Thursday, September 27, 2012

Iquitos, Peru: Poppy's House. "America of the Mind." (Part One)

To read the rest of this story, please turn to the following link;

There is, outside the market, what I will call “America of the Mind.” One reaches this New Jerusalem via hardship most of us will never know. Sometimes it is reached via Belen Market. Of that, more to come when we turn to Poppy's House.


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:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Iquitos, Peru: I am, therefore I eat

I was standing in the vegetables section of the local supermarket looking lovingly at organic yogurt and celry when I just happened to notice a very tall and correspondingly plump lady bending down at the chocolate milk and doughnuts section that I never venture into myself. I noticed her because as she bent over her shirt rose up over her middle and exposed across her arse a large tattoo in Latin: Cogito egro sum. Being that the vegetables were dangerously close to the chocolate milk for no good reason, therefore she and me being close too, I abruptly asked her if she speaks Latin. She looked at me bewildered. She said, “....” [Which I thought sounded very much like "Duh?"] So I said, “I saw your tattoo.” Then she said, “Oh.” And that lead me to say, “It's why I asked you if you speak Latin.” So she said, “You saw my tattoo and that's why you asked if I speak Latin.” Well. What a clever lady. That's why I said, “I like 'cogito' better without the 'g'. She said, “....” I responded, because she was speaking wordlessly, “ Coito ergo sum.” “....” she said, continuing with, “I really like his way of knowing himself and how it kind of expands his personal universe, you know?” Oh, do I ever, I didn't say. She said some other words. I said, “Without the 'g' it's 'Coito ergo sum'. It means, 'I have sexual intercourse, therefore I am'.”

To read the rest of this story, please turn to the following link;

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:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

My really good friend, this guy I met in Iquitos, Peru

Life on the road is one without lasting friends, one moving from place to place before lasting relationships have any time to develop, people who might be and sometimes obviously should be people one would be with for the duration simply fading away as ones boat or bus or taxi moves elsewhere, one moving on to meet other strangers who have yet to become those friends one delights in knowing and being with to share ones life and mind. So, on the road like this one finds those first inklings of companionship and incipient friendship in street vendors and knick-knack sellers and waitresses and people who contact tourists first and most often.

One such fellow for me is the guy whose name I will never bother to ask, like Primo Levi not thinking of his fellows at Auschwitz because he knew they were doomed from the start and there was no point, only pain, in knowing the drowned, is a street vendor, a cheery fellow who sells one day floppy hats, the next day sunglasses, maybe next time showing up with an armload of teeshirts for sale to those who long for a conversation with the locals so they can say they had this friend in this place and they felt that they belonged and were appreciated as people by people who live the life the tourist only visits and barely comprehends. I don't know the street vendor, but in a cheap and silly way I like him and we chat a bit when he passes by as I sit writing and drinking coffee, he off to find that magic tourist in need of stuff to validate his experience in this or that place, his contact with the locals made real by a piece of stuff with the name of this or that city painted or carved or embroidered on it somewhere, like the stuffed piranhas on a stick with the wooden base painted crudely with “Iquitos” that will set otherwise dumb on a bookcase shelf collecting dust as a talking piece for visitors who will ask: “Where is Iquitos?” which will give the collector opportunity to say how he met this fellow, a good friend of his, who gave him this fierce fish as a gift, a sign of friendship, not some commercial transaction between two strangers on the street, a man and a man meeting as equals and happy in each other's company. 

I like this guy, and to some extent he would be, were I to live here, be a friendly acquaintance for me over time. He offers me bugs in a jar, and I can't take him up on such a cool offer because I haven't got a place to put them, though I would like to have them, have some time chatting with him about selling stuff, and to have a home where maybe, if I felt like it, I could have him over for coffee some lazy afternoon to find out about him as a person. He, like most I meet, is the surface of a river broad and deep that I will never dive into. So I smile when I see him, and I say hello, I ask how his day is, and we part on good terms, my life drifting along the surface of the city, not quite as stable as a beetle in a jar, not quite as fleeting as a tourist off and on a plane, bags stuffed with stuff to take back home as memories of a fine time that floated by one time long ago before the dust settled.


