I’m going through a pretty mellow moment in my life: tucked away in a small town 120 miles south of Santiago I’ve got loads of time to just sit and write. Despite living in a cave, some of the outside world does trickle in and lately it’s been a name: Jean Mermoz.
As a Latin Americanist art historian I don’t come across French nationals frequently. The other day I was driving home when I saw “Jean Mermoz” on the side of a building. It turns out the French lycée around the corner is named in honor of our hero. Actually, the hero of many people in South America. As the footage illustrates, Jean Mermoz was a celebrated pilot; Mermoz and Antoine de Saint-Exupery flew the legendary 1929 flight that gave Le Corbusier an unforgettable view of the continent. During these early years of aviation, there was a race to connect the world. Mermoz was one of several pilots who tried to establish a route between Buenos Aires and Santiago. The Andes proved a brutal obstacle. Mermoz had better luck over the Atlantic and successfully established a route between Dakar (Senegal) and Natal (Brazil) in 1930.
I always check out the Alianza Francesa for the same reason a cycling fanatic checks out the bicycle of a cyclist they’re about to pass on the road: it’s nice to encounter something beautiful on an otherwise mundane drive. The Alianza Francesa School underwent a remodel in 2012 and the tall protruding skylights never disappoint.
No footnote would be complete without a tie-in with the School of Valparaíso. And this is a pretty interesting connection. My first encounter with Jean Mermoz happened months, maybe years ago when I first began studying the School. In 1956 Fabio Cruz began designing a home for his parents who lived on Jean Mermoz Street in Santiago. It was built in 1961 and demolished thirty years later.
Beyond this connection, the School of Valparaíso and Mermoz share an interest in plotting South America through adventure. These travesías through ground and air travel leave poetic traces of great feats.