PAUL K LYONS
JOURNAL - 1976 - SEPTEMBER
1 September, Salta
SPACING OUT IN SALTA
So there we were in Salta (we moved to Hotel Guermes, our room had a small balcony with four rocking chairs) and had a very pleasant stay. Money changing was a laugh - Gabriel was very put out that the banks gave more for travellers cheques than cash dollars. This ruined his whole theory about dollars. We got 230 for our dollar, but the official rate is half that.
It's like being in Europe again. The foods is blowing our minds. For half a dollar, we had a huge steak for breakfast, plus cafe con leche. There are Heladerias, Confiterias, Restaurants, Pastelarias, Pizzerias, Cafes. The streets are abuzz with shops, including Gaucho shops. These are huge spacious places where the walls are lined with hanging cowhides. They sell saddles, suitcases, knives, rucksacks, bags, flags, gaucho jackets, shirts and hats (wide-brim).
I leave tonight on the 23:15 for Cordoba, a 24 hour trip costing 1,330 pesos. I will have spent three days in Salta wandering around the shops in a daze of eating. I did visit a museum and a small but modern university outside the town in treeless desert. It was parched concrete and land broken only by the rustle of voices (the state uni is free, but there is a Catholic uni which is not free). The churches are a little decorative.
Young women wear make-up and trousers here; they are not very pretty, but they are all well-dressed. Two came and talked to me today in the park. They said they would write to my parents and tell them they met me. We are meeting again this afternoon and they will bring a record.
Funny thing of the day: all parked cars leave their handbrakes off so that people can push them together until the bumpers are touching so as to make room for more; they play with them like toys.
Scottish marmalade from the orange groves of Glasgow - Gabriel
THE BREAKFAST SERVER
The Municipality of Tarija is home to some markets like any others in Bolivia. There is nothing special about any of them, nothing really warrants this intrusion on paper. But in one corner of the largest and most central market is an area designated for breakfasts: 'Municipality of Tarija - Desayunos'. Dark rooms with wooden chairs and tables line both sides of the corridor and women in white coats stand amidst their cooking ovens, pots and pans. These breakfast ladies are the first at the market to open. Each one serves a table with efficiently with hot api, tea, coffee, milk and sopapillas.
One morning, in my efforts to enhance world equality, I sat at the only table that was empty of customers. A young girl, 14 or 15 only, was serving - all the other breakfast ladies were middle-aged. This girl seemed lost, lost within her own oven, inside her pots; she got tangled up around my order. While other customers were drawn to tables by the harsh and shrill voices of the older women, this young one was too timid to raise her voice, so I remained alone at the hard board table.
I was, for a second no more, struck by the plight of this woman (perhaps her mother was ill), and the circularity of life. I imagined that all these women must have been through such an apprenticeship. In ten years or more, I was sure, this one would become a master breakfast server of the Municipality of Tarija.
THE GREAT STEAK ROBBERY
Argentina struck with an extravaganza of steaks, wines and hot showers, like we had never seen before. Everyone was dressed in fine clothes; there were seas of neon lights; the restaurant, cafes, food stores frightened our taste buds and juddered our stomachs.
I joined three friends to eat in a quiet courtyard comedor. For our first meal in the country, we ordered churrascos. Twenty minutes later a metal stand with a charcoal fire and grill was placed by our table. On the grill three steaks were cooking. Each one was twice as long as the diameter of the plates. This was the Argentina we had heard about. We laugh and laugh and laugh. With due cunning, we cut the steaks in half, leaving one half on the grill to sizzle.
The tragedy begins another when we are still struggling through the first halves, cutting slowly, chewing slowly and beginning to swallow with reluctance.
Enter the hero. He is a young kid, dirty, ragged, ugly and physically deformed; he seems only to be able to move sideways, to sidle. Every movement is an effort.
He sidles slowly into the courtyard and towards the bbq with widening eyes. Very slowly, with two fingers, he lifts one of the steaks. The very faintest traces of pleasure begin to show on his face. Still slowly, he starts to sidle away.
Enter the bully. A large corpulent waiter with outstretched hand snatches the meat from the boy's hand. The steak is returned to the consuming grill. The boy cowers, screams in a corner; the bully feigns attack, and then brushes the boy out with a vehement boom. The boy cries tragically. We see or respond to little of this, and our laughing continues unabated.
I don't think the child was crying because he had been hit or threatened but because of the sudden shift in emotions, from approaching ecstasy back to starvation. The steak was his. He was not aware of other people or of obstacles to his keeping the steak, only that he had it in his hands. That is all.
The laughing still continues with the crying, together as everywhere.
Sunday 5 September, Mendoza
AWAY CARRIED TO THE STARS
Quietness and peace within and without as I travel alone again. Between stars and parallel bars it feels like I am in London or Madrid again, just a stone's throw away from home. I cannot perceive Argentina or the past few months. I travel in a dream. I am anxious to arrive in Santiago and the letters waiting there.