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:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Iquitos, Peru: Amazonian Freedom's Sonrisa Magnetica

I think often of what I call "privacy and publicity," the life one
lives as ones own or the life one lives as a collective rise above the
masses in the hope of finding some great thing that will validate a
probably meaningless existence. As a boy growing up in the remote
mountains where television was limited to a few hours per day and few
had access, church and the local cafe provided most answers to most
questions about the nature of things, our best and brightest weighing
in on matters of import to us all. But even that was mostly private, a
matter of Buddy or Mack or Bill spouting off, and not too serious. We
had our lives to live, bills to pay, families to raise, and in the
case of a boy, fish to catch, baseballs to hit, and a dog to run
through the forest with. The larger questions weren't even for adults:
they were for nothing. But there were always a few who couldn't find
their peace in privacy and had to make far more of their own lives
than their own lives justified in the eyes of others and obviously in
their own: There was always an old lady and a few friends who would
continuously bring to each and all conversations a template patter
about the end of the world and the damnation of those of us who didn't
pay her and them close attention. We sinners were doomed, and that was
that, and damned soon. The old lady and her claque of oldsters would
be angry at us for not falling down and repenting our sins and asking
her to guide us to salvation. No, important as our eternal souls
burning in Hell might be, we had other concerns, and she and they
would ramble and bitch no matter. We had private lives, and the
publicity the others demanded of us could fly off, for all anyone
cared. That was then and there. Now, publicity rules the land. Creepy
religious fanatics harp endlessly about pubicity, hectoring the masses
as doomed sinners, as racists, as sexists, as homophobes and
islamophobes and bigots, all us us doomed to an eternity of Hell in
our own bitter lives. And yes, we have to give us smoking, drinking,
gambling, and fooling around with women as well as giving up such
sinful things as meat, gasoline, sugar, salt, and television, as if
the missionary religious old ladies of the Left today are some kind of
Freak Show Mormons.

I live these days in the Amazon in Peru. I would leave now for the
Amazon in Bolivia if I could. Por que is mucho mas freedom in the
totally incompetent state of Belen where the government just doesn't
have the money to track me down and piss me off about drinking a Big
Gulp soda. I can smoke $0.50cigars inside a cafe, hustle girls till I
droop, and dislike homos to their faces without a blink from any of us
at all, and swill a $2.00 bottle of rum in the park and ride away on a
motorcycle without wearing a helmet.

I'm not at all anti-American. I just hate living in America. Because
now I know, too:

that all idealisms end in scams. For there is a dark side to every
dream: the moment you wake up and realize that the men with steel
teeth have planned it all.

I'm making a new home in a free land for me, free and happy. I don't care what Obama supporters have to say. I save the Amazon rainforest one piece at a time, a feather here, a skin there, some wood on my shelf, and so on. Let the old religious fanatic ladies curse and burst a vein in the forehead, it means not a thing out here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. I smile, and my steel teeth shine bright in the hot sun.

Grace at the Yellow Rose of Texas, Iquitos, Peru.

Most times I remember to say grace before I sit down to eat something, but it's not like I much care about it, my appetite usually being poor, coffee helping me through the day pretty well. I say grace so I know I 'am,' though sometimes I'm just hurting from not eating and I skip to the last line and eat.
The gods hate us.
Fuck them.
Death to my enemies.

If I don't say grace I feel like I missed out on something essential in my life, a bit of time to think about being alive and how lucky I am to be at all, not for long, just for now. I need that pause to be aware.

There's a cafe in the heart of Iquitos, nice cafe, The Yellow Rose of Texas, that I've never eaten at because I hardly eat at all, and it looks too nice for me who prefers beans and rice and leaf-wrapped river catch on a cracked plate at a plastic table with wobbly chair on the roadside in the dirt at night, the lady there spooning out my three soles meal and passing it over the charcoal burner that heats everything all day and into the late hours of the night swarming with flies, dogs under the table scratching fleas and shaking my chipped glass of muddy jungle juice with a layer of floating wasps drowned in sugar. I sit with people I don't know and we chat about stuff like how hot it is and how many kids do you have and I like living here, and the fish is often not so much cooked through that I can eat it all so I slip the raw bits to the dogs when the people aren't looking at me wasting good food on a stray who doesn't do anything but get in the way and slightly pisses people off. The Yellow Rose of Texas, on the other hand, is a nice place. I don't really belong there sitting out having coffee. So I don't go very often. But I went today anyway and had coffee and looked at things. I didn't eat anything and it meant I didn't feel obligated to say grace and consider myself.

