine that is cheap and good. Extremely good, in fact. Now, I don't know if it's the socialized thing or the strong middle class influence or that old world way that says regardless of class - rich or poor - everyone can afford wine. In Santiago and throughout Chile, it really goes to show you that it is only wine after all because for $3-4 you can get a bottle at the grocery store. And we haven't had any problems finding good ones (okay, there was the $2 glass of oil slicked wine that I had in Vina del Mar at a Pizzeria - but it was ahem $2). At a restaurant in Santiago, we paid $9 for an entire bottle with dinner (okay, ridiculously cheaper than Paris, but hey, it's Chile).
Three, pedestrians rule. This might seem strange, but in Mexico, Central and South America - it seems cars and buses have the right of way. When crossing the street, cars do not immediately accelerate. You're not perceived as roadkill - at least not in Santiago. No, you feel strangely safe. And there are pedestrian walkways too - for instance la Moneda with cafes con piernas, restaurants and shops that you can stroll until you're hearts content.
Lastly, smack in the heart of Santiago, there is Cerro Santa Lucia. It looks deceptively small like Montmatre but from the top, you have incredible views with the Andes peaking through the haze and the reminder that 5.5 million people call Santiago home. As you walk up the Cerro, there is a gushing fountain, playgrounds with running school children, snack bars selling Mote con Huesillo (a pre-columbian peach and barely drink) and you guessed it, those darn lovers necking on benches again. But from the top, you take in a lung full of that mountain air - and it feels exhilarating, springtime.
Now, I'm not trying to say that Santiago is Paris. Not trying to set up expectations either. You're not going to see berets and baguettes or hear the sounds of accordions or smell that heavenly smell from boulangeries or be mesmerized by how the light hits the Tour Eiffel every night. No, Santiago has it's own distinct vibe, it's own history and character (don't get me started with the heavily influenced Italian and German gastronomy)....and yet for a city in South America, it comes close to my version of "Paree." At least for me, it feels close.
Photos from Cerro Santa Lucia...