Continuing on my journey to South America, I’ve already shared about Peru, so now we’re on to Chile.
For Love of Pablo Neruda
My main purpose for visiting Chile was the opportunity to visit the home of one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda. He had three homes that were turned into museums — La Chascona in Santiago, La Sebastiana in Valparaiso, and his home in Isla Negra.
I was able to visit two out of the three homes, both of which feature an impressive collection of old maps, found objects, and artwork gathered together by the poet, who also served as a diplomat.
La Sebastiana is a narrow tall home, with a tight hallway leading up to each of its four or five floors. At the top was his writing room and his desk, with a few papers contained there under glass.
La Chascona is situated on a hillside in the Bella Vista district of Santiago. Neruda named the home La Chascona, which means “tangled-haired woman,” after his wife and lifelong love, Matilde Urrutia. La Chascona also featured some poetry in Neruda’s own handwriting, displayed at his desk, as well as a display of his published books in editions from around the world.
Pablo Neruda died from cancer shortly after Pinochet’s military coup in 1973, overthrowing democratically elected Allende. After Neruda’s death, La Chascona was ransacked, items were stolen and destroyed, and the drainage ditches were blocked off so the house would flooded. Matilde held the funeral in the destroyed house and the funeral procession that followed turned into one of the first public protests against the military regime. Matilde continued to live in La Chascona, restoring it and the art within, eventually starting a foundation to preserve Neruda’s legacy. She was also a human rights activist, which brought her into conflict with Pinochet.
My poet heart soared walking through the spaces Neruda once walked. I adore Neruda’s words and the passion he had for his wife, his country, and the world. It was an honor to two of his homes and to see how his love of life translated in to the spaces Neruda and Matilde made for themselves.
The one home I missed out on, Isla Negra, was actually the home I had in mind when wanting to come to Chile. Somehow I confused it with the Valparaiso house, but that’s alright. I was thrilled to have visited the two homes I did and now I have a reason to return to Chile.
It’s been two weeks since my sister and I have been home from our trip in South America, and I’m still awed by all the places and adventures we were able to fit into our two weeks of travel. Our journey took us through Peru, Chile, and Argentina — all three beautiful places to explore. We did a lot of hoping around, which was perfect for this trip, but a part of me wants to go back to one or all and really settling in to a single country for a longer period of time, so that I can get to know it in depth.
Since I have a ton of photos, I’m splitting this post into three parts, starting with Peru, where we visited Lima, Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.
Our experience of Lima was a colored by how exhausted we were after our red-eye flight. But with only one day to explore the city, we wandered through the main city center. The Plaza Mayor was crowded — with two events happening simultaneously. At the Palacio de Gobierno some sort of changing of the guard was going on, with soldiers in dress uniform marching and parading horses while trumpets blared. On the other side of the square, a procession accompanied by music was pouring out of the Catedral de Lima — large pavilion after large pavilion, each held aloft by four men or women proceeded out of the entrance of the cathedral. They held elaborate pedestals adorned with the images of the Virgin, Christ, and various saints. The procession was accompanied by dancers in brightly colored, traditional Peruvian dress. The trumpets from the government building clashed together with the music from the cathedral in a wonderful cacophony.
Later we stopped in at Choco Museo to try drink hot chocolate flavored with chile. Afterward, our explorations took us to Casa de Literature Puruana (House of Peruvian Literature). Inside was a library with an old printing press on display, as well as museum exhibits introducing two Peruvian poets — Magda Portal and Louis Hernandez. All of the displays were in Spanish, of which I know only a little. Nevertheless, I’m excited to go looking for their work and for the opportunity to learn more about them.
We ended our day at the Basilica de San Francisco, a church and convent which houses underground catacombs.
I’ve done quite a bit of traveling over the past two-and-a-half weeks. I flew into Dubai and Singapore to attend conferences and exhibitions for work, and then took a bit of extra time in order to take the train up to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. All three places were quite a bit too hot and humid for me, but were quite interesting to explore.
It was a fantastic experience, one I could probably write many words on, but I’m still a bit jet-lagged and sleepy, so I’m going to keep things simple and just share some photos from the journey (more along with videos are on my instagram).
As we drove along the dark roads under the sheltering shadows of trees, the face of a mountain rose up before us like a monolith, ghostly in the blue moonlight, while the stars sprinkled the noctilucent sky behind. All of us in the car — except the one sleeping — gasped. The night could not hide the grandeur of the mountains that sheltered us in Yosemite valley.
It was the first time to Yosemite National Park for most of us (my mom, my sister, my sister’s friend, and I), and somehow entering the park in the dark, barely being able to see anything other than the mountain aglow was the perfect introduction.
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Visiting Yosemite in the winter is beautiful, but the cold can be exhausting. Our group was in a constant battle against the cold, grasping for every ounce of heat, the heater in our tent barely holding up against the drafts that slipped in through the door and window flaps. It was a good thing we brought our own sleeping bags and an extra assortment of winter gear.
My clothing was mostly California-thin, laughable as winter wear. The cold was a creeping thing, working its way through layers of clothing, to crawl along the skin, slip its way in to settle under the surface, nestle in my bones. I layered pattern upon pattern, not caring about hat conflicting with scarf conflicting with coat, in an attempt to maintain warmth.
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The only time we really got warm was on our hike, our bodies becoming furnaces fighting against the frost and wind as the trail inclined upward, leading us toward rivers and waterfalls and mossy stones and vistas.
Water was everywhere on this trip, sliding over rock faces in grand cascades glittering with a framework of ice or dribbling through cracks, rushing through rivers, leaving slick patches on the trails, nearly invisible and dangerous underneath our feet. It covered everything in during each night, making the whole world glitter.
