Monthly Archives: June 2008

La Prueba

“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their hearts’ desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

H.L. Mencken wrote this and just to make sure it was true I googled these two sentences, discovering that he wrote them in the Baltimore Sun on 26 July 1920. He was referring to the fact that since Presidential campaigns are waged in the media the candidate most likely to win is the most vacuous.

This of course also appears to be an anti-populist phrase. But I am often struck to see how accurate portrayals of nations still are decades and centuries later, and I am beginning to think there is actually an “American” national character.

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That post was about as interesting as I could get today, a day I spent sifting through papers, taking notes, and having the impression that although I was now being diligent I was quite behind and was not advancing. When are things progressing by fits and starts, and when are they going in circles, was my question – in other words, how does one distinguish between optimism and sanity?

In desperation at 7:15 PM I discovered the best online cultural agenda of Lima and ran off to the play listed below, whose nature I was able to discover ahead of time by googling it. Really I was going because it was at 8 and I was interested in seeing a play directed by Francisco Lombardi, with whom I am only familiar as a film director. You can tell how behind I really am because I did not know the play, the author, or how famous both were. I also did not realize that the play would address in part my question of the day, how to distinguish between optimism and insanity.

Teatro del Centro Cultural PUCP
(av. Camino Real 1075 – San Isidro)

Teatro: “La prueba” de David Auburn (Estados Unidos), a cargo de Wendy Vásquez, Carlos Gassols, Vanessa Saba y Diego Lombardi, Dir.: Francisco Lombardi; a las 8:00pm.
Entrada general: S/.25

The Centro Cultural de la PUCP is lovely and elegant, and I do not know how old it is; I had not been there before. It has the theatre, a café, a good bookstore with genteel libreros, and more. It also has parking and everyone but me had apparently come in a car. Therefore cabs do not pass in front of it at night and the buses that stop at the corner are not going to my house. If you want to catch a cab, or choose from among a greater variety of buses and collective vans, from the CC-PUCP at night, I recommend walking to the Ovalo Gutiérrez which is nearby and has many vehicles.

Cabs here don’t have meters – you negotiate a price. It cost $3.67 to ride to the CC-PUCP from my house and $3.33 to ride back. That was because the second cab was older and smaller, I believe. Peruvians pay slightly less, but I do not get the very best prices because I look foreign. The play cost $8 so this most refreshing evening cost $15.

Axé.

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Best of the Blues

It is the weekend, so we must sing! Singing recommendations for this weekend have been made by our contacts at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. They are singing with these stars:

BOBBY BLAND – Z.Z. HILL – ROBERT CRAY (especially the song “Back Door Slam”) – SIR CHARLES JONES – RAY CHARLES – JOHNNY TAYLOR – and MISS TOMMY YOUNG (especially the song “Do You Still Feel the Same Old Way?”).

Of these my favorites are Z.Z. Hill and Sir Charles Jones. This has in part to do with their names, since I am myself listening to other music at this point.

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Specifically, the music to which we danced and sang included huaynos, Creole waltzes, and reggaeton. Before that I was at the feast of St. Peter in Chorrillos, wherein the saint is embarked on a fishing boat and set out to sea. TV Peru found me eating ceviche by the pier and interviewed me, and a friend who happened to turn on the news later in the day saw the clip.

Axé.

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Film Movement

Film Movement is not a service like Netflix but in some ways it could replace it. Check it out. What do you think?

Meanwhile there is a complete and excellent blog on the Fujimori trial, which is ongoing. Alan García, our current president, also faces human rights charges for events including the El Frontón massacre. And I begin to realize why it is that Peru now reminds me of Nicaragua: it is war torn and you can really tell.

Axé.

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La Perricholi

Anytime is a good time to study La Perricholi, a famous 18th century diva, and to consider the composition of her strange name (perra + chola).

Axé.

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Sara Beatriz Guardia

Sara Beatriz Guardia gave an interesting talk the other night at the Café Bar Sancho Panza (Grau 209A, Barranco) – a locale I recommend, by the way. The talk on 19th century women writers Clorinda Matto and Mercedes Cabello, focused on the hatred and intolerance Lima society showed these authors. Guardia has written a paper called EL ODIO EN LA CONSTRUCCION DE LA ESCRITURA FEMENINA DEL SIGLO XIX and she says the hatred visited upon women writers must be studied. While she was talking, I was of course thinking about how remarkably uniform strategies of bullying and abuse are.

