Tales from Valparaiso (and beyond) No. 9

It hasn't rained here since we arrived – well, to be absolutely honest, there was one morning when Ann said there was a light drizzle for a while, and another when we were first here, when I definitely felt a few drops. I asked the husband of a colleague of Ann's, someone who worked as an agriculturist, how it was that everything was so verdant and colourful with almost no rain; “Irrigation (dear boy”) was his answer. There's plenty of wind though – often it rattles the corrugated iron roof here so loudly that you think it's about to be ripped off in its entirety any moment. The wind tends to come from the East, cold off the Andes. I was standing with our landlady (no, she insisted she was a “flatmate” the other day) up on the local mirador and she pointed out that our backs were cold from the wind and our fronts, facing the lowering sun over the sea, were hot.

Politically, it still feels oppressive and close. I've just got back from our weekly poetry “taller” (round table? workshop?) at which an elderly and distinguished literary academic called Sergio Vuskovic spoke – [poetry as construction, Rilke, Plato etc] – anyway, I gathered that he was very respected and one of the last of the generation who had worked alongside Allende in the early seventies. Looking him up once I got home, I discovered that he had been town mayor of Valparaiso between '70 and '73, and – a fact that hadn't been alluded to at the “taller” - had been incarcerated and tortured after the coup, firstly on board the lovely four-masted tall ship, the Esmeralda, which belongs to the navy and is usually to be seen moored in the harbour here, and later at various concentration camps for three years or so. The horror of such things constantly stalks everyday reality here. I've never lived anywhere before which felt politically oppressive – I've only really heard it talked about. It's something rather intangible – no-one's going hungry here and everyone takes a healthy interest in football (Universidad de Chile were beating Vasco de Gama two nil just now when I went into our corner shop for a bottle of Austral beer, which, by the way, I recommend). It simply comes down to the fact that there's an even bigger differential between rich and poor here than almost anywhere else. At the same time there seems a huge and intractable force politically preventing any change to the status quo. This is in part structural, a result of the constitution which Pinochet put in place precisely to ensure this very “stability” once democracy was restored; partly it's the presence of a strong right-wing element, some of which (as witnessed by the Miguel Strassnoff incident last week) has a Nazi background; but most of all there seems to be a lack of will (or a broken will, if you like) on the part of ordinary people to engage. When discussing these things with Arturo, back in the days when I was having Spanish lessons with him, I put forward the point of view that “at least you haven't had a history of revolutions, like Argentina, Mexico and much of the rest of South America”. His reply was, more or less, “more fools us”.

We went to a fantastic concert in a new room on the top floor of the Piedra Feliz last Saturday – a guitar quartet called “Diapason Porteño”. Finally got to meet Gorge Coulon, founder of Inti-Illimani and a friend of Jan's – he happened to be sitting by us and reminisced about visits to Edinburgh in the 70's and 80's. I also attended the Orquesta Marga Marga concert again at La Sebastiana – Dvorak, Bach and a Brazilian composer called Santoro. All very Russian – their Bach double was a pretty good imitation of the Oistrakhs' recording I grew up with.

Previous Next


A fiennes.org site

Mr McFall’s Chamber is a registered charity: SC028348

Design by fogbank.co.uk