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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Leonard Earl Johnson (photo credit Frank Parsley) covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), and the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for ConsumerAffairs.com. He is a contributor to Gambit Weekly, New Orleans Magazine, SCAT, Baton Rouge Advocate, Advocate Magazine, The Times-Picayune, Country Roads Magazine, Palm Springs Newswire and the anthologies: FRENCH QUARTER FICTION (Light of New Orleans Publishing), LOUISIANA IN WORDS (Pelican Publishing), LIFE IN THE WAKE (NOLAfuges.com), and more. Johnson is a former Merchant Seaman, and columnist at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans; and African-American Village. Attended Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship at Piney Point, Maryland. Winner of the Press Club of New Orleans Award for Excellence, 1991, and given the Key to The City and a Certificate of Appreciation from the New Orleans City Council for a Gambit Weekly story on murder in the French Quarter.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

The Day I Met Augusto Pinochet / July 2020 ✍

The Day I Met 
Augusto Pinochet 

by Leonard Earl Johnson

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It was January ~ Summer south of the bulge ~ when I met Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet. We were in Brazil, at a seaside resort on the beach at Ipanema, one of Life's magic places I had arrived at Hotel Sol Ipanema two weeks earlier, belly full of whisky and eyes full of sleep.

On our way in, we came down through the clouds over Brasília. The capitol viewed from above resembles a butterfly, some say. Others say it looks more like an aircraft carrier. 

L. A. Norma says, "One might deduce your politics from which you see."
Brasília is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A planned city developed in 1956 by Lúcio Costa, principal urban planner; Roberto Burle Marx, landscape designer; and the great Oscar Niemeyer, principal architect. 

Oscar Niemeyer was one of the 20th Century's soaring architects. Brasília gave him his wings. He died in 2012, at 104. Early in his spectacular career he was hired to teach at Harvard, then he was blocked from entering the United States because of Communist Party membership. 

(Pedantic note: After fighting the Second World War to save the U. S. S. R., the U. S. A. converted to a state religion built around rabid anti-Communism. Its zealots feared Commies going to Harvard more than today's Republicans fear Donald Trump's tax-returns.)

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On April 22, 1960, Brasília opened out in the jungle.  Wrestling capital-city honors away from its ancestral home in coastal Rio de Janeiro ~ a city with much kinship in music, dance and doom to New Orleans. 

This move into the Amazon, (722 miles by road) chagrined the world's diplomatic corps and its attendant camp followers.

Greeting me at Rio's Aeroporto Galeao was an aide to the United States Cultural Attache.  He carried a small, white box with a red silk ribbon that I presumed was for me. But let us face it, I was drunk. He placed me and the box in the rear seat of a large, white Chevrolet, where the box remained when he departed.

It was early morning when my plane reached Rio. The Ambassador and the rest of his staff still slept in their jungle apartments in Brasília.  The Cultural Attache was doing likewise somewhere in giant Rio. I stood beside his aide, eyes twirling before the front desk of the Sol Ipanema

The aide explained to the desk clerk, "Mr. Johnson is more important than he looks."

Casa de Cultura Laura Alvim, on the beach at Impanema
And so I was. I was traveling at the expense of the United States government and American Airlines, exhibiting photographs and teaching a workshop at nearby Casa de Cultura Laura Alvim ~ on the beach at Ipanema. 

The exhibition was titled "Bourbon Street and The Sea." It was inspired by New Orleans photographer, John Ernest Joseph Bellocq (1873 ~ 1949), who immortalized the ladies of Storyville. My exhibition consisted of portraits of male street hustlers in the French Quarter of New Orleans, and merchant sailors around the world. 

"America's foreign policy is a baffling beast," Norma says, when this story comes up in conversation.

The exhibition went well, and at the reception afterwards I asked American Airlines' South American Manager if he might bump me up to first class on my return flight.  

The aide to the cultural attache said later, "They don't even do that for us."

The South American manager suggested I come see him the next week at his downtown offices near the Old Opera House. 

I had already asked the embassy for an advance on my State Department stipend. With it I paid for an extended stay at the Sol.

View from the Sol
The Sol is a fine, small hotel popular with several of the world's diplomatic corps and uniformed military. The thought "CIA hotel" crossed my mind but not my lips. (Had we not read Graham Greene in our college daze!?)

