16 January 2006

The Captain was a blowhard

I admit I was a little skeptical about the Neruda house in Isla Negra. I mean, how interesting could it be? But it was a fascinating place – the extravagant home of an egocentric eccentric. I’d thought Neruda was a seaman, given the ever-present ocean imagery, the title Captain’s Verses and so on. But it turns out he hated travelling by boat and declared himself the “captain of the land.” He designed his house to look like a ship, with rounded ceilings and ship’s wheels all over the place. Outside, he had a complex bell system, and whenever a ship passed he scurried outside and rang his bell to let passing captains know they were being greeted by the captain of the land.

I couldn’t help think what a fatuous blowhard the guy seemed to be. And after the tour, it seemed everyone in our group agreed. Although the tour guide was unfailingly positive and romantic about Neruda, we all got the feeling he was sort of a goof. Luckily, we’d read such a wide range of his poems the night before, so we also knew he was capable of writing good poetry (though our group might disagree on which exactly are the good poems).

A picnic on the rocks a little later in El Tapo, the next village along the coast, some wanderings, some pelicans, some Pacific waves smashing against the coast. And then a bus going the wrong way back to Santiago, a cab driver taking us for a ride, then this:

A cab driver who really did know the way back to Noviciado drives along the dirt road after midnight. As we approach Los Parronales, a stream of horses fills the narrow roadway and they look like a dream through the taxi’s headlights and dust. They look slow motion. They look like a poem.

Over and out.


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