Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The sweet smell of success

I can't pass up a good sewer. I live a homeless life in Peru these days, not at all settled, not a legitimate resident, but not a tourist either. I'm a long-term independent traveller, as I like to call myself, a man without a real home or even a nation to belong to in any but the most tenuous legal sense. I'm just one man with a passport, and one man out of 350 million people entitled to the same passport and rights. A leaf of a certain colour and shape, I am sort of part of a tree of a kind of forest. I'm detached now, and floating on a breeze downward. No home but somewhere today in Peru. I like it here very much, and not least because I like its sewers.

Peru, from what I have seen so far from Lima to Cuzco to Arequipa, doesn't stink. I haven't encountered dead babies everywhere I turn, dead from sewage in the water. I eat vegetables here, brush my teeth with tap water, and even, if I can't find a cup of coffee, drink the tap water itself. I can do this because of sewers. This is not the cleanest place I've been to, but it is good enough to keep its people from mass death due to shit in the water. I've been there too, and I remember. I love sewers.

It takes some concern to make a sewer cover into something more than an iron covered concrete plate to cover a hole in the street. It takes some artistic skill to design something for the world, even if hardly anyone but a strange old man traveling would care to notice, if I may judge by the looks of those who looked at me taking a picture of a sewer cover. Yes, I have seen prettier covers. But this, like so much of Peru, is beauty itself. Someone cared enough to make it so. And others cared enough to make the cover come to reality, paid the money to make this cover for everyone to walk on and walk over and not notice.

I can make out, with my failing eye-sight, Medieval symbols of royalty and vibrant scenes of power and law. Some bureaucrat cared about this, and others made it happen, through agreement, finance, and labour. It is, this simple covering, a statement of benign concern for all.

I found a modern version of the man-hole cover, the city emblem. Most cities have such romantic emblems to promote themselves and their glorious pasts. Arequipa, Peru is no different. What is also true of other cities and this is that the city put their emblem on a sewer cover. This is a sign for those who care that cities value the work they do, no matter how insignificant it might seem to others, even those who directly benefit from it in the form of, for example, sewerage. One can be-- and I am, among others-- proud of sewers, and I (and we)) are proud to see city emblems on such master-works as manhole covers.

Even as an old guy drifting from some strange cold land through this land of warm wonder and equal strangeness I am blessed here by seeing on man-hole covers such concern for details and this expression of care for all, citizens or not, who pass by Sucre Street and who might, perhaps, look down for a second and smile at the work of those who did this for us all.

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