The House of Pablo Neruda at Isla Negra

Isla Negra

Isla Negra

It’s not an island exactly, but rather a seaside town, and a rather small and famous one at that, for it was where the poet and ambassador Pablo Neruda lived. The Nobel Prize winning poet’s home is now a museum and attracts visitors from all over the world. So popular are the tours of the inside of the house and the grounds that we had to wait an hour and a half. Rather than wait, we ate at a nearby cafe. I had a Churrasco Italiano with cafe con leche. It was essentially a roast beef sandwich dressed with avocado, mayonnaise and tomato and quite good though the meat had chewy veins of gristle. Coffee in Chile is generally not brewed and served instant. At this cafe, the waitress, who may also have made the food, brought out a glass jar of Nescafe, a coffee mug and a small spoon. About ten minutes later, she brought out a pewter pitcher of boiling milk that she poured into the mug over the spoonful and a half of instant coffee that I had put into my coffee mug. For instant coffee, it was surprisingly good, though I still prefer a Dunkin Donut medium with milk. My wife ordered the same sandwich and a bottle of Pap which is a very sweet “pineapple” flavored soda that has a golden peach chemical glow like Pine Sol.

Pablo Neruda's House

Pablo Neruda’s House

The toured commenced at 4:30. The tour guide gave us all telephone devices that had the tour recorded in at least three languages, Spanish, Portuguese and English. Each exhibit or room in the house corresponded to a number that we pressed on the recorder that gave all the details.  Below are my observations and the bits of information I remembered from the automated tour:

Neruda bought the house in the 30’s from a friend and over the years had additions built.  From the outside, it is a long and modest stone structure that looks a bit like a castle.  On the inside, most of the rooms are made of beautifully finished wood, logs and stones with rustic furniture that give one a feeling of being in a cabin. And most of the rooms have windows with a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean.

Inside the rooms, Neruda had countless objects carefully displayed, some he acquired as a collector, but many, perhaps even most, were gifts from friends over the years including figurines, masks, wooden carvings, colored glass bottles, jugs, ships in a bottle, and seashells among other things.

He entertained quite frequently and was said to give press interviews inside the house in a room with a glass table built from a wagon wheel and giant stone mural that an artist friend built for him.  It was in this room that he received former President Salvador Allende and other friends and dignitaries. He was fond of and influenced by other writers and had framed photographs of some of them including Whitman, Doestoevsky, and Poe.

Neruda was said to have been attracted to Isla Negra because aspects of it reminded him of his childhood in the south of Chile and of his visits to the sea which play a prominent role in his poetry. Other inspirations for his poems include food and his wives (three in all) to whom he was quite devoted, particularly Matilde, his last wife with whom he is buried on the grounds.

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