Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Chile, Day 2

The painted wall outside of Neruda's former home, La Chascona.

Last night I finally got something like a decent night’s sleep. It’s good to sleep soundly every few weeks. But sleeping well meant getting a relatively late start to the day, and after a 10:00 breakfast provided by my hotel (see previous post, as it was exactly the same) I set out on foot for La Chascona, Pablo Neruda’s secret home in Santiago that he built so he could be with his mistress, and later his third and final wife, Matilde Urrutia. “Chascona” is not a Spanish word, or even a slang word found in Chilean Spanish. It comes from the Quechuan language and means something like “unruly hair,” which is often how he poetically and lovingly referred to Matilde.

The house itself is very playful – Neruda designed it himself and built it so that it resembled a boat, despite the fact that he couldn’t swim and was afraid of the water. Each section of La Chascona, built at different times as money permitted, furthered the boat motif, and the interiors indeed feel very boat-like. Neruda was El Capitan, and he even had navigation rooms with old maps of the sea on the walls. His Nobel Prize medal was also here, though many aspects of the original house, including running streams, are no longer here because Augusto Pinochet, Chile’s brutal former dictator, had his military destroy much of La Chascona, including Neruda’s vast library. Shortly after this, Neruda, who was in hiding at one of his other homes, died of cancer, and Matilde returned to restore and live in it. She died in 1995, 22 years after Neruda passed away.

It was a fascinating tour – you can only see it via a tour and not on your own – though I had to wait 90 minutes to get a tour with an English-speaking guide (who was excellent). There is a very nice café here, as well as a gift shop that sells knickknacks and Neruda’s poetry both in Spanish and in translation.

Casa Museo La Chascona is located at Fernando Márquez de la Plata 0192 (Barrio Providencia). It might be a good idea to call in advance for a tour reservation: (56-2) 777-8741. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. in March-December, and until 7 p.m. in January and February. Tickets cost 3500 pesos (US$6.89).

As soon as I left La Chascona I was accosted by more “students” trying to get money for school, but once I shook them off I decided to look for a café that doubles as a bookstore (or vice-versa). I found it just one street over from La Chascona – Mundo de Papel, on Constitucion 166 (open every day from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.).

Entrance to Mundo de Papel.

Charming, tranquil back patio where I had lunch.

The bookstore itself is okay – as is the case in Chile, books in English are exorbitantly expensive – so I opted to eat rather than book-shop. I sat in a nice, tree-filled patio in back and ordered a goat cheese sandwich with pesto and fresh spinach, and a mixed fruit juice (banana, pineapple, mora berry, and orange).

Nothing special, but it was a nice change of pace.

Mixed fruit drink...full of straw-clogging seeds.

Both were quite good, though the juice was full of mora berry seeds. The meal ended up being roughly $7.

By that time it was already 2:45, so I hightailed it over to La Vega Central, which is the main fruit and vegetable market in Santiago.

La Vega definitely isn't as "prettily dressed" as Santiago's Central Market, probably because fewer tourists visit it.

Interestingly, one of the “students” trying to get money from me told me not to go there because it’s too dangerous, but I think she’s crazy – it wasn’t dangerous at all, and in fact people there seemed friendly and it was just over the river from the crowded, and well-secured, Central Market. In any case, I wandered through here breathing deeply the aromas of fresh fruit – I could smell the market a block away – and stopping occasionally to pet the friendly stray cats that were all over the place.

By this time I was pretty beat, so I returned to my hotel, downed a bottle of water, and then headed out to a café on the corner of Monjitas, where I’m staying, and JM de la Barra – Café de las Artes.

Entrance to Cafe de las Artes. Those seats are usually all filled up.

The staff here was very friendly, and spoke English much better than I spoke Spanish. Unfortunately they weren’t able to make a mora berry (blackberry) mocha for me, but I did end up with one of the biggest, sweetest mochas that I’ve ever had. They also had free wi-fi, which I used briefly to upload some photos to my blog. I could have stayed much longer, but without much to occupy myself I left after only about 30 minutes. The mocha was only 1050 pesos (US$2.07).

That's one beautiful moka.

By this time it was only around 5 p.m., so I decided to go see the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo, which was only a five-minute walk away. I’m usually not a big fan of contemporary art, but I wanted to compare Santiago’s contemporary art museum with those I’ve seen in the U.S. And aside from horribly loud construction going on in the first floor, it proved to be a lot more interesting.

Front of the Contemporary Arts Museum.

This was in the small plaza fronting the museum.

The exhibits here tended to focus on politics quite a bit, which made them meaningful on some level – as opposed to the self-indulgent, meaningless schlock I find characterizes much contemporary art in the U.S. – but it sometimes felt heavy-handed. They certainly used representations of “military America” and “corporate America” a lot – sometimes interestingly, and at other times unsophisticatedly. There wasn’t much being exhibited, but for an entrance fee of only 600 pesos (US$1.18), it was worth the visit.

On my way back to my hotel I passed a salon that looked better than most I’ve come across over the last few weeks.

I'm not sure where this salon was or what it was called...

Since I definitely needed a haircut, I poked my head inside and was met with curious smiles. Luckily my Spanish phrasebook told me how to say, “I’d like a shampoo and a haircut, please. Please, only a trim. And no mousse, gel, or other styling-goop, please.”

Not only did the stylist come through for me – actually, the woman barely cut anything at all – but I also got a long scalp massage that nearly put me to sleep. Why is that every other country gives scalp massages with haircuts, but not in the U.S.? There needs to be a revolution or something so that we can all enjoy what people in Chile, Japan, and Vietnam, and probably everywhere else, get to enjoy on a regular basis. In the end, my haircut only cost 4500 pesos (US$8.86), which is a great deal. In Hawaii I always paid $15 for a haircut, and that was by far the cheapest cut I could get without going to some haircutting chain and having some hack destroy my hair.

After that I was pretty tired out, so at eight o’clock (it doesn’t get dark here until around nine) I decided to go out for a quick bite around the Plaza de Armas. I was a little tired of seafood, and at the same time very curious about “el completo” – which is basically a hot dog made all fancy with various toppings. I ended up going to El Rincon del Portal, which I’d seen yesterday afternoon, and ordering a “Completo Italiano Gigante” along with a small glass of local beer.

There's a ton of pedestrian traffic passing by here, though I snapped this during a lull.

I'm sure people here thought I was weird for taking photos of a fast food restaurant.

For only about US$4.50 I got a good deal – a glass of beer and two hot dogs in a bun slathered with chopped tomato, avocado, and what I mistakenly thought was cheese (ugh, it was mayonnaise).

And even weirder for taking a photo of a hot dog and beer.

I added salsa to it, which gave it some needed flavor, and tried not to think that by eating this I probably shortened my life by a week.

After my next bite, I scraped off all the mayo I could.

El Rincón del Portal is at Portal Fernandez Concha 974 (right on the Plaza de Armas). Tel: 697-2269. They have all kinds of diner-type food in addition to “completos.”

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  1. Glad you are having fun in South America!!! happy new year!

  2. Erica: Thank you! Yes, it's been quite a good trip so far. Feliz Año Nuevo to you, too!! Next time I come to South America I'll have to visit Colombia. :)