Novia del Océano
Friday 3 August 2007 - Saturday 4 August 2007 11 °C
I am starting to gain the slightest familiarity with the city of Valparaíso, a city Pablo Neruda described as the “ocean’s sweetheart.” Today our COPA group took a tour of several “cerros” (hills) that I have been to before: Bellavista, Concepción, and Alegre. Our guide told us that there are 45 hills in the city, served by 25 “ascensores” (only 16 of which are functional). I’ve decided to make it a goal to ascend all 16.
The city has a rich cultural heritage, owing much to the immigration to the city from England, Germany, and Italy, among other countries that occurred from 1848-1914. The city has “Zonas Típicas” to designate the original immigrant communities, often showcasing a unique application of the Old Country’s architectural style adapted to suit a terrain unlike that to which the immigrants were accustomed. The houses were originally painted bright colors so that a mariner’s house would match his boat.
We visited La Sebastiana, one of Pablo Neruda’s three houses in Chile (the other two being in Santiago and Isla Negra). I think Eva would particularly love the house… very asymmetrical with diverse textures and colors that somehow cohere amazingly. The house is, of course, situated high on a cerro with large picture windows on every wall facing the Pacific. Neruda himself was greatly invested in the interior design of the house.
Beside the bronze bed, Neruda placed a chest of drawers and night tables from a ship. “Navegante de boca soy,” (“I am a fake sailor”) he said, because he preferred looking at the sea from land rather than sailing the ocean. (museum description)
The house, which is now a museum, had epigrams and poetry of Neruda’s sprinkled through the rooms. I’ve been reading his “Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada” (Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair), though it takes me nearly an hour to look up every unknown word in a 16-line poem, only to be left entirely clueless as to the MEANING of the poem.
“El niño que no juega no es niño, pero el hombre que no juega perdió para siempre al niño que vivía en él.”
“The boy who doesn’t play is not a boy, but the man who doesn’t play loses forever the boy that lived inside him.”
Valparaíso was once the most vital port in South America, until 1914 when the opening of the Panama Canal made it nearly obsolete. The city suffered ups and downs in the decades that followed; I believe we are currently in an up swing. Our guide on a boat tour of the “bahía” (bay) said that the sailors of yesteryear gave the city the charming nickname “Pancho Gancho.” Apparently there was a large “iglesia” (church) near the waterfront for San Francisco; the name Francisco can be shortened to Pancho, and Gancho in Chile means friend or ally.
I’ve been having the strange sensation of hearing a foreign language and not being able to recognize what it is. For some reason, when I hear people talking in the next room, it sounds like Telugu to me. I have to tune my ear and actually pay attention to be able to pick up the words and convince myself that, unlike with Telugu, I might be able to understand what is being said.
A group of us also spent almost three hours yesterday walking from our homes in Viña del Mar north to Reñaca, a beach that becomes saturated with Chileans (and other South Americans) every summer. Luckily, as it is the middle of winter, no one was there. We followed a road somewhat similar to the Pacific Coast Highway, with the pavement cutting into steep cliffs and water crashing onto huge rocks below.
Even though it is the middle of winter here, the weather is still relatively mild by Chicago standards. There are large palm trees lining Viña’s main boulevards and many flowers in bloom throughout the city. Runners are common near beaches, and many Chileans spend lots of time outside near the water, often clustering near “kioskos” holding a pyramidal three color lollipop. I can only imagine that, in the summer, the city teems with people and music and activity. Farther north the landscape becomes desert and farther south it remains cold with few large cities, so Chileans are magnetized to the central coast. It is a climate I have never spent much time in and is definitely a lovely place.