As I type this I am rolling backwards on the overnight train north to Santiago, Chile. The porter brought a polished wood table into the compartment, hooked it under the windows, and shut the door discreetly as he left. Now the typewriter sits in what is left of the afternoon sunlight and the train rocks up through southern Chile. At bedtime the porter will lay fresh sheets on the upper berth, turn back the covers, and light the little reading lamp in the corner. There are a bunch of Chilean gypsies in the next car; they came into Puerto Montt last night on the airport bus, laughing uproariously, speaking a guttural language that was not Spanish, and spraying each other's necks with jasmine perfume.

You could skip a stone out the train window and over the graying water of Lake Llanquihue, which is pronounced "yon keeway" and looks as big as the sea. The land around it is groomed and gentle, full of sheep and dairy cows and towns where the German settlers built solid Lutheran churches and sports halls.

The poplar trees are golden at the top. The cold comes up fast down here in autumn; in Puerto Montt, where the train to the north begins, the rain this morning felt like sleet, and the military men who stood in the small harbor plaza wore heavy khaki uniforms and plastic helmet covers as they raised the Chilean flag. They had a little band there, too, playing the national anthem slowly, and a touch off-key, into the rain.

I WILL KNOW the tune of the Chilean national anthem for the rest of my days because on March 11, the day Gen. Augusto Pinochet Ugarte installed himself in the Santiago presidential palace to begin the next installment of what his government insists is not a dictatorship, we heard it, by my count, eight times before lunch. There was Pinochet, singing it in his formal whites to a background recording in the high-security government office where he swore in the new junta; there was the elegantly dressed crowd in the government auditorium, singing it before Pinochet's long and passionately anticommunist speech; there was the military band, brasses gleaming in the sun, striking up the anthem as Pinochet walked down the specially carpeted steps of the Santiago cathedral after the service marking his inauguration.

An open limousine bore him then to the Moneda, the neoclassical palace his generals had bombed when they took the country 7 1/2 years ago from the elected Marxist president, Salvador Allende Gossens. The reporters trotted alongside Pinochet's black car, dodging the elbows of security agents and the outstretched hands of cheering Chileans behind the sidewald ropes.

When Pinochet made his symbolic entrance to the renovated Moneda, a waiting band played the anthem again, and a young man appeared on the balcony facing the Moneda's plaza. Balconies like these seem to be placed on government palaces for one purpose only in Sough America: leaders must stand on them, arms upraised, and speak to the cheering crowds. This young man's job wa apparently to remind people about that: "The president will be with you shortly," he cried into a microphone. "Let us call the president!" And from the warm plaza below, where people wore printed pro-Pinochet hats, a few hearty vivas would carry up toward the balcony. Then the crowd would fall silent again, and the young man would reappear, his voice fervent: "Let us call the president!"

It was singularly odd, this labored effort to whip up adulation on a day that had been publicized for months. There were men in three-piece suits waving large signs in the plaza and working as makeshift yell leaders -- "Pi-no-chet! Pi-no-chet!" -- but there was only so much they could do: the Moneda's plaza, at lunch hour on a bright afternoon was only half-filled.

You didn't hear much talk about that the next few days, except among reporters. People had been "busy," they said. They had to work. They had been in some other part of town. There was no public exultation on the part of the opposition. The newspapers, which fall over themselves in their courtesy toward the present administration, reported that the day had been a splended success and the "new stage" in Chile's transition toward constitutional democracy was now under way.

It was as though someone had dropped a prefabricated ceremony down from a helicopter into a slightly startled but not particularly interested city. "Transition and Indifference," read the editorial headline on one Chilean magazine, and on a certain level, it was easy enough to understand: Pinochet's lavishly packaged "transitional" period to constitutional rule appears at this point to be eight years pretty much indistinguishable politically from the eight that preceed them -- no elections, no congress, no political activity, and one self-appointed president who is said to greatly admire the leadership style and staying power of Spain's late Francisco Franco.

But to the first-time visitor, there is something deeper than that at work in Chile. For all the passion Pinochet is supposed to arouse -- for all the outrage of the political exiles and the fervent self-congratulated of his own officials -- passion is about the last thing you feel in most political conversations in Chile today. It amy be, as the opposition says, because people are afraid to speak out. It may be, as the government says, because Pinochet really does have the 67 percent popular support expressed in the constitutional plebiscite last September.

It could be either of those things, but that is not how it feels. The Chileans sound these days like a people trying to put as much distance as they can between themselves and the submachine-gun-guarded palace that now synbolizes their national government.

The airport limousine driver thinks the government is all right because its economic policy has let him buy his own house and imported Japanese car. The southern Chile importer dislikes the military and wisher they would go away. The unemployed coal miners and factory workers talk about a government that has laid its foundation on intimidation and an impoverished working class, but even then, their voices are low and their anger seems to have turned to despair.

In Valparaiso, a rough-edged port city where steep long staircases run past the wood hillside houses, an old man joined me as I walked. We said hello to each other and he began talking about the military. Life was very hard in Valpoaraiso, he said; there was not much work and his own son had been among the exiles.

He sounded matter-of-fact about it. His son lived in Australia now. Where was I planning to go for breakfast? He suggested various breakfast places, the politics dismissed before the more pressing issue of ensuring that the foreigner find a pleasant meal.

AUGUSTO PINOCHET has held something close to absolute power ever since he took it in 1973. He clearly has no intention of relinquishing it in the near future -- indeed, the new constitution allows Pinochet to be selected by the junta as the 1989 presidential candidate, which, since he is now 65, would effectively make him president for life.

Chileans are proud, once highly politicized people, and for nearly the rest of this decade, Pinochet has shut them out of the political process. What he seems to have gotten in return is at least one cityful of turned backs: hundreds of thousands of Chileans with no interest now in foolishness like standing in a plaza listening to the president speak.

Now it is night, and the train has bumped into a darkened town. The house windows are lit, soft yellow light that throws shadows on the flower gardens. The girl selling roses from the tracks just handed her last bouquet up to an opened window on the train. There was a little boy selling round bread loaves, too; he did not sell them all, but he is waving under a streetlamp as the train moves north.