(A collage of postcards from early 20th Century Valparaíso can be seen below.)
A good 200 years after the Breton Guillermo's arrival at Chile and as the 8th generation of Pinochets in the country, an infant boy was born on November 25th of 1915 about one year after his parent's wedding. He was the first of a crowd of children of four, two boys and two girls. The boy was later named Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte (1915-2006), and he would later make the name Pinochet known all over the world.
There is very little the matter with Valparaíso at the present moment.
Thus wrote Englishman W. H. Koebel (1872-1923) in 1913, partly as a comment on Valparaíso's condition after an (yet another) earthquake – the big one in August of 1906, more powerful than the famous one in San Francisco in North America four months earlier. Partly it can be read as a typical British understatement on the author's impression of the town at large. Koebel's book was in its time almost a travellers guide but now a rich historical document containing information on Valparaíso and Chile at the time when Pinochet was born. Valparaíso is for South America what Liverpool is for England, Koebel writes on, but with the difference, that while Liverpool was a centre for commerce and ships only, Valparaíso does also have a unique deliciousness and charm with the presence of the rocks everywhere in town, the plazas with palms and flowers etc. A Dane, Poul »Pablo« Schouboe (1874-1941), writes in his book, »Chile«, from 1927, on the approach to the port of Valparaíso after travels to Chile from 1906 and after:
Ahead large flocks of seagulls took off. Screaming they circled the ship that now turned into the open bay.
Everyone were on the deck, enthralled by the great fairy tale taking place, everyone should witness, and stared exited with anticipation through the morning dew at the coast.
Soon the grey curtain of fog would come up and Valparaíso, that we had all heard so much about, would show, lying like an amphitheatre and picturesque up the steep mountains. The overture commenced. Thousand of sounds, meek and delicately tuned in the great natural orchestra, turned into a humming much like the one heard when one holds a conch to the ear.
The capstans on the many steamships being anchored sounded like drum rolls, while the illusion of rolling thunder by the kettledrums was created by the excessive steam.
From the harbour sounded human voices, the rumbling of wagons from the pier, hoof steps and the bray of donkeys, while the double tone of the locomotives's whistles cut through and echoed back and forth between the mountains.
On a buoy black sea birds stretched their necks, like young loafers on a street corner, looking for some fun in the street; and rows of seagulls gossiped on the large coal barges. Then the big moment - when the fogs lifted and drifted away across the ocean. The Sun shone powerfully, worked its way through the dense mist, made the marble sarcophaguses at the cemetery at Playa Ancha blind and brought life to the colours. Green like at wine bottle the bay lay under the town, while the residential area, Viña del Mar toned greyishly behind the flickering of the sun far away. House by house in varied colours, some green, some brown, close to another formed a background for the white villas on the side of the mountains, where the streets cut through, and some places almost stood vertical to the eye. The whole town seemed like a gigantic amphitheatre with the impressing bay as the arena. -
The picture holds true in an other way; for a more feared arena cannot be thought of, and the town with its amphitheatrical position has been, numerous times, been the witness of horrific scenarios taking place in the unprotected harbour, when pacific storms whirled the bay into scum and threw the unfortunate who had not in time taken to the sea into the coast, where ship and load were crushed against the rocks, while men died in the frothing waves.
Through the pitching and rocking bay a steam bark moved op to the side of the ship and moored at the manrope. It was the Danish consul with his lady coming aboard to pick up passengers, and the boat turned to shore with them and me, who was lodged in one of only few hotels still standing after the earth quake.
The prelude had ended, the overture still sounded through the room like a muffled music that got behind the hotel's doors; now the play could commence.[1b]
Also in an American book, contemporary with that of Koebel's, the author has an eye for the beauty of South America. In the book South American Life from 1912 is written:
They are superior to us in one respect. Undoubtedly the sense of beauty, the appreciation of what is artistic, is far more highly developed with South Americans than with us. It is hard to find in their countries ugliness in extended form.
Koebel in 1913 emphasises with regard to the above mentioned immigrant cultures especially the British touch in Valparaíso and that the Chileans by and large are aware of the similarities. After a longer passage on how he often takes native Chileans through many generations leading back to The Iberian Peninsula for English:
When taxed to the point, they are given to declare that they are the English of South America.
Koebel describes that while there was no British fire corps in Santiago there were two such in Valparaíso. It is mentioned that several streets are named after Britons, for example Calle Cochrane after the Scottish admiral earl Thomas Alexander Cochrane (1775-1860), who had made a name of himself during the Napoleonic Wars and since served in the navies of Chile, Brazil and Greece and at least as far as Chile's navy is concerned had formative role in giving it it's British flavour still in existence à la the formative role the Prussian Emil Körner (1846-1920) would later, in the late Nineteenth Century, have as far as the Chilean army goes. Koebel thus describes how the streets are marked by:
... naval officers and cadets, of a strangely British appearance, and the military in uniforms of German pattern.
