Next stop, Pablo Neruda’s house:
Now Neruda, for those of you who don’t know of him (and I have to confess to only the vaguest knowledge before getting here) was a mid-twentieth century Chilean poet who won the nobel prize for literature. As Chile fancies itself as a land of poets and scholars, this is obviously quite a big source of national pride.
Neruda’s house, which he had built for his wife, is called La Chascona (Quechua for something like ‘wild hair’). Nestled, at the bottom of Cerro San Cristobal, it’s an intriguing complex of buildings full of all kinds of cultural artefacts and knik knaks that belonged to the great man (having read some of his poetry subsequent to visiting, I think I can call him that).
Pablo Neruda was a big supporter of the left-wing Popular Unity government that was overthrown by the Chilean armed forces in 1973 (told you we’d get to that, more coming up a bit further down) and died only a few days after the coup itself (some, maybe with a degree of poetic licence, say of a broken heart) and the house was partially trashed by supporters of the military regime. His widow and friends restored the place, and it is as much a testament to them as to him in that respect.
After taking leave of Pablo’s gaff, we wandered through the uber-trendy Bella Vista area, which I guess is a comparable sort of place to Lima’s own Barranco district-lots of bars and eateries for the young metropolitan to sit outside. And boy, were they-we wandered past bar after bar teaming with people sat outside taking a post work/study drink. We eventually settled on a bit of food from a cracking Italian restuarant, and I scored this anthology of writing on the coup from a great little radical bookshop next door to it-one of a couple of such bookshops I spotted round that way:
As we made our way back across the river to Lastarria, the riverside parks were also thronging with people taking in the sunset and early evening air, a most mellow time indeed. I spent the evening reading the above anthology in its entirity, I already knew a bit about the coup, but it filled out a few gaps for me. Felt like good preparation for our scheduled mission to the Museum of Human Rights the following day.
The Museum itself was about a ten block walk from our hotel, en route we passed through the plaza de armas, but it was the site of some major redevelopment work, so sorry comrades no shots of that. There was also a fair bit of graffiti in the side streets from the riots over access to education a couple of years ago, we had our march on so didn’t get any pictures of this either, but it was a reminder that no matter how great the country is, all is not rosy in the garden-every nation has its problems to deal with.
We finally made it to the museum, after a couple of minutes of ‘do you think we’ve passed it without realising?’ setting in:
The museum is well worth a visit-we were in there a good two or three hours, cameras are not allowed so you’ll have to take my word for it when I say that there is a huge amount of material in there devoted to what is still a contentious subject in Chilean society. Broadly speaking, there are those people who still maintain that the coup was a case of ‘you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs’ and those who are still massively outraged about it, particularly the mass disappearances, executions, tortures etc. I could go really into depth about this, but it is probably best off for you to have a read for yourself, or watch this or this. To cut a long story short, after 17 years of military government, there was a transition back to democratic rule and an uneasy compromise between former foes that has lasted to this day, with most Chileans happy to put the past behind them and look to the future, although that’s sometimes easier said than done.
On a somewhat lighter note, after our tour of the museum we made our way to the nearest subway station on the edge of a neighbouring park to get back to our own ‘hood. This marked the occassion when I could boast that I have been on the tube system of four different cities in four different continents (the others being Montreal, Beijing and of course Blighty’s very own London underground). For the life of me, I don’t know why every decent-sized city doesn’t have one, they make such a difference to city traffic and are a cool way to get around, to boot. Lima has just announced they’re building one, I probably won’t be around to see the benefits, but it’s a definite step in the right direction.
We’d made plans to hit a jazz club one evening, but alas this was not to be. The rules of siesta taking should be that either side of about 7 and 9 p.m, you are perfectly within your rights to nod off-beforehand and you stand a chance of waking up and having a productive evening, any time afterwards and you can count it as getting an early night in. Fall asleep in the danger zone, however, and you’ve pretty much guaranteed waking up at an odd time late on and destroying your subsequent’s night’s sleep in the process. This is exactly what happened to us on the appointed evening after an exhausting day exploring the city. Consequently, I can’t really give you much info on the live music scene, but I should imagine it’s great like everything else culture-wise in the city.
On the subject of time, just a quick aside-Chile is actually two hours closer to U.K standard time than Peru, which means it’s only three hours at this time of year. Closer than you thought, eh?
A final honourable mention probably deserves to go to the quality of places to eat we came across. A bit like the U.K, Chile seems to have its own staple foods but take great pleasure in doing other people’s cuisines well, as well. A case in point was a belting French restuarant called Les Assassins near our hotel-if you’re ever in town look it up, French cooking and Chilean wine-a match made in heaven!
We caught the plane back at the end of the week, swearing to return and explore both the city and the country further in the future. As we took off on a bright and glorious Friday afternoon, looking out of the windows on one side of the plane one could see the Andes in their towering splendour, on the other side the shining blue of the Pacific and directly below the ordered sprawl of the city. A glorious sight indeed, and one I hope that we get to see again in the not too-distant-future.