As promised, last month I started a new series-5 Literary Sites… Well, unlike some other series of mine that have fallen to the wayside, I am doing my best to make sure that doesn’t happen with this one since literature is so very near and dear to my heart. Instead of continuing on with Europe, I thought I would do a complete 180 and instead write about Chile. This long sliver of a South American nation did give the world two literary greats-Isabel Allende and of course Pablo Neruda, a favorite poet of mine. Without further ado-Chile!
One of the main reasons I would like to visit Chile is to tour Isla Negra (Black Island), Pablo Neruda’s beloved home which is just south of the city of Valparaíso. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Neruda, who loved all things related to the sea and constructed the home to resemble a ship, one complete with low ceilings, creaking wood floors, and narrow passageways. An avid collector, every room in Isla Negra has a different collection of bottles, ship figureheads, maps, ships in bottles, and an extensive collection of shells which are located in their own “Under the Sea” room. Isla Negra provided inspiration for many of Neruda’s poems and both he and his third wife are buried there, with a direct view of the beach.
La Moneda Palace-Santiago
While the exact setting is never revealed in Isabel Allende’s first work, The House of the Spirits, it’s by all accounts believed to be Chile, her native country. One of the chapters discusses a coup d’etat that takes place in the unnamed country. In 1973, Chile was thrown into mass chaos when the military seized power from the socialist president Salvador Allende (Isabel Allende’s uncle). The military abolished the civilian government and established a junta that brutally repressed all left-wing political activity. Air raids and ground attacks took place against Allende and his supporters and in his last speech, Allende vowed to remain in the presidential palace, La Moneda, denouncing suggestions for safe passage should he choose to go into exile rather than face confrontation. Allende committed suicide in La Moneda shortly after the coup. Isabel Allende was haunted for years knowing what happened to her uncle and also to her fellow Chilean people in the years that followed once the dictator Agusto Pinochet came to power.
It may be a bit out of the way but Montegrande was both the birthplace and the final resting place of Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American to win a Nobel Prize in Literature and 70 years later, remains the only Latin American woman to have won one (Pablo Neruda was one of her students). Mistral led an extremely difficult life-her family being abandoned by her father when she was just three, always living in near poverty, and yet in her short life (she died at the age of 67), she traveled the world, working as a poet, an educator, and even a diplomat. Visitors to Montegrande can see her house and grave.
Yes, more Neruda (well, he was somewhat of a big deal). La Chascona was one of three houses that Neruda had in Chile. He began work on it in 1953 for his then secret lover Matilde Urrutia (she would eventually become his third wife). Urrutia’s curly red hair inspired the house’s name. The Chilean Spanish word of Quechua origin which refers to a wild mane of hair . The house reflects Neruda’s beloved quirky style, but especially his love of the sea. Many fans of Neruda’s work who have visited La Chascona have felt his poems there. The house was flooded and damaged after the 1973 coup. Neruda was a friend and ally of deposed President Allende; Neruda’s works were banned and you could get into serious trouble if you were caught with one. Urrutia would eventually restore La Chascona to its original look.
While these are not sites tied to famous Chilean writers, I think the literary cafes, which have popped up all over the capital of Santiago, would make the likes of Neruda and Mistral proud. These libraries are a welcome relief from the extremely high cost of new books in Chile (secondhand publications and libraries have become extremely popular). The literary cafe location in Balmaceda Park has a whopping 30,000 books.