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I’ve fallen in love with Yosemite. The place is too beautiful not to return to again and again. I hope I’ll get the chance to return again soon, whether in the frigid cold of winter or the heat of summer.
Thank you to the editors of Undead: A Poetry Anthology of Ghouls, Ghosts, and More! I’m looking forward to seeing my poem “Beware of Attics” reprinted within its pages sometime in 2017.
I’m enjoying Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier, a graphic novel about two sisters who move to a coastal town with a local population of specters. The artwork is bright with clean lines and slightly cartoony (as in the characters have large round eyes and exaggerated expressions. Fun, so far.
What I’m Writing
Mostly I’m dealing with end of the year stuff, figuring out just what I accomplished this year and what I need to finish up in order to clean out my files and prep for the new year. This will involve a considerable amount of gathering and editing and arranging, I’m sure.
Goals for the Week:
Edit, edit, edit — and submit something
“The women in her stories are often constrained – by convention, by their families, by their own fears and subconscious desires. And beneath it all is a sense of powerful, hidden rage – a rage that belies the setting of so much of her fiction. Under the bland surface of these small, suburban communities, something dark is fermenting; something is about to erupt,” writes Joanne Harris on the Shirley Jackson centenary.
My trip to Nashville last week was necessarily mellow, because I fell sick halfway through. Nevertheless, my mom and I managed to get out, see some historical sites, and have some good eats. I could write a whole other post on the food in Nashville — bonuts from Biscuit Love and fried chicken from Hattie B’s (which has six levels of spicy including “Shut the Cluck Up”) — um, yum. But I really want to share some of the history we learned about and how it was portrayed.
There is a certain amount of rewriting of history in the South, a romanticizing of the antebellum era, giving the period a soft glow that blurs out the uglier aspects of slavery. Traveling to the South, I wondered how much of this I would see while visiting historical museums.
The Lotz House
Driving on a road trip to see the countryside, my mom and I accidentally discovered the Lotz House in Franklin. We were just exploring and didn’t have any destination in mind while we were driving, but the sign indicating that the house was a Civil War museum called to us.
Since we were there on a weekday, we were were the only two people on the tour. Our guide explained how the house was a center point for an epic battle in which thousands of Northern and Confederate soldiers died. The Lotz family, including the children, were present during the battle and hid inside a brick basement while events raged outside.
Johann Albert Lotz was a master woodworker and he used his home as a showpiece for his profession, displaying elaborate mantles and carved banisters. Following the battle, his family returned to their home, which had been battered and badly damaged, a home full of bullet and cannon holes. The evidence of his quick repairs to make the house livable again are still evident in the home. There are still scars in the brickwork, still bloodstains in the wood floors.
Despite all these repairs, Lotz and his family were forced to flee Tennessee when the KKK threatened to end Lotz’s life for carving a piano that portrayed an eagle holding a tattered confederate flag. He fled all the way to San Jose, California, as far away as he could get before hitting water. (My mom and I have plans to visit his gravesite, which is nearby where we live.)
What was interesting about the Lotz house was that it centered around an everyday sort of family. They were not rich. They were just craftsmen trying to get by and survive impossible circumstances.
Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage
The Hermitage is the home-turned-museum of President Andrew Jackson. The primary focus of the museum is the life of Jackson, his role as a general and as a president, and the legacy he and his family left behind. The tour of the manor house was interesting, although it also felt brief giving a perfunctory view of the household and how it operated (though this is likely because of the large number of tours and tourists coming through there everyday).
The Hermitage was a working plantation, which was made profitable by slavery. It was no surprise to me that, in being a museum dedicated to a former president of the United States, the museum glossed over much regarding the lives of the slaves. Most of the information stated or hinted at the idea of Jackson considered to have been a “benevolent” slave owner, who treated the slaves as his “black family.” Even the former slave buildings say little, explaining only that little is known about the lives of the slaves who lived there. Anything more than that is mostly related is subtle hints and insinuations, at best.
However, there was an interesting display about the life of Alfred Jackson, who was born as a slave at the Hermitage to the cook, Betty. Following the end of the Civil War, Alfred continued to work at the Hermitage as a caretaker. When the plantation was converted into a museum in 1889, he became one of the first tour guides.
The Belle Meade Plantation
We visited the Belle Meade plantation in a rush at the end of the day after returning of our tour of Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. The Belle Meade plantation includes a manor house tour (which we did not take), a beautiful stables and carriage house, a large collection of antique carriages and sleds, and outbuildings. A winery has also started up on the site, with wine tastings available as part of the tour.
The collection of horse-drawn carriages was wonderful (although our experience of it was frustrated by the wedding that was being set up for the night). All of the carriages are beautiful and well preserved, and I enjoyed learning about the various uses of each one.
The plantation was known for its horse breeding. According to our Uber driver, all of the horses that have participated in the Kentucky Derby can trace their lineage back to the Belle Meade plantation. I have no idea if that’s true, but it’s fascinating either way.
The thing I appreciate the most about Belle Meade, however, was how it handled the history of slavery. The property includes a reconstruction of the slave quarters, which is used exclusively to explore the lives of the slaves who once lived on the plantation with video recordings forming an oral history of black lives and excavated artifacts revealing fragments of how the slaves lived found in and around the Belle Meade site.
Belle Meade acknowledges that an important aspect of history has been erased and is making strides to combat that erasure through an archeological project called Journey to Jubilee. The mission statement of the project is “to preserve and interpret the African-American story at Belle Meade plantation while educating the public about the significance of the contributions made by African-Americans and their significance in American history.”
After seeing how the Hermitage glossed over this important part of history, it was so refreshing to see a historical site making efforts to share and discuss challenging topics. The three to five year project is ongoing and hopefully, they will put together an excellent historical resource as they work to tell more of the whole story.