Ever since I saw a picture in a magazine taken from the front seat of a car I've dreamed of a town on Chile's coast. The photo was grainy, evidently taken on a rain-soaked motorway and featured an enormous exit sign to Valparaiso. A mountain range was visible. Knowing the country was thousands of miles away only added to the romance. There seemed something so utterly almost extraterrestrial about the place that I decided I had to go there at some point in my life. Now that my enviable profession has decided to pay me to sit at this legendary location's gate, I find I'd rather go to a coastal village and stumble around the house of a poet I know nothing about. If I had another free day I'd love to go to Valpo, as they call it here, but I don't. Come tomorrow I'll have spent two weeks in an intensely polluted city in dire need of rain and I'm just gagging to get a bit of fresh air in a place where there are fewer than 65000 inhabitants per square metre. Or should that be kilometre. Doesn't matter, you get the idea. They've invited me back next year, so maybe I'll do my 'dream town' then.
Yup, this poet I know nothing about is Pablo Neruda. Apart from the fact he died the year Pinochet seized power and that he loved women he is a closed book to me. He was also an inveterate collector of pretty much everything, apparently. Sorry, there won't be any insights into his oeuvre, I seriously know jack all about this guy. I hope Sunday will help. I'll probably get Mrs. F a collection of his poems in an attempt to get her to read more in Spanish. She's a native speaker by virtue of her mother but treats it too cavalierly for my liking; she speaks fantastically but could have an astounding level if she exercised it a little more. This is the monolingual child speaking, here; I would have given anything to have grown up bilingual and cannot bear to see people treating their gifts casually. It might fire her up for coming over here next year, too, not that she needs any encouragement on that score.
I haven't been to South America's Pacific Coast since 1997 when I flew into Lima and cruised up to the Dutch Antilles via Ecuador, Columbia and Venezuela. My previous brief visit to Chile was a couple of days in Punta Arenas before tripping over to Ushuaïa and down to the Antarctic for a few days, so this particular visit is certainly more substantial, even if I am spending most of it in the geographical epicentre of the capital. If anything, it makes me ever more determined to end my days in Patagonia, free of neighbours and any other rubbish that might possibly pollute your life. There's a lot of graffiti around Santiago about 'Free Patagonia'; it's funny how the subjects change all over the world. I'm rambling, now, but it's only because I'm incurably in love with South America and can't really believe my luck that I'm being paid good money to be here. A word to the wise: if you end up practising a profession you didn't actually want to pursue, give it your all, anyway. Your efforts will take you where you want to be. Trust me, I know what I'm talking about. Sleep well.