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 loca, locamente,” 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.
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.
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.
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!)
For more posts about Valparaíso check out Valparaíso: A Canvas of Hills and Walls and Palacio Baburizza: Valparaíso’s Museum of Fine Arts.