La Sebastiana: Neruda’s Whimsical Valparaíso House

Looks shipshape to me! (Image from travellersplaces.wordpress)

Neruda’s houses are some of the most whimsical national monuments you’ll see in most countries.  It is very fitting that amidst collections of shells, coins, bottles, whosits and whatsits galore, La Sebastiana’s living room boasts the poem “Oda a las cosas,” or “Ode to Things.”

Amo las cosas localocamente,” says Neruda.  Some roughly translate this to, “I have a crazy, crazy love of things.” …But I prefer, “I’m cookoo for Cocoa Puffs!

Pink and Azure Walls that Dance for Neruda

When Neruda began looking for a house in Valpo, he said he was looking for something that was not too high up, but not too low down; private, but not completely isolated; and obviously, it needed to have a view of his beloved ocean.

Something about the view says “Write a Nobel Prize-winning collection” … (Image from )

When his friends found him the perfect house, an abandoned, four-story tower of sorts, he set about to remodel it immediately.  After three years, it had adopted the ship-like qualities of a Neruda house, along with his collections of things, a writing desk with a phenomenal view, and a huge picture of Walt Whitman.  (Neruda was a great admirer of Whitman, who he claimed was the most influential poet in his life.  For a little more information on this, check out this article.)

But the best addition to the house, in my opinion, is the crow’s nest that served as Neruda’s office, pictured above.

“Entonces la pintura llegó también lamiendo las paredes, las vistió de celeste y de rosado para que se pusieran a bailar.”

He later wrote a poem about the house, in which he describes the house as a growing, dancing, and generally living entity, with pink and blue walls that fit perfectly in the context of Valparaíso’s vibrant hills and views.

It is evident that Neruda wanted the house to be filled with life.  Whenever he threw a party, the view that La Sebastiana offered couldn’t be beat.  Moreover, the house features a small bar meant only for Pablo so that the poet could serve drinks to his guests.

And the La Sebastiana museum continues to be the most exciting and stimulating Neruda house to visit.  It’s the only house that you can explore at your one pace.  In La Sebastiana, you can wander from room to room and linger as long as you want, guided by an audio tour that you can pick up when you enter.  In Isla Negra and La Chascona, on the other hand, you must follow the guided tours in order to see the house at all.

Getting There

As with most trips in Valparaíso, visiting La Sebastiana is best done on foot.  The website shows a map of one route you could take.  You can also arrive via public transportation, either on the ‘O’ bus or on a colectivo (it’s a shared, cheap taxi) from the Plazuela Ecuador.

We, of course, walked, taking a long route to enjoy the beauty of Valparaíso.  Along the way, we experienced all the best that Valparaíso has to offer: phenomenal views, statues of famous poets, eclectic architecture, and stunning graffiti.  (And, of course, parks of outdoor exercise machines.)

We were fortunate enough to go on Neruda’s birthday, July 12, which meant free admission!  Wooohooo!  Otherwise it’s 4,000 Chilean pesos; 1,500 for students with IDs.

Just do it…

Valparaíso is the perfect city for the poet’s quirky side—the side that loved to host costume parties and collect bizarre bits of the world wherever he could.  La Sebastiana is a must see if you are anywhere near Valparaíso, as far as I’m concerned.  (Just remember that museums are closed on Mondays!)

If you’re interested in more about Neruda, check out some of my other posts on him and his houses: La Chascona: Neruda’s Santiago House and Rumors around Neruda’s Death.

For more posts about Valparaíso check out Valparaíso: A Canvas of Hills and Walls and Palacio Baburizza: Valparaíso’s Museum of Fine Arts.


Not too Shabby: Chilenismos of Quality

“Poor quality” has never been easier to say.  Chileans have various incredibly common words to describe things that are shoddy, sub-par, or of inferior quality.  And frankly, after a trip to the registro civil, you’ll understand why.


Something that is irreparably poor quality.  When a situation is flat-out sucky, penca is the most commonly used description.  This has long been one of my favorite chilenismos (as demonstrated in the stories here).  Careful, in true Chilean form, this word can also mean a certain male organ.


Chinese knock offs and professors who watch Naruto instead of teaching their classes are things that first come to mind with the word chanta.


