Yesterday things were so quiet you could hear a sole pigeon flapping its wings on the main street. Good Friday is seen as a day of mourning and the usual clamour of shoppers and their trolleys had ceased. W.H Auden’s muffled drums were tolling, even dogs did not bark. Cars were driven in reverse gear only. Later on the TV, a procession was seen showing a man struggling with a heavy wooden cross barefooted through a main street somewhere. A small crowd was lining the pavement. Children were confused. Should they cheer him on with little flags or cry? If he thought he was on his way to Mount Calvary, what was he doing on the Sydney M5 overpass near Liverpool? That same man, still barefooted and wearing his crown of thorns was interviewed later on ABC TV.
It is all so confusing but at least he had his moment of fame. The day remained terribly silent. All was closed and barred up. Remarkably, the one shop that was open were selling croissants, Vienna sour dough crusty bread and whole fish including giant trouts and snappers, prawns, lobsters, head and all. (no crowns). I was feeling a resurgence of spirits and decided to add some colour to this grey and sombre day. Many customers were pushing and shoving for food proving that the closure of shops did not lesson customers on and about wanting to buy items for later digestion. I recklessly splurged out on a whole snapper and a sour dough crusty bread. It is not as if Good Friday is a day of obligatory mourning for everyone. Once I learnt that my hobby of masturbation was a serious offence with a special place for the serial offender reserved in the hottest of hells, I tossed the whole lot overboard and joined that army of un-repenting onanists and hopeful fornicators. I am not surprised that that poor man was reduced to carrying that cross around barefooted. Further footage on the ABC news showed men self flagellating in Chile or was it Peru? Seeing that, my thoughts went back when we were in Chile many years ago during the Pinochet reign of terror. He was a very good and devout Catholic. Margaret Thatcher remembered him fondly.
We landed in Argentina and after some time in Buenos Aires took a flight to Mendoza and from there a bus over the Andean mountains to Santiago in Chile. The capitol was tense and even though lots of people were about and cafes doing well, the sight of armed soldiers with machine guns at the ready did not make for a relaxed atmosphere. Every time we thought things were quiet and relaxed a mass of people would be running through the streets and a tank would appear. Shops had their shutters pulled down in seconds and the streets became eerily quiet. ( Not unlike Good Friday in Bowral). This happened also during one evening when we went out to have a meal. A disturbance somewhere and again all people rushed away or went indoors. Within minutes the shops were deserted with shutters pulled down. All was now barred and hidden. We had no clear recognisable street signs or beacons to guide us back to the house were we were staying. A soldier with a gun stopped us as were about the only ones still defying the impromptu curfew. We showed him the address where we were lodging and he showed us the way back. It was all a bit sinister and dangerous. We were younger then and the adrenalin made us take risks we would not take now. Today we feel we take lives in our hands shopping for giant Marigolds at the local nursery or a bolt cutter spanner at Bunnings-Hardware or even queuing at the local ATM.
After a week or two in Santiago we went to coastal Valparaiso. Valparaiso was again in the news last week. A dreadful fire had consumed a suburb of that glorious city. It was on that same steep hill consumed by that recent fire that we walked up all those years ago to have some lunch. We were told that Valparaiso had a large second hand book market. We walked around it for a couple of hours. I have never seen a book market like it. A bit like the Hermitage but for books only. Millions of them and in all languages. As we walked up that steeped hill we noticed the tightly packed houses had many trees. Especially the Australian Casuarina and Eucalyptus. Sadly it must have been those very flammable trees that added to the devastation in Valparaiso last week.