Published on April 12th, 2010 | by Mark Chesnut
Quirky Furnishings, an Artist’s Life and a Nation’s History: Pablo Neruda’s Home in Santiago
“A lot of people think that being a writer, a poet, Pablo Neruda would be boring or stuffy,” says Gonzalo, my tour guide at the home of Chile’s most celebrated writer, who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1971. “But that’s not true. He was a cool guy. He was a party guy.”
The humor and creativity of Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) is certainly evident during my tour of La Chascona, his quirkily fascinating former residence in Santiago de Chile. It’s one of three homes operated today by the Fundación Pablo Neruda, and it’s a fascinating place to see not only where he created, but also learn about how he viewed the world, and how his work and life reflected Chile’s history.
The Santiago home — actually a complex of small buildings that began popping up in the quiet Bellavista neighborhood in the early 1950s — is filled with interesting and bizarre knick-knacks that represent a fraction of what used to populate his home before it was raided by the strongmen of Agusto Pinochet, who in 1973 overthrew Nerudo’s friend, Democratically elected president Salvador Allende.
But there is still plenty to see in this winding, low-ceilinged compound, including paintings, paperweights, a giant pair of shoes and salt and pepper shakers labeled “marijuana” and “morphine.” (“Neruda said he wasn’t a collector,” Gonzalo explains. “He’s a cosista — a thingist.”)
The visuals are great here — but it’s really more than just a house tour or a discourse about the life of a famous writer. It’s also a glimpse into the history of a nation. Neruda died soon after Pinochet’s military coup of 1973. The official cause was heart failure but, our guide says, “some people say he died of a broken heart.”
(I also tried today to visit two museums that provide more detail into the presidency of Salvador Allende, and the difficult years during Pinochet’s rule — the Museo de la Solidaridad (Museum of Solidarity) and the new Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights) — but unfortunately they are closed for renovation following the earthquake. The Museo de la Solidaridad will reopen in May, and the Museo de la Memoria is closed “until further notice.”)
The main dining room displays artwork and knick-knacks from the Americas and Europe.
In the guest suite’s dining area, a hollowed-out television stores the cutlery.
The bed in the guest room is dominated by a giant stuffed animal named Carlos.
A vintage telephone used by Neruda, with a phonebook from the era.
A portrait by Neruda’s friend, Mexican artist Diego Rivera, of the woman who would be Neruda’s third and last wife, Matilde Urrutia. If you look closely at the upper right part of her hair, you’ll see the profile of Neruda’s face. Supposedly, Rivera had to hide it well, because at the time the painting was made, Neruda was still married to his second wife.
Bizarre dolls are among the collectibles in the master bathroom.
The master bedroom, where the couple slept.