A perfect word for overpriced knock offs is mula.  These are objects that scream YOU GOT SWINDLED.  That mula dress you bought yesterday cost you seventy bucks, and it’s already falling apart, for example.

charcha chilenismosCharcha:

Purely poor quality.  Something that’s really cheap and probably breaks really easily.  For example, according to Edwin, my father-in-law always buys charcha tools that break after one or two uses.  (When asked how to describe Miley Cyrus, I would say charcha, among other things.)  It comes from an indigenous word that means “deficient.”


Consider that this word comes from the verb “scratch”… and then imagine the dirtiest, scratchiest, shabbiest thing you can.  That’s rasca.  Like a mangy mutt.  Look up the meaning of “mange” and you’ll get it.


Peliento is like rasca, but it’s a little sadder.  Like, if you see a street dog that on top of being mangy is limping and listless, that’s kind of like peliento.  It comes from a word meaning vagabond.


Something that’s ghetto, but not in a good way.  It could be something so flashy it’s tacky or looks like bad taste.  It could be the duct tape holding together the frame of your car.  It could be the insanely loud reggaeton music shaking your neighbor’s house.  But mostly, it’s a kind of person, according to wikipedia, an “urban youth of low socioeconomic background.”

And finally, a word to describe something of excellent quality:


A big old sirloin steak… that is the definition of top-notch for many people.  For example:

¿Has leído el blog de la pelirroja peligrosa?  Es filete.

Keep in mind that puro filete is something you might hear as a piropo… because seeing women as a piece of meat is always a flattering thing.

Still looking for more words?  Look up some of these: punga, cuma, picante.

And the Winner is…

image from

Many Chileans exercised their right to vote for the first time in Sunday’s presidential election thanks to a revamped voting system that came into effect last year.

Hold your horses, though.  That doesn’t mean we have a new president yet.  This is Chile we’re talking about… these things take time.  Anyhow…

Here are some of the changes implemented in this year’s election:

  • Voting is no longer mandatory: Before 2012, if you chose to sign up to vote, you were obligated to vote for the rest of your life.  If you didn’t vote, you were fined between 18,500 and 120,000 Chilean pesos (37.00 – 240.00 USD).
  • Inscription is automatic: If you are a Chilean citizen, you can vote as soon as you turn 18.  Just enter your identification number at the Servicio Electoral page, and they’ll tell you where you’re registered to vote.  For those of us who are foreigners, five years of residence is sufficient to have your vote counted in these direct elections.
  • Men and women can now vote in the same place: Elections take place in schools and other public buildings, and each voter has a designated place to vote.  But previously, women and men had different designated voting centers.
  • Presidential elections now happen on the third Sunday of November, whereas before they occurred on the Sunday closest to December 11.  This allows a little more time for the second round of voting before the new president is sworn in to office.  And since Chile requires an absolute majority, meaning that the winning candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, a second round is usually pretty likely.

The Results

Pie Chart Chilean Presidential Elections 2013

With about 46 percent of the vote, Michelle Bachelet pulled ahead of the other candidates.  Bachelet is running for her second term and representing the Nueva Mayoría (check out point number 5 in this post).  Presidents cannot serve consecutive terms, which is why Bachelet is running for her second term now, four years after her first term ended.

Behind her was Evelyn Matthei, economist and experienced politician.  Matthei is representing the Alianza, a rightist coalition that incorporates the Independent Democratic Union and the National Renewal party, with 25 percent of the vote.

Chile has a multiparty state, but it is mostly split between two huge coalitions: the left versus the right, represented by the candidates above.  There were seven other candidates running for the presidency, as you can see in the charts, but the coalitions, as usual, took the bulk of the votes.

Chilean Presidential Election 2013 Results

We’ll see what happens after the next round on December 15.  In the meantime, I’m interested in what y’all think about this type of multiparty system?  What are its benefits?  What are its shortcomings?

Piropos: ‘Tis the Season to Cat Call

As one of my students put it, it’s spring and the women have started peeling off their clothes as the weather has increased.  There are certain things that draw more male attention here in Chile, and one of them, unsurprisingly, is skin.

That settles it then—let the season for piropos begin!

Piropos; piropear: cat calls or pick up lines; to cat call.