Matto died in exile, and Cabello ended up in an insane asylum (although this of course was most directly caused by the untreated syphilis she had caught from her mujeriego husband, who was too embarrassed to tell her what disease they had and why). There were huge attacks against both writers and their so-called friends, who included the well connected Ricardo Palma, permitted this – they sat by and did nothing, as they did not wish to risk their own positions. These notes are incomplete but they represent what I remember of the talk, which was very interesting.

The novels that shocked Palma were Blanca Sol (Cabello) and Aves sin nido (Turner). It is important to remember how racist Peru was when Aves sin nido appeared. Lucía, the heroine, is a Lukácsian 19th century hero, opposed by society in everything. ASN is sharply anticlerical and it suggests that the only solution for the Indians is to become white and limeños, since there is no possible salvation for them at home. Because of incest (whose perpetrator is the Bishop) and illegitimacy (due to incest / rape) there is no space for them in the nation as Indians. That is why they are “birds without a nest.” The Church got very mad at Matto for her denunciation of it and barred her from her [native] Cusco for life. Matto’s second transgression had to do with the war with Chile, which, if I understood Guardia right, she thought had to do with problems internal to Peru and not just with the alleged wickedness of Chile. Also, she praised González Prada for being a real intellectual and that insulted everyone else who wanted to be seen as a real intellectual.

Terribly insulting verses were written against her by the envious Juan de Arona, who circulated them in folletín (El Chispazo). This was passed around among elite intellectuals and influenced their opinions. According to these verses she is dirty, foul smelling, an Indian, a mule, and so on. Meanwhile at the magazine she directed (El Perú Ilustrado) she accepted for publication a story in which a pacifist Christ has Mary Magdalene as an Apostle. This so upset the good Christians that her house in Arequipa was attacked with a hail of stones. Note, of course, that her woman run publishing house was attacked by men.

Blanca Sol was Peru’s first realist novel and it criticizes the elites. Cabello was ostracized because people saw themselves in her book and thought she was slandering them. Meetings were held against her. Letters were written by intellectuals who criticized her stance against religion based education.

Juana Manuela Gorriti had created the women’s literary clubs of Republican Lima, modeled on those of the French Revolution, and it was thanks to these that Matto and Cabellos got into San Marcos, the national university (I think this is what Guardia said, I should have asked for clarification). By the end of the 19th century, these no longer existed, but they and these writers’ bravery are what made possible the successes of women writers and painters in the avant-garde period and later.

Axé.

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Sankt Hans

So it is São João and my official 50th birthday! June 24th is the year’s best day. Last night we leaped over fires and sang the midsummer song. In the southern hemisphere it is midwinter but we leaped over fires just the same, and drank hot cane liquor with cinnamon.

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This is not necessarily a Feminist Post, and it may be a vain one. Before I was 50 I had already had facials, manicures, and pedicures. I had dyed my eyelashes, my eyebrows, and my hair. I had waxed my legs. Now that I am 50, I am already whitening my teeth. I need them to be white and sharp, as they are one of Professor Zero’s most important features. While I am in my 50s and 60s I am also going to get flattering glasses, pluck my eyebrows with a laser beam, dispel spider veins, remove fine lines from my face, and build bone and muscle mass.

I must do all these things because I have requested an extension. I intend now to live until age 200 rather than age 100, as was originally planned. This is so that I can have three additional careers and observe more fully the results of global warming. I can live this long because I have good teeth, and because I am a sculpted skull on a stela at Copán.

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I also wish to announce that I am not really 50, but 30. I can tell this by the way some of my 50 year old associates act – namely, like cantankerous middle aged persons. I do not like to see this behavior, especially following straight on after the uneasy forties. I think I will be 30-39 again while I am really 50-59, and then jump straight to 60.

The most irritating 50 year olds in my experience are married women. Marriage is the primary tool of patriarchy and  this, I am sure, is the cause of their strange state.

Axé.

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Midsommervisen

This is St. John’s Eve, when trees receive their midsummer’s crown. Holger Drachmann‘s traditional song for St. John’s Day, is somewhat patriotic and bellicose. It is also rather eerie as it evokes witch burning, although this is also said to be a burning away of what is unwanted. It has been satirized, as the Danes are good at this, but here is the unadorned text.

Vi elsker vor land,
når den signede jul
tænder stjernen i træet med glans i hvert øje.
Når om våren hver fugl,
over mark, under strand,
lader stemmen til hilsende triller sig bøje:
Vi synger din lov over vej, over gade,
vi kranser dit navn, når vor høst er i lade,
men den skønneste krans,
bli’r dog din Sankte Hans!
Den er bunden af sommerens hjerter,
så varme så glade.

Vi elsker vort land,
men ved midsommer mest,
når hver sky over marken velsignelsen sender,
når af blomster er flest,
og når kvæget i spand
giver rigeligst gave til flittige hænder;
når ikke vi pløjer og harver og tromler,
når koen sin middag i kløveren gumler,
da går ungdom til dans
på dit bud Sankte Hans
ret som føllet og lammet, der frit
over engen sig tumler.

Vi elsker vort land,
og med sværdet i hånd
skal hver udenvælts fjende beredte os kende,
men mod ufredens ånd
under mark over strand,
vil vi bålet på fædrenes gravhøje tænde
hver by har sin heks,
og hver sogn sine trolde.
Dem vil vi fra livet med glædesblus holde
vi vil fred her til lands
Sankte Hans, Sankte Hans!
Den kan vindes, hvor hjerterne
aldrig bli’r tvivlende kolde.

Vi elsker vort land,
og vi hilser den drot,
som har prøvet og valgt sig den rette fyrstinde:
på hans eventyr-slot
kan hver kvinde, hver mand
et eksempel for livet i kærlighed finde!
Lad tiderne ældes, lad farverne blegne,
et minde vi vil dog i hjertet os tegne:
fra sagnrige nord
gaar en glans over jord -
Det er genskær af vidunderlandets fortryllende enge,
– fra sagnrige nord
gaar en glans over jord -
Det er genskær af vidunderlandets fortryllende enge!

As a child I was told the worlds came close together on St. John’s Eve, and this was seen as a good thing. I want to learn more about the traditions of this day.

Axé.

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Museo Pedro de Osma

It would be hard to dislike Barranco and I went there to the Museo Pedro de Osma, in a lovely art nouveau mansion, to see paintings and sculpture by Fernando de Szyszlo. To get to the paintings one had to walk through a great deal of colonial art, so that when I got to the Syzszlo room I had no doubt as to why it was a good idea to study the twentieth century.

There were also poems by Salazar Bondy from the sixties, parodying Nájera and Darío, in rare editions illustrated by Szyszlo. I will find these texts again. One I liked was called “La vie en rose” and it is quoted in this interesting essay.

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In my house those who serve speak Quechua and Aymara and those who do not, speak Spanish. These people, however, are in some cases the first, and in some the second generation not to speak Quechua. The aunts, who range in age from 68 up, speak Quechua and can sing together in it, taught by their mother. Their father only spoke Spanish.

I am told that the best Quechua is spoken in lands of Arguedas – Abancay, Andahuaylas, Ayacucho. In Huamachuco more Spanish is spoken and that is why Vallejo is less mestizo and less Indian than people from other parts of the sierra.

Axé.

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Dat Whiteman

Whiteman: How long has it been since you were last here?
Professor Zero: Nine years.
WM: Do you find it has changed?
PZ: Not greatly. It is different from the early eighties when I first came, and from the mid eighties when the Shining Path activity was intense, but I noticed those changes already in 1999.
WM: You are wrong! We have made great progress since 1999! We have many more hypermarkets, big box stores, U.S. chain restaurants, and other modern franchises! Very many of these have been built. We are really advancing!

I have had this conversation several times over the past few days.

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Due to an odd set of circumstances I ended up today at a class reunion for the Colegio Militar Leoncio Prado, where Vargas Llosa’s novel La ciudad y los perros is set. This took place at the Fortress Real Felipe in Callao. The foot soldiers, all of whom had strong Native American features, were dressed in 18th century uniforms and they stood nearly immobile at their posts, niches in the fortress wall. They looked like 18th century paintings.

Then I drank a pisco sour at the Naval Club and it was all very surreal.

Axé.

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On the Status of Women

On that study of women faculty at UC Irvine, a friend at a SLAC says that the most important thing at her job is to be considered a good teacher. For that, she must be liked by other faculty, and for that, she must be traditionally feminine. For that, she cannot be research oriented.

That set of instructions, of course, if followed will mean she is not serious, and that she is not qualified as a teacher because she is not a productive researcher.

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I am most aware of the inadequacy of the way we are treated at my institution when I am at conferences and interact with people who are not being psychically beaten up at work every day.

My friend says one of the reasons she is not in as much touch with friends and colleagues elsewhere as she might be is that she is embarrassed about the way she is treated and the way she has to spend her days. It is like not wanting to go out with a bruised face.

I tend to think I should explain myself – why it is I do not get out more, for instance. My friends do not ask for these explanations and I realize that the reason I feel compelled to give them is that I have to give so many exhausting explanations of routine matters at work.

Writing these things I realize that we both have abusive workplaces and have had for many years, and that this explains a great deal more than we realize – and that this explanation would liberate our energies if we would let it.

Axé.

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