Wednesday, October 26, 2011

It's the small things that kill you

I was out for a good walk a few days ago, and I saw my next big hike in the distance, the cross at the top of Cerro San Cristobal, 409 metres high, which means nothing to me till I work it out in feet. The cross is a local landmark, and I use to to orient myself when I can find it in the fog. I need all the help I can get. I have some kind of brain problem that, among many other things, has left me with very little sense of direction. I have trouble distinguishing left from right, and in the dark, up from down. I live as a traveller, and this presents me with numerous problems as I go from place to place. Being colour blind and half blind on top of that makes my travels all the harder, though I think I have a number of good ways to compensate. Some disabilities I can do much about, and I travel anyway, in spite of what it means. It means that small mistakes might well be fatal. That's a price I am happy to pay for this life, though I suspect I am facing the cashier sooner than expected, if one can anticipate such things in a reckless life at all.

I'm going for a long walk soon, and I don't know how to go but by moving forward to a goal that I have no sense of. I understand there will be a rough neighbourhood between me and my goal, and I understand that well given that I stumbled into it recently and got out as quickly as I could. Lima has its poor and criminal class, and I fell into the centre of it without a blink between me and safety of a sort. But I know my way around the mind of the world to a fair extent, and I got in and out in one piece. Still, there is a ghost walking beside me now whose outline is becoming increasingly clearer as I see my life up-coming.

I came to Lima and to Peru to do some writing, to type many hundreds of pages of manuscript for my book, A Genealogy of Left Dhimmi Fascism. I am on schedule and a bit ahead, though I have come to see what I wrote as seriously flawed and in its current condition a failure. This is good in that I can save it now that I understand that I failed. To have gone so long without noticing this is what frightens me. How could I have missed the obvious for so long? This kind of failure in such a basic way undermines me. I have to fight myself to keep on smiling. I have many flaws that prevent me from being the man I would be. I have to struggle for the most basic things, like finding my way across town and seeing what it is I am supposed to see, like how to be alive in the world. I miss it mostly and must rely on experience and determined thinking. I seem to have been born in a deep hole and it is my life's experience to claw my way to hope of daylight. It will take me a lifetime to know as much as the average six year old. Mostly I am a deeply failed person in the world, and it is my hope to become at least aware of how to try to do some things rightly. I travel so I can see how things are done and how I might do those things as well. It's too late in life to apply much of it, but I will end with at least some knowledge others have taken for granted all their lives. I will, if I am lucky, know what others simply accept without having to think about it. That is my joy. I will be aware.

But I might not be aware enough to make it through this trip. I fear that my brain is not working as it should in basic ways. I'm forgetting things. Recently I lost my eyeglasses, which I cannot see without. I was lucky enough to be rescued by someone who found them for me. And too with losing my day pack. But yesterday I lost my passport.

It is a serious loss, and I am in deep trouble without my passport. I have to go to the embassy here and go through the process of replacing it. But the problem is far deeper than that. The problem is that I seem to be losing my mind.


Anonymous said...


Just joking!

truepeers said...

Losing your mind or freaking yourself out? Maybe the ghost at your side is a figure of your own creation.

Maybe try starting your day with a little meditation to focus and calm things down. Here's a link to some teaching/podcasts on Jewish meditation you might enjoy:

Dag said...

A trip of this nature, one without end, is a matter of periods rather than days, a period being anything long, like a year or a decade. I can't let the day get me down. I have a long view, and this is one of the points in the period that I note for later. In time it will all become a single experience of my time in South America. Then I'll go somewhere else and have a different kind of life yet again.

It's not easy doing this, but it is better, at least for me, than being in one place for the duration. Life becomes a mosaic rather than a sculpture. It's a bit on the abstract side for now, but in time, with enough pieces in place, maybe it will show something I can say I am happy with.

Michael Crosby said...

