The face of the city itself is changing as well, as bold new buildings rise up in the suburbs of Las Condes and Providencia. Controversial public art installations have sparked lively citywide debates on morality and aesthetics. (A dispute over a museum exhibit featuring live fish in blenders ended when someone stole the fish.) Even the businesslike Metro is showing provocative art in its subway stations.

To try to get a fix on all this, I dropped in on the offices of a new magazine called Cultura Urbano - the sort of glossy arts-and-culture publication that has existed forever in other Latin American capitals, but is breaking new ground in Chile. What, I asked, is behind all the changes?

"I think it's partly generational," mused Javier Cancino, the magazine's creative director at the time. "You have a whole generation of younger people who grew up during a period of rapid economic growth. We looked around and realized that the country had gotten richer, but the culture hadn't grown at all. So we're trying to catch up."

Cancino, who has worked in Milan and Buenos Aires, said the challenge now is to channel the creative energies in positive ways. He told me about the sudden fashion for nudity in theater - some of it used to good effect, much of it not. Then he led me to his window to show me two new buildings. One was a bit too daring, the other a bit too derivative. "We're in a period of abrupt change and experimentation," he explained. "And just like in the United States in the 1960s, we're producing some really beautiful things and some really ugly things."

But isn't that frustrating? I asked. "Just the opposite," he said with a shrug. "When I left my job in Buenos Aires, a friend asked me, 'What on earth are you going to do in Santiago?' And I said, 'In Santiago, there's plenty to be done.'"