“I went to the window: Valparaíso opened a
trembling eyelids, the nocturnal
sea air entered my mouth,
the lights from the hills, the tremor
of the maritime moon on the water,
darkness like a monarchy
adorned with green diamonds,
all the new repose that life
“Window of the hills! Valparaíso,
shattered in cry after cry of popular stones!
Behold with me from my hideaway
the gray seaport trimmed with boats
slightly shifting lunar water,
immobile depositories of iron.
“I love, Valparaíso, everything you enfold,
and everything you irriadiate, seabride,
even beyond your mute nimbus.”
From the poem, “The Fugitive” one of the poems of Canto General, by Pablo Neruda.
I’m going to let these verses to most of the talking, but here’s a little info. Neruda spent time here with a sailor family during his hiding. He was confined to a small room in one of the city’s poorer neighborhoods. The sailors worked on banana boats and the plan was to sneak him onto a boat heading for Guayaquil, Ecuador. There was even a suit tailored for Neruda in the style of “Gone With The Wind” so that when he stepped off into the steaming port city, he would appear to be a distinguished gentleman while smoking a guitar. The plan was scrapped and Neruda, but the poet fell in love with city and vowed by have a house their someday. He followed through and today that house is a museum.
Valparaíso is the geographical equivalent of San Francisco, but more dramatic. The city is a series of hills (cerros) that rise up out of The Pacific like a great earthen tidal wave. The highwire buildings and houses ride every nook and cranny of the wave. The only flat part is right along the bay. Neruda’s house seem be located precisely in the middle of the ring of hills, halfway up one of them. The panoramas is offers can only be approximated the accompanied photo. He shared the residence with a friend, and he and his 3rd wife, Matilde Urrutia occupied the upper 3 stories. A few things that struck me. Numerous colonial maps of the Western Hemisphere, the ones made by cartographers charting the coasts by ship, so distortions are inevitable (though many are remarkable for their accuracy) and places like the Amazon are illustrated with great mythic creatures. In the library there is a portrait of his favorite American poet, Walt Whitman. His carpenter once asked him if that was his father and Neruda replied affirmatively. Overall the house feels like a ship, made from wood, with narrow corridors and passengers, curvaceous, and serpentine, a microcosm of Valparaíso.
I wondered the garden beneath the house and then was finally kicked out at 8PM by employees eager to go home. To watch the crepuscule, I wandered down Avenida Alemania, just a couple of blocks above the house. Engineers have carved the road into the side of the mountains so it curves nonstop but is incredibly flat. I can’t think of another street like it any other city. At one point I was on side of a gorge. On the other, a series of 100-year-old earthquake tattered blue, red, and yellow structures careened on the edge like boats about to tumble down a cascade. Beyond, the last bits of sunlight streaked across the urban coastal range.