Hopefully Dag you're not losing your mind. My mom has Alzheimer's and it's not pretty. Funny thing is she never ever said she had any kind of problem. Here she's losing her mind and she has no one that she can talk about it with. It's pretty pathetic.

You, on the other hand, announce it to the world. I don't know what's going on, but I will tell you, I love to read you. Here's to hoping all turns out OK and you get through to the other side.

Dag said...

Hi, Michael, thanks for writing again.

I have some close relatives who had Alzheimer's as well, and it is a terrible thing to see. I, on the other hand, have what Truepeers notes: a tendency to get myself nervous. That is not without good reason.

I'm on the road in a country where I have no friends and no real control over what happens to me other than what I can pay for or manipulate by skill and intuition, by paying for things I need, assuming I can find them, negotiate a fair price, and by looking at what others around me do, imitating them as well as I can in the hope I get the signals right and come out with what I need. I need a lot in life to stay alive and healthy, not just physically but mentally and emotionally, and it means I need to be around people who like me. I need people to be friendly and welcoming; and because I don't speak fluent Spanish I find myself stumbling and saying strange and laughable things that could make people either bored and frustrated or could make some turn on me and do me harm because I wouldn't be able to anticipate harm. I have to be likeable and worth the trouble I am for people to get to know me so they can be happy in my company. That takes time when there is a language barrier and a cultural barrier. There's no immediate reason for most people to take me in as someone they could possibly like. And yet it is a human trait that crossed all boundaries, even among Muslims, to befriend strangers. That's how we can be friends at all with anyone. But there has to be something in it, as it were, for others to trade affection and friendship. One has to earn it and pay for it. For me that's pretty easy because I like people. Here in Peru I am very lucky to have that trait because Peruenos are very likeable people. But there is a lot of poverty here, and a misstep could be pretty uncomfortable for me. Making a mistake like losing my passport could prove fatal in some instances. I've seen what happens to those who are stranded in hostile places without friends. It can be terrible. I don't want that for myself. I write about this because it's part of a whole story that will evolve as I carry on. Some of it is good, some will no doubt be not so good. It's part of my life, and I hope that someday it will be a picture that over all is interesting and maybe good. Day by day it's raw, untempered writing. I lost control of my life recently and in a seriously bad way. I am very lucky that I am among people who didn't pounce on me because of it. In fact, I have some good news as of this afternoon.

Dag said...

When I was last on the road, almost ten years ago, I was in some rough places and came close to death a number of times. I was lucky that I survived some of those events, and other times I was skilled enough at this life to avoid worse. But this time I lost control of my own life by my own lack of care. I didn't have a hat a few days ago and was becoming delirious. That's why I lost my passport. I did get the hat, and I got a nifty patch for it as well to cover up a grotesque logo from Los Angeles, something I disliked and covered over. But by then the damage was done. I had lost my passport. It's going to cost me a lot of money to replace it, but the worst was the sheer panic of losing control. Now I have some control that I will extend.

I was able to contact an embassy here and almost immediately sort out the preliminaries of replacing my papers. This is a miracle of the Modern Age. I can't go into details here, but many years ago I spent 17 months without any help from anyone at all till a foreign embassy came to my rescue. Today, I sent some email and had most of my problems sorted out in a few hours. Even ten years ago that would have been impossible, as much so as writing this blog. I'm not going to languish for a year and a half because of a lost passport.

I am also fortunate enough to have landed in a nation of people I like very much. I don't know these people individually, and I have a traveller's high right now by being among a warm and friendly population, so I don't write from anything more than romance; but I took an hour off after sorting out some paper work with the Peruvian government, and I sat in a window seat at a busy intersection and looked at people as they passed by. I was, and this is perhaps a sad confession, amazed by what I saw.

Dag said...

