Chile, Valparaiso
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3/tres from Valparaíso

Scene-setter: You can and should tour Pablo Neruda’s Valparaíso residence, La Sebastiana, which features stunning views of the whole city. Shall we say his interior design tastes were eclectic? Here’s a poem he wrote about Valpo:

“Ode to Valparaíso,” by Pablo Neruda, translated by Sarah Watwood

Valparaíso,
how absurd
you are,
what a lunatic,
crazy port,
what a head –
rolling hills,
disheveled,
you never
finished combing your hair,
you’ve never
had time
to get dressed,
life has
always
surprised you,
death has awoken you,
in your nightshirt,
in your long johns,
flecked with color,
naked,
with a name
tattooed on your stomach,
wearing a hat,
the earthquake seized you,
running
crazed,
you tore apart your fingernails,
your water and stones
moved of their own accord,
the streets,
the sea,
the night,
you have been sleeping
in the earth,
tired
of your voyages,
and the land,
furious,
threw up its waves
more tempestuous
than a storm at sea,
the dust
covered your eyes,
the flames
burnt your shoes,
the firm
bankers’ houses
quaked
like wounded whales,
while above
the houses of the poor
fell
into the void
like imprisoned
birds
who, testing their wings,
fall to the earth.

Soon,
Valparaíso,
sailor,
you’ll forget
your tears,
you’ll return
to building up your houses,
painting your doors
green,
your windows
yellow,
you will transform
all of it
into a vessel,
you are
the patched prow
of a small,
brave,
ship.
The tempest is crowned
with sea foam
your ropes that sing
and the light of the ocean
makes shirts
and flags quake
in your endless swaying.

You are
a dark
star
from afar,
in the heights of the coastline
shining
and soon
you will surrender
your hidden fire,
the winding
of your mute alleys,
the confidence
of your movement,
the clarity
of your sailing.
Here is where I end it, this
ode,
Valparaíso,
small
as a discarded
undershirt,
draped
in your ragged windows
cradled in the ocean
wind,
drenched
in all
the sorrows
of your land,
receiving
the dew
of the seas, the kiss
of the broad, furious ocean.
that, with all the force it has,
striking your stones,
could not
topple you,
because on your southern chest
is tattooed
the fight,
the hope,
the solidarity
and the happiness
like anchors
that resist
the waves of the earth.

 

Pound-the-table recommendation: Valpo reminded us a lot of Lisbon. Is that an asshole sentence? There’s a central plaza sorta like a much less grand Praça do Comércio, winding streets designed with an eye toward topography instead of navigational logic, and hills that keep those Chilean grandmas looking tight. Re: those hills, we do recommend that you hop on an ascensor for your second or third trip up Cerro Concepción or Alegre. It’ll save you some sweat, plus the ride itself is fun. Most of them are over 100 years old; what’s the worst that could happen?

Back-pocket fact: Valparaíso flourished in the 19th century because it was the first major port of call for ships rounding the Horn. The city was struck by a devastating earthquake in 1906—the same year as San Francisco’s big one—and then the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 drove a final nail into the city’s economic coffin. (This may sound a little harsh. Valparaíso, in spite of some notable charms, is not a thriving town, and doesn’t seem to be on any particular path toward recovery. However, with European backpackers trekking up those hills and cruise ships occasionally pulling into port, maybe there’s a tourism-powered light at the end of the tunnel?)

Valpo pano

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