A Sailor on shore: Pablo Neruda

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a long essay on his poetry, his life as a diplomat, his role in Chilean politics, it’s not even a short bio on the man. Because if that’s what you wanted you wouldn’t have come to a travel blog right?  Instead  I’m going to talk to you about his houses.

Pablo Neruda – Nobel prize in Literature 1971 – had three houses in Chile, which are all museums now,  and this past September I had the opportunity to visit all three. I say September but really it was just one weekend, a weekend in which we went on something akin to a house museum binge… And it was awesome! His houses are brilliant!! Each one so unique, so perfectly tailored to his wishes that they offer an interesting window into who was the man behind the poetry.

His adoration (which verged on obsession) of the sea is plastered all over his poetry so it’s no surprise that two of the houses are right by it or that even his city house (Santiago) is permeated with naval symbols. In fact, the interiors were designed to resemble ships, with narrow rooms, small doorways leading from one room to another, etc. But he didn’t stop there, he was an avid collector and lover of art so his houses are awash with collections – be they coloured bottles or ship figureheads – all somehow connected to the sea.

The first one we visited was “Isla Negra”, the largest of all and by all accounts his favourite one. He is even buried here. Although not on an island like the name suggests, the house is built on a rocky headland overlooking the Pacific and the proximity of the sea definitely makes you feel as if you were indeed on an island. The effect is further amplified by the fact that every room in the house had huge windows facing the sea. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to photograph the interior (although my friend did sneak  in a picture of his favourite writing desk! )

Next was Valparaiso, where we visited “La Sebastiana”, named after the Italian carpenter that began building the house which Neruda would later buy and finish. Here, like at Isla Negra the house has views to the sea from every room and is crammed with his various collections, all reflecting his love for the sea. But because it’s built on the hills of Valparaiso instead of having a flat layout it is built on many floors, which also means that his view of the sea and harbour are magnificent.

Last but not least we visited his house in Santiago, “la Chascona”. La Chascona means  “unruly hair” and is named after his third wife who had, you guessed it, unruly hair!! Here, like in all his other houses we are surrounded by sea and naval symbols, with architecture used to make the house resemble a ship as much as possible. The one huge difference is that because this house is built inland the views are not of the Pacific. Instead the house is built on the side of one of the two hills in Santiago, meaning its surrounded by greenery.

How did we squeeze all this in just one weekend? Well, for starters it was a long weekend in Chile so we had 3 days. Second, getting to Valparaiso and then to Isla Negra is really easy (there’s an excellent bus system in Chile) and last but not least When you are doing something you love and really want to do  nothing is impossible! 🙂

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