Of the thousand or so people I watched passing by, I looked mostly at those whose faces were in repose, those just walking and moving out of my line of vision. I saw them mostly slightly smiling. These are not hard and bitter and obsessed people. Not those I saw. They look like people I want to like, and they will be friends to some extent because I like them. What was immediately clear to me, and obvious but not something I had ever considered consciously, they are, each one, individuals. I suddenly hated the Communists I have know throughout my life who refer to such people as "the masses" or "the people" or what have you. There was here before I banned his evil self, a creep who went on and on about how I hate "brown people." There are no "brown people" any more than there are "mass" people. Everyone I saw was, is, will be, a person in his own right, some of whom I could probably love, many of whom I would definitely like very much. I could see that in their faces. Not one of them is a nobody lumped anonymously as a
"brown" person. Each one of them, as people everywhere, are walking bundles of self. I saw it more clearly today than ever before. I noticed it because each one of them is a stranger to me and they could be anyone at all. I haven't made them into who they are. They did that themselves, to a greater extent, and they are all who they are with no help from me. Each one of them is different. I wondered why one is a beggar and another is rich. They are different people. Individuals. Each one is in some way worthy of life as a person. But they have to make it on their own, as do I. I do that by cooperating and assisting. They will help me by offering me shelter from the pains of Nature. They will be my friends and providers and some will be my lovers, if I'm not so old and ugly as I sometimes feel.

But the one thing that struck me, that strange thing, is that they were so involved in their children as people.

Last week I took a long walk from my place in Mira Flores to the centre of the city where I stay now. I stopped for lunch in a cheap place, cheap even by my low standards, and as I sat eating a couple entered, sat, and set a baby on the table. The father, maybe 20, doted on the baby, a thing so tiny it was a wonder to me as well. The father was enraptured. I loved that man. Today I saw much the same many times over as I sat watching people. I saw mothers tending their children, and I saw mothers smiling. They had children of all ages and I didn't see contempt or hatred or the rise of violence. No doubt it happens, but I didn't see it today, nor have I seen it so far here. I see in the faces of the people a people who are happy, and I suspect it's in great part because of their families who love them. I like these people very much. They are not "brown" or "poor" or anything made up and ugly. they are happy for the most part and loving. I do not see that everywhere. I've seen instead armies of orphans, one boy who will never leave me, who stood at a garbage can searching for food and coming up empty punched himself in the face over and over, not a whimper. I saw people who love their children. What a great day I had. And it got better as it wore on.

Dag said...

There is a supermarket chain here that is so nice that I could live here if only for that. I've been to many places where a supermarket is off limits to poor people, restricted to the wealthy and low-life foreigners grudgingly allowed in just because. This place is heaven. All the food is fresh, clean, healthy, available to anyone who has a bit of cash. One would have to know real Third World poverty to grasp how much I love this. I bought a gallon of fruit juice, mango, orange, pineapple, and peach. I got bananas and bread from the oven. Oh! It was beautiful to see such food. And a woman about 35 or so thought so too, she bumping into me and asking where I got the juice, as if it were a mystery to her. She was very attractive, well-dressed, stylish, as I call it. I pointed and carried on, focussed on bottled yoghurt. As I was standing outside packing my dinner into my pack, she came by, far out of her way from the entrance, and slowly walked past me. Then she slowly walked down the sidewalk. I am going shopping there every day now whether I'm hungry or not. There are mothers who love their children, fathers who love their babies, and women who want men to be their lovers. It looks like I could well be in Lima for a month waiting for a new passport. I'm going to make the best of it. That means, for me, people. I like 'em. I need them. I want them.

