Chilean Chronicles, Part XXXIX: Charo Cofre’s Many Skills

Lisa Cook and Jim Peters at La Candela hostel and restaurant in Isla Negra.

Lisa Cook and Jim Peters at La Candela hostel and restaurant in Isla Negra.

Charo Cofre’s got skills.

Lots of them.

Folk singer.

Activist.

Guardian, along with her husband Hugo Arevalo, of Pablo Neruda’s memory.

This morning, Dunreith and I rented a blue Peugeot four-door this morning and drove with dear friends Lisa Cook and Jim Peters to eat, drink and soak in the pleasure of what amounted to a private concert by Charo at Hosteria La Candela, the hostel and restaurant she’s run for the past 15 years with Hugo.

Thanks to Alejandra Matus’ generosity of including us in a day-long trip with Pulitzer Prize winning-journalist Jack Fuller, Dunreith and I had had the pleasure a week ago Friday of being part of a group of five people who were the only people in the spacious room that has a seated of Dan Pablo in the corner as well as a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean crashing into rocks and spraying foam onto wind-swept trees.

Charo had played for the five of us at that meal, too, making it clear that she was doing so because she admired and respected Alejandra’s work.

At the end of our time in the hostel, which has a long gallery of black and white images of Pablo Neruda as well as color shots of Charo with Matilde Urrutia, Neruda’s third wife and widow, Dunreith promised her that we would return.

Today, we made good on our promise.

This time, the room was far fuller.

A Chilean couple dined on one side of us, next to a pair of Americans who rented a car from the same Sheraton Hotel in Vina del Mar as we had.

On the other side of us was a group of about two dozen students from the University of California system who were studying at the University of Chile for a month and were taking a day trip to celebrate the midway point of that time.

And a couple of Australians sat across from Don Pablo at the far end of the room.

Hugo, who is lean and compact and whose grey beard matches his full head of hair, came out to prepare the microphone for his wife at around 2:30 p.m.

By that time Dunreith, Lisa, Jim and I had already consumed what has become nearly a daily routine of having a stiff pisco sour, an unofficial Chilean national drink, dolloped some pevre, the Chilean equivalent of salsa, onto a fresh white roll, devoured a fried empanada filled with onions, and made our way through our main courses of shrimp, salmon and my personal favorite, a fish soup that made good on its promise in the menu to leave nothing out.

Charo’s entrance only heightened our warm feeling.

She strode to the front of the room, directly in front of the table where we were sitting-our waiter told us that she had chosen that table for us so that we would be able to see her well when she was singing-and, as classic performers do, instantly won the crowd over with her charm, wit and talent.

Her black hair, as it was last week, was pulled back tightly over her head. Her eyebrows and eyeshadow blended perfectly with her hair color.

Whereas last week she was draped in a green shawl that covered most of her body, this time she was wearing a white embroidered tunic with a purple and pink pattern. A long-sleeved purple shirt poked out from the tunic on each arm.

Charo won her first major prize for playing guitar in 1967, and she shows no signs of slowing. After a brief introduction to a Venezuelan instrument known for its four strings, she reached over, picked up another acoustic guitar and started strumming and singing with abandon.

A smile creases Charo’s lips as she sings, revealing two full rows of straight white teeth. Her eyes are often closed.

Last time, she sang about her country, the sea that Neruda loved so deeply and, in a new song, about her mother’s hands.

This time she performed the first two songs, but added other tunes, too.

Alternately fast and slow, soulful and political, they spoke about Neruda’s winning the Nobel Prize in Literature for Chile, about her commitment to continue singing no matter what happened in her life, and about a young child whose mother is in the fields.

The crowd was rapt with attention, erupting in applause each time she finished.

All too soon, she completed her final song, raising a full goblet of white wine to the crowd and wishing us all, “Buen provecho.”

Enjoy your meal.

We had just wrapped up ours and were starting to walk out of the room and toward Isla Negra, Pablo Neruda’s largest and favorite house and where Charo had made a reservation for us.

“I love you, Jeff,” she exclaimed in heavily-accented English from her seat in between Don Pablo and the Australian women.

Apparently she was very grateful for the blog post I had written about our previous visit.

I answered her in Spanish with just enough enthusiasm to elicit a hearty “Hey” from my wife.

“Oh, right, sorry, honey,” I said.

I regained my domestic footing, Dunreith and I hugged Charo and promised to come back again with Aidan after he arrives in late November.

Along with our dear friends, we set off on the short trip on a sandy road to learn yet again from Don Pablo, fresh memories of our multi-talented hostess trailing behind us.

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