Next morning's beaches drew the song-praised "young and sweet / pure and gentle," dressed as revealingly as the young and sweet should dress. 

Me?  I was amply hung over and of a girth not given to bodily revelations. Like the song says, I walked on with a sigh, cloaked in what Brazilians would have seen as more like a burka-on-the-beach than proper Seaside attire.  

Later, at ground zero for the Bossa Novathe Veloso Bar, 

where Vinicius de Moraes and Tom Jobim first saw Helô Pinheiro, "The Girl From Ipanema".  

I sipped Wild Turkey, wearing snowflake-looking, tie-dyed navy and gray boxer-baggy trunks with a matching hip length beach jacket ~ a burka on the beach!

This outfit had been sewn for me especially for the trip by Shirley Jensen, a late New Orleans matron with needlework famous in her day.  

On the day I met Pinochet I was so dressed.

I had walked from my hotel along the beach to a large neighboring resort, the 
Caesar Park, to take coffee and the afternoon newspapers from Miami.

In front of Caesar Park were several large German cars and one large, lone, white Chevrolet. I glanced in the Chevrolet half expecting to see my lost red-ribboned white box, and met the glare of two large men wearing dark suits and glasses. No white box was seen.

Inside the hotel, 
the lobby rumbled with similarly dark-suited men, assorted reporters, and cameras with portable lights. I caught the eye of a woman who a few days earlier had interviewed me for Brazil's O Globo TV

I wore that beach coat for her interview, over a white shirt and tie.  It looked rather like an Armani design, I thought. My coat looked "terrific," she had told me. Head swelling, I agreed telling her I had bought it in Lisbon (always a good lily-gilder in Brazil).

I asked her, "What is going on?"

"We are following Augusto Pinochet on a jewelry buying stopover before flying to South Africa for arms shopping."

The hubbub came to a halt around us, and camera lights came alive in front of us.  By my side stood Augusto Pinochet wearing a double-breasted pinstriped suit. 
It should be noted, though he was anything but funny, Pinochet was famous for epaulet-and-cape military dress befitting comic operetta.  Today he looked neither comical, large nor menacing.  He looked like any Latin businessman.  He looked at me. 

Though his face was blank I can not imagine he wasn't thinking who the Hell is this guy stealing my traveling show.  

Augusto Pinochet
 I said,"Good Afternoon, Generalissimo" ~ perhaps not exactly correct. Pinochet was a president "retired upstairs," to run Chile's military. I should have reverted to his highest rank and called him el Presidente.

Generalissimo, spoken by itself being known throughout the post World War Two world as the title for Spain's military dictator, Francisco Franco.  I had read it was a comparison Pinochet liked.

He smiled and moved on. The lights and crowd followed him. 

A waiter in starched whites brought over a cup of black coffee and the Miami Herald.

Late the next morning I went to see the manager of American Airlines' South American interests. His secretary led me into his office and brought us black coffee and a bottle of Wild Turkey.

On a large Amazon-mahogany desk sat a small television with a built-in Video Cassette player. On the screen was Pinochet looking at me in the lobby of the Caesar Park. A voice-over, roughly translated, was saying, "Pinochet in civilian clothing and visiting North American photographer, Leonardo Arl Johnson, wearing a 'Lisbon coat,' meet in the lobby of ..."

On the flight home I sat in first class flanked by deluxe food carts, wine, whiskey and a white box wrapped in a red silk ribbon. Inside were expensive chocolates molded like propellers and other airplane parts.

Lagniappe du Jour
Today Show NBC-tv

Pinochet Adenddum Wikipeddum 
Pinochet was arrested in London on 10 October 1998 in connection with numerous human rights allegations.  Incluing pushing his citizens out of airplanes over open Seas.  Following
legal battles he was released and returned to Chile in March of 2000 for reasons of health. 
 In 2004, Chilean Judge Juan Guzmán Tapia ruled that Pinochet was medically fit to stand trial and again placed him under house arrest. By the time of his death on 10 December 2006, about 300 criminal charges were still pending against him in Chile for numerous human rights violations, tax evasion, and embezzlement during his 17-year rule and afterwards. Pinochet was accused of having corruptly amassed a wealth of US$28 million or more.
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 Copyright, 2020, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

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is a monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org

and historically at

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It is written by Leonard Earl Johnson
 of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana

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© 2020 Leonard Earl Johnson, 

All Rights Reserved 

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