My day changed radically as I made my way to the police station to report that I had stupidly lost my passport. (I left out the stupidly part, it being pretty obvious to anyone at all anyway.) As I expected, there was a very cute young woman in charge of my case. I was the only one there to file anything and she paid a lot of attention to my case. She laughed and giggled and made cute faces and won me over in a flash, the perfect girl to deal with distraught foreigners. This is to be expected in a country like Peru, not so much in much of the rest of the world where the police are the enemies of the people and they know it and like it. What struck me as strange is that there was above the other desk, a television showing a soap opera, and to my surprise a secretary watching it as she pretended to work. In time another woman entered and sat in somewhere as I dealt with the cute girl. And finally a man came in, his empty desk with a name plate announcing someone I expected to be an Argentine general. My mistake. He came in dressed in faded blue jeans. He was, well what do I know? dead handsome. He might have been overweight and balding, but he has a manner about him that was so winning I wanted to hang out with him all day. And then the lady who had come in later began chatting about the soap opera. Soon all of them were engaged in a laughing and happy discussion about the show. I sat back in amazement. I was in the midst of happy people who obviously like each other and who have good time at work, even if there isn't much work to do. To my endless credit, I told a joke in Spanish, the police not having a lot of English between them. My joke was a success. I want to live with these people. I left smiling and no longer sick at the thought of being arrested and imprisoned for being without papers. So far, and this is only another small part of Lima rather than the nation as a whole, I am finding this to be a wonderful place.

Dag said...

I returned to my almost empty hotel after going to the supermarket. It has a locked gate at the top of the landing where a girl on the desk comes to let me in when I tap on the metal to let her know I'm back. I scouted out this place last week on my walk downtown. At the time I was sort of thinking she wouldn't have a room for me. I look a bit scary to some people, maybe due to having known too many scary people who have done scary things to others. I spooked the girl when she first saw me. She said she had no rooms available. But I returned a week or so later and she reluctantly let me in. I paid up and live here now. Slowly, and that would be very slowly, she has come to like me a bit. Now she smiles when she sees me. She has lovely eyes and a beautiful manner about her. I see this often here.

Peru does not have a happy history, and I know there are many areas and millions of people who do not live the way those I meet here do. That will come. I mean prosperity will come to them or their children or their grandchildren. It will come in time. I see this because I see schools everywhere, regardless of the quality of the instruction. School is a big hit here, and children are the focus of this culture, as far as I can see so far. People want their children to do well in the world, and school is it, as well as church. Church, I say, is important to them. I go to church more often now than the Pope. There are churches everywhere they haven't put a school. It's about people. These people have been brutalised over the centuries but they are still committed to the good, to work, to family, to what I call Modernity, i.e. to beautiful supermarkets, flush toilets, paved roads, and schools and churches.

I lost my passport here and I was sick and disgusted that I had let myself fall so easily prey to anyone who cared to attack me when I was basically helpless. I can't let that happen again, but as it turns out, this is not going to end on a terrible note. I like it here. I feel pretty happy, especially so compared to the pit of despair I went through last night and this morning searching in vain for my passport. I am, to some degree, here among friends.

To those friends who are not in Lima but in the aether, I hope to report the good and bad as time goes on. This story has a happy ending. Not all of them will, and I hope you will remain with me as I try to get through them, my panics unadulterated by delays and summaries after the fact. As much as I can I'll let it all hang out, and later we can look at it as a whole and see what it came to, if anything. I suspect that in the long term it will be worth while. One never knows.

truepeers said...

He lives!

I want to make a joke about your potential to become Mr. Happy Planet Peru with supermarket gal but even if I had Kafkaesque humour, I'm not sure this would be the time for it.

Dag said...

I read the promotional blurb on the back of the juice carton today, and I say I could never compete with such grandiose rhetoric. It is so over-blown and purple that I think I should save it as one of my favourite travel pieces. Even the current mayor of Vancouver, Canada, owner of Happy Planet Juice co. would shy away from the self-promotion on the carton I have, and I think that says much. But it does say something about this place, to my fresh eyes, and maybe it's not that the owner is a megalomaniac fruit king but that he and others here are optimistic and happy. I'll settle for that.

Sadly, no sign of Fruit Girl. I think it's time for me to start going to church if I intend to make any kind of life for myself here for any length of time. It's there rather than at the supermarket that I would be more likely to find a gal who would love me. They say miracles happen, and where better to try for one than church?

Let's hope I don't find myself in a Kafkaesque circumstance of standing outside all of my life waiting for judgement.