“Y desde entonces soy
y desde entonces eres,
soy y somos,
y por amor seré,
– Pablo Neruda, Cien Sonetos de Amor
If you understand the Chilean slang, you know that “La Chascona” means “messy hair” and you’re probably wondering why in the world we are choosing to write about that. Well, this is one of three of Pablo Neruda’s homes in Chile, nicknamed for his lover and later third wife, Matilde.
Carolina and I purchased tickets for the Clark and Duffy clans to tour La Chascona, as part of our experiental Christmas gift for the family (which ended with our first try at cooking Chilean sea bass). We had high expectations based on our interest in Neruda, travel books and blogs, and La Chascona’s website. But, we were blown away by this house and its ability to capture the persona of Pablo Neruda, even after the destruction that occurred during the Pinochet era.
Besides being a famous poet, Pablo Neruda was first and foremost a lover of the sea. Each of his homes (La Chascona in Santiago, Casa de Isla Negra in Isla Negra, and La Sebastiana in Valparaiso) is shaped like a ship, ready for sea…and, interestingly, ready to protect Neruda from the waters with he both loved and feared. He never learned to swim.
Well traveled thanks to his years as an ambassador, Neruda was also a collector. His homes were cluttered with gifts from famous artist friends, such as Diego Rivera of Mexico, and interesting statues, furniture, and loose ends he picked up while abroad.
Finally, Neruda loved being the center of a party. His vibrant personality and good cheer made him a magnet for statesmen, politicians, artists…and women. La Chascona has 3 separate bars on the property, including an outdoor bar with scenic views of both the sea and downtown Santiago.
Neruda was a visionary and a man of phenomenal talent. He submitted his first poems to the local newspaper, “La Mañana” at 13, and published his second and most known book, Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair, at age 20. In 1953, he won the Stalin Peace Prize; and, in 1971, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature – both medals are on display at La Chascona. Politically, he held left-wing ideas: first as an anarchist, then a communist. He ran for president of Chile once, but stepped down to his close friend and political kin, Salvador Allende. His foresight even applied to land, as he purchased the property for La Chascona in the Bellavista neighborhood before this Bohemian barrio became trendy and hip. Not a rich man, he shrewdly snatched up this spot on a hill, next to the Santiago zoo, with low retail value.
“Dadme para mi vida
todas las vidas,
dadme todo el dolor
de todo el mundo,
yo voy a transformarlo
– Pablo Neruda, Odas Elementales