Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Valparaiso farewell . . .

Now that we’ve left Valparaiso, Chile, for Vina del Mar, the weather has turned to pure autumn. We’re sleeping under feather comforters at Casa Genross, a lovely old bed and breakfast run by Canadian-Chileans Brian and Lea, just fifteen blocks from the sea. Their home is decorated with oriental art and Navajo weavings, the mellow parquet floor shines next to wooden book cases, and I’m listening to German opera on this quiet afternoon. Our friends have left for home, one couple to the east coast and another to the west, and we are once again vagabonding, just the two of us. Though already I miss their sweet company, the next month beckons, an open road.

We stayed in Valparaiso for three days at the Casa Hostal 199, with a sweeping view of the bay here and right next door to the Artilleria ascensor, those wobbly tin can cars that rise up impossibly on cables, from the valley floor.

Valparaiso spreads out along the docks and over forty-six hills. At night, lights twinkle as far as we can see, and the moon rose, a deep orange harvest moon.

Just yesterday, we visited Pablo Neruda’s home (sadness, no pictures allowed), but what a thrill. We wandered through his hillside four-story home, one of three here in Chile, now administered by the Pablo Neruda Foundation. From the entry, we were struck by the creativity Neruda brought to every detail of La Sebastiana. Each floor looked to the sea, and each room retained its original furnishings, artworks, and personal effects. Occasionally, we’d spot a poem. At the very top of the house, we found his workroom, books lining the shelves, including mysteries which he loved to read. We saw a door-sized photograph of Walt Whitman in full beard. Apparently, a workman asked Neruda if that photo was of his father. Neruda paused and then said, “Yes, he is my father.”

Everywhere Neruda's house shows a love of color with stained glass doors and windows, and a sense of whimsy in, for example, a tiny bar where only Neruda would go to mix drinks for his friends. Here I saw a painting of a Victorian mermaid, the muse, resplendent in orange scales, playing a violin.

We also went on a fabulous walking tour with Michael, the German Pirate. Our all-day ramble took us throughout Valparaiso, inside the Stock Exchange and to lunch at the Fire Station, run by volunteers, inside a few old Baroque buildings, with marble and wood brought from Europe, past the Sotomayor monument, and up the Concepcion asensor (in service since 1883), to crooked streets, many decorated with the most amazing art graffiti, including, of course, a mermaid or two (click on any image to see a larger version).

Most of the buildings in Valparaiso are made of a mix of corrugated iron for walls and roofs (once ballast from ships coming around the horn), adobe (a mix of mud and straw), and with what I would call lathes, small, narrow boards, for wood is rare and termites are a problem everywhere. The resulting housing on hillsides looks precarious, but no earthquakes have struck, at least no major ones since 1906. So we ate at several restaurants, Allen’s favorite – paella, perched out over ravines that seemed bottomless as we peered out our scenic windows.

We’ve been told that internet will be sketchy as we travel to northern Chile, our next stop San Pedro de Atacama. So I wish you well where you are, north of the equator, spring comes; here, I can smell winter.

No comments: