“Let me die in Valparaíso”: port city’s soul captured in words

A collection of newspaper columns by the poet Todd Temkin, an American who came to live in Chile and fell in love with the coastal city, has been published as a book.

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The city of Valparaíso, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a popular destination well-known throughout Chile for its colorful architecture and flourishing culture.

But the Valparaíso Todd Temkin knows is so much more than a historic port city of hills.

“It is a way of life” says Temkin, a poet whose recently published book -Moriré en Valparaíso (Let me die in Valparaíso)- celebrates his love and preoccupation with the city.

The collection of Temkin’s popular and influential columns written for the newspaper El Mercurio de Valparaiso was launched Oct. 7 in Santiago and Oct 9 in Valparaíso and has been receiving favorable reviews, particularly from renowned Chilean writers such as Robert Ampuero.

“Temkin’s Valparaíso breathes in three dimensions, with its caricatures, sounds, smells, and colors; with its soft agitation and permanent melancholy,” writes Ampuero.

The American-born poet has made Valparaíso his adopted home since moving there in the early ‘90s to teach poetry at the Universidad Católica de Valparaíso.

He currently lives on the Cerro San Juan de Dios, one of a number of the city’s famous hills into which houses and shops are set, including the Cerro Concepción and Cerro Alegre.

Temkin founded the non-profit Valparaiso Foundation, in 1998 and played a role in getting Valparaíso heritage site status in 2003.

His writing on ‘Valpo’, as Chile’s bohemian capital is fondly known, promotes it “as a city that has a soul that is very unique, that has a lifestyle that is very unique,” Temkin says.

“This is very much a city where the neighbors all know everybody and they like to shop at the little corner grocery store rather than at the mall. In Valpo we walk more than we drive. We shop at the fourth generation German sausage maker and the fourth generation Italian shoe maker.”

Recently it was announced that around US$2.4 million has been invested in a new cultural and tourism center in the old district of Valparaíso, one of the most well-known Chilean coastal cities.

It is hoped that the new center will form a focal point for tourists who have previously been at a disadvantage as attractions are scattered around town.