Sunday, December 25, 2011

Feliz Navidad,

Merry Christmas from me in La Paz to you world-wide.

I´m a bit under the weather here, which is cold and wet, but soon will be back to my usual self and will post a lump of stuff I haven´t been able to get on the net in recent weeks. Till then, my best,

La Paz, Bolivia,
Christmas 2011.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Visa Expiry; Bolivia

I have a three part post to come on my boat trip on Lake Titicaca, but I am facing an expiring visa that requires me to move out of the country for a while. I have to go.

In the morning I leave for Copacabana, Bolivia. Once I'm there I'm going to do some travelling. Will have my Lake Titicaca post up as soon as I settle in Bolivia. I expect to be soon in La Paz.

To those who drop in to see what I wrote of our day on the lake, I apologise for the delay. Meanwhile, I recall my time in Peru more than fondly, almost all of that due to the character of Peruvians in general. I hope to return soon to continue my adventures among such good and decent folk. At the risk of revealing too much, (you know I mean you) I look forward to meeting someone again when I return to Lima. Life is good.
"Peru of the Incas" poster by Paul George Lawler (1938)

Monday, December 12, 2011

A land of ladies in funny hats

Peru has a 19th century feel to it at times that I find attractive, a simplicity that even electric lighting can't erase. There is enough Modernity to please me but not so much that the nation is overwhelmed by Hollywood images and Wall Street vacuity. People here, and I notice especially women, are not so much beauty queens as one sees in the heart of America's fashion capitals, even in affluent suburbs of small cities. Here, women look like ordinary women, some wearing make-up, others looking like they just stepped out of the shower, dressed, and came out to do their daily doings. They look like the ordinary working class women they are, and I find it 19th century, though well-fed and clean. Perhaps most women here won't be fashion models, even fashion models on local television, but the women here look feminine and attractive as women, if not as models of womanliness, not so attractive to me, for what it's worth. And then there are those women, stout, to be polite, who are dressed in genuine 19th Century fashion, women who make this a land of ladies in funny hats.

When I think of women in Peru, especially in the Andes, I think of ladies in bowler hats, flowing skirts, psychedelic design blankets tied at the shoulder as carry-alls [aguayas].

This is not a perfect place, and I won't live here for all of my whole life because I think it has more to offer me than America. It has many aspects, the culture, that make it far superior to America today; but it's not enough to look at women in funny hats to make this a place to live. What it has of real attraction is women who have 19th century values to a large extent, values so alien today to many American women that returning home is ever more unlikely for me. There is Modernity, which I love very much, and there is the current rule of the Freak Show that turns my stomach and turns my mind from home to other, better lands and people, Peru being one of those places, Peruvians being some of those better people. We could in America have it all, but not with the attitude so many today carry around like weapons. America has much to relearn, and some of it, important things, to learn from Peruvian ladies in funny hats.

A bit of history about the funny hats:

The bowler hat was devised in 1849 by the London hatmakers Thomas and William Bowler to fulfil an order placed by the firm of hatters Lock & Co. of St James's.


The bowler, not the cowboy hat or sombrero, was the most popular hat in the American West, prompting Lucius Beebe to call it "the hat that won the West."[7] Both cowboys and railroad workers preferred the hat because it wouldn't blow off easily in strong wind, or when sticking one's head out the window of a speeding train. It was worn by both lawmen and outlaws, including Bat Masterson, Butch Cassidy, Black Bart, and Billy the Kid. It is in America the hat came to be commonly known as the "Derby".

The bowler, called a bombĂ­n inSpanish, has been worn by Quechua and Aymara women since the 1920s, when it was introduced to Bolivia by British railway workers. For many years, a factory in Italy manufactured the hats for the Bolivian market, but they are now made locally.

A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:

And here are some reviews and comments on said book:

Lake Titicaca, coming later today

I have some things to do with the day before I can sit down to finish writing my account of a trip to the islands of Lake Titicaca and those experiences of others on the trip as I understand them. Please look again tomorrow.

Yalla, Dag.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Thirty Nine Hundred Steps: Condor Hill, Puno, Peru

I came to Puna in the night after a heavy rainstorm, and in spite of all that darkness I saw atop a hill a statue of a condor. Next day I saw the statue again, from the far distance of the centre of town, and having seen it, seen it on a hill top, I knew that I would have to climb up and get a closer look. Pain, no pain, sun, rain, snow, I don't care. When I see something high and vaguely challenging, I have to go for it. Today I sat having coffee and thought of the vulture hanging high above me and the city, and I knew this would be the day to do it.

