*Update: La Chascona now has audio tours!
Pablo Neruda is a big deal. Redheads are a big deal. Being on a boat is sometimes a big deal. And so it is no surprise to me that Neruda brilliantly combined this trifecta in his Santiago house, La Chascona.
When I first visited La Chascona in 2010, I instantly became fascinated with it. A couple of weeks ago, my friend Emily, an accomplice in many misadventures of 2009, made her way back to Chile, and I seized the opportunity to shamelessly pull out my camera at every Chilean-flavored photo op—considering the fact that we exude gringonda, I might as well embrace looking like a tourist while we’re together. To Neruda’s houses we go!
Here’s what you need to know about La Chascona:
- Chascón/chascona: a Chilean adjective to describe tousled, messy, crazy hair; also, anyone with a habit of keeping unkempt hair… i.e. your friendly pelirroja peligrosa.
- The house was built and named for Neruda’s third wife, Matilde Urrutia, who was a Chilean singer and writer with a crazy mess of red hair. Oh, also, she was eight years younger than Pablo… anything sound familiar? The house displays Diego Rivera’s famous portrayal of Matilde with two faces: her public persona and her private self, the woman who shared her life with Pablo Neruda. While her relationship with the poet was still hidden at the time of this portrait, Rivera found a way to hide the outline of Neruda’s profile in his lover’s tousle of hair.
- At the time it was built, Matilde was Neruda’s mistress, and so the house served as a hidden love nest for the two. In 1955, Neruda left his second wife and moved into La Chascona with Matilde.
- Neruda was a passionate man who loved many things, but probably top on his list were collections and anything nautical. As in Neruda’s other houses, most notably Isla Negra, his collections are displayed throughout. More intriguing is the house’s unique construction: it is made to look like a boat.
- Not only does the house look like a boat structurally, but Neruda took the added trouble of directing a stream through the middle of the yard so that guests would feel they were actually on a boat as they ate in the dining room.
- Unfortunately, during the military coup of September 11, 1973, the military raided the house, destroying the contents of Neruda’s library and causing damage to the building. After Neruda’s death, which was two weeks after the coup, Matilde began restoring La Chascona, bringing items to the house from Neruda’s other two houses.
Pablo designed a sort of trademark for La Chascona. Pablo and Matilde’s initials are imposed over waves, a symbol which covers all of the exterior windows.Last but not least, the precious view that Pablo had in mind when building the house… oh, wait… that hideous building in the background was built to look like a cell phone.