With regard to the relation between the army and navy on one side and the ruling classes or groups on the other – and they are correctly in South American Life said to be the landed interests and the commercial interests (according to the book composed by some 100 maybe 300 families) and the church – it is said that these classes besides having secured control with and income from for instance the nitrate mines also have seized control of the army and navy as a domain for career opportunities in such a way, that it in conclusion is written:
It may almost be said that the army and navy exist for the employment of the one hundred families.
The armed forces and the privileged classes were closely intertwined throughout Chile's entire history – they presupposed each other and together formed and maintained, what one could call the »bourgeois state«.
Koebel time and again repeats his admiration for the Chilean mentality, for example an impressive hospitality that ruled from North to south in many different incarnations, with people high and low, and that is obvious in many ways
Also the joyful casualness and frankness in the country:
The average Chilian is a person of strong nerves. [...] Indeed, the life of all the classes in Valparaíso would seem unusually gay.
Pinochet in his own memoirs describes his childhood and his parent's marriage and family life as very loving, harmonic and civilised with the piano being played by his mother or records from the US being played with Italian Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) etc. His family predominantly belonged to the French circles in town, but Pinochet stresses the good relations to Spanish circles. His maternal grandfather was dead and his grandmother had married a Frenchman, Francisco Valette, who was from Tours in France and who took his step grandchildren to heart like they were his own. He told – in French – about the European wars and Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821), which Pinochet tells he knew more about that he did about the liberator and first president of the republic of Chile, Bernardo O’Higgins (1778-1842). When Pinochet was an infant, this abuelastro, »step grandfather«, simply disappeared to take part in The First World War on French side, after having told his stepson in law, Pinochet Vera – but not his wife! – about the endeavour. He returned from Europe in 1921 and was not taken back by his wife before a 5-6 year old Augusto's parents had made an effort to make the grandmother show some mercy. The conflicts in that connection allegedly made a big impression on the young boy.
All together Pinochet describes himself as a sensitive boy, who had fear of water, who inattentive spilled milk from the balcony of the movie theatre so it dripped down on people and so forth. In the autobiography is also a description of the small Augusto's first visit to see a silent movie in a movie theatre, which was later demolished so a new venue, Cine Velarde, could be built in 1931 – a building that today houses Teatro Municipal de Valparaíso on Avenida Uruguay. A North American western. A shooting was fierce. It only became worse as a steam train ran out of the screen. Small Augusto cried so much, that the lights were turned on in the hall and his mother was asked to take him out from, what he even calls esa sala de tortura, »this camber of torture«.
Being send to school by the grandmother at age four is depicted. She was ambitious on behalf of the boy. It was a school where the teacher taught the small ones from her bed and gave them candy, which made the small Augusto think of the fairy tale Hansel y Gretel, Hansel and Gretel, and the which feeding the children with the intention of eating them. Augusto ran to his home crying, back to his surprised and laughing parents. In addition to the Frenchman's stories from World War One etc., Pinochet also tells about hearing the stories from at brother of one of his mothers parents, who had fought in Chile's successful Guerra del Pacifico, War of The Pacific (1879-83) against Peru and Bolivia, whereby the desire to become a soldier was inoculated in the boy.
His description of childhood life as a porteño (i.e. an inhabitant from Valparaíso; the word can be used both as a noun and as an adjective, and not only about persons. It means for everybody in Chile without further explanation that the person, theatre group etc. is from Valparaíso.) In the early 1920's is a description of himself as a sensitive boy, and his description of life in town really is quite sentimental and vivid. The life on the squares and avenida’s in the delicious town, the warm relation to the nannies, of which one, María, during walks with the small ones was courted by and later married to a certain police officer, how enemas were used as a treatment of children of practically everything, but more was applied as a form of punishment, the sight of men who following the collapse of the nitrate industry begged in the streets and so on. The latter experience made quite an impression on the boy, but there is no trace of indignation as such, like neither with Koebel nor in the American book, that in a matter-of-fact tone reads:
The Chilean lower stratum of today is far from the refinements of civilization. Its vices and its virtues are equally strong. Among the virtues is native independence. The vices are of crude, half-conscious brute power, with little restraint of the passions.
Koebel in his 1913-book emphatically remarks the special status of the army and the navy and their characteristic. At some other passage he has a harsh though affectionate note on the Chilean's sloppiness concerning time and appointments:
Taken as a whole – although there are numerous and very notable exceptions – punctuality is not one of the virtues on which he may pride himself with any genuine sense of justice.
This statement probably tells as much about early 20th Century British mentality and way with words as it does about Chilean mentality!
Koebel goes as far as to explain, that there exists two conceptions of time, one the one side a local one in agreement with the above quoted and on the other side a Hora Inglesa, an »English time«, which means punctuality in a European sense.
With the officers at Escuela Militar del Libertador Bernardo O'Higgins in Santiago, or »The Prussian School« as Koebel calls it Hora Inglesa rules. The military men are described as sharp, intelligent and especially and more times »efficient«. Just by looking at them it is clear to the Briton, what mentality is brought into play:
The salute and all other movements of the kind are performed with a rigid rapidity which could scarcely be excelled in Potsdam itself.