I sit now in the cafe of the bus station of Rio Cuarto awaiting the bus to Mendoza. It is snowing. The parks, trees, cars, television aerials are all covered in snow. I am told snow is very rare here. It's beautiful.
It was a 24 hour train journey from Salta to Cordoba. I was ill then and I still am now: sore throat, bad cold, pussy eyes, and a still infected navel. Someway, somehow I had to leave. Didier remained evenly the same, but I got bored, and felt I could no longer give him what he wanted, someone to follow. Escape from Gabriel and Jaspar was also necessary. Although the train was crowded for the first couple of hours of the night, I had four seats to myself for the rest of the journey and slept well. The scenery was boring: endless scrub, occasional oases of cowboy towns with many carts and wagons pulled by two, four or six horses. Basically I slept, meditated, and read about the stars ('Stars in the Making' by Cecilia Payne Gaposchkin).
A DAY IN CORDOBA
I arrived at this incredibly large city at 11:00am and fell asleep at the first bed I found. On Friday I sussed out the town - a heavy day. It was back to my old world style of travelling, endless trudging. My homeward parcel had to be disinfected. I bought new shoes. I visited the university playing fields, and the museum of art (some pictures by Pettoruti particularly impressed me). Cordoba is a city of over a million inhabitants. I wandered around in a haze, a daze, a dream, not understanding that I was in Argentina in South America - the concept was too difficult. There were many pretty women and rows and rows of civilised people far better dressed than in England. It was impossible to tell the rich from the not so rich - more people wear suede coats than not.
I thought I'd see some theatre in the evening, but it didn't start until 10:00pm. I sat around for an hour or so, but when only one or two people came, I gave up and walked back to town. At a gallery somewhere, people were gathering to listen to a folk group, so I joined in. More people kept arriving until well after 1:00am. The three musicians - drum, accordion and guitar - played for half an hour. It was nothing very exceptional. Then a man told jokes for 45 minutes. Most of the audience seemed to like him, but I understood nada. Finally, there was a guitarist with a very emotional singer. Tiredness eventually got the better of me.
Monday 6 September, Mendoza
SNOW ON THE WAY
For some inexplicable reason I am very happy to be in Mendoza. The sky is grey with snow, the streets wet with sludge, the air cold cold cold. English plane trees line all the streets, there are still leaves on the pavements from winter. (At night one can see black velvet buttons in the plane trees, thousands of them, beautifying and mystifying the tree. They are sleeping blackbirds.)
So, after the one very hectic day in Cordoba, I thought I would leave. I almost decided to stay because of a terrible terrible cold. I wrote a letter to my parents about Argentinian breakfasts then decided to go for it, to hitch in the bitter cold of the afternoon. I stood in a good place right out of town, and the lorries were usually driven by lone drivers, and many were going to Mendoza and Rio Cuarto. But I didn't even get a sniff of a lift. Eventually, I gave in and caught an expensive bus all the way to Rio Cuarto - half way there. Rio Cuarto in a snowstorm proved a very forbidding and uninviting, people hurried from treacherous streets to fireside streets, and I ended up at a most ghastly hospedaje. But I found a comforting confiteria and sat and wrote. Then I went out to eat a steak and spinach. It was still snowing on Sunday morning when I booked a seat to Mendoza. There was a very friendly Mary on the bus. She was pretty. We conversed for some hours on matters of great world importance, but my Spanish still sucks.
On the bus I read 'A personal anthology' by Borges with some old favourites in: Death and the Compass, Borges and I, Averroes search etc, and some mythology - really got into Pometheus, Dionysus, Demeter, Persephone and Jason.
Once in Mendoza it took a long time to find a cheap hotel. This morning I wandered around for hours through the galleries and department stores. Now I sit in a small cafe in the university teaming with gregarious virgins, all sitting in groups of four or five or six, and moving around to talk to other groups. Close friends greet each other with a kiss on the cheek, they chit and chat intensely.
I saw 'The Romantic Englishwoman' with Glenda Jackson and Michael Caine. There was lots of reflections in glass, but the story was poor.
I bought some new trousers, and a shoulder bag, and a book in English, and a handful of melted snowmen.
Money: $176 cash, $770 TC, £200 cash, $80 air ticket, A$3000 cash = $12
Wednesday 8 September, Mendoza
I lost myself in a labyrinth, one I never entered. I was caught in a web called Wednesday 8 September 1976. The magnetism of the ordinary drew me again and again through circles and spirals to the same street, an ugly street, a street I had scorned in my snobbery of tourism, for it was full of gimmic glitter shops and travel agents offering tours and rip-offs. My scorn, my snobbery reflected like a punch that whirled me into some corner of a Borges maze.
