Monthly Archives: July 2008

Junco y capulí

I am leaving in the morning, to the Vallejo birthplace and the nearby thermal baths at Cachicadán. I was about to say I was sure there would be Internet access, but not sure the electricity would be reliable enough to permit me to see the Internet. Then I erased the sentence because I realized that if there is no electricity, there will be no word processing or television. I need word processing for the reasons you can imagine, and I need television because I have run out of reading material and it is hard in these mountains to get even a newspaper. So I have decided there will be electricity. But if I do not post, you know why. I am either away from the Internet, or in transit to Lima, or in a whirlwind of Lima activity before I leave.

Speaking of television: having seen several hours of it over the past week, something I had not done in more than five years, I can say that the shows have changed. Almost all of them involve something supernatural or futuristic, and all but the soap operas and TVE are even noisier and more violent than before. I am speaking U.S. as well as Peruvian, Venezuelan, Puerto Rican, Mexican and Colombian television (those being the types of television my relatively fancy hotel – $18 of fancy – gets).

Now I am going to see if I should buy a camera I do not want. The only camera I want is the old fashioned 35mm one I have at home. I had a digital camera but I did not like it because a) it involved using the computer, which I already do enough, b) one was expected to erase and/or manipulate the pictures after taking them, which subtracted all the mystery, art and skill from photography, c) it was a present I felt obliged to accept, from a person I was afraid of and at the same time felt obligated to.

I lent it to some Escuela Militar Leoncio Prado people – horrifying, I know – to take pictures of each other with at a lunch, and they got so much olive oil in it that it stopped working. I did not care. It means I have taken no pictures this summer, but I do not like taking touristy pictures. Now, however, I think I might need to take some research pictures, and I have discovered that you can buy used miniature 35mm cameras right here on the plaza for about $25.

Axé.

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Reading for Pleasure Wednesday: Doris Lessing

I have at last read The Grass is Singing which is brilliant and impactante, epoch making for many reasons. Of all books mentioned in this post, this is the one most worth discussing. I will therefore discuss it least.

I have also been reading The Poisonwood Bible, which is a good book although Kingsolver is not Lessing. The morbid reason I enjoyed it is that it is about the Congo, which is poorer than Peru.

By chance I read a large part of the Cuba Diaries, which was interesting, in part because I also went to Cuba while the author was there.

*

The Cuba Diaries, however, were most fascinating because I am currently located in another really poor country. When I came back from Havana, people who had also been there wanted to commiserate with me about how terrible it was. I said, have you been to Lima or San Salvador?

That was some time ago. Now, typing with one hand because I must use the other to hold the computer’s plug into the wall (bathroom plugs are typically the only ones which work easily, but I fear water droplets and shorting the machine out, electrocuting myself or starting a fire), I say that although I cannot say it to most of my Peruvian friends, who are upbeat and hopeful about the current economy, Peru currently reminds me not of Cuba but of Nicaragua.

*

Think wartorn-ness, capitalism, ruins, smoke, neoliberalism, garbage, foreign investment, grime, more smoke, hunger, and lots of poets and much culture buried, yet still growing in the pile, and very charming people who are also far more resilient than I can imagine being.

I do not want to say it but I think both of these countries have been ruined for the foreseeable future. I think everyone not engaged in subsistence farming should be removed except for some caretakers and engineers, so that the land can heal itself.

Update: Of course, I wrote this days ago on the coast and now I have been in beautiful, uncongested, unpolluted Huamachuco for a week and I don’t feel the same way – even about development, which they seem to be doing in a smart way here. 

Axé.

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Cebichería Marlin

This is the best restaurant I have been to in Peru in 2008. It used to be, or seem to me, that all restaurants were this good – Peru was like France in that way – but now they seem to have declined. In any case, we have the Cebichería Marlin and it is in Huamachuco.

From the Plaza de Armas take the calle peatonal to the end, and turn left immediately. The Cebichería Marlin is halfway down this block on your right.

Axé.

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Mais regardez

Many Peruvian internet cafés are covert porn theatres, and others are de facto ones, because they are primarily used that way. You can tell some of the seriously pornographically oriented ones because they have curtains around each computer.

