To write a novel is to constantly visit other places in your head. Just yesterday, for instance, I went to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival without taking off my slippers. But sometimes – for sanity, for fresh air, for a refill of the creative well, for the sake of different footwear – you need to actually get out of your chair and go. So, this fall, I took a two week hiatus from novel revisions to visit South America.
It was my first time traveling to the continent, and with such a huge choice of amazing places to go it was hard to narrow it down. My husband and I landed on three cities: Santiago, Chile; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Montevideo, Uruguay. I like to read local when I travel to far-flung and exotic places, and once there, to see whatever bookish places there are to see. Here’s what I found, and read, in South America (while eating my weight in empanadas).
My favorite read of the trip was a Chilean one, Isabel Allende’s La Casa De Los Espiritus or, for those like me that aren’t fluent enough in Spanish to read the book in its original form, The House Of The Spirits. The story matches my experience of Chile: a little gritty, very beautiful, complex, with a touch of something mystical. Also, like the country, the book is LONG. I lugged the weighty paperback all over South America with no regrets, and if I’m being perfectly honest, which I am, because why not be… I still haven’t finished it yet. While I’m usually a speedy reader, I’m taking this epic family saga slow. There’s a mind-blowing amount of detail in it.
From Santiago we ventured out on a day trip to Valparaíso, one of my favorite experiences of the vacation. The seaside city is artsy and romantic, its textured and bright landscape hilly and blanketed with colorful homes. It is officially my dream international writing retreat location. In addition to soaking up the view, touring the street art, and stepping into some galleries, we visited the Pablo Neruda home and museum La Sebastiana. With its curves, nooks, and playful furnishings, the house had whimsy for days and an engaging audio tour. The perfect reading was Twenty Love Poems And A Song Of Despair, with Neruda’s poetry in the original Spanish alongside English translations.
My Argentinian read was Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones, which was dense and although not necessarily my taste gave me a sense of the intellectual and philosophical culture as we flew across the Andes and then the farmland of Argentina to the country’s capital.
Buenos Aires came across as the New York City of South America. The city is so vast we never left it for a day trip. We planted ourselves in Palermo Soho and ventured out to as many of the other neighborhoods as we could. We saw tango, ate beef, and drank so much Malbec it replaced water as the better half of my body mass.
In Recoleta, we visited the bookstore National Geographic recently profiled as the most beautiful in the world, El Ateneo Grand Splendid. Housed in a converted theater, the store showcases the books with standing ovation-worthy reverence. Everything from the lighting, to the red velvet curtain framing the on-stage cafe, to the opera box reading nooks is stately and grand. There were as many patrons walking around taking pictures as there were browsing the shelves. It was a major wow.
The graffiti in every city, down every street, around every corner was so incredible that we never ventured into an art museum during the trip. We came across this street art in Palermo Soho one afternoon, and I took so many pictures, because BOOKS!
Oh, Montevideo. I didn’t experience the city in the best way – I fell sick as we ferried over and the beautiful weather finally showed some cracks that weekend – but I’m still glad I got to sample it. Once I was back on my feet and able to explore, we found in the old city Librería Puro Verso, a bookstore with some of the stately drama of Ateneo Grand Splendid, but on a smaller scale. Montevideo was, in many ways like this, a little sister city to Buenos Aires.
There was so much more than this – about 500 photos’ worth more – that we saw, ate, and enjoyed. We improved our Spanish, tried local cuisine, and watched dance and heard music in every city. We rode up into the Andes and looked out over the South Pacific. We drank sangria at a speakeasy bar under a flower shop. We ate empanadas. We met artists in La Boca. We ate empanadas. We spent a car ride with a local Chilean talking about Queen. Then ate empanadas.
Consider our creative wells (and stomachs) officially full.