CHAPTER VI. ARRIVAL AND RESIDENCE IN VALPARAISO.
APPEARANCE OF THE TOWN - PUBLIC BUILDINGS - A FEW OBSERVATIONS ON THE MANNERS AND CUSTOMS OF THE LOWER CLASSES - THE EATING-HOUSES OF POLANEA - THE CHERUB (ANGELITO) - THE RAILROAD - GOLD AND SILVER MINES.
The appearance of Valparaiso is dull and monotonous. The town is laid out in two long streets at the foot of dreary hills, which look like gigantic masses of sand, but which really consist of large rocks covered with thin layers of earth and sand. On some of these hills are houses, and on one of them is the churchyard, which, combined with the wooden church towers, built in the Spanish style, relieves, in a slight degree, the wearisome uniformity of the prospect. Not less astounding than the deserted look of the port, was the miserably wretched landing-place, which is composed of a high wooden quay, about 100 feet long, stretching out into the sea, with narrow steps, like ladders, against the side. It was a most pitiable sight to see a lady attempting to go up or down: all persons who were in the least weak or awkward, had to be let down with ropes.
The two principal streets are tolerably broad, and very much frequented, especially by horsemen. Every Chilian is born a horseman; and some of their horses are such fine animals, that you involuntarily stop to admire their proud action, their noble bearing, and the nice symmetry of their limbs.
The stirrups are curiously formed, consisting of long, heavy pieces of wood, hollowed out, and into which the rider places the tips of his feet. The spurs are remarkably large, and are often about four inches in diameter.
The houses are constructed completely in the European style, with flat Italian roofs. The more ancient buildings have only a ground floor, and are small and ugly, while most of the modern ones have a spacious and handsome first floor. The interior, too, of the latter is generally very tasty. Large steps conduct into a lofty well- ventilated entrance-hall on the first floor, from which the visitor passes, through large glass doors, into the drawing-room and other apartments. The drawing-room is the pride, not only of every European who has settled in the country, but also of the Chilians, who often spend very large sums in the decorations. Heavy carpets cover all the floor; rich tapestry hangs against the walls; furniture and mirrors of the most costly description are procured from Europe; and on the tables are strewed magnificent albums, adorned with the most artistic engravings. The elegant fire-places, however, convinced me that the winters here are not as mild as the inhabitants would fain have had me believe.
Of all the public buildings, the Theatre and the Exchange are the finest. The interior of the former is very neat, and contains a roomy pit and two galleries, portioned off as boxes. The inhabitants of the town patronise the theatre a great deal, but not so much on account of the Italian operas played there, as for the sake of possessing a common place of meeting. The ladies always come in full dress, and mutual visits are made in the boxes, all of which are very spacious, and beautifully furnished with mirrors, carpets, sofas, and chairs.
The second fine building, the Exchange, comprises a good-sized, cheerful hall, with convenient rooms adjoining. From the hall there is a pleasant view over the town and sea. The building belonging to the "German Club" contains some fine apartments, with reading and card rooms.
The only thing that pleased me about the churches were the towers, which consist of two or three octagons, placed one above the other, and each one supported by eight columns. They are composed of wood, the altars and pillars of the nave being of the same material. The nave itself presents rather a poor and naked appearance, occasioned in a great degree by the absence of sittings. The men stand, and the women bring with them little carpets, which they spread before them, and on which they either kneel or sit. Ladies in easy circumstances have their carpets brought by their maids. The cathedral is called La Matriza.
The public promenades of Valparaiso are not very pleasant, as most of the side-walks and roads are covered almost a foot deep with sand and dust, which the slightest breath of wind is sufficient to raise in thick clouds. After 10 o'clock in the morning, when the sea- breeze begins blowing, the whole town is very often enveloped by it. A great many persons are said to die here from diseases of the chest and lungs. The most frequented places of resort are Polanka and the lighthouse. Near the latter, especially, the prospect is very beautiful, extending, as it does, on a clear day, as far as some of the majestic snow-covered spurs of the Andes.
The streets, as I have already mentioned, are tolerably lively: peculiar omnibuses and cabriolets traverse them frequently. The fare from one end of the town to the other is one real (2.5d.) There are also a great number of asses, mostly employed in carrying water and provisions.
The lower classes are remarkably ugly. The Chilians have a yellowish brown complexion, thick black hair, most unpleasant features, and such a peculiarly repulsive cast of countenance, that any physiognomist would straightway pronounce them to be robbers or pickpockets at the least. Captain Bell had told me a great deal of the extraordinary honesty of these people; and, in his usual exaggerated manner, assured us that a person might leave a purse of gold lying in the street, with the certainty of finding it the next day on the same spot; but, in spite of this, I must frankly confess, that for my own part, I should be rather fearful of meeting these honest creatures, even by day, in a lonely spot, with the money in my pocket.