I avoid such places, and here in beautiful Huamachuco, where I am (I walked to Markawamachuko today!) I have found an internet café which doesn’t just say “no porn watching by minors,” it actually has pornography blocking software.

This means, of course, that I cannot see most of the blogs I would normally visit. If you are gay and out on your blog, I can’t see it, and I can’t see the Unapologetic Mexican, and there are many more, including the tourism sites about Huamachuco and its region to which I wanted to link.

Axé.

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“Containing What Happened to Me During This Voyage, Until I Arrived at the City of Lima”

And eighteenth century Franciscan writes:

Ya que vino el día partí por dentro de una quebrada, y así fuimos hasta mediodía, y aquí, dejando la quebrada, entramos por entre dos cerros, y venimos a subir por aquel cerro de lajas de afilar que dije cuando fui a Angasmarca, cuando iba para Lima desde Guamachuco. Ya que llegamos arriba, me fui derecho a casa del cura, el cual me recibió con mucho agasajo. Se mandó llamar al Alcalde, el cual me buscó bestias y un peón hasta Guauras, que distaba de allí cuatro días.

He went from Huamachuco to Angasmarca to Huaraz to Lima on mountain paths, as I would like to do.

Axé.

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Santiago en Huancayo

Today is the feast of Santiago, the Apostle, and it is very important. This videoclip was from Huancayo, in the central sierra, but we can also download whole songs by bands from Santiago de Chuco such as the Grupo Cukollakta and the Conjunto Libertad.

Santiago de Chuco’s fiesta is the most interesting because it was there that Vallejo got arrested long ago. It is customary to imply that he may have been unjustly accused but I have heard he was packing a pistol on this occasion and saying that his enemies “Ahora sí que me las van a tener que pagar,” just like a character in a telenovela.

Axé.

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Collective Van II

I like the mototaxi concept and the fact that motataxis look rather like 1920′s cars, but my favorite mode of transportation is still the combi or collective van. Those who criticize combis are not wrong in anything they say, but I love combis nonetheless. They are extremely folkloric, they are more comfortable than buses, when you know the streets and roads well enough to know which combi to jump onto, you know a lot about your town, and I associate combis with unusual intercity travel, and with going to the beach or an interesting university campus.

I also never get tired of listening to the different singing styles of the drivers’ assistants, who in addition to making change and stuffing the passengers inside must hawk the van and its route, let the driver know when he is opening and closing the door, and function as a rear view mirror by telling the driver when it is safe to change lanes. It seems to me that the song of the driver’s assistant could be a son or an urban avant-garde poem. The outlines would be something like this.

Centro, centro
Sube sube sube sube
VAMOS
(entra entra)

BAJA
baja baja baja
VAMOS

Avenida Avenida
BAJA
baja baja baja
VAMOS

VAMOS, ENTRA ENTRA ENTRAAAA

Pasajes pasajes
Tenga su vuelto
BAJA

Arequipa Arequipa
sube sube sube sube
VAMOS

I would have to work on the typography and contextualization to make it really interesting.

Axé.

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Your Tour Guide Re-Speaks

I

My exact location is Trujillo, La Libertad. I am staying outside the historical centre in a hotel designed for businessmen on small budgets. This strategic choice is based on a hotel choosing technique I developed for Mexico. You have to put up with a boring modern building in a boring modern district, but on the other hand you get good service (for example, wi-fi to your room, even if not all the electric plugs work during the daytime), but you get these things at a price designed for people who do not budget in terms of Euros or dollars, and you do not have to handle any tourists. I divined by Internet that this hotel was one such, and in fact everyone else here is a businessman. Rooms are $16, there is running water 24 hours a day, the official hot water actually gets fairly warm, and they serve you coffee and tea.

