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 fundacionneruda.org )

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.

Sin Servicio

Here’s a list of things I would love to tell Chileans:

  1. STOP SWEEPING. I just don’t understand.  We wear shoes throughout the house and track dirt everywhere, but you need to make sure the sidewalk outside is all clear?  I’ve always been amazed by this practice.  Slightly more befuddling is when they use hoses instead of brooms… now you’re going to waste your time AND spurn conservation efforts?  That’s just like you , Chile.  (Santiago was put under regulations according to “environmental pre-emergency” as of Monday.  Because the smog burns my nose.  Among other things, it means that 60% of cars are not allowed to drive. Xileno?)
  2. Yellow lights—not a challenge.  You have not failed yourself as a driver or individual if you do not make a yellow light.  I should clarify: if you have to stop because the yellow light will turn red, you actually might be saving someone’s life.
  3. Photocopying entire books is illegal and not normal.  Don’t act like I’m a freak for being stressed by your endless lines of students, stacks of paper, and broken staplers.
  4. It doesn’t make send to ask me what country my Chinese friend is from.  When I say she’s a “chinita,” I mean she weighs about 90 lbs and lives in China.  Your confusion makes you racist.
  5. Grapes vs. Avocado.  Let me explain something to you: Grapes will not make you fat.  Let me explain something to you: Avocados have almost twenty times the fat of any other fruit.  If you eat several pounds of grapes everyday, you will gain weight.  But they are not going to make you fatter than eating a bunch of palta every day.
  6. The front row will not kill you.  In class, in church, in movies… there is nothing there that is life-threatening.
  7. Actually, Super 8s aren’t that great.  Actually, ají is not spicy.  Actually, your mantecoso and goat cheese are not strong-tasting.
  8. Just say goodbye.  One, maybe two of the following are acceptable to signal the end of a conversation… all are not necessary:  listo-que-estes-bien-gracias-besitos-chauchau-nos-vemos.  Also, you don’t have to fit them all into one word… or sentence, even.

Anyhow, that’s it for now… I had a revelation recently when my cellphone randomly chose to be without service for like… the third time in a week… that “sin servicio” was a good way to describe living in a foreign country at times.  The feeling of dependency that you develop for your cellphone, that connection to your loved ones, a secure line in case of danger, a versatile resource … and then to suddenly not have it there… without service.  Yup.

Replicas

List of incredibly Chilean things I’ve done within the first 3 days in Chile:

Eaten:

Attended:

  • A choripanada (a get-together where you eat these)
  • No classes

Kissed:

People I know

Made:

  • 3 unfruitful phone calls
  • Mashed avocado
  • Fome(cheesy) jokes

Ignored:

  • Aftershockssss
  • People sneezing

Non Chilean things I’ve done in my first three days

Been:

  • On time for a party
  • Friends with people of the opposite sex/gender
  • Pale
  • Ginger

Gone:

  • Running for fun
  • To La Reina instead of Ñuñoa (I got lost on public transportation, OK?)

Said:

  • Estaba instead of ‘ta’a
  • ¿Cómo estás? instead of ¿Cómo tay?
  • “Escúchame” instead of “Péscame” (listen to me vs. fish me…)

Avoided:

  • Meat
  • Soda
  • Mullets