Feudal hell

Interview by Ernesto More

When I speak of Vallejo- says Macedonio de la Torre, one of the individuals who knew the poet from the beginning of his literary forays- I cannot help but picture him in the same likeness as when I met him for the first time. This is- he continues- just as we recognize anyone: we have a cliché to apply to everyone. I can see Vallejo strolling through the Plaza de Armas of Trujillo, dressed in black, and impeccably dressed I might add, with an immensely hairy lion’s mane trailing behind. During this period, around 1913 or 1914, the plaza was still covered by beautiful shady rubber plant trees that constituted a dignified decoration for this arrogant figure not because of their size or texture but instead because they reflected a certain seriousness that accompanied the painter to the very end. Despite the fact that we were together on so many occasions, when I try to remember him, especially in Paris, this is the first image that is reproduced with inconceivable clarity in my imagination.

–At the beginning of the century, the society of Trujillo was completely medieval. The children of rich people always had clean hands: they thought neither of working or pursuing a profession. They were all venerated and were cockfighting enthusiasts. They had large packs of dogs, rifles and shotgun and they believed that their fighting cocks were infallible. They ignored nothing. The city was cloistered. There were no meetings or parties and no contacts existed except for the 28th of July and Christmas. When the festivities for the 28th of July concluded, I became sad at the thought that another year would have to pass before I would be able to see my fellow human beings again. The city’s inhabitants would close themselves up in their homes. Life went by behind the doors and gates of the hushed city. Naturally, falling in love was a problem. In order to approach a woman, you had to play the sentinel on some corner day after day until the beauty appeared from behind a lattice window or through door that was slightly ajar. You had to take advantage of these moments to pass her a little note that had sometimes been yellowed by the wait.

–Intellectual activities were little known in this immobility. There was a group of poets to which Rebaza, Demóstenes, Felices, who was black, and the lawyer Marquina belonged. They clung to Juan de Dios Peza and José Velarde. I believe that they never knew Darío. These were the magistrates that exercised a monopoly over culture.

–A new tendency, whose precursor was Daniel Hoyle, arose amongst the painters and the magistrates. This individual had been in Europe and had brought new lifestyles and more artistic comprehension with him. Daniel sparked a renaissance in the artistic life in Trujillo that extended to his social life given that we young people often met in his home or in that of Mrs.Camet, a guitar teacher, to play music and converse about art and literature and perhaps have a little dance. Daniel was a tennis fan and despite the fact that he was much older than we, he maintained a flexible body and spirit. Mrs.Camet´s daughter, whom they called Eva Lara for some reason, sang very well. Add to this the fact that Amésquita, who was black, played the piano well and voila! Everything was complete.

–Our group was made up of: Vallejo, José Eulogio Garrido, Oscar Imaña, Eloy Espinoza, who was the youngest and most spoiled of the group, Juan Espejo Asturrizaga, Esquerre, who was black, Julio Gálvez Orrego, who was Chinese, Antenor Orrego and Alcides Spelucín. We made up the “Grupo Norte,” a name that Orrego would eventually use to baptize the newspaper that he directed. It seems fair to me to say that Orrego was the first to discover the value of the “cholo,” which he defended with cloak and dagger from the attacks that Vallejo suffered from the magistrates.

–The cholo was seasoned university student who occasionally worked as a janitor at the San Juan School. I don´t know what the cholo had, but we respected him. His personality was evident. During this period we also gathered in the home of the cholo´s muse, Mirtho, on Santa Rosa street. The cholo also made frequent visits to Carmen Rosa Rivadeneyra´ home. She had a lot of spirit.

–Life in Trujillo passed by with the insufferable placidness of a convent. Everything was cheap. A kilo of meat cost 15 cents, a liter of milk was worth half of this amount and they gave you chili peppers and vegetables as a bonus. An office manager earned 100 soles, and he who earned this salary was considered a good catch. It cost one pound to rent a house. Everything was kept cheap in exchange for remaining cloistered. There was nothing to do!

–Valdemar introduced Trujillo to the vices described by Claude Farrére. And he had good disciples. There was a young man, whose name I will withhold, that distributed ether from a large can at the toll of a bell. He went through the streets using a stick to pound on the can that contained the ether and offering the toxic substance to whomever wished to partake. He was a true apostle and missionary...

––After several years, I came upon the cholo again in Paris in 1925. This was the era in which you people arrived in the grand city. Naturally, the first years were disorienting for César. He wrote little, mostly his chronicles for the “Mundial” and “Variedades” and almost nothing more. Poetically speaking, he was paralyzed for several years. I think that the cholo should never have separated from Henriette. She was such an altruistic woman that she suffered in silence and shared her misery bravely; she often accomplished this through working.

Macedonio has a lot more to say, but he keeps getting lost along the way.

–Once I was invited to Vallejo´s house when Georgette was there. She put on a nice spread. The house was in order and lacked nothing. Upon finishing, the cholo, savoring the pleasure that he couldn’t repress, turned to his wife and said: “Let´s play a bit of Beethoven.” There were certain principles of the bourgeoisie... Or was it that I was used to seeing the cholo living another kind of life?......

–As you can see, César and I have been through a lot together. But one adventure in particular stands out. There were difficult times when one had to pawn something to live a bit. This something was my wife’s fur coat. Although furs were common over there, this particular fur was somewhat valuable. We did our calculations and thought that we could get 200 francs at the pawnshop. I went to the shop with César, who was already affiliated. We also went with Veláquez. At the pawn window, we were told that these things had to be presented in a box. We went out to buy one and we found some cardboard that looked suitable. We put the coat inside and returned to the shop quite sure of ourselves. Then they told us that the box had to be made of wood. Now things became worse. We couldn’t find any wood boxes, so we had to go look for a carpenter, of which there were few in this neighborhood. To pay for the box, we had to convince Velásquez to pawn his watch. We paid the carpenter with this money, and put the coat inside. We went back to the pawnshop. Imagine our surprise when they told us that the coat had to be wrapped in cloth and then placed inside the box. We bought the cloth, wrapped up the coat and returned the shop, asking ourselves what was still left to do. We soon found out that we had to sew the cloth. On our fourth time out, we were looking for someone to sew the cloth. We went back to the shop again. We waited a long time. People were lined up to hear the price they were to receive for the pawned item. Just them we heard an employee scream: a Franc! .... to which a woman screamed: Yes! This woman was actually accepting a franc for her item. I clearly recall that this cry of misery made Vallejo tremble and filled the three of us with emotion. They gave us a bargain but because we had to get back Velázquez´ watch, we only had 22 francs left. We took the money and went to Mille Colonnes where we all ate well. “The first “coat” should go for the stomach, my friend,” says Macedonio as he recalls the glorious era in which camaraderie projected golden light on an otherwise miserable life.

Lima, 1988