I arrived after a long and increasingly depressing day of travel during which all I ate after breakfast were four mandarin oranges because the other food available looked as though it could be cholera ridden, and I forgot that I was carrying a whole Andean cheese. When I went out to look for dinner, I was less coherent than I realized and could not find the historical center, although it is quite nearby. My God, thought I – if the center is fact still here, it may not be functioning (that does happen, you know – think of Managua). I who had dreamed all day of real café con leche at night on a Spanish street, nearly choked on the fumes of the suburbs and could not face the greasy food I could find, as my stomach had succumbed to the combination of noise and smoke. I ended up eating an odd dinner of yogurt, papaya juice, fruit salad and maté de coca in a health food store whose owner kept asking, are you sure you do not want honey with that? No, it is already sweet enough, I said. I had already amazed him by ordering plain yogurt, no topping, and rejecting sweetened condensed milk as a garnish for the fruit salad. (The specialty of this health food store was health food cakes.)

Then in the morning I got up to the usual thick winter fog which, combined with the smoke and the grayish brown drab of all suburban buildings, keeps spirits low. I did business I needed to do in other suburbs, by taxi. Unlike Lima, however, all rides were short and all rides cost just around a dollar. (You negotiate prices with cabs in Peru, by the way, there are no meters, and in Lima some of them start out with really high proposals. The haggling can be fatiguing and the ritual is interesting: you argue informally through the window and then, if you finally get in the car, the interaction starts over in a different mode as you salute each other politely and formally: “Buenas tardes.”)

II

Amazingly the fog lifted slowly throughout the morning. By noon the sun come out. Next, a wind came up and actually blew the smog away. I had the last cab drop me near the Plaza de Armas and walked out onto it in the bright, beach-infused light I remember, to discover that the entire colonial center has been restored and is beautiful, with the flags all up for fiestas patrias snapping jauntily in the high breeze.

There are many colonial mansions, now used for different things, including LANChile, the House of Emancipation, the House of the Schoolteacher, and the headquarters of the APRA party (which advertises the Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre dental clinic, by the way), and no cars are allowed on the Plaza de Armas. There are many of those distinctive Peruvian wooden colonial balconies, all in very good shape, and walking across the stones in the clear air I caught a glimpse of the Lima I once knew.

III

On the plaza you can see, among other things, the façade of the Colegio Nacional de San Juan, where César Vallejo taught in 1913 and 1914 (yes, it was right on the plaza, y’all – he did not live entirely as badly as people like to say). A nearby church with what I think are remnants of mestizo Baroque frescoes has been decommissioned and turned into the César Vallejo Auditorium, where lectures are given. (In the House of Emancipation there is also a Vallejo room, showcasing all the books on and by him they have. These are most of the books that appeared up to 1980, including a 1979 edition of Víctor Fuentesbook I never read and should, and the offprint of an article by Luis Monguió. The only new book they have is a facsimile of his legal dossier, which I would love to read and perhaps can somehow. It ends in 1928 and I need to find out whether his case was closed then, or what. I have heard a rumor that one reason he never returned to Peru after leaving in 1923 was that he remained a wanted man.)

There are many traditional Spanish cafés, and strolling is done very slowly. I went to art galleries and a concert of choral music, including a Carnaval song from Arequipa with mestizo tones. I ate a fancier lunch than usual, consisting of three courses and costing three whole dollars. It involved the usual chicken, potato and pasta soup, camote huancaína with raw shrimp (I do not really like camote or raw shrimp, although one could see these were excellent shrimp, but the huancaína sauce was first rate), pescado a lo macho (the pescado was not the best, but the shrimp, cooked this time but still in their shells, and the sauce were again first rate), and chicha morada. I drank fancy coffee costing almost a dollar. As I walked home through the colonial buildings, now lit up with retro lanterns, I actually saw a tuna.

IV

Trujillo, founded in 1534, is TRUJILLO DE PERU – the first Trujillo is in the province of Cáceres, in Extremadura, where the Pizarros were from and where Francisco Pizarro still has his house (that would be his father’s house – he was illegitimate and I do not think he grew up in it) and where Francisco de Orellana‘s 15th century house is now a hotel. (By the way, there is a card game called NABUKO in which you pit 48 famous generals and conquistadores against each other in single combat – think of it, Cortés vs. Attila the Hun – and this game has a blog.) In any case it is amazing how calming it is to have escaped tourists, to have witnessed city streets not entirely choked with traffic, and to have walked home from the center of town in a city.

