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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Chance encounter in Chile: A poet's house with a view

Hand-painted exterior in the artists' colony of Valparaíso

There is a city called Valparaíso that rises from the ocean, sprawls across the mountain side, and reaches for the sky. It is in Chile, and that is where I found myself this week.

I arrived on a quiet, mild and cloudy morning but by the afternoon it had turned noisy, hot and sunny. I decided the city was too big for me to wander aimlessly through its bustling avenues.

"Where is the old part?" I asked.
Puzzled look: "it's all old."
"Yes, but is there a historic town centre?"
"Over there" a stern tour guide replied pointing vaguely in an upward direction.
A softly-spoken assistant looked at me and said: "Pablo Neruda's house is up there."

Thank you. That was it: decision made. I had to see the house. Pablo Neruda was a great Chilean poet and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. He wrote the most sensual poetry I have ever read:

"I have been marking with crosses of fire the white atlas of your body.
My mouth is a spider that has crossed it in secret."

view from Pablo Neruda's house, Valparaíso

The taxi struggled up an impossible incline at the high end of town and came to a halt outside a modern looking town-house. It is now a museum with the living room, bedroom and study room as Neruda left it and full of lovely paintings, artefacts and furnishings from when he came to live here in 1961. The small wooden-floored study room is on the fifth floor at the top of a narrow staircase, with commanding views. The bedroom has a window from floor to ceiling so the double-bed seems to hang in space high above the city and ocean. I imagined the poet lying in bed dreaming:

"Sometimes I awake and even my soul is humid.
The distant sea sounds and sounds again.
This is a harbour.
Here I love you."

Neruda's house

I decided to walk back down the hill and resisted getting on all fours to do so, it really was that steep. No more than 100 yards from Neruda's house I saw some ceramic tiles on a side-wall with quotes from poems by his friend the Spaniard Federico García Lorca.

Further down the hill some old houses had been turned into artists' studios. On one side of them were run-down buildings and on the other expensively updated ones. It reminded me of London's Portobello Road in the '60's and Milan's Naviglio district in the 80's.

I hope what happened in London and Milan can be repeated in Valparaíso: that the creative seed sown in the artists' area spreads and grows beyond the arts to improve the daily life of the majority of its' people. Were this to happen the first person to be overjoyed would be its famous son and activist Pablo Neruda himself, as too an old man from whom I asked directions in Puerto Montt. After courteously stopping to help, and on realising I was a foreigner he paused, looked at me, and said:

"Speak well of Chile."

Why, that's a line that Neruda himself could have spoken!

And speak well I will.

Poem extracts from 20 Love Poems by Pablo Neruda

Read more:
Pablo Neruda: 20 Love Poems in dual language edition at
http://www.amazon.com

Read more about Pablo Neruda:
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/pablo-neruda

The Pablo Neruda Foundation
http://www.fundacionneruda.org/en/foundation/editions.html

See the film loosely based on episodes in Neruda's life:
Il Postino
http://www.lone-star.net/literature/postino/

Read more about Valparaíso :
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/chile/valparaiso

February 2011

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=386 .
© 2017.

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