I could see a stair way leading to the cerro, the place, the lookout. I glanced at the taxis available for cheap, but there was no road that I could see that would get me there, and besides, I wanted to walk up to make it a challenge. I like these little taxis, but I was more interested in the walk up than in the being there. I finished my coffee and began walking toward the hill, passing through town in a series of loops as I looked for a way up. 3,000 steps is an understatement. I wandered for a long while till I got within sight of my steps.

I got into the right area of town and took a look at my direction, off for me to the right. My useless sense of direction is probably what has led me to this wandering life. My parents are going to kill me when I get home. They gave me a dollar and sent me out to the store to buy milk and bread, and I haven't been home in 40 years. Lost. Perdido, as it were. Here, today, I had my eye on the prize, and determination makes all impossible things happen anyway.

Even that which looks not very promising can surprise us. Give this street a couple of years at most and it will look like any other street in the city. One must work in faith. Seeing this photo later, one local was shocked and upset that I took it, thinking it makes him and this city look terrible. It is terrible. That's today. Come back later and it will likely look quite pretty, or something.
For me, it's not part of the city, it's part of the goal, the walking up a long path to see the whole of the city, but mostly to prove to myself that in spite of sickness, pain, and lack of air I can do this on my own, adding in some small way to my basket of triumphs, silly as they are. And then I got to the mirador, the look-out point starting point, a mere 500 more meters. I have no clue.

Not long after I started walking up the steps I began counting, missing the first 20 or 50 steps. It was a way to break up the journey. It's always the same distance, but to have a running total allowed me to break every 200 steps to take a look around me to see how I was progressing. Any cheap trick that works works for me. I counted roughly 900 paces, though the Internet tells us there are 600 steps with short plazas at different landings.

And so I went on bit by bit to higher and higher, the turkey still distant but there for the taking.

And I made it, going from the city's elevation of 3,830m (12,566 ft.) to ever more and better: 13,180 feet.

,,,,It was here that I breathed the proverbial sigh of relief. I'd made it- almost. I saw immediately that there was a series of steps leading onward to dead grass a bit further up the hill. I did it. Then I came back and looked at the wall I was leaning against.
The point is to get a good walk up the hill and see the city from a good vantage.

I took my time doing that.

I had the company of sacred images. And an old woman selling sodas and water and cookies. I sat down beside her and closed my eyes. When I opened my eyes again I looked at the bird that had attracted me in the first place. It's not what I would call art. The art is in the going up the hill because it's there.

The condor monument has an 11-meter metal wingspan, according to the Internet. The old lady selling sodas told me I had more climbing still to do. There is a door at the base of the pedestal, which I entered and then climbed the spiral stair case to the top where I clung to the railing. I'm not dealing well with heights in my old age.

I laid down on the cement to look up and to lie down. And then, having annoyed a watchman in a tin shack I had taken for an outhouse, I went back down to town, just in time to see a happy couple leaving their wedding.
The wedding ended, and then the rain came.


Homosocial Hardship

America today is ruled by and for the enveloping Freak Show. This is not a real nation of real people but a phantasy world for losers and scum-bags bent on destroying the nature of our nation in favour of the German Revolution. In short, collectivists following the German state socialism of Bismarck are determined to turn the American Revolution into a collectivist neo-feudal nightmare, and one way to do so is to lump people together into "identity groups" rather than leave individuals to make their own free lives in a free nation. The Freak Show is now triumphant. Tomorrow it might all fail. We will see.

What I see from afar today is a parody of life and man. A friend writes that he suffers from a "demanding graduate student" taking up his work time and pissing him off with strident demands for superfluities of political correctness that he is obligated to meet by dint of his association with the state. He's got to nod and smile at this woman and her silliness or he could lose his job. But the joke is on her.

Women who think they must be men, who must be masculine, lose the whole point of being women. The will never be men, and they will never be friends of men. They will never reach the inner circle of the homosocial, not with men, not with other women.

Glen Campbell performs the tune linked below. It says more about the difference today between men and women than anything one will find in any scholarly journal, though it is written to appeal to the romantic view of love. It is about men loving men. In the Freak Show vision of life, this must mean homosexuality. There again is the clear failure of the Freak Show and the best sign of its failure.

