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Chile’s Neruda houses look to recover from pandemic-driven tourism losses

By Javier Martin

Isla Negra, Chile, Apr 6 (EFE).- Poet, politician, diplomat, barman, passionate collector.

Of the many hats that Chilean Nobel literature laureate Pablo Neruda wore, perhaps least well-known is his facet as the designer of three houses that now are trying to bounce back from tourism losses stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic.

La Chascona, located in the Santiago neighborhood of Bellavista; La Sebastiana, a hillside building in Valparaiso – a port city 120 kilometers (75 miles) from Santiago – with views of the Pacific Ocean; and Casa de Isla Negra, located in a coastal area about 100 km west of the capital, reveal more about the man he was and wanted to be than about the internationally acclaimed poet.

“Neruda had almost an obsession about collecting and gathering everything that passed through his head,” Fernando Saez, executive director of the Pablo Neruda Foundation, told Efe. “He had a special interest in homes. Each house is different.”

He was so involved in the design of those residences, in conceiving the spaces and integrating objects into the lived environment, that Spanish architect German Rodriguez Arias – a close friend and co-designer of the houses – acknowledged they were “more a work of the poet than mine.”

Of the three, the one nestled amid colorful graffiti in the Bohemian neighborhood of Bellavista and replete with trap doors and exotic objects perhaps best reflects the extravagant spirit of the poet, who enjoyed hosting lengthy social gatherings that often included practical jokes on his guests.

He built the home for his then-secret lover, Chilean singer and writer Matilde Urrutia, after he had fallen in love with her during his time in exile (a senator and member of the Communist Party of Chile, he had been forced to flee the country after his party was outlawed in 1948).

While living in Bellavista with Urrutia, Neruda simultaneously lived with his second wife, Delia Carril, in an attractive home in Santiago’s Ñuñoa neighborhood.

La Chascona was not only named after Urrutia – “chascona” is a Chilean Spanish word that means unkempt hair – but after becoming Neruda’s third wife she also inspired his work, “Cien sonetos de amor” (100 Love Sonnets).

La Sebastiana, named in honor of its builder, Spaniard Sebastian Collado, is perhaps the least Nerudian of all of his homes.

A residence he shared with sculptor Marie Marther, Neruda only lived in its upper part, a former aviary where he installed a table, a bed and a carousel horse that he apparently used to observe the New Year’s fireworks displays.

“The thing was he didn’t go very often to Valparaiso, but he celebrated the New Year. The most emblematic house is the one in Isla Negra,” the Pablo Neruda Foundation’s executive director said, referring to a residence that was built to resemble a ship and housed his collections of bottles, maps, shells and other items.

Saez lamented that the Covid-19 pandemic dealt the foundation a harsh blow, noting that its financing “was 90-95 percent based on revenue from the houses.”

He also slammed the previous government headed by conservative President Sebastian Piñera for a lack of financial support for the foundation, referring to the fact that Chile’s most acclaimed literary figure remains disliked by many on the right because of his outspoken communism.

“The previous government wasn’t exactly generous, not at all,” he said. “We’re now in contact with institutions so we can get our projects going.”

One of the most ambitious, the so-called “Espacio Neruda” (Neruda Space), an interactive museum intended for foreigners unable to make the trip to that country in southern South America, was halted due to the pandemic and a lack of government backing.

“We’ve knocked on thousands of doors and it hasn’t gone well. I think there’s political bias too. We hope the new government (headed by leftist President Gabriel Boric, who took office on March 11) will support us.” EFE


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