Touring La Sebastiana today — Pablo Neruda’s home in Valparaiso. Neruda has been one of my favorite poets for almost a decade and along with songwriter/activist Victor Jara, was one of the reasons I’ve wanted to visit Chile for quite a while now.
The tour of the museum/house was amazing and I would recommend it to anyone visiting the city. The grounds and beautiful view of the home and city are free for anyone, but if you want the self-guided audio tour of the four-story home it costs 7,000 pesos and is closed on Mondays. Do yourself a favor and check out this poet’s beach house.
“I feel the tiredness of Santiago. I want to find in Valparaiso a little house to live and write quietly,” Neruda wrote to his friends as he began his search for a new home. “It must have some conditions. It can’t be located to high or to low. It should be solitary but not in excess.”
There is solitude here but definitely still with easy access to the rest of the city and it’s brilliant culture. Up on one of Valparaiso’s many hills, the walk to and from this home is half of the fun with unbeatable views and small shops and souvenir stalls as you get closer to the museum.
Pablo Neruda is one of Chile’s two Nobel prize winners, both of them poets. Being here in his home is special. I can feel his ghost.
He lived to name everything, his armchair between the living room and the dining room he called “The Cloud,” and he wrote there in his famous green pen. The footrest is still stained with his green ink. He never dined alone and napped frequently. Beside the dining room is a small bar with quirky art and artifacts where he threw parties and drank whiskey with his bohemian friends.
The next level held his bedroom that he shared with his wife and has a spectacular ocean view, like all the rooms in the home. The study on the top floor was his place of solitude where he wrote after waking very early in the morning and then later in the afternoon after napping and entertaining friends for lunch. It is filled with his wooden furniture and his desk. On the wall is a large map of the Americas, paintings of ships and a life-sized portrait of Walt Whitman, his favorite poet.
When night fell, his work was finished and his friends joined him again for dinner and drinks, fine whiskey and red wine from Chile. The view is spectacular and he missed his beach home greatly when he was back in Santiago. I would too.
Neruda had a magical way with words — everyday objects jump to life with his pen. He saw deeper into the world than most. I am reminded to slow down and see things as they are, each special and magnificent in their own right. Why waste life lumping each moment together and rushing through the days in search of something else. That way of life is a bottomless pit and will never bring true satisfaction, I’m sure of it.
Does the world still want poets? Does it need words? Does anyone care? Chilean teenagers on a class trip make fun of each other and taunt stray dogs. Girls primp and giggle while the boys posture and smirk, slap each other and say “My nigga” in strange accents with LA Dodgers baseball hats.
They will grow. I acted worse. I have grown and I still act this way with my friends around.
I was dead. I am inspired. I live again.
But the world does not want poets. The world wants action movies and explosions and strangers that leave before dawn. The world does not want to slow down and to be patient and to live and love slowly, deliberately. The world does not want romance anymore.
Where are you when we need you the most Pablo? Secretly stealing a nap in your study? Only your drunk friends are left at the table now.
The world does not want poets, it wants to see pictures of embarrassed celebrities and airbrushed models in clothes we cannot buy. They want death and destruction. They want to ogle, not cherish. They want to click and click again — a frenzy of light and sounds that disappears at will. They crave panic. But an orange does not grow overnight.
The world does not want poets anymore, and the world does not want us. Goodbye Pablo. Did you write an elegy for your world of words? It has gone from us now.
But where has it gone? Into the air. Underwater. Up into the sky and into the heavens and black, empty space above where only nothing can exist and the air is so thin that matter expands until it no longer has to hold it’s tired shape and form anymore — just molecules and atoms and electrical charges floating forever, never to meet itself again. Words are spread across eons of space and time, a canvas and notebook so infInitely grand it is senseless and incomprehensible.
This world does not need poets and so the poets have all left.
I have spent a lot of the day relaxing around the hostel and meeting the new group of people staying here in Hostel Po. I just learned that the Carnaval Mil Tambores is this weekend in Valparaiso and the hostal is totally full now with young people ready to party. Apparently by the end of the weekend when the festival is in full swing the streets will be packed, everyone drunk and partying until dawn. Miguel compared it to Mardi Gras and I can’t wait to see what kind of debauchery awaits.
