It would seem that without knowing it, I have been following in the footsteps of Pablo Neruda, one of Chile’s (and the world’s) most famous poets. But if you think those are giant shoes to follow, Chile had an even bigger surprise in store for me!
My flirtation with Pablo Neruda actually started with a visit to Peru, where my husband and I spent several days in the Sacred Valley, en route to Machu Picchu. While staying in a beautiful little boutique hotel I discovered a book containing an English translation of some of Neruda’s poetry, including a piece about Machu Picchu. I was so taken with the words that I took a photo of the poem to remember it so that when I returned home, I would be able to marry the verses to photos that we had taken as we hiked to the fabled mountaintop.
But my little fling with Pablo didn’t end there. Several years after my visit to Peru, I found myself on a work assignment in Santiago, Chile, and I took some time to explore the nearby city of Valparaiso when I had a free day. As it turns out, Valparaiso was also a favourite of the Chilean native, who had one of his 3 houses here (named La Sebastiana, now a museum). Downtown Santiago was the location of a second, also a museum, which I set out to explore after returning to the city. A whimsical and secluded home built to house Neruda’s mistress, La Chascona consists of several meandering and connected structures built into a hillside with a natural waterfall (which reminded me of another waterfall-inspired home by Frank Lloyd Wright). Privacy was the key to this property, given the whole ‘mistress’ thing, and even today, it feels like a little oasis in the centre of the city.
Santiago’s citizens are certainly proud of the Nobel Laureate poet, but it turns out that they are a gracious and welcoming city for other artists, as well, which I learned when we found ourselves within sight lines of a visiting dignitary of a totally different kind – the Little Giantess, or Pequena Gigantica, in Spanish.
This larger-than-life marionette is part of the French troupe, Royal de Luxe, who stages outdoor performances with these giant puppets around Europe. In this particular instance, the performance was the Sea Odyssey, which had been performed in Europe, but never in the Americas, and involved the little Giantess and her uncle (seen in the diving suit).
The performers decided to bring Sea Odyssey to Santiago as part of a month-long theatre festival, and the first and only city in South America they would visit. Consequently, the Little Giantess and her uncle received a diplomat’s welcome, having tea at Parliament with the resident dignitaries, and attracting more than a million spectators for their parade through the city. It was wonderful seeing how the entire city turned out to embrace the whimsy and charm of this performance, and luckily we found a terrific vantage point at one of the highest landmarks in the city, the hilltop above Terraza Neptuno.
Turns out that the chain of events that led me to discover one of Santiago’s most lauded artists of the past had also introduced me to a contemporary one of a very different kind – both giants in their own way, and both equally embraced by the Chileños – and now – me!
TIP: If you’d like to splurge a little on accommodations while in Santiago, check out the W Hotel. Located in a pretty residential area, this design-oriented hotel will surprise you with little touches, both personal and aesthetic, like these ‘drums’, built right into the wall near the elevators. Oh, and the pool deck is pretty nice, too!