¡Hola todos! Hope you guys are doing well!
Before I begin, some housekeeping! I’ve gotten feedback from readers about the frequency of my updates (i.e., people would like them more often), so here’s what I’m going to do: after today’s post, I’ll be updating the blog every other day. This way y’all won’t have to read 20 paragraphs worth of stuff all at once. I will say, though, that every-other-day posts might be a bit banal…but we’ll see. Do keep giving me feedback! Let me know if you want me to talk more (or less) about something, things you’re curious about, etc. My email address is email@example.com :)
Okie dokie, on to today’s post! Since the last time I wrote I’ve:
- traveled to Valparaíso
- visited two of Pablo Neruda’s homes
- taken a tour of Palacio de La Moneda
- hung out in one of the the largest malls in South America
Part of the final exam for the Intensive Language Program (yes, the course is almost up!) is a cultural presentation on a place outside of Santiago. This project makes sure students take advantage of opportunities to travel and learn more about Chile. Last Saturday a few friends and I took a bus to Valparaíso (Valpo for short), a port city 1.5 hours northwest of Santiago. It’s considered by many to be Chile’s cultural capital, and UNESCO gave it World Heritage status in 2003. After the arrival of Spanish conquistadores but before the building of the Panama canal, the city was an important stop for ships coming up from Cape Horn. Valparaíso also played a crucial role during the California Gold Rush–boats left with shipments of fresh fruits and vegetables that were then sold in San Francisco.
Interestingly enough, the city itself has an uncanny resemblance to S.F. (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that S.F. has an uncanny resemblance to Valpo; it was founded later after all): it’s made up of 50-something cerros, or hills, which all contain houses of every imaginable color, shape, and size, haphazardly strewn about. Streets are narrow, but almost always have two-way traffic, and murals cover every available wall space.
We reached there in the afternoon and after dropping our stuff off at the hostel, went out to explore! We headed in the direction of cerros Alegre and Concepción, the most “artsy” hills in Valpo. On the way to the top we stopped to look at a few artisan shops. While talking to the owners we learned that the crafts, paintings, and knickknacks sold were by local porteños (“people of the port”). We spent the rest of the day outdoors and returned back to the hostel in the evening.
The next day we were shown around the city by a local! A girl in our group has a host brother that lives in Valparaíso, so he offered to take us places. The rest of her family also joined us and we had a great time.
Our first stop of the day was La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s home. After his death in 1973, his wife set up the Fundación Pablo Neruda. Now admirers of Neruda and/or his writings can visit each of his homes, now museums, in Chile. There are three of them in all: Casa de Isla Negra at Isla Negra, La Chascona in Santiago, and La Sebastiana in Valpo. Just got one more left to check out!
Neruda loved, loved, LOVED the sea. As a result, all of his homes often resemble ships on the inside, whether in design or decoration. La Sebastiana is a thin but tall house, 5 stories in all, nestled cozily in the hillside. What it lacks in spaciousness (it’s really very cramped on the inside–staircases are narrow, door frames are low, rooms are small–which is strange since Neruda was a pretty big guy…) it makes up for in character. Seriously, I love his taste; it’s so eclectic! He was fond of collecting things, so there is a lot of random stuff scattered around, including paintings given to him by artist friends, ship and sailing paraphernalia, and a merry-go-round horse. Really, a horse? I want that house.
The marvelous views of the sea and the port from the large bay windows (which make it seem as if you’re looking out of a lighthouse…coincidence?), are said to have inspired many of Neruda’s poems. He has this black chair in the living room that he was very fond of. In letters he wrote when he was away from Chile he often said that one of the things he missed dearly was that chair, and the way he felt when he was sitting in it observing the sea. He wrote about Valpo’s chaotic beauty in Oda a Valparaíso (Ode to Valparaíso):
|Spanish (stanza structure is maintained)||English translation|
tiempo de vestirte,
what an absurdity
a crazy port,
what a head
that you never finish
did you have
time to dress yourself,
Taking pictures inside the house is prohibited, unless you’re taking a picture of the view through the windows, so I don’t have much to share :(
Following the tour of La Sebastiana we continued walking around the hills. For lunch we went to a picá, which was by far the coolest thing we did all day. A picá is a a family-owned place that serves food but isn’t a restaurant. Picás are usually large canopy-covered shacks with communal tables and a small wooden stage where local artists are invited to perform. While we were there, we were lucky enough to catch some live singing and dancing! The cueca is the national dance in Chile, and it’s what we were able to watch while having lunch. It’s danced by a couple and unlike other dances, the woman leads ;) Both partners dance with handkerchiefs or scarves, and a round usually lasts less than 5 minutes. Not a lot of tourists get this kind of experience (so we were told) because picás aren’t openly advertised–they’re usually only found by word-of-mouth. The one we went to, for example, didn’t have a name, nor was it on any identifiable street…there is no way we would have found it without the host family.
On Tuesday I visited another one of Neruda’s homes, La Chascona, in Santiago. Again, super fun to explore! The house was built for his lover at the time, Matilde Urrutia (she later become his third wife), and served as a place they could meet in secret (he was married to Delia del Carril at the time). It was built after Neruda’s house in Isla Negra but before the one in Valpo. At the start of the tour our guide asked us if we knew what La Chascona meant. I remember reading it somewhere before so I said Neruda named the house after Matilde’s unruly red hair. “Yes!” he said, “La Chascona means very curly, untidy hair! Like yours!” And with that, he pointed at me (or rather, at my hair) and exclaimed, “¡Desordenado!” I refuse to translate that but y’all probably know what it means anyway…
Unlike Neruda’s home in Valpo, which has electronic guides for each visitor, this one has an actual tour guide. I learned a lot of new things about the home and the couple that lived there. Here are what I thought were the most interesting:
- “Pablo Neruda” was the pen name of Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto. I know, right?! His father didn’t approve of him writing poetry–he often told his son that poets die of hunger–so Basoalto, er…Neruda, wrote under a pseudonym taken from the Czech poet Jan Neruda. His friends always referred to him by Neruda even before he legally changed his name.
- Neruda believed that wine, even water, tasted better when drinking out of colored glasses, so there were always plenty of red and green ones in his dining room and at the bar (I saw this in both houses).
- Neruda was openly Communist, and so during Pinochet’s dictatorship the house was ransacked and many things were stolen and/or destroyed. Today all of Neruda’s homes are furnished with artifacts that were salvaged and have been restored as faithfully as possible to the originals. His library, for example, contains most of his awards, including the Nobel Prize, but is not filled with books as it once used to be.
- La Chascona is broken up into 3 different buildings connected by a charming garden. Neruda wanted the garden to be a part of the house (i.e., inside the house), so he had the rooms constructed in a way that would envelope the greenery.
- In the living room, constructed to look like the inside of a lighthouse (sound familiar?), there’s a painting done of Matilde by the Mexican painter Diego Rivera (the husband of Frida Kahlo). In this painting you see two faces: the one facing the viewer is the Matilde that everyone knew, the public persona; the one facing the side so you only see her profile is the Matilde that Neruda knew, the friend and the lover. In her red curls, Rivera painted Neruda (try to find him below!) saying, “Lovers never show their faces, they always hide behind women.” In the bottom right-hand corner Rivera wrote, “To Rosario and Pablo”. To protect her identity, “Rosario” was Neruda’s name for Matilde.
I’ll be adding more about Palacio de la Moneda a little later–I have an essay to start (and finish…), but I wanted to at least publish this much. Hope you enjoyed it! Talk to ya soon!