Thursday, May 20, 2010

La Sebastiana

Posted by Mandy

La Sebastiana is the vacation home of Chileno poet and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, Pablo Neruda. It is located on the sea, amid the many colored buildings in the town of Valparaíso, Chile. While Neruda loved to visit Valparaíso to escape the political tensions of the capital, he had a difficult time finding a house to meet all of his artistic requirements. It would have to be "far from everything, but next to transportation," "light but firm," "original but comfortable," and "lonely, but not too much."

Finding no house that was wholly satisfactory, Neruda purchased La Sebastiana, settling for something that was cheap instead. He then spent the next three years creating of this house the beautiful home that would become a staple in Chilean poetic imagination. On completion of his home, Neruda wrote the poem "To La Sebastiana," which included the lines:

I built the house.

I made it first out of air.
Later I raised its flag into the air
and left it draped
from the firmament, from the stars, from
clear light and darkness.

(Full text)

As the child of a Chilena immigrant to the US in the wake of Chile's sad history in the 70's and beyond, La Sebastiana and the poetry of Pablo Neruda have felt like my links to the motherland. With a lost sense of belonging in a country that seems to grow ever more resentful of people of the Latin races, I look to La Sebastiana and wonder if it might be the home I have sought since childhood. With its strange configuration of structure, color, stairs, and greenery, it seems so purposefully out of place- so perfectly out of place.

Neruda was not himself well or widely accepted, yet he did not hide himself or make attempts to "fit in." I hope that I can learn from his life this quality of self-acceptance, peace, internal beauty, catharsis through creativity, and general disregard for the unwarranted ill opinions of others.

La Sebastiana
Amanda Martin Sandino

I can imagine the waves keeping a steady tempo
(they come)
(they go)
and I inhale, sigh deeply, keep the pace within me
ocean smells connecting
memory to dream

All this talk of basements, hidden rooms, secrets and banishment
You were never illegal to me
You were a house
you touched the sky with finger ripples
and whispered into the unseen ears of rain-filled clouds
You were thousands of colors, clashing against yourself
and you were a thousand words
“solitario, pero no demasiado”
“lonely, but not too much”
in a kingdom by the sea

I can imagine you sitting by the window on the highest floor
You look out at the harbor, at the ships
And imagine mermaids thrown from the sea
You see in the void
The eyes of some lost lover
¿Cómo no haber amado sus grandes ojos fijos?
waiting for years
that go by slowly like an age of war
the sound of the clock
the heartbeat of your home, your heartbeat
the rhythm of disappointment

To me, you were and are, in your death, my pride, my nationalistic fervor
the lost motherland
you are la Sebastiana
a stranger
a translation
an unknown home
searched for
in translation
or somewhere among those thousand steps within
your skyscraper of a house
sitting beside the stretching Pacífico

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