Las Heras. Did I take two hours to find a room on arriving, was it in Las Heras? Did I want to stay there, in a room full of snow and myself? Did I try and leave for brighter things? A wrong road and the return . . . to Las Heras, not for me, or by me, just finding myself there again. The previous day had already been a loop of the ends of Las Heras, as if they had been joined together. I had to visit the rat traps, each more than once to find my cheese. Then the escape again, almost running, diving through the labyrinth walls, beginning to succeed, to draw further and further away from the exits and the entrances. Black goats be cursed. The further away I got the more heat I lost, but then the solution occurred - I had to return. The returning bus warmed me like liquor and left me standing in Las Heras. Circumstances foretold I would have to visit every rat trap on that street, and so I did, more than once, only to find there was no escape for two days. It wasn't until half way through Friday morning that I was given the key to escape, do doubt through an entrance. As Borges would say, there are no exits only entrances to Las Heras.
'The Three Musketeers' (same director as Paper Moon) with Oliver Reed, Raquel, Spike Milligan, Michael York (star of Winston and Conduct Unbecoming). 'Conduct Unbecoming' also with Michael York. Both good. Exhibition: Fidel Roil Matons born 1884 in Spain, lived in Mendoza most of his life. Much better was an exhibition of ceramic ladies all with names and exceedingly stylish. The Museo of Art was a disappointment.
My shopping: 100gm salami - 26; 100gm mortadela - 18; 200gm cheese - 52; one yoghurt - 25; one large brown bread - 30; six oranges - 30; four apples - 15. Total - 196 pesos or 40 English pence.
The News at 9: MIG25 flown to Japan by defecting pilot; Korea warming up; Lebanon still a blood bath; drought in England continues; Argentine government opening up a little.
Sabado 11 September, Santiago
It is the third anniversary of the Pronuncamiento Militar. This morning I woke with rocks in my back and a man crapping three feet away. The big round white moon had changed to a big round yellow sun playing musical chairs with a few clouds in the sky. Walking through the sad, dirty, grey streets of Santiago looking for a hotel, a girl took my hand and offered herself to me. We shared an apple and coffee and said goodbye - I didn't like the colour of her handbag. My god, are all hotels papered with gold - I can't find one under two dollars. But for three Chileno pesos I buy El Mercurio, an excellent paper, and inside are advertisements for rooms and hotels etc. just like in any city. So cursing the hotel racketeers I run laughing hard and harder, and catch a bus, the B12 which takes me to an area where I can find a bed sitter place - sharing a room for 10 pesos - which makes me happy. Unlike in Las Heras, I've managed to get round the tourist trap system.
So with a bed in my pocket and a whole new city to laugh through, I head for the procession and anniversary celebrations. It is three years since the junta was overthrown. But I have a memory of a film about Chile which portrayed the junta as good and the new government as so bad.
[Picture of the Chilean flag] If I filled every page of my little book with this flag, it might give some idea how this country, this city is today, submerged in the flag, every house, flat, shop, child, street vendor has one. Most people walking the streets are waving it. The flags are cheap, the small ones start at one peso each; there are badges, pin-ons, hats. posters too. Maybe the government decreed that all persons must show the tricolour.
Although it was sad and grey and dirty for me this morning, the city seemed to put on its make-up and start smiling. Thousands of people formed a crowd, a procession. Banks, schools, faculties, corporations, ministries etc all operated floats, the people - young and old, smart, scruffy, bearded and non-bearded - appeared jubilant. The procession paraded slowly along Avenida Benardo O'Higgins Libertador, past the infamous Pinochet and his scandalous rogues and their smiling plastic waving wives.
I felt that the people were playing a game, but were basically happy to be playing it. I didn't feel any bad vibes in the crowded streets. Then along came Peter who I met in the park when I had time to kill after paying my respects to Pinochet. We talked of Chile and the people. There were many people who lost friends and relatives in the slaughter three years ago, he said, and today is the anniversary of their slaughter. People don't like to remember this. Everybody in the procession seemed happy but they were probably government workers obliged to parade. There were no anti-groups which does seem a bit strange. Apparently Chile had one of the freest societies in South America - now it is ruled by a military dictatorship, and the people have lost their freedom. Economic stability is still far away.
Peter was sitting in the park waiting for some girls, and so when they arrived, I, along with Peter, accepted an invitation to go to their house, and that was the end of peace and solitude for 36 hours.
