On Wednesday, March 4, we visited La Chascona, the home of Pablo Neruda, not far from our apartment in Santiago.
Neruda was a great Chilean poet and diplomat who died of cancer, brokenhearted, only days after the military coup in September 1973.
Among other things, Neruda was Chile’s Ambassador to France during the Allende regime. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature while serving in that post.
It is a moving experience to visit the house and see the rooms where Neruda and his (third) wife, Matilde Urrutia, lived and entertained guests.
He was apparently a warm and fun-loving host. The ceramic salt and pepper shakers in the dining room were labeled “Morphine” and “Marijuana.” Next to the dining room is a bar area, and there is a second “summer” bar uphill for outdoor entertaining in the summer.
The house is intimate in scale, consisting of several small buildings. Among other items modestly displayed is the actual Nobel Prize Neruda received, which rests on a shelf in a glass case in the library along with other awards.
La Chascona was badly vandalized by right-wing thugs during the first days of the Junta, just after Neruda’s death.
Neruda’s wife Matilde held his wake in the living room of the heavily damaged home (shown here in its restored state), as an act of defiance. All of the windows were broken. She and friends of the poet stayed the night in the cold room, keeping watch over him.
His funeral the next day was the first great outpouring of the public in resistance to the Junta.
Matilde spent years lovingly restoring La Chascona after Neruda’s death and writing her memoirs. She also was an outspoken and courageous defender of human rights against the terrible repression of the Pinochet military dictatorship.
If you ever visit Santiago, you certainly should take time for a tour of La Chascona. It will leave a lasting and positive impression of this wonderful country.