Isla Negra – Saturday, 9-29-07


Saturday, September 29, 2007, Mary, my partner in crime; and I hopped the subway to the bus station. Our agenda for the day was to go to Isla Negra and La Sabastiana, two of the three homes of Pablo Neruda. Both homes are on the coast…Isla Negra is in a small village right on the water; La Sabastiana is in the seaport city of Valapariso. Pablo Neruda’s accomplishments and accolades are a national pride of all of Chile. As well as being a poet who won the Noble Literature Prize in 1971, he was also a statesman who held several diplomatic posts, as well as a senate seat in the Chilean Communist Party.

In 1946, Gonzalez Videla was elected President of Chile. He was a conservative and outlawed communism in Chile. A warrant was issued for Neruda’s arrest. Thanks to the aid of loyal friends, Neruda hid for several months in the basement of the homes of friends in Valparaiso before escaping over the Andes into Argentina. The next three years, he lived in exile traveling extensively throughout Europe and Asia.

Upon his return to Chile, much of his time was spent in La Isla Negra, his favorite of his three houses. In 1973, there was a coup d’état led by Augusto Pinochet. At the time of the coup, Neruda was hospitalized with cancer. The coup ultimately led to the death of his friend Allende. Twelve days after the take over by Pinochet, Neruda died of heart failure. His funeral caused the first public protest against Pinochet, the new Chilean dictator.

Our bus left at 10:00 AM and it took about 2 hours to get to, Isla Negra. It is a sprawling house, mostly on one level. The master bedroom and guest bedroom were the only rooms on the second floor. There are amazing views of the ocean from almost all of the rooms.

The first room we saw on the tour was the living room. Now, I knew that Neruda was a great collector, but I wasn’t prepared for his collection of wooden figureheads from old boats. They were hanging throughout the room….bigger than life. Pablo was a great lover of the sea and he designed his house to look like the inside of a ship. It was very rustic with lots of wood. The ceilings were made of wood and curved, to resemble a room in a boat. Also, the stairways were very narrow and the doorways very small. Neruda was a big man. I am certain that he spent his time moving around the house bending over to get through doors and going sideways up the stairs!

Other collections on display were the wonderful, Chilean, hand carved, wooden stir-ups; a collection of butterflies and various bug; wonderful ships in bottles and colored glassware. There were many windows in the house and the colored bottles were on shelves in the windows to reflect their color. Plus, there were several colored wine goblets. Neruda loved to entertain and he said that wine tasted better in a colored glass. In a whole separate room and wing of the house was his seashell collection of 800 shells.

Isla Negra stood vacant for several years after Neruda’s death and the government’s take over by Pinochett. Matilda, his widow and third wife, lived in Santiago for another 12 years after his death. She created a foundation to support their homes and open them to the public, which she never saw come to fruition. Today, she and Pablo Neruda are buried in Isla Negra.

After the tour, Mary and I enjoyed a lovely lunch at the small café at the museum. She had eel soup…Neruda’s favorite and I had grilled fish with a Greek salad. Following lunch, we made our way to the beach. On the coast, it was a gray day (sunny in Santiago). With the gray skies, and angry waves, the sea looked like an angry animal on the prowl. It was mesmerizing!

By the time we had finished with the tour, lunch and our walk, it was 3:00 in the afternoon and we decided that we needed to forego the trip to Valapariso and head back to Santiago.

As we were getting off the bus, I commented to Mary that we had made it through the day without getting into any trouble. She laughed and said the day isn’t over yet!!! Once off the bus, we heard wonderful music. At the bus station, there were several dance groups, accompanied by their own musicians performing traditional folk dances. We stayed and watched them for about an hour and a half. My favorite dancers were the children. I am still amazed at how well they know the various folk dances at such a young age. As you can see in my pictures on my web site, they were all in costume. The cuerca, was one of the folk dances that I recognized them doing. During the dance, they hold handkerchiefs in one hand as they dance. I am not quite certain the significance of the handkerchief, but it is used in almost every dance….maybe it is used to be flirtatious???

The program was sponsored by Pullman Bus Company. They announced that programs would be offered every Friday and Saturday nights for the next few weeks. I would have loved to attended more, however, Peru was calling…..

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