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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

ADVENTURES IN CHILE: LA CHASCONA, The Poet´s House

TUESDAY, NOV. 21
SANTIAGO, CHILE

We wondered why we couldn´t see Los Andes these past few days and now we know it is because of the dense smog over the city. We had planned to go up the funicular to Cerra San Cristobal today but were advised to wait until the mountains were clear. In the morning we went with Cecilia to the Comunidad Mercado De La Vega which is just across the river from her little cafe. It´s a vast sprawling market offering a kaleidoscopic selection of fruits and veggies as well as every kind of meat, spices, condiments and just about anything else you can imagine. ( I saw some sticks of cannella = cinnamon, the size of tree branches!) We were fascinating and busily snapping photos of all the colorful sites in this hub of activity when a security guard stopped us and said we were prohibited from taking photos. (Odd that yesterday at the Presidential Palace there were no such restrictions!) Anyway, Cecilia explained we were foreigners on our first trip to Chile and we were sent to an office and issued an official permit to take pictures. Quite a novel souvenier! After Cecilia had purchased her groceries for the shop, we went backto the cafe and had some yoghurt and sweet pastries called "broken underwear" that Marisol had prepared for us. Then we set off an another adventure by metro.

We intended to visit Pablo Neruda´s house and then go up the mountain as both are in close vicinity. The walk through Barrio Bellavista was so pleasant. It´s quite a bohemian area with craft shops and sidewalk cafes where the young folk from the local university hang out. It´s a community of artists, writers and craftsmen. The streets are shaded by trees and there are interesting shops and buildings..(I guess you could compare it to Greenwich Village in New York). We found an artisans market where we went later on and I bought a few very nice little souveniers. There are also lots of lapis lazuli shops on that street (only Chile and Afghanistan have major deposits of this semi precious gem.) I´m definitely going to look into purchasing something with lapis before I leave here!

It wasn´t too difficult to find the Poet´s house, named La Chascona after Matilde, his third wife, who had a tumble of wild hair. (That´s what the name means: wild hair) In the paintings and photos of her, the hair reminds me of Monica at the L.Q.!) Before I describe the house, I must introduce the Poet.

Pablo Neruda is not only Chile´s Nobel Prize winning poet but also a political icon. His poetry is the soul of Chile and his own life played an important role in Chile´s recent history.
He was awarded a diplomatic post and his subsequent travels brought him international fame. Despite his leftist beliefs he had a flambouyant life and was friends with artist such as Pablo Piccasso and Diego Rivera whose paints hang in his houses. He was also friends with notable political figures including Salvadore Allende. Only a few days after Allende´s death in the bombing of the Presidential Palace on Sept 11, 1973, Neruda died of cancer and a broken heart. His will left everything to the Chilean people through the Neruda Foundation.

I was introduced to the beautiful poetry of Neruda by my friend Anibal. My favorite collection is Twenty Love Poem and a Song of Despair. And what a thrill to see the original publication of it in Neruda´s library collection!

Like all of the other houses own by Neruda (he had 3, one here in Santiago, one inValparaiso and the most extravagant on at Isla Negra down the coast) this house is built like a ship. Nerdua was obsessed by the sea and even wrote his poetry in blue and green ink, sea colours. There were some of his hand'written poems on display as well as his books. Neruda was also an obsessive collector of curios and odd items = everything from ash trays to figure heads of ships.
The house used to be crammed with these treasures until the military coup and it was ransacked by the military and partly burned (resorations have been made but many of his precious collections were gone.) What is left is an amazing assortment of curios and whimsical items which kept us entertained for the whole tour. The house has tiny rooms, so only a few people at a time are allowed in with a guide who explains everything in a most enjoyable and informative way, telling little anecdotes about the Poet who was a fun'loving and whimsical guy just as he was a serious political and literary figure. The Neruda Foundation maintains the house and has it´s headquarters here.

We are really looking forward to visiting the other two houses in Valparaiso and Isla Negra, possibly next weekend. So look for more about the Poet here. And be sure to pick up a book of is beautiful poems. You´ll understand how I have grown to love his work!

Footsore and weary we ended up back in Recoleta where Cecilia lives by early evening. She had cooked us a delicious Chilean meal and we enjoyed our amusing chats with her and grandma.
Then it was off to bed early to get some rest for our next day of adventures.

NEXT: EXPLORING THE BARRIOS

2 comments:

Susalina said...

As the cold rain pours down on a dark night in Vancouver (cough cough), how lovely to be whisked away on sunny, colourful, and richly historical adventures with you!!

Hey, how is the food???

Susalina

Wynn Bexton said...

The food is great. This is a most fantastic city!