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Fingerprints of the Jacks? (Pt 1)

By hungry hack Ignatius Rake

Posted April 16, 2012
chilean pasty
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a Chilean pasty. © Ignatius Rake

South America abounds with mysteries, such as the Nazca Lines and the Lost City of Z. But who built the pasties of Chile?

As Robert Stack once said when introducing a piece on Unsolved Mysteries: "Sometimes the incredible occurs when you least expect it."

The piece in question concerned a man who descended into hell while on holiday in France.

I wasn't on holiday, I wasn't in France and I didn't descend into hell.

However, within a matter of hours of touching down in the Chilean capital of Santiago de Chile I had good reason to concur with Stack's comment.

Knocked sideways by a 13½-hour flight from Madrid but up for a wander about, I elected to ease myself into my new surroundings by launching an expedition across the Rio Mapocha, a torrid mass of brown melt water hurtling down from the spectacular snow-capped peaks overlooking this most magnificent of cities.

Once across with all my kit intact, I ventured into Barrio Bellavista on the Mapocha's northern shore.

Here I followed my gut along Pio Nono, a tree-lined street teeming with bars and restaurants.

It was midafternoon on a warm spring Monday in November and already the punters were out in droves.

Pio Nono's vibrantly coloured colonial cantinas, a bold palette of reds, blues, purples, greens and yellows, dazzled the eye as 5.5% Escudo lager flowed from litre bottles.

It crossed my mind to stop and water the horses but Fate and Destiny had other plans as the Spirit of Discovery led me onwards and upwards to the summit of Cerro San Cristobal.

At 869 m, Cerro San Cristobal is hard pressed to hold a miner's candle to Argentina's Aconcagua some 90 km to the north-north-east, which at 6,962 m is not only the highest point in the Andes, but also the Americas as a whole.

Nonetheless, the climb looked steep and hard going, which is why I took the funicular instead.

On reaching the top, I wandered out onto the palm-bedecked Terrazza Bellavista, an aptly named terrace with a beautiful view over this city of 6m.

Picking my way through sleeping dogs, I set a course for a kiosk selling refreshments.

And that’s when I saw it.

No warning.

No preamble.

Just a trumpet sounding in my soul.

My first empanada pino.

To the uninitiated, this local favourite might have simply passed as some quaint pastry-covered curio.

A pie by any other name.

But from my years of living among the Cornish, a stoic Celtic race eking a living from the moors and shores of Cornwall1, the UK's most south-westerly extreme, I knew exactly what I was looking at.

My knees trembled, my vision blurred, my body emitted the guttural gurgle known throughout Cornwall as the incantation 'ere!'.

Could it possibly be that on this igneous cord more than 11,000 km from the Cornish Motherland my mortal eyes beheld a pasty?

For those who know not the ways of the pasty, or oggy, this legendary Cornish foodstuff in its traditional form consists of chunky cuts of beef skirt steak, potato, onion, swede2 and some salt and black pepper all wrapped up and slowly baked in a roughly D-shaped pastry case, itself sealed with a thick crimped crust along its rounded flank but never on top.

A smart one may weigh up to half a kilo or more but all are imbued with mystical powers of supernatural pleasure.

Long since way back the staple food of Cornwall, it is also the most powerful icon of the Cornish nation, paraded at all major cultural and sporting affairs, such as when the Black and White Menstrual Show, the pioneers of Cornish punk-jazz, played their first London gig.

I myself was raised almost exclusively on a diet of oggies, eating them for breakfast, crib, lunch and tea while also snacking on them in between.

So trust me, I knew what I was looking at.

It was a pasty.

I raised a shaky digit at the manna before me and uttered the words: "Por favor pasty please, met."

The woman behind the counter looked me squarely in the eye.

"Si," she said, then dished one up on a paper plate.

Ravenous, for I had not eaten for almost an hour, I ripped into its pastry skin, my incisors tearing into its baked bounty to reveal a filling of ground beef and... scrambled egg?

Surely something had been lost in translation.

Nonetheless, I sauntered over to the edge of the terrace, munching on this wondrous strange, giving it welcome while unashamedly eavesdropping on a guided tour beneath the gazing statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, or possibly Reception given all the TV and radio masts behind it.

From her domed pedestal, this 14 m white effigy of a female stands Diana-like atop a crescent moon with her arms invoking the Hermetic adage of as above, so below and is to the city what the much larger Christ the Redeemer is to Rio de Janeiro.