It was, in sum, like spending a day in New Orleans in the areas not destroyed by Katrina, known as the “Sliver by the River” or the “Isle of Denial,” without paying attention to any other parts of town. But then the official line is that Peru is advancing, building, so you should not listen to semi-Luddite me. Just answer me this question: is it only my perception that the quality of food in the typical menú del día has declined? If so, do you not see how, as élite Peruvian cuisine rises to new gastronomic heights, the food of the poor grows more Orwellian?

V

In any case, today the news includes these items:

+ water and electrical bills for Trujillo public schools have not been paid for two months, so the respective companies have turned them off and schools are functioning without lights or water;

+ there is a marvelous photoblog of things written on Lima microbuses and combis;

+ Nicolás Yerovi writes in Peru.21: “A qué genio ha contratado / la digna ciudad de Lima / que a la pobre la ha dejado / convertida en una ruina, / a los limeños en fieras / con los nervios destrozados, / y el tímpano de cualquiera / en despojo desdichado.”;

+ there is an unjust international order and prices are not based on supply and demand but on shameless speculation practiced by powerful groups (Amen, Guillermo Giacosa who wrote that, it is part of my famous 1981 research insight for whose sake I should have changed my major to Economics);

+ in humans between ages 40 and 50, the neurons which prevent anxiety die, never to be reborn;

+ funding to restore the famous mestizo Baroque church at Angasmarca, “the Sistine Chapel of Northern Peru,” has been found;

+ I would like to go to Angasmarca and I wish I had a 4×4 vehicle, like a Land Rover or a Jeep.

+ Angasmarca has a blog. The blog has music on it, so we will sing.

Axé.

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On Movies on Buses

Now some long distance buses in Peru play videos. The choice of videos, however, is really shocking, they are so violent. I am wondering whether this is just my luck or whether it is a generalized phenomenon.

Yesterday, while driving through for hours through some of the most depressing industrial slums I have ever seen, including the entire city of Chimbote twice, we were treated to two videos. First, Rambo. Then, one about human trafficking in the D.F., Juárez, and New Jersey, with some very graphic rapes and beatings. I and the several of my neighbors – these passengers being a very hard working, broken down, and exceedingly sweet crowd – seemed to want to watch videos so as not to look out the windows, but on the other hand, kept looking out the windows so as not to have to see what was happening in the videos.

I kept thinking, these people live in this landscape and these videos are what are on their TV screens … while commercialized cumbias blare in the smoke-filled streets, drowning out, sometimes, the sound of construction. How do they handle it? I think they handle it because food, cell phones, transportation and Internet stations are still available, there is some employment, there are goods in the markets, and there is no war here.

That is to say that Peru has not yet turned into a one hundred percent ruined African country, and that consumerism is an effective drug. I am told that Dickens was horrified by the United States when he visited because it was so much more savage and ravaged than his London. This is how I feel about Peru as it is now.

Axé.

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Reading for Pleasure Wednesday: Top Unread Books

From Servetus: the 106 books most often marked as “unread” by LibraryThing’s users. Bold the ones you’ve read, strike through the ones you read but do not remember well, and italicize the ones you have never heard of. Many are unread by me, and some are unknown to me. I am only interested in reading some of these.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment

Catch-22
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights

The Silmarillion
Life of Pi: A novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Ulysses

Madame Bovary
The Odyssey

Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
The Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Iliad

Emma
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Middlesex
Quicksilver
Wicked: The life and times of the wicked witch of the West

The Canterbury Tales
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault’s Pendulum
Middlemarch
Frankenstein
The Count of Monte Cristo
Dracula
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath

The Poisonwood Bible
1984
Angels & Demons
Inferno

The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Dune
The Prince

The Sound and the Fury
Angela’s Ashes: A memoir
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
Cryptonomicon
Neverwhere
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
Dubliners
The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Beloved
Slaughterhouse-Five
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake
Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed
Cloud

Atlas
The Confusion
Lolita
Persuasion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Freakonomics: A rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An inquiry into values
The Aeneid

Watership Down
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood: A true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield

Axé.

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