Living in a paintbox

Someone tipped out a paintbox and splashed its colours all over the hills – that’s how it looks here in Valparaíso. There’s hardly a building or a surface that’s not been painted. We asked Gab (our host) whether there were any regulations on what colours could be used to paint a house, and he said, ‘Does it look like there are any regulations?’ – apparently not, paint away as long they’re garishly bright and in your face and every house loudly asserts its identity. Got it.

One of Chile’s national legends, and Nobel Prize winner, Pablo Neruda, beautifully, and poignantly wrote of Valparaíso:

Ode to Valparaíso
VALPARAÍSO,
what an absurdity
you are,
how crazy:
a crazy port.
What a head
of dishevelled
hills,
that you never finish
combing.
Never
did you have
time to dress yourself,
and always
you were surprised
by life.
Death woke you up,
in your nightshirt,
in your long johns
fringed with colours,
naked
with a name
tattooed on your stomach,
and with a hat.
The earthquake caught you,
and you ran
crazedly,
you broke your fingernails.
The waters and the stones
the sidewalks,
the sea,
the night,
all were shaken.
You slept
on the ground,
tired
from your navigation,
and the furious
earth
lifted its waves
more tempestuous
than a marine gale.
The dust
covered up
your eyes.
The flames
burned your shoes.
The solid houses
of the bankers
trembled
like injured whales,
while above,
the houses of the poor
jumped
into the void
like imprisoned
birds
who test their wings
and fall to the ground.

Soon,
Valparaíso,
sailor,
you forget
about your tears.
You return
to hanging your dwellings,
to painting doors
green,
and windows
yellow.
You transform
everything into a boat.
You are
the patched-up prow
of a small
brave
ship.
The foamy crown
of the tempest.
Your ropes that sing
and the ocean light
that makes the shirts
and flags tremble
with your indestructible swaying.

Dark
star
you are
from far away.
In the height of the coast
you shine
and soon
you surrender
your hidden fire.
The rocking
of your muffled alleys,
the uninhibitedness
of your movement,
the clarity
of your seamanship.
Here I conclude
this ode,
Valparaíso:
so little
like a destitute
undershirt,
hanging
raggedly in your windows
rocking
in the wind
of the ocean,
saturated
with all
the sorrows
of your land,
receiving
the dew
of the seas, the kiss
of the wide irritable ocean
that with all its strength
beats against your stones.
It couldn’t
knock you down,
because within your southern chest
are tattooed:
struggle,
hope,
solidarity
and happiness
like anchors
that withstand
the waves of the earth.

And what he wrote many years ago is as true now as it was then in terms of this city’s charming decrepitude and tremulous footing.

 

2 Comments Add yours

  1. ellis13@tpg.com.au says:

    That incline train looks like a white knuckle ride

    >

    Like

    1. Sure is, try being locked in a metal cage and hauled up a 30 degree incline – and these things are over 100 years old – actually our local Ascensor started service in the 1880’s.

      Like

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