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The House of Pablo Neruda

May 14, 2018

Valparaíso is a paradise as per its name, a city awash in every hue imaginable and the smell of the sea. Even with all the amazing nature to see in Chile, Valpo offers the kind of raw, manmade views that makes every tourist smile. My boyfriend flew in town to visit for about a week, and we did our first stint in Torres del Paine before taking a day trip out to the coast.

There’s magic about the artist town, where the ‘cerros’ lead you towards the sky in streets lined by graffiti and paintings and artisan storefronts. You can hike up Cerro Alegre towards the famous “We are not hippies, we are happies!” staircase, followed by a stray dog or two. But the star of the city is its connection with Nobel prize winning Pablo Neruda, who lived here in his most beloved, eccentrically-designed home. La Sebastiana is a must-see for every visitor, foreign or otherwise, a perfect embodiment of what his life was like. Through the cramped staircase and the delicately curated objects, one can see his obsession with interesting narratives. The doorways are imported ship’s port doors, with matching portholes and even ship paintings to boot. A French vintage carousel horse leans near a fireplace of his own design, with a bulbous belly and smooth white finish. The bar is my favorite part, covered with trinkets and antiques from all over the world in reflection of his international experience as the Chilean ambassador to France.

Do you know his recipe for success? He would wake up early in the morning and take a stroll and a coffee, before settling down in his 5th floor office to work for a few hours. I imagine him, staring out stained glass at the bustling port of the city, rolling an ink pen between his fingers. He breaks for lunch — his meals were always attended by friends and he never ate alone. They drink sangria from a flowered bull, talk politics and Allende and art and song. After they part, he returns to his weathered desk and returns to the word, a long afternoon spent crafting stunning soliloquies beyond any human rhyme or reason. At night more literary and artistic greats return — such as Jose Balmes and Federico Garcia Lorca — to clink glasses of pisco, and dine long past the sun sets over the waters.

In today’s world, I can’t ever imagine living the same way. There is too much to do, too many bills to pay and errands to run, Netflix to watch and meals to eat quickly and to-go and ‘just a bite’. Walking through his home, I fell in love with not just the eclecticism that marches through, but with the idea of living this way. Don’t get me wrong — being an Asian woman in Chile back in the 1900s would have surely been a different experience. But I wonder if I will ever settle down in a home by the sea, writing by hand as the first lights of dawn crack through my window. For those of us who don’t win Nobel prizes and cohort with international revolutionaries, will we all have our own La Sebastiana someday?

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