"They say she is the only virgin in Santiago," the tour guide quipped, no doubt lifting the line straight from the mass Pope JP2 gave there in 1987.

"You are lucky," the guide said to me when his paying audience had departed for the nearby tat stands.

"This is the first time in eight years I have been here and there is no smog."

Located within a wide, flat valley some 572 m above sea level, Santiago’s air quality issues are cut from the same kidney as Mexico City's, albeit with a smaller knife.

I pondered the significance of the guide's words: the power of the pasty clear for all to see.

sanhattan skyline
Off to O'Brien: The Sanhattan skyline en route. © Ignatius Rake

Three days later, my thoughts were once again focussed on the Celtic.

When in 1808 Napoleon Bonaparte pulled the chain on his allies in Spain, ordering his big bro Joe to squat on their throne, he simultaneously kicked over a khazi in Chile.

Rows flared over the mess he made.

Patriots wanting independence started slinging stools at Royalists loyal to whoever was on the pot at the time.

Bog rolls were lit, bleach got thrown and suddenly the whole place was covered in crap.

It took 10 years for the plumber to get there but when he did the Chileans were a sovereign people, even if a lot of them were now below ground.

Part of a much wider process that between 1804 and 1833 flushed away three centuries of Spanish rule in the Americas (with the exception of Cuba and Puerto Rico3), the Chilean war for independence saw two decidedly un-Spanish names coming to the fore.

One was John 'Juan MacKenna' McKenna, the Monaghan-born victor at the 1814 Battle of Membrillar.

The other was his immediate superior Bernardo O’Higgins, the illegitimate son of Sligo-born Ambrose 'Ambrosio' O'Higgins, First Marquis of Osorno, father of the Chilean postal service, one-time Governor of Chile and later Viceroy of Peru.

A member of the Lautaro Lodge, whose Masonic brethren included such key players in the Latin American independence movement as Francisco de Miranda, Simon Bolivar, Jose de San Martin, Carlos Maria de Alvear, Mariano Moreno and Jose Matias Zapiola, O'Higgins came to rule Chile as Supreme Director from 1817 until he was deposed six years later for going all wishy-washy with talk of democracy4.

For his part, shortly after Membrillar, MacKenna was exiled to Argentina by rival Patriot Luis Carrera, who a few months later finished him off with a fatal shot in a duel after he too had been banished beyond the border.

Having already pounded the Centro streets of O'Higgins and MacKenna a number of times, I was now on a mission to plant my flag on General John O'Brien, a residential road in the super-rich suburb of Vitacura that honours de San Martin's Wicklow-born aide-de-camp (Bolivar's aide-de-camp, by the way, was Cork-born General Daniel Florence O'Leary).

All was in order as I embarked on my campaign but things changed suddenly near the dome of Santa Ana.

I was floored by a picket of pasties.

"Ere!" I declared, stunned by their beauty, their form as perfect as any on sale in Hayle, Scredda or Fowey.

Unable to control my journalistic juices, I whipped out my camera and, with the baker's bemused blessing, fired off some shots for pasty posterity.

Shelling out some shrapnel from a pocket full of pesos, I bagged a prisoner then made my escape unchallenged through the door.

Salivating wildly, I took a couple more snaps of my swag on the street then sunk my teeth into its pointed extremity, for like a true Cornish pasty it had both a pointy end and a rounded end.

The shock will stay with me forever.

My purchase, I was soon to learn, was a classic empanada pino.

Forget the one I had beneath the feet of the Virgin of the Immaculate Reception, this full-calibre firearm was loaded with beef, hard boiled eggs and bits of fruit!

Weirded out like a sceptic in hell, I drew the line when I bit into a huge great olive the size of a Mills bomb.

Racked with guilt for those still hungry in this regionally wealthy land, I had no choice but to bin it before it went off in my hand.

Retching and reeling, I also had to accept that the empanada pino might not be of the genus Oggius after all.

chilean pasty filling
Unreal! Olives, egg and fruit? In an oggy?!? © Ignatius Rake

Deriving their name from the Spanish verb empanar, meaning 'to cover/wrap/coat with bread/pastry/crumbs' or thereabouts, empanadas of one sort or another are common across the entire Spanish-speaking world.