Typical Piropos:

Piropos wordle

Guapa, hermosa, preciosa, maravillosa, linda, bonita: These are all words that are used to say beautiful or pretty.  They can be used in many variations to modify the meaning.  For example, adding superlative with –ísima.  Here are some other uses:

  • ¡Guapísima!
  • Ay, !qué hermosa! (How beautiful!)
  • Qué lindos ojos tiene.  (What  pretty eyes you have.)
  • ¡Super preciosa! ¡La cosa más maravillosa que he visto en mi vida! (Super beautiful!  The most marvelous thing I’ve seen in my life!

Rica: This stands alone to me… probably because it means “sexy,” but it also means that something is delicious.  You might notice people comparing you with cakes or other tasty things to eat:

  • Rica la torta.  (The cake’s delicious.  They say this about you, just to be clear.)
  • ¡Qué bombón!

Another typical piropo is the “Hello” adorned with compliments and dripping with suggestiveness:

    • Buenos días, señorita.  (Good morning, miss.  But trust me, there’s a big difference between how a polite concierge may say this and… well, not so polite people.)
    • Hola, mi amorcito.  (Hello, my love.)
    • Hola, mi reina.  (Hello, my queen.)

Sound effects are an essential part of piropos.  This can range anywhere from:

  • Whistling to
  • Incredibly loud kiss noises to
  • Honking (sometimes with excitable car horns) to
  • Making words sound longer.  You can do this by simply yelling “ooooh” at the end of a word (for example: ¡Ricaooooo!) or by adding “eh” (“Super linda, eh.”)

Finally, remember that piropos can also be pick up lines.

  • Tantas curvas y yo sin frenos (“So many curves, and I’m without breaks.”)

If you’re interested in hearing more Chilean pick up lines… that are totally inappropriate… check out the video Mejores Piropos Chilenos.

Oppression or Appreciation?

There are many reasons piropos might make you uncomfortable or unsafe.  Something about someone older than my father breathing “riiica” into my ear as he passes me on the street simply gives me the heebie jeebies.

Still, many people argue that there is no harm in piropos, that it is a form of showing appreciation for women.

Well, it depends on your definition of women.  If you define a woman as a body and not as an individual, I suppose this is a way to show appreciation.  More specifically, you’re expressing a sexually charged judgment of her body.

I recently went to our church for a father-daughter dinner, which I knew would give me more perspective on gender here in Chile.  Sure enough, during a competition of several father-daughter pairs to see who knew each other the best, I heard the message that women are valued for their bodies and beauty while men are seen more as individuals.

The first question was for the fathers:

What part of her body does your daughter think is most beautiful?

The second question was for the daughters:

What does your father think is his greatest virtue?

I know this doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but it is in these subtleties that we learn how to understand ourselves as gendered beings.  For example, I learned that Chilean men are all expected to be hardworking and easily angered (trabajador y enojón).

And taking it back to piropos, I’ve noticed that the second attention-grabber to get the piropos going is exactly what two out of the three daughters said was their most beautiful part: HAIR.

If I wear my hair down I get many more piropos than if my hair is up and I walk down the same road at the same time of the day in the same outfit.

Chime in!

What do you think of cat calls?  I would love to hear others’ stories and opinions.

There’s death in Neruda’s bones, but is there poison?

Ever since Pablo Neruda died suddenly only twelve days after Chile’s 1973 coup d’état, the public has speculated as to the real cause of his death.  The influential Nobel Prize winner, who had withdrawn from the 1970 elections as the Communist Party’s presidential nominee, supported Chile’s socialist president, Salvador Allende.

Last Friday, for the first time in 40 years of speculation, we had new information to consider: Neruda’s remains show no signs of foul play.

Death of the Poet

According to the official report, Neruda died from “cancer cachexia” while being treated for advanced prostate cancer in the Clínica Santa María hospital on September 23, 1973.  This was just days before he had planned to flee to Mexico.

Around the same time, Chile was in violent upheaval—people were killed, arrested, and sequestered during the dictatorship following the coup.  The Chilean military ransacked or occupied all of Neruda’s three houses, and many of the people who attended his funeral, which was overseen by police at the Cementerio General, were taken into custody afterward.