The school appears almost like a town within a town with its own bakery etc., and sanitary conditions, educational facilities and facilities all together outshining everything else in town.
The women in Chile then and the conception of them is a story in its own right, and will be addressed here as Pinochet's mother and later also his wife had quite an influence on choices in his professional life, which is noted by many, among them Gonzalo Vial. Generations after Koebel and his visit, the world renowned Chilean author Isabel Allende (b. 1942) in her book Paula wrote on the conception of the role of women in Chile:
I don't know who invented the myth of the matriarchy nor how it has been perpetuated for more than a hundreds years; perhaps some visitor from the past, one of those Danish geographers of merchants from Liverpool visiting our shores noticed that Chilean women are stronger and more organized than most men are here, whereupon he rashly has come to the conclusion, that they also had power, and from years of being repeated, the fallacy became dogma. If women have influence, it is only – and then only sometimes – within their home.
Koebel's description is also complex on this issue. In part he remarks the southern blood and the conception of the woman as a temptress who is duly courted, and – one could say – is kept in the role of a temptress. In part the degree of the Chilean women's liberation is described as the highest on the continent and comparable with that in the Anglo-Saxon world on the Northern hemisphere. In a more thorough examination of the issue, the worship of The Virgin Mary so extended in the catholic world should be included. For sure, seen through the eyes of a 1960's feminist like Isabel Allende, in a social-economic regard, the women in the early 20th Century were extended their husband's wives and their children's mothers, while at the same time we have already in this chapter seen some strong female wills, some determined women, at the very least within their own domains that were disparate and disparately perceived during La belle époque, the era in the Western World from 1870 until about The First World War compared to later times. A child of the times – Danish Karen Blixen (1885-1962) – thus said in her Oration at a Bonfire, Fourteen Years Late:
A man's center of gravity, the substance of his being, consists on what he has executed and performed in life; the woman's, in what she is.
If one talks with a man about his parents, he will generally relate what his father has done in the world. »My father built the Storstrøm bridge; my father wrote this or that book; my father started this or that great business.« And if one then asks about his mother, he replies, »Mother was lovely.«
Blixen further writes, that a man's work lies outside himself, whereas:
The womans function is to expand her own being.
About many women, Blixen has known who cannot:
be said to have executed any significant deed, perhaps scarcely to have advanced a great original idea, but through their power each expanded her being until it embraced a kingdom and an empire.
This also in the postlude to an accident that occurred to Pinochet at four years of age. His left knee was run over by a horse carriage with iron clad wheels near his home ad Plaza O'Higgins. Six years old he got pains in the knee and among others the doctors on the German hospital in town made the diagnosis tuberculosis of bones and recommended amputation. But Doña Avelina had high hopes for her first-born child and his military career and rejected the verdict. She had gone to a nuns school since she was a small girl and now prayed to Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Socorro, »Our Lady of Perpetual Help«, as she is called in English, one of many titles or functions for Virgin Mary, and swore to wear brown clothes for fifteen years if the leg was saved. A German doctor had sailed to Buenos Aires and went on tour in South America. Part of the tour went by train across the Andes to Valparaíso, where Pinochet's mother got an appointment with him. He judged that it was a hydropsy (oedema) in the knee, and that the cure quite simply was sunbaths for two months. In that regard one could consider tuberculosis anyway because only 25 years earlier Danish-Faroese Niels Finsen (1860-1904) had a main force in the launching of sun bathing as a cure for tuberculosis, though it must be said – in the skin. Anyhow, the knee was well again, and the son could therefore become a military man like Doña Avelina wanted him to. SHE appears to be the will, the perseverance and the driving force in the battle for the boy's use of his limbs and as the one who infused social ambition into the boy. She carried him forwards and – in the words of Blixen exercised influence and put her mark on her surroundings. In this sense Pinochet shared the same destiny with perhaps the greatest general in the Twentieth Century, Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964), whose mother, »Pinky« (1852-1935), managed her son and nurtured his early military career.
When Pinochet was ten years old the family moved to Quillota, a smaller town about 30-40 kilometres North-East of Valparaíso. They did so in the hope that the different climate would suit his mother better. They moved into at house his father had remodelled and that was named Villa Avelina after Pinochet's mother. After two years there they moved back to Valparaíso, where Pinochet went to school at the French Sagrados Corazones de Los Padres Franceses, where he got teachers and school friends that some 80 years later were mentioned in his funeral speech by commander in chief of the army, Óscar Izurieta Ferrer (b. 1950), as people, Pinochet were in contact with throughout his life. The French Padre Gildas was – though with an ironic twist – especially harsh on the pupils, that were of German descent; »the Prussians«, like he called them. In the beginning of his time at Sagrados Corazones the family as mentioned above lived in Quiollota, which meant that Pinochet got up at half past five every morning and took the train to Valparaíso with his father. The custom of getting up early, Pinochet writes, was founded during that time and was maintained for life.
This video published on Youtube is a collage of old postcards from Valparaíso from around the time when Pinochet grew up in the town. Local music and the song Valparaíso british musician Sting have been added: