Monday, January 23, 2012

Chile Journal V: La Sebastiana

There are rumors about Valparaiso being a dangerous place where pickpockets will assault the unwary tourist. These fears are vindicated when you walk out of the bus station to a seaside spot reminiscent of the faded splendor of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. The decaying neo-colonial Spanish architecture with its balustrades and ornate friezes on azure, purple and green facades is counterpoised by a generalized squalor, with large amounts of dog droppings (there are even more strays than in Santiago) punctuating a landscape of unswept streets. Ramshackled houses rest precariously on stilts along a mountain side which runs to the sea. All that’s missing to make the picture complete is a criminal character like Greene’s infamous Pinkie. La Sebastiana, the one time home of Pablo Neruda, Chile’s Nobel Prize winning poet, also lies on the mountain and as you make the steep trek up the colorful albeit still filthy steps which lead to the museum built in Neruda's honor, you begin to understand why Valparaiso is also looked at as one of the centers of Chile’s cultural life. Like the city itself Neruda was full of contradictions. He was a Communist who was determinately acquisitive, a collector of beautiful objects. He was the last of a generation of poet statesmen (Malraux was his novelist counterpart in France) who exercised imagination in the social as well as individual spheres. Yet he was also a devoted bon vivant who plainly enjoyed the good life. The Medusa face of Valparaiso is the neighborhood leading down from La Sebastiana, a neo La Boheme filled with galleries and shops and wall covered with Lorca quotations and graffiti murals (Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Wheat Field With Crows were combined in one of these). For those who don’t have the energy to make the climb after eating a meal of Churiana, a heavy dish of scrambled eggs and fried potatoes topped by boiled beef, the city sports antique funiculars and a fleet of aging electric buses with a haunting fifties design .

1 comment:

  1. Gracias soy privilegiado, no nací aquí, pero por adopción desde El Belloto y con todos los años conociendo todos los cerros soy porteño, amo sus olores, colores, sabiduría, fortaleza ysolidaridad.


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