I've been in a few times, the first time tagging along with some folks from my place who wanted to go out for a drink and a sit outside and watch people. I did that. I watched one of my mates there, a fortyish guy, big and sort of good looking who talked all the time about how life in Iquitos is so easy for him because he wakes in the morning and doesn't have to decide whether to drive his Lamborghini or the Ferrari. It's cheap in Peru, and he can hardly get by on a hundred grand a year back home. Hit on the waitress for me, he says, tell her if she wants to be with me she'll never have to work again, and tell her she's not my type because she's not the right shape, and tell her, tell her, tell her that. He might stay or he might fly off to the Riviera or maybe he should go do business in New York City and wrap up a huge deal that he has been putting off because he doesn't need the headache right now. Tell the waitress she's sort of cute and tell her to bend over more so he can check her out, and tell her I'm not really interested. She has no clue what a goof this goof is, and I'm sitting far enough away that I don't have to-- though I do-- think about the gods inventing brass knuckles just for men like him, my brass knuckles somewhere at the bottom of my pack anyway because I like Peruvians and I don't want any trouble. Yeah, I want to kill this guy. I want to. I want to smash this creep. I want to kill him. Any arsehole can kill a man; but show me a man can raise him up he laid him down, and that's the man I will worship him. I shrug it off and sip my coffee and chat with the waitress a bit, though she isn't paying attention, her focus on the guy who has her off balance and liking him and wondering. I just go because I've seen his kind too many times and there's nothing in him for me to laugh about anymore. I left the cafe, missing the yellow roses of Texas and the broad blue skies and the brown dust and the dun dried river beds all cracked and cake, the brittle and tough tumble weeds, silvery and rolling across the dusty plains....
I went to the yellow Rose of Texas cafe for coffee today because I'm not too happy about the lady I've been dating for a week or so now. I wanted to be somewhere else if she came looking for me. I hit the cafe I seldom go to, The Yellow Rose of Texas. And there I sat and sat and looked at stuff and thought how fortunate I am to be alive to do all this stupid sitting and doing nothing while the waitress has to hustle around for guys like me doing nothing for almost nothing. Life is good.

I saw this old lady on the street, she being a lot younger than I, which means not a thing because a woman ages in a way totally different from a man, like it or not, she being maybe 40, and she's pushing a wheeled cart with a half dozen or so coconuts rolling around in the box, and she's walking so fast that when I try to get her picture from my seat at the cafe I find she's out of range. So I got up and walked down the street to get ahead of her, and she was going fast, but I got ahead and she stopped and leaned on the handle bar of her cart and she was gasping, which is reasonable because she's a huge fat old thing, and I wanted a picture of her because she's old and ugly, poverty etched in every wrinkle and her red teeshirt is blotchy pink and too small so I-- and the world at large-- can see she isn't wearing a bra, and her grey stretch pants have dark, liquid stains on the hanging down butt like she's been dragging herself through the lanes at Belen market after the rain; and in all she's awful. 

This is the picture I was trying to take because it was really funny:

I'm sitting at the table outside on the walk, the pine tree slab table rims painted with barbed wire all round, the tops various ersatz Texas themes, one of which is a fat lady who looks way better than the local gal down the street with the coconut cart. Behind me is Carla the waitress having a quiet melt-down because she thought the mouth who had been on about her was a good guy and she had been interested in him and questioned me about where is he and when is he coming to pick her up and told her he's a goof and has gone back home and didn't bother to tell you baby bye bye. Carla, a beautiful girl to start with, is putting a good face on this even though it's easy to see through the stone facade. I don't care much because she's not keen on me even though she's professionally polite and wants to kill me for telling her the guy dumped her and she had no clue at the Yellow Rose of Texas cafe where my bag is on the table half a block away and I'm not freaking out that a crack head victim of capitalism is going to grab it and run. Life is good for me, and I think this photo I'm setting up is pretty funny because the old lady is pushing this bright colored, hand painted, rickety old cart with barely legible letters saying: “welcom to iquitos thank you for you visit” I like it because I know I am going to put up a photo of a painted fat lady on the cafe table top and a picture of hotty Carla and I rush over to frame the ugly fat lady so she and her cart are in front of a nice looking building front of hand made Portuguese tiles and the contrast is so funny I laugh; and I walk over to the lady who is now bent over the cart so her face is staring into the scrap wood box of coconuts and scraps of crap and a dull knife, and I figure she's exhausted from pushing so fast so far, and I go up to ask her if she'll stand beside her cart so I can get a hilarious contrast photo of her, the cart, the building and put it all together with heartbroken and humiliated Carla and the cool d├ęcor of the cafe and it'll all look so ironic and I can have a laugh about how arty I am and how I write about grace and the gods who fucking well hate us and death to my enemies. 