I cooked myself some dinner, rice with lots of onions and garlic and a box of black beans. It was fantastic and I ate on the roof and soaked up the late-afternoon sun. I wrote in my notebook and sketched a little more. All the art in this city has inspired me and I bought a small sketch pad that I have kept with me over the past couple of days. It’s rejuvenating to find a creative output to get excited about. I spent part of the morning slightly sad about all the beauty that I was seeing without having anyone to share it with. It’s easy to travel alone and make all of the decisions without compromise, but it’s emotionally exhausting to spend so much time alone. Writing has been a friend to me but that isn’t always enough. Even the unparalleled Pablo Neruda kept his friends close and enjoyed their company for meals and parties at night while managing to get a lot of writing and correspondence done during the day.
The sadness of being alone so much comes and goes at will and I need to let it roll over me like a wave or a cool breeze instead of latching on to it and letting it drive my mood and my day. But it helps so much to hear from friends and family back home and I’ve been really grateful for everything you’ve done for me and all the support. Miss you dearly and can’t wait to see you soon I will cook so many vegan potato delights and every kind of delight you could ever want, as long as time allows, until we have to part again.
I spent the night skateboarding around town and saw the sun set over the port near my hostel and headed a few miles down the coast to where all the colleges and universities are. I stopped for a while to try re-learn how to ollie and pop shove-it on some dirt before trying it rolling down the sidewalk. It’s a miracle but I managed to pull both off without destroying my ankles or totally eating shit! I couldn’t land a kickflip though, rolling or still. It’s certainly the first time I’ve left flat ground on a skateboard in a decade and it felt pretty incredible. I sweated the stress of the day away, something I almost forgot usually works, and I am reborn again tonight from an emotionally grey day.
Now it’s around 10 p.m. and new guests are still filing into the hostel. The others that are already settled in are drinking liters of beer on the roof and killing big bottles of Chilean red wine to prepare for a Friday night on the town. The carnaval is just warming up…
I forgot how important alcohol was to the socializing process and I feel like an outsider every time I decline booze. I have become uninvited from the bar trips and club escapades because of this and it’s definitely been harder to fit into groups of people without alcohol to smooth it all over. I’ve managed to make friends but I’m in bed by the time they all come rolling back to the hostel drunk and sweaty at 4:30 in the morning. The closer friends that I had made when I first arrived have all left by now and it’s been hard to start over. Maybe all of this is adding up to me being ready to leave this hostel and city and to find what’s next on the trip. Maybe there is about a four or five day expiration date on each new place I visit because I start to get the same restless and funky feeling after that amount of time.
I met one other person earlier today who doesn’t drink at all — Judy from the Netherlands who is maybe a little older than me and is volunteering at the hostel in exchange for free board. We chatted for a while about what it means to not drink in a place like this and it really helped me because I was starting to feel like a bit of an outcast. Her boyfriend here is a vegan.
“Honesty, it quite annoys me,” she told me over afternoon tea in the common area while she was working. “I’m in a new place like this and I want to eat everything in sight, but it’s so much harder now.”
She is a freelance writer and has sold a few travel stories to some magazines in the Netherlands over her past year of traveling abroad.
“But I want to write something really special about this town,” she said. “I want to walk every street and hill in Valparaiso.”
I’m impressed but I understand. This city is special and deserves nothing less. She helped me brainstorm some plans for the weekend and tried to explain the buses to me.
Now it’s almost 11 p.m. and skateboarding has tired me out more than I expected. And while everyone else makes their way into the balmy Valparaiso night to party, I’m devising plans to shower and crawl into bed before too long. Maybe I can get some rest before they all come back hammerdrunk and stumbling through the dorm room, fumbling with lights and slipping and struggling to climb onto top bunks.
Goodnight all. The carnival of a thousand drums awaits tomorrow!