The Chilean Nobel Laureate’s literary creations are inseparably linked to the sea. The inspiring places inside his houses look off to those horizons that fade into the distance.
Valparaíso was such a place full of significance for Neruda and some of the sites and sounds that he frequently experienced during his walks around the port city still remain with us today.
These places not only harbor stories of old friends and gatherings, but even memories of a city that refuses to forget its past, which is one of its strengths as a tourist destination. Neruda at one time often went up and down the city’s hills, rummaged through antique shops and open air markets, and used the flimsiest of excuses to get his friends together for a good time at one of his favorite restaurants. Some of these experiences are still remembered at the places that welcomed him from the late 1950’s until shortly before his death, and today these memories are still vivid.
Neruda’s port city adventures are preserved in his works in Valparaíso. A trip following his footsteps starts at a restaurant called Menzel, opened in 1933 in the very heart of the city. You can still catch stories about Neruda from those who once served him one of his preferred dishes: Congrio (a fish) Stew and wine. There is still one waitress left that regularly served him and remembers his frequent visits.
Another interesting establishment in downtown Valparaíso on Independencia Street is an antique shop called El Abuelo, where the famous poet acquired a large part of the artwork and decorations that today can be viewed in his three former homes: “La Sebastiana,” “Isla Negra” and “La Chascona,” in Santiago.
Another one of Neruda’s refuges is on “Cerro Lecheros” (“Milkman’s Hill”), on 14 Cervantes Street, a place where he secretly resided in 1948, when an order for his arrest was issued by the country’s president at that time and forced him to live in hiding. Today two plaques commemorate his time there, during which he wrote part of his masterpiece “Canto General” (“General Song”).
Neruda had a deep love for his country, and no one knew better than he did how to concisely describe Chile’s crazy geography: “Chile is a mountainous country, with high summits, full of craggy edges and vertiginous chasms. Minerals erected her heights with copper and iron. And above them lies the white snow. Chile is a huge and narrow balcony. The mountain ranges reject us. We Chileans form lines just to view our own sea; an angry space, the ocean’s waves.”