Sunday 12 September, Santiago
THE RAMBLING LETELIERS
The Letelier family consists of one mother, five daughters, one son and one extra sister who lives with them. The Spanish above is a message from the mother, and the Spanish overleaf is a message from the youngest and cutest girl. She kisses everybody anytime she goes anywhere. Next youngest is the prettiest, sexiest girl, the one with the brightest future. The brother is in the compulsory military, and must have a hard time living with house full of women, he tends to isolate himself from the family. Next comes the married one who has a child, and is the most frivolous and least thoughtful; then the family domestic one; and then the eldest who is the most intelligent, and reads and studies a lot. She has a small physical handicap but is sweet and lively. They live in a modest house near the great new stadium, second only to the gigantic one in Rio de J. On our arrival they all attack us with questions and kindness and giggles and curiosity. We soak in the home atmosphere. There is a curfew at 1pm strictly enforced, so we had to stay the night. This was no trouble. They expected us to stay. What a crazy family.
To backtrack a bit. In Mendoza I went to a lecture, a learned professor's holiday snaps of Indians at Tiwanacu and llamas at Machu Picchu. I stayed for the sake of listening to the Spanish only. The following morning, Didier showed up. It was a complete coincidence. The tourist office had supplied him with a list of hotels and he'd chosen mind. On Thursday we had sunshine for the first time in a week. I spent the day walking through the park and zoo, and soaking up the shops again. Didier and I agreed that the girls of Mendoza were unusually pretty and sexy - sitting in a sidewalk cafe left me breathless.
There was a film called 'Rosemary's Baby' and another 'Let's Make Jessica Laugh'. The first was one I had been waiting to see for ages, but was a little disappointing: stereotyped characters and a slow moving plot. The second was a less original story, but well done with excellent acting.
I spent Friday 10 September waiting at borders high, high in the mountains. There was cold air, white tipped peaks, rugged rocks, and a slow search of every person's baggage. The Andes here are not very wide, but they are tall and majestic in their slimness. My first night in Chile was outside near a building site - I couldn't believe the prices of the hotels in Santiago.
13 September, Santiago
So to continue past history. Saturday and Sunday were full of walking and laughing - too much. On Sunday we breakfasted at eleven with the Leteliers, and then Peter and I managed to escape to feel the air away from the laughing mad women. But we returned for a lunch of a cabbage, rice and a sort of spinach tortilla - very tasty. I had a belly full of laughs. The pretty elder sister escorted us to town, to walk on Santa Lucia, a garden of rocks reaching above the buildings with great views of distant mountain peaks and the endless city. We walked pavements, crossed roads, went sightseeing, played childish games in parks - felt free.
I feel at the peak of myself being free and being child, playing games, being one with other people. And yet there is always more - a higher place, more interesting people, more to find, more to experience. There is always that pulsating star of gold and silver just out of reach, always another summit to climb.
My boarding house is full of seedy old men. It reminds me of a place in Christchurch.
Monday comes and I can collect letters from the British Embassy. Such nice words from a questioning Lynn; a sad Phil; a marrying Tudor. Anna is back in England. Peter is a little bit confused and wishing to travel. Annabelle is recovering from tragedy. Otherwise there are normal notes from Lizzie, Anna in Christchurch, Peter Piper, Hilary, Frank in Iceland who didn't catch hepatitis, Grandma. Colin sends me two letters and a book. He is still searching so hard, but taking the right roads I think. No letters from my family at all.
So as usual after letters the day was full of tears and smiles - all the emotions that words bring.
The British Embassy is near to Providencia which is the ricos area of Santiago, as Miraflores in Lima. Comparing the two cities - this one is less interesting, has less atmosphere, less antiquity, less poverty.
Didier and I swap letters on the top of Santa Lucia. I meet Peter later, and then another Englishman, who is young and tall and slim. If the English traveller (as opposed to any other nationality) could be characterised it would be like these two: travellers willing to enter into local life, to take on the responsibility of local friendships, to give themselves to the land, to not be seen in gringo places or hotels.
I read papers in the library of the English-Chileno Institute. Later we took Luan and Martha to see 'Dog Day Afternoon' (Al Pacino).
Now, as I sit on my bed in this seedy little boarding house with the time approaching the middle of the night, I am finally up to date with this diary. I should say that many things strike me in the day, but where are the resources to remember them. I miss so much. Let it be. Everything is.
THE PURPLE MOUNTAIN GOAT
The Travel Lodge Hotel Keeps one in a cupboard
A cardboard cut-out, children painted Hangs by a silk thread From a moon
He pretends He has moons and memories Mountains, lakes and autumns Mirrors in his pockets Mirrors hang from strings He is proud to call his own
The Methodist Church Holds in an iron coffin Some of his past A gold altar of forgiveness Hangs from the broken chords A myth chimes somewhere too
A statue stands A likeness on Boulder Beach
He pretends That in his sleep He does not dream
All purple mountain goats dream They dream of sex Of China, chocolate and church bells
He closed his eyes Between the painter and his paper A portrait of closure Of purple lids Tied with pride
The shutters unfold Like a decade of depression Like a silver hill of pretension
A wooden Balinese sculpture Stands, close to life On a mantlepiece in Euston It purple slowly turns It pivots towards the East
All purple mountain goats Pivot to the east
He pretends That laughter beckons him to sea To final fountains To posess Himself and all-self
An ocean contains him He lies, tired On a purple island Eating purple grass and past
At dinner time His name is called Winds rustle A whisper comes 'Is it me you really want?'