Nothing could be done at the time to further investigate Neruda’s death.

After the end of the dictatorship, on December 12, 1992, Neruda was finally exhumed and buried at his house in Isla Negra.  There, next to his third wife, Matilde Urrutia, he had rested until April 2013.

Graves of Pablo Neruda and Matilde Urrutia

“Death comes to shout without a mouth”**

The world has continued to question the cause of Neruda’s death, until finally, in 2011, the Chilean Communist Party decided to open a lawsuit based on the claims of Neruda’s ex-chauffeur, Manuel Arraya.  Araya claimed that Neruda had been injected with a lethal substance, which led to his death.  And so it was decided that the great poet’s remains would be reexamined in April of 2013.

On Friday, November 8, 2013, a statement was released asserting that the team of 13 experts—from Chile’s Medical Legal Service, the University of Chile, the United States, and Spain—had found no chemical agents that could have caused Neruda’s death.

There was evidence of the advanced prostate cancer he had been suffering and the presence of typical medications used to treat such cancer.

Restlessness and Continuing Controversy

While many organizations, including the Pablo Neruda Foundation, stated that these results confirmed their beliefs about Neruda’s death, other parties, including Neruda’s nephew, Rodolfo Reyes, insist that the examinations were not exhaustive and that there are still tests that need to be run before ruling out assassination.

To this, Fernando Sáez, director of the Neruda Foundations, says that those who wish to believe that Neruda was assassinated will continue to speculate.

At the end of the day, it is still up to the judge to take all of the results into account and release a verdict.  But what will it take to have a definitive answer?  And how will that answer change how we understand history and Neruda’s life?  Time will tell.

**Take a look at an interesting poem in which Neruda discusses death and bones: “Solo la muerte

Chile, that’s not the imperative.

Remember all those years you struggled to memorize the irregular imperative verbs?  You know, verbs like hacer, which doesn’t become hace but rather haz.  Or ir, which turns into ve?

Sorry, but you’re in Chile now.  And you’ll have to relearn all of that.

Sneaky shadow vowels?

At first, I thought I was just hearing shadow vowels or some form of over-articulation.  Chileans seemed to be adding an ‘e’ at the end of certain commands.

But after enough observation and internet interactions, I learned that Chileans actually use a different form of the imperative for several verbs, namely, hacerponer, and salir.  

And by different, I mean they do exactly what you took years trying to undo: they go to the third person singular.

ponele likePone:

We all know poner should become pon in the imperative.  But in Chile, it is normal to hear something like, “Pónele un poquito más de sal.” (Put some more salt on it.)


¡Pónele weno!  (Which is like ¡Hazlo con ganas!  Or, “Do it like you mean it!”)


Imperative: you're doing it wrongHacer usually is haz as a command.  (So many years of practice down the drain.)  I think I’ll skip the explanation and go to the memes, because there’s basically nothing to say except Y U NO IMPERATIVE???


Refer to the following meme.  I know this isn’t a good application of the meme, but it illustrates three interesting uses of Chilean imperative.

First, the author used sale instead of sal

Second, you’ll notice that the above image uses anda to say “go” in the imperative, as opposed to using ve or vete.  This is very typical in Chilean Spanish, and ve is basically only used as the imperative of ver.

BONUS!  Sálete??  Why “te”?  This is not a reflexive verb here, right?  What is that reflexive pronoun doing in there?  

In Chile, I’ve noted that people often tag on a ‘te’ when making commands to add emphasis.  (Correct me if I’m wrong, Chileans!)  For example, if you want your child to sit down and eat his food, you might exclaim, “¡Cómetelo!” (Eat it!)

The English equivalent might be the “Do” in a command like, “Do stay for dinner!”

In summary…

Listen to the puppy:

Chile: 7 Things I Like About You

Honorable mention: this ice cream

Honorable mention: this ice cream

When I was a kid, if I called my sister “stupid” or my brother “ugly” or whatever, my parents would make me say seven nice things about the other as a consequence.

I must confess that sometimes I give Chile a pretty hard time.  I’ve been really frustrated for the past month or so, and I think I owe it to Chile to say seven nice things.

Here are some reasons I love you, Chile.

