Pablo Neruda's Homes
"In my house, I have put together a collection of small and large toys I can’t live without. The child who doesn’t play is not a child, but the man who doesn’t play has lost forever the child who lived in him and he will certainly miss him. I have also built my house like a toy house and I play in it from morning till night."
This passage, from Pablo Neruda’s memoirs, could very well apply to any one of his homes. Pablo Neruda owned and lived in three houses, now museums, in Chile: La Sebastiana in Valparaiso, La Chascona in Santiago, and his house in Isla Negra. Visiting any one of the three museums is like walking into life-size toy houses. They are filled with every imaginable knickknack from large birds to beautiful glass bottles the colors of the rainbow. We know Pablo Neruda through his poetic and political verses.
Visiting his home, however, gives us a peek at his private passions, his love of good food and drink, his deep friendships, his story book romance with Matilde Urrutia, and his flamboyant character.
Like the words in his poetry, the collectibles he acquired and the homes he assembled were meticulously chosen and had an internal significance to Neruda. Nothing is out of place and everything put together finds its cohesion. Pablo Neruda’s homes show us he is a man of deep passions, of eccentric and whimsical tastes, and as he mentioned in his memoirs, a child.
If you stay in Santiago, you must visit the calm town of “Isla Negra” in the central coast. Less than one hour from Santiago where the main house of Pablo Neruda is located and at this time is a museum.
This house was the favorite of the poet and Nobel Prize of Literature. In this interesting excursion you’ll be able to appreciate the collections of objects that he collected throughout his life. The house is full of magic and memories of the poet, consul and great man who among other works was an important precursor from the arrival to Chile of the Winnipeg, a ship with more than two thousands Spanish refugees who after the defeat of the Republica in the Spanish civil War did not have nation.
In 1939, Neruda bought a little stone house on a rocky bit of coast about 45 minutes south of Valparaiso. The house in Isla Negra was remodeled by Neruda and rooms were added throughout thirty years. Different from La Chascona, Isla Negra is centered around the sea. He wanted to build the house to resemble a ship because although he loved the ocean, he was not a lover of sailing. He referred to himself as a "navegador de la tierra" and Isla Negra was his ship.
The living room, completely covered by weather beaten dark wood salvaged from old ships, certainly reminds one of the cabin on an ocean-going ship. Large imposing carved ship-figureheads, all with their own name given by Neruda, stand, hang, and lean throughout the room.
The study at Isla Negra demonstrates Neruda’s fervor for collecting. He was an avid collector of weird and wonderful things. Grinning African and Southeast Asian masks, and a large collection of butterflies and beetles greet visitors at the entrance. Much of the extras from his collections of Isla Negra were used to replenish articles destroyed at La Chascona and La Sebastiana.
It was among these walls where the poet spent most of his time in Chile, along with his third and last wife, Matilde Urrutia. And here is where both of them are buried facing the ocean. Visiting his house is getting to know an important part of Chilean history, as in its rooms Neruda received his friends and colleagues, sharing drinks while dreaming of a better world.
After the 1973 coup and Neruda’s death, these houses were completely ransacked damaging much of Neruda’s collectibles.
La Chascona, his home in Santiago, is tucked at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac in Bellavista. He called it his "love nest" because he built the house in 1953 for Matilde, his lover and eventual third wife. La Chascona, which means unruly mane of hair, referred to Matilde’s wild red hair.
Inside, the rooms are filled with articles and pieces from a lifetime of travel and fame. At first glance, it all seems like it has been haphazardly thrown together. A classic Antunez is hung among the wash of seeming garage sale refuse. It is eclectic but it somehow works. The whole may be somewhat dizzying but each piece shines in its quality and reveals, slowly, a part of the story that makes the poet’s life. "It is like walking into the crowded attic of a poet’s mind," remarked a visitor.
The dining room, with a secret passageway through a nearby cupboard, is an explosion of color. The dining set, English willow pattern blue and white, is placed with Japanese cups and Mexican hand blown goblets of all colors.
After Neruda died in 1973, Matilde stayed at La Chascona until her death 12 years later. Following Matilde’s wishes, the Pablo Neruda Foundation was formed in June, 1986. The Foundation, located at La Chascona, runs all three houses. Though La Chascona was the first of the houses open to the public, his real home (or what Neruda considered his home) was located in Isla Negra.
Finally, there is La Sebastiana located in Valparaiso. The house was bought by Neruda from Sebastian Collado. It is a typical hillside house but with a spectacular view. Ocean views were important to Neruda. All of his houses, even La Chascona, had large windows facing the ocean. (The dining room window at La Chascona faces a wall which was painted blue, along with a fountain, to give the impression of looking out into the ocean.) Neruda shared ownership with two artists and occupied only the top three floors. Here too, we experience more of Neruda’s outlandish tastes. A mummified Venezuelan bird, for example, hangs from the ceiling in the living room.
The study offers maps, historic photographs of Valparaiso, paintings of ships, and Neruda’s first typewriter. A big stuffed lion, a gift from Matilde, sits in a glass case in this study. Each room, whether at La Sebastiana, La Chascona, or at Isla Negra, has a touch of Matilde.