As uncouth as I am, I didn't really know much (or possibly anything) about Pablo Neruda before going to Santiago. I went on a walking tour of the city that ended outside one of his three homes in the country, and there my introduction began. In my roughly three and a half days in Chile I visited all three of his homes – Santiago, Isla Negra (my favourite) and Valparaiso.
In case you are likewise not aware, Pablo Neruda is considered the Mozart of Poetry, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, and published his most famous work by age 19 – Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, which I still have not read. He was a poet, a diplomat, and an unapologetic lover of women. He was obsessed by the sea but unable to swim, so he never ventured out into the water but designed all of his homes to resemble ships. The dining rooms are narrow galley-style, his study at Isla Negra is shaped like a prow, and there are wooden floors and narrow passageways, and views of the sea. He was a rampant collector of beautiful things – ship maidenheads, coloured wine glasses (which make wine taste better), bright blue butterflies, artwork, a large stuffed horse with three tails supplied by his friends. His house at Isla Negra, surrounded by tall windswept pines, overlooking a stony beige beach with dramatic dark boulders, is a wonderful museum, as it was intended to be, and lives up to the atmospheric location.
Pablo seemed to excel at play as well as work – he kept things from his childhood around him, to remind him of what it was like to play. 'A child who does not play is not a child, a man who does not play has lost forever the child who lived in him and who he will miss terribly.'
He also memorably wrote 'Love is so short. Forgetting is so long'.
I found Santiago to be a welcome change from Buenos Aires – friendlier, more manageable, more relaxed. Valparaiso was beautiful and I wish I'd had more time to spend there in the cafes and admiring the amazing graffiti. Isla Negra was a poetic delight.