7.  Almacenes or corner stores:

In most neighborhoods, you can buy fresh bread daily by walking to an almacén within five minutes of your house.  The owner, who will probably call you mi hija, usually runs the almacén out of part of his or her house.  We have three of these within a five-minute walk of our house.

Almacenes are much preferable to a convenience store or gas station on the corner, which is what we typically have in the States.  And the funny thing about those is that they frequently aren’t really “around the corner.”  And nothing, nothing, is fresh there.  What up, food deserts!

On a related note…

From our local feria6.  Fruit and veggies!  

I love the fruit Chile has to offer.  Of course, for those of you from warmer climes, maybe this isn’t so impressive.  I’ve spoken with Colombians that feel Chile has a small and expensive selection of fruits and veggies.  But for a Vermonter, this selection is phenomenal.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, you can buy fresh produce at the weekly ferias that happen on a weekly basis in most neighborhoods.  Some highlights for me: lúcuma, chirimoya, avocado, strawberries and all of the exotic fruits I mentioned in this post.

5.  Political discussion:

While the US has tabooed socialism and communism as the most “un-American” things you could possibly discuss, Chile is a highly capitalist state whose next president will probably be socialist Michelle Bachelet.  Bachelet is running for the Nueva Mayoría, a political coalition that includes parties such as the Socialist Party, Christian Democrats, the Social Democrat Radical Party, and the Communist Party.

In the US, the moment someone begins to talk about something like socialism, a forcefield of caution begins to flicker up around the listener.  Even if the listener is a young, educated, liberal, the fear is there: is this person a nut job?

4.  People are affectionate.  

I know that in other places in the world, particularly other parts of Latin America, Chileans are considered cold and distant.  But for a gringa, the people are much warmer and more affectionate than the typical Usonian.

This makes some gringos uncomfortable.  However, I am in constant need of physical contact, and so it helps that it’s perfectly natural to touch someone’s arm during conversation or hug and kiss a person in greeting.  Back home, I’m notorious for invading people’s personal bubbles; here, I’m considered to not be as awkward as other cold gringos.

3.  Chilean poets:  

What more do you want to hear?  It’s the land of the poets—such as Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, Pablo de Rokha, Vicente Huidobro, Nicanor Parra, to name a few whom everyone should know.

Go read them.  And check out my posts on Neruda’s houses.

2.  It is beautiful.  

I know I complain endlessly about life in the city—the smog and the lack of green and the ugly buildings—but Chile is much more than Santiago.  It is one of the countries with the most diverse, rich, and breathtaking landscapes in the world: the desert, the beaches, the forests, the lakes, the mountains, the strange and otherworldly Patagonian terrain, even down to Antarctica.  Unparalleled, in my mind.

And along with the diversity of terrain comes an explosion of endemic flora and fauna.  Seriously, there are almost three thousand plants unique to Chile.

Finally, and most importantly,

1.  Its people: 

Where to start with this vibrant and quirky people that I’ve so come to love?  The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Chileans is their humor.

There’s something inherent to the rapid fire Chilean Spanish that lends itself to humor.  Chilean Spanish is full of opportunities for double entendre and dripping with character.  On top of that, when telling stories, my husband’s family showcases a range of the human voice that rivals that of Mariah Carey.  That kind of expression is simply funny.

Chileans are quick to laugh at almost anything—even things they probably shouldn’t laugh about, like the numbing terror of living through the golpe militar and subsequent torture and disappearances.  Or talking about living in extreme poverty and becoming malnourished.  In these situations, Chileans use laughter as a way of connecting with others, a way of being able to express difficult times and be assured that life goes on.

My in-laws with their English class

In less serious occasions, Chileans are equally ready for a laugh.  This morning, for example, I was waiting to make a transfer in the metro.  Since it was rush hour, there was a huge mob of us waiting for the next train, which was very slow to come.  As it approached, metro workers told us to step back, as the train was going to another station.  Several people started to jokingly boo the worker, as if it were her fault, and then the majority of us began to laugh at the situation.  Granted, sometimes people really get angry with workers, but that wasn’t the case today.

So Chile, I’m sorry

…for calling you stupid, ugly, and hopeless at times; there are many things that make you special, and many things that I can learn from you.

Alright, readers; what do you appreciate about Chile?