Monuments Then and Now
Trundled along within our bubble, the Mercedes tour bus proceeded up Avenue Montt when Ricardo pointed out this statue for ridicule. A depiction of the Chilean national bird, the Condor, porteños derisively call it “The Chicken,” and in truth the wing span is undersized. From the vantage of the above photograph, the statue form does capture an impression of soaring among the hills of Valparaiso. Keep in mind, beyond those hills is Aconcagua, the highest mountain of the western hemisphere, home to Condors.
A reason for writing multiple Varparaiso “connection” posts is to better understand the jumbled impressions from that day. In a previous post I coined the term Varparasians for natives of the city. I found in researching this post the residents, as for Buenos Aires, call themselves porteños (people of the port). This cast iron statue speaks to the contributions of French immigrants to the city and nation.
Here the view is south towards (what I believe is) Cerro Florida (Florida Hill). France Avenue continues, beyond the monument, following a steep and winding path up the hills, at the crest intersecting with German Avenue. Adjacent, on the right, is Park Italia where we’ll visit in part VI. Above a cast iron basin, at each corner of the commemorative column base is a female mask, above them a gold band inscribed (from the) “The French of Valparaiso” with 1810 – 1910 to denote the centennial. A condor with outspread wings surmounts the column.
The artist, Nicanor Plaza, born in Santiago, Chile was living in Florence, Italy at the time of this commission. He was a natural choice for the commission. Trained in Chile and Paris, Plaza taught for the Academy of Fine Arts of Santiago. It is of cast iron, produced by the French company Val Osne, an art foundry dating back to 1835. The owner, Jean Pierre Andre Victor, invented a cast iron ornamental technique originally used to produce street furniture.
From 1854 to 1895 immigration from France burgeoned, from a country total of 1,654 to 8,266. This cohort is credited with developing the vineyards of the Central Valley, still famous today. The Chilean president Augusto Pinochet descended on his father’s side from an 18th-century French Breton immigrant from Lamballe and his mother was a descendant from 17th century immigrants, partially Basque. Pinochet’s legacy can only be attributed to himself and the ruling Junta. What is of concern is (1) Pinochet was protected against prosecution throughout his life. (2) The same people who protected him still hold power. A case in point is the Esmeralda, still in service.
I took this photograph at dawn from our stateroom balcony, it is the
Esmeralda, a four-masted top sail schooner, from Spain, christened May 12, 1953. From 1973 to 1980 it was a floating torture chamber where up to 100 persons were subjected to hideous treatment by the Pinochet regime. Protests erupt wherever it docks in a foreign port yet it remains in service. A relatively small part of the puzzle, yet it serves as an unacknowledged monument to the failure of Chile’s ruling elite to come to terms with the recent past.
To end on a positive note, there is the memory of the more than 10,000 Chilean citizens of French ancestry who joined the Free French Forces in the fight against the Nazi occupation of France in World War II.