In Peru today there is no visible Freak Show. Men are men, women are women, and life is pretty good for most. As I am coming to recall after too many years of sitting at the desk typing on the Internet, physical fitness is a major key to understanding life. When a man is in superior good shape, his body is entirely different from that of woman, and the difference is stunning to both. Sex, the very point of life, is amazing for the fit couple, their differences shining toward each other. Life, hard as it can be sometimes here, is superior to the Freak Show parody of oneness of all things. When a man is a friend and a woman is a lover, life is at its best. America has lost that sense, for a large part of its citizenry. Time to shape up. Time to find the reality of love between friends and lovers.

Tears of joy might stain my face
And the summer sun might burn me till I'm blind
But not to where I cannot see
You walkin' on the back roads
By the rivers flowin' gentle on my mind

Friday, December 09, 2011

I talk to the wind

A musical interlude during a downpour.

We aren't looking at a picture of Anne Hathaway's Cottage here. This is the home of a peasant family outside of Puna, Peru. They are "poor."
They choose to live in a collection of stone huts, no electricity, no running water, no nothing but what their primitive ancestors had. This is "authentic" Peru. This is how most people in the Andes lived until recently. Now it is an anachronism, lived by choice by those who make some kind of living by being museum pieces. Tourists oooo and ahhhh over this spectacle of poverty. It is our common heritage, a state of living from which most of us are happy to ignore. We might, and many often do, get weepy over the conditions of the "poor," and this family qualifies. But why care? They choose this life of theirs and no one would dare impose it on them.

I've been here, and I've been there, and I've been in between. I've seen a lot.

I talk to the wind.

The answer comes from a boy too young to be corrupted:

I'm 500 miles from my home

I must be 500 miles from my home. Can't go home this a'way.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Sillustani, Peru

Yesterday afternoon on the spur of the moment I decided to take a bus trip outside of Puno, Peru to see, well, I wasn't clear on just what I was signing up for. What the hell. I only live once, and if I don't do things of probable interest, then I won't have lived even that much. So, I got into the bus and off we went, to Sillustani, as it turns out, and there I had a great time, making up for the miseries of my trip to Machu Piccu. I had no idea what to expect until I got to the site. Then I had not only the pleasure of a new and interesting experience in ruins, I also had a nice time chatting with my fellow bus-riders.
From Wikipedia:
Sillustani is a pre-Incan burial ground on the shores of Lake Umayo near Puno in Peru. The tombs, which are built above ground in tower-like structures called chullpas, are the vestiges of the Colla people, Aymara who were conquered by the Inca in the 15th century. The structures housed the remains of complete family groups, although they were probably limited to nobility. Many of the tombs have been dynamited by grave robbers, while others were left unfinished.

[T]he term "chullpa" remains used today for the towers. Many of the chullpas at Sillustani show pre-Inca characteristics that were later redressed with Inca stone blocks. Similar chullpas are found throughout the entire south Central Andes with the above ground burial styles going back at least to mature Tiwanaku (ca AD 500-950). The insides of the tombs were built to hold entire groups of people, most likely extended families of the Aymara elite. Corpses were not intentionally mummified, but in the dry environment created by the closed tomb, they survived for centuries. Most mummy bundles indicate burial in a fetal position. Some of the tombs also have various animal shapes carved into the stone. The only openings to the buildings face east, where it was believed the Sun was reborn by Mother Earth each day.

I've been doing this for so long now that there's little new in what I see. I have some mummified bits from the desert in Arabia, and I have had the dubious experience of encountering desiccated bodies. But, in spite of this not being so new to me that I had no choice but to be impressed, I did have a good time comparing this Stone Age site to others. It gives me a chance to compare the universal in humanness. Much of this site brings to mind the Ring of Brodgar in the Orkney Islands north of the mainland in Scotland.
It's the circles that make it so much like my ancestral homeland, and that this is a desert as well, though, like Glastonbury Tor, once surrounded by water. It was so much like home that I became nostalgic for the lost years of my wandering life. I felt at home here in a way I don't feel at home in most places, even though there is nothing here for me at all, nor there. This is a burial site. But it is a Stone Age site that evokes feelings of life and family for me.
The way this is laid out gives a mistaken impression of Avebury. In truth, it is a pre-Inca and Inca burial site. The round-houses are the burial sites. We do things differently now in the Modern world, sometimes well, I think, but seldom as monumentally. Below we see the two cultures, pre-Inca and Inca, as they build their monuments to the dead:
The loose stone is pre-Inca, and the fine cut work, resembling the work of my ancestors in the islands north of Scotland, are Incan. We can see the contrast a bit more clearly here:
Here we see the burial sites themselves, cone-shaped, unlike those I've seen elsewhere. However, these inverted cones look to me like proto-keystones, the downward pressure keeping the stone stable. It's not Hagia Sophia, but it is lovely and clever.
Families were interred here, as they are in Arequipa today. I see that little changes in human nature, sometimes assuring, sometimes a matter of despair. But that people find reason and dignity and value in work and the fact of an end to life itself, that too is a constant that I appreciate. My ancestors were stone-cutters and builders in the far islands, cutting tombstones and building castles and churches. I feel some good affinity with these builders. It doesn't always come to much, but there is that longing we have to make good the good that was.

