Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Neruda in Santiago . . .

We just have two more days in Santiago, and we’re falling in love with this beautiful city. Today we took the Metro to the Bellavista neighborhood to visit Pablo Neruda’s house, La Chascona, so named for the unruly red hair of Matilde Urrutia, his longtime mistress and later his third wife. When the house was first built on the hills overlooking Bellavista, it was a poor neighborhood; today, upscale shops and restaurants line the streets (including a Mexican restaurant called Para Augua Por Chocolate). Even the streets near La Chascona are filled with graffiti honoring Neruda.

As we walked through this multi-level house built around an inner garden and filled with colorful glass, Chinese and Indian art, a surprising amount of pop art, Bauhaus furniture, a breathtaking wooden sculpture of two mermaids taken from the prow of a ship, and rough drafts of his poems under glass – the many artifacts of Neruda’s life, our guide told stories, which somewhat made up for the fact no photos were allowed (except in the gardens).

Apparently at one point, Diego Rivera visited La Chascona and did a quick sketch of Matilde, later painting a formal painting in Mexico and sending it to Neruda. As you can see, Diego painted Matilde with two heads. Ironically, Rivera didn’t like Matilde, for he considered her a seductive woman who broke up marriages, thus painting her “two-faced”. Notice the profile of Neruda buried in the scrolls of Matilde’s red hair (right side).

NOTE: Images of La Chacasona are online at the Pablo Neruda Foundation. You can view any image here in a larger format by clicking on it.

After a delicious soup (think a rich chicken soup with yam, corn, cilantro and great pieces of chicken) at an outdoor café (La Venezia), we headed up to the monumental statue of the Virgin of Conception via a breath-stopping ride on a Funicular that rose 485 meters (1,500 feet) to the top of Cerro San Cristobal. We strolled around the gardens at the very top where Pope John Paul II once blessed the multitudes and visited a small but inspiring chapel to the Virgin. Then we dropped back down to the valley floor via a bubble-shaped air-tram for two in a 2,000 meter (6,500 feet) ride , admiring the snow covered Andes on the way down.

We're almost ready for the 30 hour bus ride to San Pedro de Atacama.

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