Morphine and Marijuana in a Poet’s house

Pablo Neruda is a famous Chilean poet who passed away in 1973, the same year the coup d’etat that took place in Chile.  Famous poet?  Yes, he was (and still is) famous and apparently quite wealthy too.  In 1971 he won the Nobel price for literature.  He wrote poems about nature, the mountains, the ocean an love.  Los Jaivas, a well known Chilean music group produced Alturas de Macchu Picchu, songs based on the lyrics written by Pablo Neruda about Macchu Picchu.  For the music video they actually transported their instruments (including a piano) to Macchu Picchu and were filmed playing the instruments there!  

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A mural near the house, depicting Neruda’s profile on the right.

Three of his houses in Chile are museums that the public can visit for a fee.  Yesterday I visited La Chascona, the house in the Bella Vista area in Santiago, that he built for his mistress in 1953.  The architect of the house is German Rodriguez Arias.  Entrance to the house/ museum is 4,000 Chilean Pesos (8 USD).  Neruda named the house La Chascona, a Quechua word meaning dishevelled as a reference to Matilde’s hair.  He sometimes called her “Medusa”.  The symbol of La Chascona that looks like a sun or a flower, represents Matilde’s hair sticking out around her face.

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The entrance to the house/ museum. You can see the house on the hill to the left.

He simply lived with his wife in a different neighbourhood of Santiago and visited his mistress at this house.  Many of the poet’s friends were in on his little secret.  In 1955 Pablo Neruda left his wife to live with his mistress, Matilde Urrutia, who later became his third wife.

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A painting of Matilde by Diego Riviera. It refers to that which is hidden and that which is seen. Pablo Neruda’s face is in profile on the left.

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The house has an organic feel to it and fits in beautifully in the surrounds.  You almost expect a hobbit to jump out at you as you walk up the staircase to the living room.

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Pablo Neruda’s love for Matilde is expressed in the window exteriors. On the left a P and M combined refers to the moon over waves in the ocean. On the right is Matilde’s face and wild hair.

During the visit to the house you learn more about this interesting man’s life, his relationship with Matilde Urrutia and his death, which some people still believe was not from cancer, but that he was poisoned by the Military government at the time.  Neruda was a gracious host and had a wicked sense humour – he had salt and pepper pots labelled ‘marijuana’ and ‘morphine’!

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Included in the entrance fee is an audio guide that leads you through the house, starting at the Captain’s bar, leading you through secret passages and finally to the Library and French Reading room.  There are many valuable artefacts that Neruda collected during his life that are on display in the house such as paintings, colourful wine glasses and sculptures.  The visit takes between one and two hours and must be on your to do list if you visit Santiago!

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I bought this Neruda poem on a postcard: An ode to an artichoke!

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