Many of the stones lay scattered across the site. It gives us a chance to see up-close that they are hollowed out and were then packed with clay to reduce damage from earthquakes, somewhat similar in intent to Japanese high-rise buildings that have cores filled with hydraulic oil today.
And then the spirit of man makes whole that which is ruin.

I recall laughing at men using cranes to reconstruct buildings at Luxor, Egypt. I was a purist who had no real sense then of the grandeur of building, whether one uses modern equipment to do so. The alternative to using modern machinery is to do as the contemporaries had done, not practical, merely sentimental. But, given the technology of the time this is, as Hiram Bingham points out in his book The Lost City of Machu Piccu, very clever. Like the Romans at Massada, build a ramp and haul material up:
Burial mounds. It's not about death at all, I think, but about coping with the mysteries of loss and the hope and faith of meaning in this life. For those who are insistent that this life is all there is, then one is unlikely to build much for the future, burning bodies, giving up on the living too, diminishing this life for the sake of this life, as it were, by not striving for the transcendent, by building greatness for all to come.

It's about living, all this monumental building of tombs. The circles of the site, here and elsewhere, as my companion for the day, Miguel Piaggio, points out, is a reconciliation of life with the sun and the moon, a creation of Order, a making of the synthesis of an otherwise incoherent and frightening dialectic of meaninglessness. I've seen this too, this unity of man and the Sun, the light of the solstice flooding into the protected space inside the tomb, shining for that brief time, on the departed, restoring him to life, as one sees at Maeshowe, as here too.

In all, I find it life-affirming, the celebration of meaning even in death.

I had a day of pleasant company with fellows interested in such things, and we had what I missed at Machu Piccu, i.e. a day of quiet contemplation and memories of my own life and times. It makes all the falling down and breaking a tooth, getting an infection, getting altitude sickness, being sleepless and hungry and cold and tired, and whatever small or large miseries await me, all worth the while. A Dag Day at Sillustani, I call it.

The high life

Puno elevation 3,827 m (12,628 ft)
Cuzco elevation 3326 m (10912 ft)
La Paz elevation 3640 m (11942 ft)

Yes, I feel like I've been hit by a truck. The elevation here means the air is so thin I can't sleep even when insomnia isn't tormenting me. I fall asleep for a few minutes and then wake up suffocating. I force myself to get three deep breaths and then sit up and get nervous. I would normally go to the fridge for something sweet, but I can't find an appetite here. That makes it all the harder to walk around and do things of interest-- or anything at all. I am totally worn out from this, and I have yet to go across Lake Titicaca to make my way to Bolivia. But I will somehow keep on going. As hard as this sometimes is I don't want to turn back till I do whatever I can do. A boat ride on the lake is just the thing for me, I think. And if I survive it, on to La Pas, south from there to the place Che was shot to death, and maybe a detour into the souther Altiplano to visit the reputed place where Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid were shot. If any of that doesn't kill me, then I will attempt some further travel, down to Paraguay, described in an unforgettable headline in Rolling Stone Magazine about 40 years ago as "The Last Place on Earth for the Worst People in the World."

It's the high life for this guy. Tomorrow, assuming I have the strength, I'll report somewhat on my away trip to see a pre-Inca burial site outside of Puno. It was all that I had hoped to have at Machu Piccu. Had a good time on an away trip with a bus load of others.

But it has to wait till tomorrow. This evening, I'm beat.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The continuous quiet of living

