Messy Hair

During our visit to Chile, we have visited the three homes of the beloved poet, bohemian, activist, ambassador and politician, Pablo Neruda. Each site was on a perch and he chose each home to take full advantage of the view. The entryways were narrow giving way to open rooms with a flow from room to room. Neruda appreciated the finest things and his homes are filled with the art and objets d’art he collected. He loved to entertain and looked after all the details, down to the bright colours of the glass in the wine goblets. His dining room table was half the normal width so diners would be drawn closer and conversation made easier. He often dressed in costume to amuse his guests and his homes had secret passageways to add to the surprise. His parties would be packed with musicians, artists and intellectuals.

A New York Times writer’s vivit to the 3 Neruda homes:

La Chascona

In 1951, Neruda bought this house in Bellavista, a bohemian section of Santiago, for the then secret love of his life, Matilde Urrutia. He named the house “Messy Hair” as he might have described hers. But he was a man of passion and his 100 Love Sonnets written to her feature her hair:

“I lack enough time to celebrate your hairs
One by one I count them and worship them
Other lovers want to live with certain eyes
I only want to be your hairdresser.”

A view of the Andes from the living room has been overtaken by the city

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La Sebastiana

Neruda loved the colourful city of Valparaiso two hours from Santiago through Chilean countryside to the Pacific Coast. He was well-suited to the edgy vibe and he and Matilde bought their second home together here which they shared with another couple.  With a lofty view of the harbour, the couple hosted many new year’s eve parties here where guests could watch the fireworks over the harbour. My favourite room was the bedroom with the positioning of their bed to enjoy the view. His office was on the top floor, the most private room in the house.


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Isla Negra

This was Neruda’s first and favourite home purchased in 1939 and named by him for an outcropping of dark rocks just offshore. The surrounding community has come to be known as Isla Negra too. The home is 45 kms south of Valparaiso with sweeping views of the Pacific not dissimilar to those off the western shores of Vancouver Island.

Later, Neruda and Matilde spent much of their time here and this is where Neruda did most of his writing, including his famous I Confess that I have Lived. Neruda and Matilde were married here and they had many guests stay with them, among them Salvadore Allende.

Isla Negra has perhaps the most eclectic of Neruda’s collections – seashells, butterflies, pipes, ships in bottles and many more – but most impressive of all is a collection of ship’s figureheads looming overhead in a great room. The stone fireplace mural by Maria Martner is also spectacular, but I have not been able to find an image to share.


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Denouement

The very popular poet Neruda was elected as a Communist senator in 1954 and ran for President of Chile in 1970. He decided the country would be better off with his friend, socialist Salvadore Allende, so Neruda stepped aside in order for Allende to be elected. After winning the election, Allende made Neruda the Chilean ambassador to France.  (In 1971, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.)  A few short years later, Neruda was diagnosed with prostate cancer and returned to Chile. As the coup d’etat of 1973 unfolded, Neruda was devastated by the mounting attacks on the Allende government, the success of the coup and the death of his friend, President Allende, on September 11, 1973.

On September 12, 1973, La Chascona was raided by the military and much of the home and its contents were destroyed or stolen (Neruda and Matilde were at Isla Negra).

Shortly thereafter, during a search of the house and grounds at Isla Negra by Chilean armed forces at which Neruda was reportedly present, the poet famously remarked: “Look around—there’s only one thing of danger for you here—poetry.”

A few days later, because of his cancer, Neruda was transferred to hospital from Isla Negra. He was in hospital for 5 days when he phoned Matilde and said he had suddenly become extremely ill and believed Pinochet had ordered a doctor to poison him. Matilde came and took him home to Isla Negra where he died 6 hours later on September 23, 1973. The Chilean government in 2015 acknowledged that it was clearly possible and highly likely that Neruda was killed due to the intervention of third parties.

Neruda was hugely popular and even though it was dangerous an enormous crowd participated in his funeral procession through Santiago. Because of the Chileans’ love for the poet, he was buried in Santiago, notwithstanding his poem Disposiciones, written in 1950, which says,

“Friends, bury me at Isla Negra,
before the sea I know, before each wrinkled stretch of stones,
and before the waves my lost eyes
will see no more…”

At the time of the raid of La Chascona in 1973, Matilde asked in despair, why did a house which had seen so much joy now see so much destruction? After Neruda’s death, she spent many years faithfully restoring La Chascona. All three homes are now national museums. When Matilde died in 1992, both she and Neruda were buried together at Isla Negra.

Best,

Another Chascona

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