Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cuzco Market

I come from a village in the mountains, a similar life to those in Cuzco than the life of those in a city the size of pretty much anything; and my little town depended in large part on tourism bringing in some new money. I like to think that I have some appreciation of tourists, they being not only money-bringers but those who have some curiosity that they act on for their own benefit, broadening the world of others upon return, perhaps. I have also seen towns and cities made mad in the mind because of Western tourists and their free-floating money, their tourist dollars seemingly there for the asking, for the demanding, for the grabbing and hollering and shouting and screaming and outpourings of hatred for those who are not buying, not paying, not spending. If tourists don't come to fling away their money like drunks in Las Vegas, why do they come at all? Tourists come to be seen as garbage people who are objects of deep hatred, as I have seen in some places to an extent I want to wipe out whole cities from the face of the earth. Greed is a terrible sickness. It makes me want to kill those who have it. It makes me a bad person to be among the greedy.

Greed can take hold of a community, a city, a whole nation and turn nasty people into vendor-Berserkers who lose all sight of humanness and who obsess about money at all costs. They aren't necessarily poor people trying to better themselves by taking from the undeserving rich. They are sick people who would terrorise anyone for the sake of gain. I have one particular nation and one people in mind as I write this, and I truly hate them. Against them I judge the people of Cuzco, Peru. I do not like this place. It does have some nice places to look at though. Here's one site on the way to the market I came to enjoy.
I had stupidly expected a small colonial town such as I have experienced in many places over the world, and I had thought this too would be a lovely place of culture and calm. My mistake.

Viva el Peru, as it says on the mountain side. This could be a lovely place.

There are, according to unofficial statistics, a million taxis taking two million tourists daily to ten million hotels, hospedajes, and hostels wedged between so many clip joints that my eyes blur as I walk down the streets. If you have limited time and nearly unlimited money, this is your place for organised ... I don't know what to call a tour bus full of people moving from place to place at the direction of others telling them trivia about the people and culture and place they are at this day. I miss a lot being an independent traveller, but I don't miss the hustle of professionals offering package deals. For those who don't have time to adjust, this is a good place. For me, no, it's no good at all. I have the time to be lost and sick and hungry and nervous. I have time to look at potatoes.
If you've seen one potato, you've seen them all. Except that there are a hundred varieties of potatoes here in Peru, from where they originated. Potatoes changed the course of history and made our Modern world possible. I love potatoes. I don't eat them often, but they are a wonder of our world, and that is what I love. I leave you to wait for one volume of my up-coming five volume book in which I write about potatoes. For now, a picture of beauty.
There is a market where (and I don't know where) I go for a bit of time away from all the things I hate about this place. It's a place to buy native potatoes; a place where I go to buy a sack of coca leaves from a squatting girl selling foul looking paste in a plastic bucket on the side walk out the side door, the girl who puts the coins inside her hat and runs down the street to get my tea leaves and brings it back to me; this being close to the ten by ten room with a squishy wet floor where for men it's 20 centavos to stand at a trough to use the urinario, a mirror running along side that the girl watches to make sure... well, who knows what she's watching for, and for 30 centavos-- because women take longer and thus have to pay more-- women can sit across from the men and do their thing. Paper is extra. 

I like the market. In the mornings I go for baked custard in a fountain glass, costing me about $0.50 or less. When I finish eating and flirting with the old lady behind the stand I go flirt with another old lady where I get two big mugs of coffee syrup and hot water (which I call coffee) for under a buck. Sometimes I get hot milk and chocolate syrup that I have to add a lot of sugar to, the chocolate being pretty bitter. Almost as good as the best,  I sit with my coffee and look across the aisle at stalls #740-726, all of them selling exotic potatoes in bulk.
In between the coffee lady and the potato people sits a lady in an aisle unto itself, she selling brown eggs, rolls of toilet paper, and red onions. She is, shall we say, stout. She might have three little girls, or one of them, or maybe she just hugs them and smiles and laughs and talks to them as equals because she is that kind of person. The lady who brings my morning coffee in this awful tourist hole is not what I would call pretty, but she has one very fine palm leaf stove-pipe hat that goes nicely with the two or three skirts she wears under a shawl. When she smiles, which is often, some of the wrinkles on her rather wide face disappear, and pretty or not, I want to lean over and kiss this lady. She is beautiful.

I thought about going to the Hilton Hotel for coffee, but I can't recall enjoying coffee in Cuzco in a place with windows. I like to sit and smell herbs cooking in hot oil and watch chickens turn waxy in the heat, and I like to look at the lady with the coffee when she smiles at me, her smile a broad expanse of nifty-looking gold teeth that sparkle like her eyes.

Once in a while I see an unhappy looking tourist wandering through, lost and hoping to buy some trinkets to take home as a keep-sake of being in Cuzco. They mill around gazing at so much gaudy stuff it would make most people nauseous, and they smile at vendors and speak to them like kindergarten teachers interviewed for their first job. You don't want a verbatim dialogue here. They are trying to be nice and to buy something memorable. I have bought stuff in Peru. I bought a sweater, a flag patch of the great nation-state of Georgia, a pair of scissors, an electric plug adaptor, and enough fabric to make a bag to replace the one I have that's ripping out at the bottom. I  bought shoe laces and a spare pair of eyeglasses. I've probably bought other stuff that I can't remember. I ain't no purist. I buy lots of stuff, but I have to carry it with me wherever I go, and the less the better. I have a couple of years on the road this time. I can't carry much for that time. I have to get to Africa, after all. So I sit and have coffee and chat up the vendors and wander around a bit and hate the hustle. I go outside the market and chat up people sitting in the sun. I look at things.
I sat chatting with a girl who is probably older than 12 and I had a conversation of a good sort with her boy, she holding him up and him blowing bubbles at me, which I returned in grand style. We bubbled as a woman of 20 and her five year old left the two year old girl by a sack at the market wall and then pretended to run off. It took a couple of tries because the little girl didn't notice mom and sis abandoning her the first time round. Then it was all laughter and wonder as they came back to claim her. It's simple and it's childish and I like it, like sitting down to have ice cream from a cart.

Murmurs from the heart to the mind whisper gently that this will be my last journey, no need now to worry about returning to the homeless life I could have back in my own village in my own mountains. I could have been like these folks if I had stayed home to do something in the tourist business or something. Instead I wander around. I go to the market and chat up folks.
I don't know what this place is called. [Actually, I do know.] If you come to Cuzco, you'll have to ask around. To me, this market's sort of called home. And then I leave.


truepeers said...

Chin up, man, it could just be the altitude. And maybe if you go and visit Potosi, Cuzco will seem like paradise. Nice description of the market scene; kind of wondering what a palm leaf stove-pipe hat is. Made of palm?

Cheers, mate.

Dag said...

Yes, the altitude had a lot to do with my miseries at Cuzco. That came as a shock, given that I have been at higher altitudes many times in my life and didn´t think twice about this time till I found myself in deep distress. I am simply ageing badly. But I do keep on going, misery or no. It´s what life is, and I prefer that to nothing.

I find myself lapsing into habits here in Peru, thinking in terms of my life in Mexico over the years, automatically thinking this is Mexico. It is very definitely not Mexico. Peruvians have about nothing in common with Mexicans. I love this place, the people, the whole thing, with minor complaints. Not that I have anything deep against Mexico, but this place is paradise, in a way similar to Israel, for me, and Nicaragua. If I were wealthy I would think seriously of living here for the duration. But I am not wealthy, and there are more places in the world that I must try to visit, if briefly in this lifetime. It´s a matter, truly, of attitude.