I have yet to meet (and I hope it stays so) anyone who was an adult at the time who isn't to this day angry and disgusted by the Philosophy professor, Abimal Guzman, founder and leader of the Sendero Luminoso, the pseudo-Maoist terrorist organisation that ripped Peru's social fabric in the '70's through the 90s. This country is still recovering from the damage that maniac murderer did, and people are still pretty angry over it, him, and them, the Senderos now turning their hands to cocaine smuggling in the jungle. Peru is as stable as it is, and it's not at all perfect, because in the past decade or so it has embraced a free market economy and deregulation to a large extent. It's a nice place for me and for many Peruanos, most of whom are happy people in a fairly happy county. I compare it to America, my home and my heart, all said and done, that is nasty, ugly, and increasingly disgusting to me. We suffer from fools who elected utter fools, and in time I suspect this will be seen as a time as bad for us as the times of Guzman in Peru. But regardless, life will go on.
In Peru there was a time when Tupac Amaru was featured as a figure worthy of coinage. I would love to have one of those coins, but they aren't readily available, and so far I have seen only one, losing the photo of it somehow. The lack of such coins tells me that people here are happy to have faceless coins that say nothing much about things in general. There is the anonymous fact of money, no political posturing involved. Money is money, and it is good. In America we celebrate our founding fathers for the most part, but in recent times we see the icon of Obama disgracing our nation. There is some going back, I think. A return to neutrality would be a good start.

I had a chance to post a vivid picture of a Red Star on a wall, over which another graffiti artist had added "Ratta." I opt now to show Peru without politics.

Life goes on, and the less we find of megalomaniacs murdering or attempting to control, the better.
The long-faced llama, the short-faced alpaca.

Life does go on, and it has little to do with imaginary figures like Tupac Amaru. Life is stuff that grows, like children. Like freedom.

Medical-Dental Living at its best.

Somewhere P.J. O'Rourke writes that for those who deny the concept of Progress he has two words: Dental Care.

Dental care is pretty useless to those who can't afford it. I can, thanks to being in Peru where I recently lost a tooth in a slip on a washed-out section of a mountain path. And I am going for the best that the world can offer.

someone recently questioned the state of the medical system here in Peru. I have no idea about the details of that, but looking at this picture tells me the Peruvians have a good sense of organisation. Here we see the emergency hospital on one side of the street, and on the other a row of funeral parlours. I mean, yes, who goes to a hospital but sick people. And why waste time dicking around all over town for a place to bury those sick people who die. It makes good sense to have this near one-stop-shopping.
[Click on photo for details]

And they call this a backward country!

If I should die in the dental process, it's all taken care of. If I survive, then expect to see my smiling face around Christmas.

Dead in Peru

I was out for a walk to the local university in Arequipa, Peru recently, when I saw out of the corner of my eye a huge edifice with an inscription, "The Family of ..." in a cemetery. I don't often see families together in life, let alone in death, so I found a gate and entered in just to satisfy my morbid curiosity about whatever the hell I was thinking about. Not surprisingly, I found a range of post-life experiences, some of which surprised me. Take, for example, Julia Bueno, d. 1928, who died almost a hundred years ago, and who still has at least one person leaving flowers. Why? Who would care?

Others are lined up in galleries row upon row, and galleries abound in this cemetery. So too do the family crypts. I had some family somewhere, most of whom, those I know, are dead, and I don't give them more than passing thought. I don't care about the dead, and it might say something as well that I don't have any children. One might wonder if the galleries and the family crypts are actually about individuals at all or if they are simply about place-holder people. I don't have any answers here.

I did see the dead respected for whatever reasons. Those reasons are beyond me. I see that some do not survive the time. One might wish to be a good person and so to be remembered by those who couldn't possibly recall the living being. But life is not fair, and one cannot say of another that he or she did not deserve to be loved in death. sometimes people just get buried and left, and sometimes they get buried and rooted out. For me, living still, there is a wonder that I can't satisfy. I will never know if I am forgotten and buried or forgotten and burned or just forgotten. But in this life I can look at others and live with their experience because others cared at least a little bit and left some of that for me to think on.

The university might teach things of this nature, but I missed that part.

I might have learned something in a walk through the grave yard. It'll pass.

Limited Space, Limited Choices

The things I don't have but will probably someday kick myself for not getting. I have a backpack that is jammed tight with stuff that I really could do without, like a sweater and extra socks and shorts and toilet stuff, and I mean, I am never going to use that stuff, so why, I wonder, did I pass up such cool stuff at the market where I had a chance at the occult and witchcraft stall to do myself some real favours for later?

I am probably going to kick myself for passing on dead llama babies pre-dried out and decorated with ribbons. Man, I think sometimes I just don't get it.

I don't have any dried llama babies, and I don't know anyone who can lend me some if I need them. Let this be a lesson to you, dear reader, to take what you can when you can. You will tell you children about the poor fool Dag who, when the only thing that could save him was dead llama babies, and he didn't have any. A lesson in life, friend. Even though it probably reflects badly on me, I think it important that others learn from my idiot mistakes.

Get them llama babies while you can.