“Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” – Pablo Neruda
I flew over the Atacama desert and arrived in Santiago, Chile, with not much of a plan. These are the things I knew about the country prior to arriving – its’ considered first world, it’s one of the more expensive countries in South America, you can’t bribe the police, it was ruled by Pinochet in the 70’s, Pablo Neruda came from there.
As you might have guessed, I am a fan of poetry. And few poets ever manage to write poetry like Pablo Neruda. One of the ways I tried improving my Spanish vocabulary was by reading his poems in Spanish and looking up the words I didn’t know. He owned three housed in Chile. One in Santiago. One in Valparaiso. One on Isla Negra.
Since I didn’t have any plan for Chile, I decided just to follow the ghost of this literary giant. The first house I saw was fascinating. La Chascona is a word referencing to wild hair, it’s rooted in the Quechua language of the Incas, but also became part of Chilean slang. Chilean Spanish has a lot of slang, to the point where some of them joke it’s a different language. The name of his house was a reference to Matilde, his secret mistress and later wife. She had wild and curly red hair.
The house exists as a testament to a guy who enjoyed life. Though he never owned a boat, he liked the illusion of being a captain. His dining room was long and narrow, giving the illusion of being on board a ship. His idea was that guests would drink until it felt as though the room was moving, completing the illusion of being at sea. He collected many trinkets in his lifetime, and his house was full of fun and colourful decorations. I had expected something very different. Something austere and communist. After all, Neruda was an admirer of Stalin.
Inspired by Neruda’s love for life, and by a hostel full of hard partying Brazilians, I went out for some free drinks at a bar later that day. I was introduced the dangerous Piscola. A mixture of Pisco with a couple of dashes of Coca Cola, it creates a drunkenness that sneaks up before you realise what you’ve gotten yourself into.