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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Chile (Part 9): Visiting Pablo Neruda's Last House - Isla Negra

Isla Negra, house of Pablo neruda
Photo by Bracani.....Antonio

Note: It's better for you to read
before you start reading this entry:

'The heavy rain of the south falls over Isla Negra'

The heavy rain of the south falls over Isla Negra
like a solitary drop transparent and weighty:
the sea opens its cool leaves to receive it:
the earth learns the wet fate of the glass.

My soul, grant me in your kisses the briny
water of these months, the honey of the region,
the fragrance moistened by the sky’s thousand lips,
the sacred patience of the sea in winter.

Something calls us: all the doors open by themselves,
the water tells a great story to the window-panes,
the sky extends down to touch the roots,

and like this the day weaves and unweaves its celestial net
with time, salt, murmurs, growth, pathways,
a woman, a man, and winter on the Earth.
- Pablo Neruda

22nd of August, 2007. Day 9. One more night left in Chile.

After visiting Pablo Neruda's house, La Sebastiana, at the beautiful city of Valparaiso the day before, I found out that there was still one more Neruda house that I haven't visited.

Isla Negra. (read Isla Negra's history)

His favourite house.

The place where he and his wife, Mathilde Urrutia, were buried.

Visiting the place would mean that I have to take another (almost) two-hour bus ride. But all hesitation to visit Isla Negra vanished when I called 'her' and asked her casually for dinner and she turned down, citing work and study reasons.

I needed to witness more wondrous sights to neutralize my slight feeling of disappointment.

Besides, visiting Isla Negra would mean that I could complete my ULTIMATE PABLO NERUDA PILGRIMAGE, thus giving me the opportunity to brag to everyone, including literary bloggers like Sharon or Ted about it when I return to Malaysia.

I went to take a bus again, this time, a 3pm bus to Isla Negra.

When I was in the bus, I didn't sleep, I was reading, and then writing Day 4, Day 5, Day 6, Day 6.5 and Day 7 of my Chile exploits (note: yes, I wrote all these by hand long ago before transcribing them onto this blog) on a notepad I carried around with me.

The bus arrived in less than 90 minutes, at an isolated-looking town that looked like something from a cowboy film.

Somewhere near Isla Negra

I approached the man behind the counter at the bus station, asking him about the return journey to Santiago. He couldn't speak English, so I communicated by writing on my notepad.

"BUS TO SANTIAGO? TONIGHT?" I said slowly, then I proceeded to write on the notepad.


The guy looked at the notepad, shook his head, took his pen and wrote on it.


"I see." I said, knowing the time of the return bus trip to Santiago.

I took a taxi and asked him to bring me to Pablo Neruda's house. This time, I pronounced Neruda as if it sounded like 'NeruHA', I also showed him my Neruda book, pointing at the cover, and then the poet's name.

"AHA! ISLA NEGRA!" The taxi driver exclaimed.

I hopped in, and reached the the place after nearly ten minutes. Despite not using the meter, taxi fare, to my surprise, was much cheaper than initially feared.

I walked into Isla Negra, and found numerous people sitting at the hall, waiting for their tour guide. I bought my ticket and asked for an English tour guide, because of that, I needed to wait for half an hour for the tour guide to arrive.

I took the time to explore the hall, visiting the gift shop, and then, er, taking a photo of Neruda and me.

Neruda and I

There's also a really cool-looking portrait of Neruda next to the bronze sculpture.

Neruda portrait

Hearing the distant sounds of waves crashing on rocks, I walked out of the house and realized that the place had a very beautiful view of the sea. No wonder Neruda bought the house here. I started taking photos.

Seeing a woman standing by the sea in the distance, I was reminded me of last shot in my short film, Girl Disconnected.

Woman by the sea
Woman standing by the sea

I also saw a person, and two dogs, by the sea.

1 person, 2 dogs, by the sea

After that, I asked someone to take a photo of me with the famous fish sculpture of Isla Negra.

Fish Sculpture of Isla Negra 1

I looked sexy, yes, but I realized that holding the fish's tale didn't look so right, so I asked the gentleman to take another photo of me with the fish sculpture.

I'm vain.

Fish Sculpture of Isla Negra 2

With that out of the way, I went back into the hall and saw that the tour guide, an elderly woman, had already arrived, and besides myself, there were four others in the group, all of them Americans, one a mother-and-daughter duo from Utah, another a young couple from Texas.

I was led through the house, which, if I weren't wrong, may be the biggest among all of Neruda's houses. The Isla Negra website was spot-on when it called the place:

the Isla Negra house is a kind of visual and material synthesis of Neruda's lyrical world of images.

Unfortunately, like the other two houses, photography was prohibited inside Isla Negra. So I can't post anything here. Alas.

But yeah, its architecture and interior design were really unique, and they were all accentuated by Neruda's eccentric collections of antiques, seashells, bottles, ships in bottles, Hindu carvings, beetles and butterflies, and HUUUUUUGE ship figureheads. I was blown away when I entered this large room of his where he placed all his ship figureheads, I was suddenly inspired to, I don't know, collect something too. But then, I figured my large collection of action figures I had as a child would suffice if I would ever want to turn my own house into a museum.

When the tour ended, we went to have a look at the final resting places of Neruda and Mathilde, facing the sea in front of the house.

Neruda and Mathilde's grave 2
Photo by akruegs629

Out of respect (and also because I am superstitious), I didn't take the photo of the graves myself. But I DID take a photo while standing near the grave.

Standing near Neruda's grave

I would later feel that my smile and the 'peace' sign in the photo above were rather inappropriate, unfortunately, that was the only photo of myself with the view of the sea, which Neruda said were his inspiration because of their tumultuous movements.

Isla Negra, and Neruda's other two houses were ransacked by the Chilean army not long after his death (because he was a Communist... go read the 'Bad Poet, Bad Man' article by Stephen Schwartz at the Weekly Standard, it's a harsh criticism of Neruda written in 2004), he was first buried at the ruins of La Chascona, before finally given a proper burial at Isla Negra until 1992, when an official funeral service, attended by the top authority figures of Chile, was held.

Of course, this pilgrimage wouldn't be complete without a photo of me with the Isla Negra house behind me.

In front of Isla Negra

I returned to the main hall, was shocked and DEVASTATED that the gift shop was already closed (the museum closes at 6:30pm). I begged and pleaded with them to reopen it so I could buy myself some Neruda memorabilia and merchandise, but to no avail, so I left Isla Negra with a tinge of regret in my heart.

The sun was already setting, I decided to leave the place early, scrapping my original plans of hanging out at the Isla Negra restaurant and shopping at the gift shop. Grrr....

I ran into the young American couple, Greg and Kay, they spoke some Spanish, so when they were looking for a bus back to Santiago, I joined them.

The bus trip back to Santiago was longer due to the traffic, and the bus having to stop at more places than before.

When we reached the Santiago bus terminal, it was night again, just like when I came back from Valparaiso. I liked how the bus terminal looked at night, where lines of buses would wait for the people to go to different places, the terminal looking more alive and bustling than it does during the day. But then, I've always liked the night more.

Santiago Bus Terminal

Took a photo with Greg and Kay before we went our separate paths. (Greg and I are of the same age!)

With Greg and Kay at the Santiago Bus Terminal

I never really expected myself to turn my Chile trip into a Neruda pilgrimage, and to visit every single one of his houses too!

I returned to my hotel, content. It was a good way to end this trip.

I started packing.