Tales from Valparaiso (and beyond) No. 5

I'm afraid I'm going to revert to the theme of the Beatles – it just keeps coming up here, and each time Ann says “You see?!” triumphantly. Ringo Starr's coming here soon. My seventeen-year-old English pupil, when asked which British pop she'd like to look into in our lessons, replied “Lily Allen, Adele, Muse and the Beatles”. A madman accosted us outside the cinema with a long long rant about the Beatles, how he was going to go to Liverpool etc – he also went on about Genesis, and I was grateful to Ann for not mentioning that I was at school with them otherwise we'd have been there all night.

The references come up all the time – and the songs on the radio – Please Please Me in the restaurant where we had lunch yesterday. My Spanish teacher, Arturo, who is a published poet, asked me what people in Britain thought of the Beatles today. I answered him that they were pretty much relegated to history, though, of course, people still listen to them (I think that's true – I'm more likely to get into conversation with someone about, say, Krautrock, King Crimson, even, say, Bob Dylan). He was amazed. But then, Chilean culture was put to sleep for twenty years. Following the coup in '73 all such music as Victor Jara, Violeta Parra, Inti-Illimani etc was banned. No-one heard it here, unless they happened to have an illegal cassette. Arturo told me that he belonged to the “Saturday Night Fever generation” and never heard any of that Chilean music when he was growing up. Then, as an adult, he heard a Violeta Parra song played in a bar and it completely knocked him out. So no wonder that music of the sixties sounds so fresh and new here – it's come boomeranging back with a vengeance.

Spent the weekend in Santiago with Ann. We went to The Blue Jar, a restaurant right beside the Moneda which is run by the sister (and her boyfriend) of some very good friends of Ann's. She introduced me to an English violinist there who is married to a Chilean from one of the top-notch Chilean families. She is finding musical life here a little odd. She'd like a job in the orchestra in Santiago, but they're busy recruiting Europeans straight out of college. Chileans are being edged out (“I think they're desperate to see blonde hair and blue eyes in the orchestra”). Our friend, the restauranteuse, was also married into one of THE top families in Chile – an immensely wealthy family – Anglo-Chilean newspaper magnates. We started to get a feeling for how stifling life can be within one of those leading families – going to one of the “English” schools where all that matters is rugby etc. We'd spent the last few weeks among the have-nots (albeit highly eloquent have-nots, or should I say have-not-a-lots) here in Valparaiso, so it was really interesting to mix with the top drawer for an evening – oh, and it's a spectacularly lovely restaurant and NOT AT ALL stifling or stuffy! Or even expensive. Some very nice wine was doing the rounds by the end of the evening.

Also went to dinner with friends of friends – a rather famous actress here and her English ex-Guardian-correspondent husband. She and Ann, it turned out, had been to the same school in Viña del Mar – the “English Nuns”. They were reminiscing about the various ribbons issued for good behaviour (blue being the best – especially the wide blue ones). Coca remembered, “We had to go to mass every day – but every day! - and the only thing that made it worthwhile...” “Was the honey!”, Ann interjected. “Yes, the honey!” - hoots of laughter.

Coca “disappeared” after the coup and was tortured by the army – she's spoken about it many times in interviews so I don't feel bad mentioning it here. Her father was an admiral and, although he behaved reasonably decently in tracing his daughter and sorting things out (as an admiral he obviously distrusted the army in any case), he always felt that it had been tough for him to have to put up with the ignominy of having had a bolshie daughter and having had to negotiate for her release. But then, as Malcolm had once plucked up courage to answer this rather formidable parent, “but then, Coca had to put up with being tortured!”

And now we're back in scruffy old Valparaiso - lovely as ever.

Robert McFall

Previous Next


A fiennes.org site

Mr McFall’s Chamber is a registered charity: SC028348

Design by fogbank.co.uk