Valparaíso

The world is a changed place. The rooms in Cerro Concepción are empty; I have sold off the furniture, save for an antique cast-iron bed and Aestrid’s writing desk which sits in the drawing room window. A handful of framed photos still hang from the east wall of the bedroom: Aestrid sitting under an awning with Miguel Serrano, his knobby hand on her knee. When she knew her fate was sealed, Aestrid started to smoke; she was smoking in this photograph. In another, Aestrid, Rachael Eisley and I stood in an ascensor, one of a number we knew was irregularly maintained, with rotting axles and one buckled wall. We didn’t care. Tom Byrne, Aestrid’s brother, snapped the shot with his vintage Argus C3 that hung always around his neck on a rotting leather strap.

We led an unusual life, sipping at an illicit, but now exhausted family estate which sat always uneasily in Simon Wiesenthal’s crosshairs. What is left of the estate account (maybe 450,000 pesos) molders in Banco de Chile in Villa Alemana (if the SWC wants it, it may plunder it at will). But in its time, that account afforded us the ability to lie in bed reading Trollope aloud ’til dawn, each taking turns; to compose music at our leisure; to take long untroubled walks at dusk, our fingers laced; to eat and to love well.

Nazi-Hunters

Valparaíso, like Santiago, was crawling with them in the 90s; Tuviah Friedman usually put them up at a hotel in Cerro Alegre. One of Tom Byrne’s hobbies was hunting the hunters, who invariably left South America empty-handed, but several pounds heavier. Tom has hundreds of photographs of the hunters, including two or three dozen shots of Zuroff and Welles at garden parties. There was one instance when Welles and Aribert Heim dined three tables apart in a popular Alonso de Cordova restaurant. This was 1991. Heim was quite old and growing frail. Nevertheless, he was well-tanned and spoke perfect spanish. Welles was none the wiser. The ‘hunters’ seemed not to know what they were doing. On the other hand, Heim, unlike Karl Silberbauer, was a comparatively uninteresting target. A little under twelve months following the Alonso de Cordova incident, Heim died of natural causes, although as of April 2011, he still tops the SWC’s “Most Wanted” list.

There is a story here somewhere, although I know no longer how to approach it. And were I to approach it, tentatively and then perhaps boldy, would I do it justice? I do not have a good judge at my disposal…

Most of this was written a fortnight ago by hand with an antique fountain pen (Aestrid was a collector) on yellow legal paper, moth-eaten curtains unfurling, snapping, yanking at ceiling hooks, as I sat at Aestrid’s desk. Now I sit in one of the decaying bars at the summit of Cerro Concepcion, drinking beer, pecking at the keyboard. Tourists fill the nearby tables. A handful are French and the rest, save for one American couple, are English. Most, even on holiday, still consult their iPhones compulsively. Not long ago, a mere decade and a half in fact, this was still a remarkable bar, with tiny round tables, the only light creeping into its interior from the street, chain fans turning on the ceiling, one bartender smoking a cigar and reading a paper. Now, like the other bars, this one is a zoo, with air-conditioning, little LED lamps hanging from the ceiling, music piped in through ceiling speakers where once the quiet fans turned.

There is a story here, but for whom would I write it? I no longer have an audience, and so repeatedly have I been discouraged by life that I am without the requisite nerve. And what is more, in my head, there is no more music… In the third floor apartment, covered with a sheet, rests on bow-legs a Bösendorfer. Once, the entire building was filled with its music. Now I dare not look at it for fear of discovering a family of squirrels nesting on its iron plate.

No music. A story, but no audience. I will write in spite of this.

One reply to “Valparaíso”

  1. Pingback: Tom Fahy Biography

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