• Day7

    "I confess I have lived . . "

    February 22, 2018 in Chile ⋅ ⛅ -4 °C

    We left the Atacama Desert, and drove back to Calama, where we boarded a plane to Santiago. After a quick flight, we grabbed our rental car and headed for Valparaiso. On the way, we planned to stop at the second of Neruda’s three homes, which is located in Isla Negra (the third is in Valparaiso).

    The drive from Santiago to Isla Negra is about 1-1/2 hours. Leaving the city takes relatively little time, and you are soon surrounded by small towns and lots of fields. This is the heart of the Chilean wine country. The valley in which many of the grapes are grown is called Casablanca. We decided to stop at a small vineyard that our guide in Santiago had recommended, but GPS failed us and we ended upon in the middle of nowhere. So, we pressed on to Isla Negra.

    Neruda’s house at Isla Negra is located in a small beachside community. Since it is summer vacation at the moment, the beaches were filled with umbrellas and families enjoying a nice day. The beaches here are small, and pretty crowded.

    This house is called Casa de Isla Negra, and it sits right on the beach. Like La Chascona, his home in Santiago, this house was built to his specifications and is a series of small rooms filled with his many and varied treasures. He was a huge collector, and particularly liked ship prows of women (there are half a dozen in his living room), old bottles, musical instruments, pipes, oversized shoes, and sea shells. In fact, he collected so many shells that there is an entire room at Isla Negra that was built for the purpose of housing about half of his shell collection (the other half was given to a museum in Santiago). He was also quite a dandy, with a large collection of hats, costumes, and the tuxedo that he wore to accept the Nobel Prize. And, he loved to entertain, and had a bar in this house which was decorated to look like a French bistro, complete with tables. In the rafters of the room he carved the names of many of his friends, including Garcia Lorca. His bedroom was above the bar, so he oft said that he liked to sleep near his friends. He is buried at Isla Negra, and his death remains a huge controversy. In 1973, Neruda was suffering from prostate cancer. A few days after Allende was assasinated, Neruda was taken to the hospital. No one thought that his death was imminent. Six days later, he called he wife and claimed that he had been given a shot and was now in great pain. Six hours later he was dead. At the time, it was suspected that he was given some sort of toxin which caused his death. The theory was that Neruda was planning to flee the country, and lead a government in exile, in opposition to Pinochet, and that Pinochet had him killed. But, there was no evidence, and Pinochet had just risen to power, so no action was taken. In 2013, a judge ordered the exhumation of Neruda’s remains. In 2015, the government announced that it was “highly probable” that a third party was responsible for his death. In 2017, 16 scientists rejected the cause of death which was noted on his death certificate — cancer — and indicated that there was evidence of a cultivated bacteria which could have caused his death, but the investigation continues.

    Upon his death, a book of poetry was pushed called “I confess I have lived.” It is probably his most widely read book, and details the extraordinary life that he lived.

    After taking in the house, we returned to the car and drove to Valparaiso. We came in the back way, over the top of one of the hills. The area that we drove through was very poor, with many houses in disrepair. (We later discovered that the cost of rebuilding in Valpo can be prohibitive, so houses are often abandoned and new homes are found.). We wound our way down the hill, with me guiding and Arie muttering about “death by GPS.” We finally arrived at our hotel, Casa Gallo, which is located on Cerro Allegre. (Cerro means “hill,” and there are 44 hills in Valpo.). The hotel is lovely, and extremely well-situated. (We must give a big thanks to Reyna McKinnon and Sophia Cross, who gave us lots of info about Valpo and what part of town to stay in.). After dropping our bags in the room, we made our way to the rooftop deck to admire the view. It was just gorgeous, as we looked across the hills and valleys, which are filled with brightly colored houses.

    For dinner, we went to a restaurant called Cafe Turri, which has a fantastic view of the port. We really enjoyed watching the sun set, and the twinkling lights of the city. My dinner was fine, but Arie’s was fantastic. He started with carpaccio pulpo— paper thin slices (albeit cooked) of octopus. I can’t figure out how they were bound together, but the taste was delicious. For dinner, he had Conger Eel Soup (caldillo de congrio). He chose this because it was a favorite of Neruda’s . . .in fact, Neruda wrote a poem about the soup, which included the recipe. (In addition to being a poet, a politician and an architect, Neruda enjoyed entertaining and often created new recipes for his friends.). The poem has step by step directions for making the soup, and ends with this line: “And to table come newly wed the savors of land and sea, that in this dish you may know heaven.” The soup was fantastic, heavenly even — a rich broth, with a large piece of eel at the center and small chunks of potatoes. Arie announced that he wanted to try to make this at home. I’m all for it, but not sure where he is going to find conger eel . . .
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