While there is a potential link to Cornwall through Celtic Galicia, where every last Sunday in August the locals go loco at empanada-themed fiestas, conventional wisdom has it that they were introduced to the Iberian Peninsula by the North African Moors, who in 711 invaded and conquered the bulk of what was then the Hispania of the Visigoths.

There they stayed, munching on samosas before finally being given their marching orders in 1492, the year that the Kingdom of Spain was born and a certain Genovese navigator in the pay of the new Spanish crown sailed the ocean blue, reputedly witnessing a UFO as he did so5.

While Columbus was clearly not the first European to set foot in the Americas, as evidenced by the Viking settlement unearthed at L'Anse aux Meadows on the Canadian island of Newfoundland6, he did open the way for the subsequent genocide of Latin America's indigenous inhabitants at the hands of the Spanish conquistadors.

The first such savages arrived in Chile in 1535, driven as ever by a demonic lust for gold.

Six years later Pedro de Valdivia founded Santiago, although today's faded bloodstains and bullet holes are mainly the legacy of Thatcher's mate Pinochet.

One of the indigenous peoples these barbarians failed to eradicate in the name of their thou-shalt-not-kill religion were the Mapuche of south-central Chile and Patagonia.

Having seen off the Incas when they had likewise tried to conquer them, the Mapuche held out until 1883, when arms and artifice ultimately robbed the 'people of the land' of their autonomy, their livelihoods and of course their land.

To maintain their marginalisation today, dissent is dealt with brutally yet legally by invoking anti-terrorism laws for minor misdemeanours7.

Sound familiar?

Noted for their distinctive woollen weaves, the Mapuche also cooked up a certain culinary concoction containing beef, boiled eggs, raisins and olives.

Pino, I believe it's called.

A trifling matter admittedly, but my hypothesis that the Cornish built the pasties of Chile looked more like pie in the sky with every turn I took.

Yet as I trekked on towards John O'Brien through the 'Sanhattan' financial district, something continued to claw at me from under my skin, which, thanks to the intense UV light, was rapidly resembling that of a tomato.

Chilean pasties: I chewed them over.

The filling was as alien to me as an anal probe, the etymology clearly Spanish but on the aesthetic level I just couldn't help sensing the hidden hand of Cornwall.

My thoughts turned to cousin Jack.

Don't miss the stunning climax to this article just as soon as someone can be arsed to post it up.


1) In the Cornish language (Kernowek), Cornwall is known as Kernow. As inhabitants of a former Celtic kingdom, there are many Cornish who strongly dispute the English crown's claim that Cornwall is part of England, although most nationalists do not actually seek secession from the UK as is often thought but various degrees of devolution and ethnic recognition instead. Akin to the Scots, Irish, Welsh and Manx, many Cornish take umbrage at being referred to as English. To get some idea of the matter, have a browse around here.

2) A cross between the cabbage and the turnip, swede is also called inter alia Swedish turnip, yellow turnip, neep, rutabaga and sometimes, as is often the case in Cornwall, just turnip. A swede should not be confused with a Swede, which is a person from Sweden and which takes much longer to cook.

3) They remained in Spanish hands until the 1898 Spanish-American War, which was whipped up big time by US media magnates William Randolph Hearst (the real-life Citizen Kane) and Joseph Pulitzer in a bid to flog their tatty rags and sell ad space. It kicked off proper with the false-flag sinking of the USS Maine while illegally moored at the Port of Havana. The same war also saw the US picking up the Philippines and Guam for its colonial empire that it doesn't like to talk about. Cuba, meanwhile, gained independence from the septics in 1902. However, the US kept control of Guantanamo Bay in the far south east of the country following the 1903 Cuban-American Treaty that is hotly contested by the present government of Cuba.

4) O'Higgins became Supreme Director with dictatorial powers on February 16, 1817 when de San Martin turned down the job because he wanted to carry on killing Spaniards elsewhere. On February 12, 1818 O'Higgins approved the Chilean Declaration of Independence, although it wasn't until the Battle of Maipu on April 5, 1818 that victory over Spain was assured. The last pocket of Royalist resistance, the Chiloe Archipelago, held out until 1826. O'Higgins died aged 64 in 1842 of a dicky ticker in Lima, Peru, two years after Spain formally recognised Chile as an independent state.

5) For example, see this.

6) The official website is here.

7) To get a tiny inkling of the Mapuche nation's plight, give this a click.

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