Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Going back to Elquí Valle

... I wish I was... but this has to suffice.

Elquí Valle

Pisco Elquí 1, Elquí Valle
Pisco Elquí 1,
Pastel on Board, 35x25cm

My fellow Watermarkers have been putting up a fantastic set of posts around Water on Earth Day on our blog as well as their own blogs. So, I thought I'd join (and have excuse to bunk off early from my tedious lecture and presentation writing tasks that will bug me for the next week).

I mentioned how much I loved the day in Elquí Valle and the night spent stargazing at Mamalluca. Some of the reasons for that I hadn´t mentioned yet though. Let me make up for that.

Apart from the great clarity of the air and sky and the high contrast between hilltops and lime green valley floor it was the fact that Carlos, our guide for the day, didn`t really speak any English (well, I think he would maintain that he does, but he really didn´t) - so the day was spent in Spanish.

Secondly, the fact that one of our first stops was the tomb of Gabriela Mistral, ¿recuerdala? The great Chilean poet of earthy mysticism, romanticism and essentialism. She was born far up in the valley, in Montegrande at the end of c19 and was buried there.

So, as it is befitting for a poet, Carlos's first Spanish lesson for R and myself was ´Las tres grandes penas de Gabriela Mistral´- the three great sufferings of Gabriela Mistral: her father abandoned her family when she was three; a man who was madly in love with her committed suicide when she was 20; and her adoptive son (her brother's child, abondoned by his father at the age of six) also committed suicide when he was 18.

I hate the thought that all that much tragedy is necessary to be a good artist. But maybe it's not necessary, right?

In any case, almost two weeks later I bought a tattered copy of Mistral's Poema de Chile at a market stall in Santiago. I think many of the poems were written in the 1930s, she presented some of them at a conference on the human geography of Chile in the US in 1938. It's a patriotic and romantic attempt at nation building in poetry. It reads like an old-fashioned regional geography: covering not only different regions of the vast country but also the light, the stars, the mines, alcohol, trees, and the ocean. R and I are planning a good bit of text analysis of this - she for her lectures in environmental management, I for the problems I have with romantic landscapism. But more on that later.

I leave you with another verse found on the main square in Pisco Elquí - the village was called La Unión until 1936 when the Chilean government, in attempt to authenticate Pisco as of Chilean origin and not Peruvian - changed its name in a grand piece of economic policy. Imagine, Oban was to be changed to Whiskey Oban. How bizarre... but: here's Mistral on the sensuous qualities of Elquí Valle (suitably written on a pisco barrel).

En Pisco Elquí

'Since my touch has left behind these sweet and splendid pastures,
all that I am left with is the dry scent of those vines and fig trees ...'

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