He pretends That church bells always ring
The whispers on his lips Come from mountain spires From where he fell To land on the rocky mirror ledge There he stayed a lifetime He pretends
'A purple mountain goat Landed in Hyde Park At 4am this morning He seems shy.'
When the clouds had boiled And the beetroot soup served He explained The mirror on the ledge
It televised a descent
He had learnt The ascent, was in fact Down
How pride rules a purple mind The iced over pacemaker Just a safety rail For the mountain path
As if a purple mountain goat Needs a safety rail
Or an emergency exit
He who never climbs By precipitous paths
The artist cannot find the colour today
And the zoo has one too
Wednesday 15 September, Santiago
Yesterday, Tuesday, was a day spent with Steve the Englishman. We swapped travel stories here and there and everywhere - the world is round. There was a terrible free French film in the evening, and a trip to see Jesus Christ Superstar, but sitting in the park seemed a more worthwhile occupation. There I met Martha and we went to see an art fair with lots of handicrafts, jade, ivory, straw, paintings, copper, leather, clay.
I find I am rejecting Didier, but I feel it is necessary.
Santiago is very friendly, people have such open eyes.
This morning I talked to Peter about religion and sex, what else.
Independence Day, 18 September, Vina del Mar
Wednesday smouldered away; the evening was a cloud of wasted movements, in and out of cinemas and parks, the evening was a smoked cigarette.
On Thursday I planned a voyage to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar. I tried autostop (hitchhiking), but it seemed everyone else was getting a ride but the little boy blue. I even attempted stopping buses. Eventually some kind people carried me swiftly through to Valparaiso. Valparaiso could never be mistaken for anything other than a port: naval uniforms, railway tracks, ships, sailors bars, fish, shipping companies. There is a large British consulate. The pretty hills are covered in slums. Vina del Mar, by contrast, is full of large elegant hotels which tower over the sea, and high rise apartments, rich shops, grass lawns, tea stalls, clean streets and well-dressed people.
I call a tea house home for a while and sit open-mouthed at string-bikinied schoolgirls. A French man talks about paradise. I take Bus 30 to Estadia Sausalito and the youth hotel. Five pesos a night and hot showers!
Friday was Independence Day eve. With the Frenchman I shuffled between the beach and the tea stall - the sun is very hot, the water very cold. Bread and tea for sustenance.
Shall I return to Santiago or stay. At night there are echoes from the stadium. The sun goes down between the trees across the lake.
The cueca, the traditional dance of Chile is very effeminate, a little bit charming. A couple walk backwards and forwards three times with the kerchiefs drooped over their shoulders, then they twirl around each other waving the handkerchief in the air or holding it in both hands and waving it across the face. The music can get a little boring.
Spring and south and me Apples and bread and cheese What more to please
Sunday 19 September, Santiago
PERISCOPES PARA PARADES
The sun is a moon, grey cloud covers the Pinochet charade. Parque O'Higgins has a multitude of Sunday trippers, some watch the military parade from the street or the rope line, some sell cigarettes, candies, cakes, balloons. The sellers move through the crowd with an urgency and a loud voice. Children are flying military kites. Sometimes the string breaks, if then the kite comes to land, a reception committee of screaming kids brawl for the thing. (A 12 year old boy standing next to me wears a t-shirt with a photograph of a nude woman hiding her large breasts with her hands covering the front!) Jets zoom-whizz-spooz across the sky.
Most spectacular of all is the periscopes. Every third person has a home-made five peso periscope. Some don't know to use them, the top mirror is only an inch above their eyes; some are looking up and some back. I would not be surprised if I had seen someone standing on their head looking through their espejos.
As it is Sunday, I spent an hour reading the bible, but I didn't find anything interesting. I went to a wonderful market with secondhand books, broken machine parts, Mendoza jeans, coins. I bought a duffel bag, a string of beads (for a pretty girl), a book, two pocket watches (I must be the only gringo on the road who has three watches, two of which don't work). It was just a sort of trading mart. Peter says there are such things in Australia.
