Bellavista, Cerro San Cristóbal and La Chascona (This post is 50% pictures)

Today I got a chance to explore a few of the most iconic places in Santiago; Bellavista, Cerro San Crisóbal, and one of Pablo Neruda’s houses, “La Chascona”, which he named for his last wife. She was nicknamed La Chascona because of her masses of wild, curly red hair. There isn’t a literal translation of  “La Chascona”, but essentially it means, “the one with the wild hair (like a lion or medusa)”. I can relate to that!

 

La Chascona
La Chascona

Bellavista is a more touristy shopping area of Santiago, but I am a tourist after all, so I found the little markets and artisan shops very interesting.

 

Interesting wire man statue in Bellavista
Interesting wire man statue in Bellavista

After a nice lunch with, Ale (Alejandra), my Chilean guide*, we headed for Cerro San Cristóbal.  (Cerro is spanish for “hill”). We had to take a “funicular” to get to the top of the hill.

 

You can’t spell “funicular” without “fun”!
You can’t spell “funicular” without “fun”!

At the top of San Cristóbal is a statue of the Virgin Mother. Traditionally, people will ask a request of the Virgin and light a candle in a special offering area. If the request is granted, the person is to return to the same place with a thank you card or gift.

 

The offering area (note the little boy lighting a candle)
The offering area (note the little boy lighting a candle)

I couldn’t think of a request at the time, because my life is already fantastic and I figured, if the Virgin Mary could solve world hunger or something like that, she would be on it already, not just waiting for my request. Maybe I’ll have something to request when I come back…..

Dang! I should have requested to come back to Santiago. Oh well! Next time.

 

Me and The Virgin Mother
Me and The Virgin Mother

The last stop on our tour was “La Chascona”. I was really excited to see this house as I am a huge fan of Pablo Neruda’s work (or maybe I should say of his translated work). I wasn’t disappointed. The architecture was so stunning and unique. Neruda designed the entire house to be like a ship on land, and his decorations and collections were so eccentric and eclectic, that they really told a lot about his personality. I almost felt like I was getting to know Pablo through his house.

 

Long staircase to upper-deck of the house
The house had three sections (an upper deck, lower deck and library)

Unfortunately I couldn’t take any pictures inside the house, but the artwork was amazing. Pablo collected all these little dolls and toys from around the world. (He really was a kid at heart.) Lots of the art on the walls was done by close, personal friends of Neruda. There was even one photo of him and Pablo Picasso embracing. I didn’t realize before the tour, but they were actually very close friends.

 

Mural outside Pablo Neruda's house.
Mural outside Pablo Neruda’s house. I don’t quite get the symbolism, but still a very interesting piece of artwork

The sad part of the story, is that Neruda died in Santiago, just around the time Pinochet took power  (Neruda was communist, Pinochet was a conservative military dictator). There is still some speculation as to whether it was really cancer that Neruda died from or if he was poisoned by the Pinochet regime. (The tour guide said that very recently the body was sent to the United States for testing, but it will be a few more months before they could prove anything for sure.) His wife lived out the rest of her life in La Chascona, while Santiago was in political turmoil, and she had to watch many of their close friends (who were also communists) be killed or “mysteriously disappear”.

All this background knowledge has resparked my interest in Neruda’s poetry. Until now I had been more interested in his love poems, but I know that he wrote a lot about politics and the Chilean government at that time as well, and I’d love to read more of those poems, maybe this time even en español.

*Ale is the director of “It’s a Global World”, the program that Globalinks corresponds with in Chile

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