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A Series of Short Vignettes of Chile: Vaparaiso

CHILE | Wednesday, 27 April 2011 | Views [605]

 "Quickly Valparaiso, Sailor, You forget the tears" - Pablo Neruda

     I said goodbye to some of the dancers at breakfast, but I have never been fond of goodbyes, too awkward, too uncertain. On the streets of Santiago, the marathon runners circled around me. How fitting that my first day on my own was obstructed by a marathon. I have spent the last three years running mile after mile, searching for a new path and clearing out the past. Running has become easy; living has become the more difficult battle to fight. Tired of courses dictated by someone else’s map, I refused to have a plan. I am a free-spirit blown by the wind, guided by a sense of adventure. I went to the bus station and took the first bus out of town: Valparaiso.

     Houses perch upon the hills uncertain if their wings will fly. Nested together, the flock protects the people below from the harsh world threatening to invade. Beneath their watchful eyes, the park is warm and full of Sunday neighbors. Children screech with joy racing pedal cars around circled paths, grizzled men warily assess their opponent’s skill at chess. Mothers stroll chatting like Jersey housewives while their husbands shake their heads. Above all, Chile is a country of Families. I envy them. Their closeness, their value. Their difficulties as a country have created a strong community grounded in love for each other. I am welcome among them, but an interloper as well. Their hospitality is politely curious but never overly familiar in warmth. I put away my maps and wander the streets snaking through the hills. As steep as San Francisco, these hills are meant to put muscle in your legs and keep the empanadas at work. Houses pile together: some aging ladies with elegant demeanor, some crisp young gentlemen with every hair in place. The further up the mountainside the idea of structure wears down to aluminum siding leaning drunkenly against the slope. Piles of trash pour down from the crest indiscriminately spreading from shack to mansion. Instead of pulling the focus from the buildings, it adds a bit more character. The Monet-like specks of garbage blend into the strongest unifying factor: murals of graffiti cover every surface until the entire town looks like an Urban Louvre. The days roll easily as a game of ‘Chutes and Ladders’ traipsing up the miles of stairs, winding back down again. Eventually I broke down and took one of the ascentures, elevators straight to the upper deck. Sunset views of the entire bay. Lovers walking together in sentimental eternity. Down to the waterside, families packed into tiny boats taking a whirl upon the sea. A crusty one-eyed fisherman named Ricardo cozied up to me, telling me to take his picture proudly in front of the boats at harbor. Sometimes, this life seems surreal.

Ode to Valparaiso

By: Pablo Neruda

Translated by: Laney Sullivan

What nonsense

You are

What a crazy

Insane Port.

Your mounded head


You never finish combing your hair

Life has always surprised you

Death woke you

In your undershirt and long underwear

Fringed with color


With a name tattooed on the stomach

And with a cap

The earthquake grabbed you

You ran


Broke your fingernails

It moved

The waters and the stones


And seas

The night,

You would sleep

In the ground


From your sailing

And the furious earth

Lifted its waves

More stormy

Than a tempest

The dust

Covered you

The eyes

The flames

Burned your shoes

The solid

Houses of bankers


Like wounded whales

While above

The houses of the poor


Into nothingness

Like captive birds

Testing their wings






You forget

the tears

and you return

to hanging your dwellings

to paint doors





You transform into a boat

Your are

The patched bow

Of a small



The crowns nest

With foam

Your rope lines that sing

And the light of the ocean

That shakes the masts

And flags

In your indestructible swaying


Dark star

You are

From far away

In the height of the coast


And soon

You surrender

Your hidden fire

The rocking

Of your deaf alleys

The naturalness

Of your movement

The clarity

Of your seamanship

Here ends this ode



So small

Like a cloth



Ragged in a Window


In the Wind

of the ocean


With all the pain

Of your ground


The dew

Of the sea, the kiss

Of the wild angry sea

That with all of its power

Beat the rocks

It could not

Knock you down

Because on your southern chest

Is tattooed

The struggle

The hope

The solidarity

And the joy

As anchors


The waves of the earth.

Tags: chile, emily predny, graffiti, pablo neruda, valparaiso



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