Monday 20 September, Curico
Sunday fizzled away. Peter and I tried to get away from the Letelier house as early as possible. We became a little cool and they became a little cool, though Eugenia went on talking, and the mother went on watching television in her bedroom. At one point, the house was besieged with people, including several beautiful girls. They were off to the fondas, but Martha, Eugenia and Luan didn't want us to go with them. It felt like Peter and I belonged to them and they weren't going to share us. Martha seemed to have a little evil, and Luan was appearing younger each time I saw her. Overall, I was most impressed by the mother. So, it's goodbye to the Leteliers. Peter and I were happy to have left. We celebrated with a coffee and sweet rock in the square and a smoke at his hotel - sleep seemed like the ultimate ecstasy.
To backtrack to Saturday. I waited two hours for a lift before a lawyer took me back to the boarding house back in Santiago. He told that no-one is allowed not to work, and that economic recovery is forthcoming. Allende's government was just falling apart. I bussed here and there to find some excitement but ended up at the Leteliers in time for dinner. Peter and Didier were their stuffing their smiles. I was barraged with questions.
[This is a note in Spanish, and translated in English] Have you ever realised that within yourself there is a beautiful garden? A wonderful garden of thoughts fragrant with love, kindness, understanding and peace and more beautiful that any of the flowers that grow on earth. With love, Eugenia Letelier. Chile, Santiago, 19 September 1976.
MONDAY BLUES - TO BE OR NOT TO BE A MORON
Monday is still here and, so far, has been one of those very bad days. There was no more mail at the embassy. I waited six hours wait for no lift, and then took the bus to Rancagua, and the train to Curico. Maybe Curico is waiting for me, but somehow I don't think it knows I'm coming. Standing on the road today watching all those cars go by I was a moron. Being a moron is not very interesting. It means you don't think. You walk backwards and forwards. You kick stones. You feel cold. You look at your watch. You try to cry. You sing lines of songs over and over again. The brain is null, void. I do not like to be a moron. When finally I took a bus, I withdrew into my mind, to cool the fiery speedy body. When subdued and ready to take on the world again. I was already in Rancagua.
On the platform of the Rancagua railway station, I shared my bread with a beautiful long shaggy-haired half-breed collie. He was very hungry, but still majestic and proud in his humility. He was certainly the most interesting animal on the platform. I was reminded of the dog that befriended Lynn and I on Stewart Island.
TRAGEDY WITHIN AND WITHOUT ME
It is 3:30am on Sunday morning. Didier, Peter and I are waiting at a bus stop. A woman falls on the road. I help her up. After a while she staggers towards us and mumbles incoherently. She wears bright lipstick. No, she has no lipstick, her spit is bright red as well. I stare. So many things go through my mind. She needs a doctor, no if or buts, she needs a doctor. That means I must take a taxi, pay for it, virtually carry her to the hospital, and then find, probably, that the hospital won't have anything to do with her. Didier and Peter mumble incoherently, the world mumbles incoherently. Who am I? it is 3:30am. There is a woman probably dying. I am standing there, pitying myself. A young boy appears from somewhere. He watches incoherently. My friends, fed up of waiting for a bus, hail a taxi. We are going. Can I go? Can I move from this spot? Can I just leave her? My feet are moving, my heart is crying. I am nobody. I crumble inside. I look behind to see the boy is trying to help her. He is pulling her up off the ground.
I read this in the Sunday morning papers: Last night, a lorry ran uncontrolled into a crowd - a brake had been left off, or the drunk driver had taken a wrong turn. More than 50 people were mowed down and 23 of them died. The crowd wanted to lynch the driver. He and I are one.
Wednesday 22 September, Concepcion
In the morning I got a lift first car through to Talca. I thought I'd found the answer, garages, garages, I must hitch at garages. So there I was at this garage when a bus to San Javier arrived. I thought I was going to Constitution and I knew that the road to Constitution went from San Javier, so I took the bus. But the road was very empty, and the tar turned to pebbles and stones and dirt, and then there were no more cars. I like to walk (but how many books do I have in the rucksack on my back). The land is beautiful; there are vineyards, orchards in blossom, streams, rivers, green grass. It's a paradise between the snowmen and the dolphin pool. The country villas have a style of their own with verandas, wooden doors and frames, with pleasingly-carved supports carved. The Chileans are a tranquil easy people. They say there is a drought, but I see rain in rivers and green grass and dark rich soil.
I saw a fire engine flying along a road through the orchards. It was like a long row of blood red roses.
There was a lot of waiting at Linares until I asked a lorry driver at a garage. He took me to Porral. There was a lot of waiting at Porral until I asked a car driver at a garage. He took me all the way to Concepcion. A man with a three day old beard talked to me in the coffee house. He was humble in his poverty, offering me everything he had, but I wanted nothing, or nothing he had to give.
I wish to be a daisy, to open my petals early in the day to accept all the day has to give and then close in on myself at night to understand through the darkness what I have felt.
I BUBBLED ALL DAY AND THEN I BOILED
The man in the zapateria put nails in my shoes for nothing. It makes me happy when people don't see everything in terms of money. And the woman at the foodstall in the market was glad to look after my rucksack. The sun shines. I can see forested hills surrounding Concepcion. The young woman in the tourist office is very helpful and finds me a cheap residencial. She is happy and smiling. I am too. I find a toilet with toilet paper (deluxe variety). I lose and then find my bolsa. The sun shines. I can see the morning. The old woman in the residencial is a fidgeter. The bed is springy. We are a family, she says. Barato no!. She smiles uglily. I smile prettily.
I eat apples and bread and cheese in the plaza, and write letters at the university.
Carlos, 19, studies statistics at the University of Concepcion. His father pays $100 to the university, buys his clothes, pays his uncle for board and lodging. He also gives him $10 a month to spend. This is 5 pesos a day, which means, basically, he can buy one coffee in town or two at the university a day and no more. Almost no students work because they cannot find jobs - all jobs are permanent for eight hour a day employees. Carlos is ready to listen, ready to talk. He's very quick at understanding. He watches sport on television, walks around town with his friends, and sits in cafes.
I had bubbled through the day, and then when Carlos left I boiled. The piece of paper in front me said Colin, so I boiled to Colin.
When I arrived back at Mother Hubbard's house, one of my watches was missing, it sparkled too brightly. I hear the howls of a child who broke the hands of it in his fiddles. Everybody is very sorry. The girls next door are inviting. Peter sits in the square surrounded by curious boys. My feelings border on jealousy because he has been taken in by ricos, he is being fed good food, and has a nice house to live in. By contrast, I have to go out of my way to get home while avoiding dangerous streets. I don't like these feelings in me, the envy when other travellers find good trips. I don't feel greed when I see a well-dressed man in a fast car like many people, but I have the same kind of thing in a different way. There is no hurt or importance attached to this envy. I think I'm learning.
23 September, Concepcion
SPRING AND SOUTH AND ME
I am beautiful that is all, there is nothing else. To think that I never change, that I never act against my conscience, that I know anything at all, that I am not ugly, that I am not beautiful, that I am without gods, that I am free - is all absurd. I break and fold, turn and spin, lie and run, drown and fly in the way that I am.
Spring and south and me
Apples and bread and cheese, spring and south and me
Mother Hubbard is old and small and is wrapped in clothes. She sits in a small space between the three beds in a small room, sipping maté from the silver straw and talking of the house she used to have. How big it was, how near town, and how much better life was. The children nearby befriend me with such smiles. I am trying to smile at all the world. Something about the house reminded me of the flat in Albany Street with Mike, Richard and Jim.
Friday 24 September, Concepcion
The main plaza of Concepcion is a punch bowl. There are lots of benches, mostly empty because the weather isn't good. In the middle is a fountain and pool with fish, large grey ones (they are content in a way similar to me). Around the square little barefooted kids beg, collect together to play, have a sort of showiness and a freedom. The begging is more like a game than a profession (Peter says that, before the coup, kids did not beg). The other night I watched two chicas and a young boy walk round and round. They were pretty and wore simple smiles with togetherness on their faces. The young boy rolled up his sleeve and played at trying to grab a fish. Then he talked to the beggar children and they started to show off for him, doing handstands and cartwheels.
I go to the American Institute and try for a job. Yes, a teacher is needed, but only for six hours a week at 20 pesos an hour. Not even a purple mountain goat can live on that.
The girls next door - fourth year philosophy students - giggle over my Spanish puns that are illusions to sex. They have very little money, and seem never to go out at night.
Saturday 25 September, Concepcion
SIGHT AND SOUNDS OF A MORNING JUST PASSED
The sun rose in a cloudless sky. The market opens with a yawn, the apples are arranged, trestles are set up, charcoal fires form, goods are unpacked. Who smiles at seven-o-clock in the morning. I smile. Saturday has joined Spring and South and Me. The train is tired and not happy to work so early. An accordion player busks. The music is cheerful and cheery. One party of people are alive and bright, they warm to the music, and I warm to them. The train too plays its music on the rails and sings to the rocks, waves and beaches that flash by.
While the morning still unwinds I dance on the beach along the surf crushing shells and smelling salt. I walk the rail road track like a warrior. The beach and track are parallel, inbetween the fish die, get ribbed and sold by fish women so far different from mermaids. I smell the fish and the salt. I share an orange with a basket weaver. He has a coat and blanket and bag (I'm sure these are his home), a knife for stripping the reeds, a wooden shuttle for splitting them in three and a contrivario for planing the stripped reeds (a knife edge fixed to a board with a small gap through which the reeds are pulled). I think he is making a lobster pot, will sell it, and then buy bread and wine, and sleep on the beach.
On the train, one poor man got into a fight with another. The guards dragged the other off to another carriage, and then, when they came back, the beggar gave them a piece of bread. The beggar had a crutch. He stood on it and shouted down the quiet corridor. The train stopped. The beggar hobbled off and back down the track. Who laughs? Who is free?
Monday 26 September, Concepcion
TO DANCE - FIRST WIND THE MECHANISM
Saturday night was contrived. Peter, the wild one, planned the evening. He got on the phone to his polopola to get 'two more girls', but he only found one. Que tragedia. I try and explain it is not important. We go to one girl's house where the mother gives us icecream cake (having smoked some local home grown, it tasted delicious). A doll comes down from a dressing room, so now there are five of us going to the fiesta de odontologia. The music is atrocious. The people jig as if at a funeral. Everyone is worried because I haven't got a girl, so one is found. But she has deadpan, bored expression. She sits down until some fast music comes and the we dance a little. It's all so formal, tight, square, boxed. The girl has beauty and a body and a certain movement when you wind her up; and underneath the painted face and crutch-hugging jeans she has some soul but how oh how will it ever come out. Pedro the wild one has a sister who spent two years in the States. She studies tourism. She likes the freedom of youth in the States but the closeness of family here. I ask what they teach her here, but it's almost nothing. She watches television most of the time.
RAIN IS FREE
The rain is free. It costs nothing. I accept it. There is nothing else to do. It comes. It is free. Who can say no to the rain. The market is a sludge in the rain on Sunday morning. It is very obviously Sunday morning. I drink coffee under a dripping roof with happy children. I am walking in the rain. Walking is free too. Who is free? Me and rain and walking. The morning folds up amongst many cafes and shelters and ends in a gentle afternoon by a wood fire listening to Joni Mitchell; quietly talking and reading.
Ian Smith has declared that Rhodesia will have majority rule in two years time - another Russian pilot has defected.
Letters to Jan, Colin, Liz, Peter, Jo and Rog, Gwenda.
Wednesday 29 September, Villarica
I have few impressions left of Monday. One is trying everywhere - in pouring rain - to buy a glass for my watch. But it proved impossible. The other is leaving Mother Hubbard's establishment with the girl next door on the telephone still dressed in a nightie and revealing sexy legs.
On Tuesday a truck came and carried me very slowly to Temuco, but I have few images of Tuesday left either. There was a stupid driver, a crashing waterfall, skies that moved from a perfect blue to an ultimate grey without finite steps - a perfect transition. And later there was a sky that had rocket clouds - streaks of orange across the grey mass - and a river that was blue metallic currents with black ice. Then there was the teacher who gave me the ride I needed, She offered to take me home because her husband was away. I warmed to her and she warmed to me. I should have gone with her.
In one lift, I met a lawyer who thought the government was better now than before. Everybody was having a good time under Allende, he said, but the country was about to explode in bankruptcy. Now there was poverty and inflation but something was being done about it. Political restriction was necessary in order to recover from a bad situation.
Martha, though, was violently anti-establishment. She had friends killed in the overthrow. Steve's friends can't act in political plays or write political articles. Apparently, there is great deal unemployment and a lot of poverty. Peter and his family are all anti-establishment. They and others told us there were no begging children in the streets before, but now there are many. Two girls at the uni today told me there was just as much begging and poverty before, and there were fights in the streets. They said life was more peaceful now.
The official story is that Allende committed suicide. But many, including the British government, don't believe it. Everything happened so very quickly. Allende was buried before anybody knew. There were reports that a journalist saw his body riddled with bullets. The official death toll was a little over 500, but that seemed very few. Many the politically active people left the country.
Thursday 30 September, Valdivia
CHILE BECOMES BEAUTIFUL
The rains confused my ideals, my ideas, my plans. Villarica was cold, wet, and looked as though it has always been cold and wet. I walked along the shores of a lake to Pucon past dusty yellow trees, and lapping marshy shores. There are old wooden houses tucked away in the trees, orchards and gardens. Pucon is pretty, cold, wet. I am drawn to fires.
The oldest, most rotten bus in the Andes carried me to towards a town, to a reunion with the crawler train, a reunion with a complacent Australian travelling second class to Valdivia. My thoughts were of home, of going home, and of how beautiful Chile is - with English pubs it could be paradise. Sheep and cows graze peacefully between the trees and bushes and barbed wire fences, the land rolls gently greenly, rivers, streams, pools are abundant. It is like England. People are surprised when I tell them. A schoolgirl befriended us in Valdivia, but we let the caribineros find us a pleasant cheap place to stay. In the square, we played Lunes games with school kids. The river flowed quietly past
There's not much in Valdivia, a few markets, a few streets, a few buildings still damaged from the 1960s earthquake.
TC - $650; Chilean pesos - 800 = $53; cash - $96; Argentinian pesos - 10,610 = $42; cash - £200; air ticket - $80
Paul K Lyons
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