I say hello to the ugly fat lady and I see her gasping, holding down the gasps and heaving, trying to hold back the tears, and the tears running down her face and dripping off her chin, she can't look at me and tries to shake her head as she searches in the garbage and the filth among the coconuts for a bit of clean cloth to wipe her eyes. 

What? That's it? That's the end of this story?

But no, I found myself sitting on a park bench later in the evening thinking about how badly some guy can treat a girl when a lady sat beside me with her four year old son and they shared an icecream cone, passing it back and forth. There might be some argument that this is sanitary and not weirdly too personal, but I can't begin to speak to that. Instead I spoke to the boy who took some interest in my foreignness and tried to speak to me in child Spanish. I told him I like icecream and I wish I had one, that his looked pretty good and I hoped he enjoyed it. He was pleased and smiled at me a lot, mostly curious that my face is so different from men´s faces he´s accustomed to. And when they finished I said,  ¨Buenos noches, senor,¨ and the boy smiled and went away with his mother. Then he let go of her and walked back to me and held out his arm and we shook hands like men do and he returned to his mother, leaving me wondering how to clean off all the ice cream on my fingers.

Yes, there is even more, and it is about my first and second and now total experience of the owner of Yellow Rose of Texas cafe. I refrained from slagging the guy even though I usually don't restrain myself at all from such poor behaviour. I don't want to piss off the locals, even expat.s who know far more and better than I, because I don't know better or more than they. I keep myself to myself often enough even in the face of egregious shit. So, when the locals speak, I feel free to let it all hang out. Here is what they say, cut to the limit, about the owner of The Yellow Rose of Texas cafe:

# 32: From Gerald; “Bill please cut off this website. It does not hurt
me but Pamela is really upset and she crys to sleep at night. It was
true that I hurt the kids but they upset my custumers and stole from
the, I did hurt
the street kid who threw a bottle at me but I paid his mother $150
compensation so that was like a fine. I do not say bad things about
loretanos anymore and I have not touched a kid for 2 years. Please
take this off for Pamela.
If you do not I will sue you.”

# 34: “Gee——let me get this straight—–it is all true but stop it or
I’ll sue you—–hmmmmm”

# 5: “Well done Bill Grimes. I am a missionary (type) that frequently
visits Iquitos. When in Iquitos we regularly dine at the Yellow Rose
of Texas Bar run by Gerald Mayeaux. When last there in November we
heard some terrible things said about Gerald. If they are true then we
will never eat there again. We have heard that he mistreats the street
kids and sticks needles in their arms. We have also heard that about 2
years ago he beat up an 8 year old street kid in the street in front
of some other missionaries. Are these claims true? Can anyone shed any
light on these allegations?”

# 6: “I am a Major in the U.S. Marine Corps and was in Iquitos on and
off from 2000 to 2005.
It is true about Gerald Mayeaux, he admitted to me with great pride
that he pricks the kids with a needle embedded in the skin of his
thumb. I have seen him do it with my own eyes. I don’t think he cleans
the needle either. Terrible man.”

# 8: “I too have been to Iquitos and met the man known as Gerald
Mayeaux. What a piece of slime he really is, Liar, Cheat, Fraud and
Thief. A rumour says he beats his wife, treats his staff badly. All in
all a good all round ***hole.”

# 9: “I was with my wife in the Cumaceba office and I could not fail
to hear Gerald Mayeaux’s loud mouth telling his customers that Iquitos
people were dishonorable, the men were all thieves and that ALL the
women from Iquitos were prostitutes (that includes my wife). My wife
kept me from going over there a punching his lights out. I do not know
how he gets away with it, something should be done.”

# 10: “I know this man very well he is very, very bad. He is well
connected and will bribe officials like the police, prosecuters etc.
to get you into real deep shit. It is true about this man Gerald
Mayeaux . I maintain a false friendship with him because if I told him
what I thought he would ruin me. That’s why I have used a false name.

I say nothing more.

But then I do. I say all this time later, now in late March 2014, a year and a half later, having met the man in question, the notorious Gerald, that I find him to be fascinating. In just pasing through I fell for the first impression of the man and missed the man himself. That was a lazy mistake on my part. Now I intend to find out about the real man, not the cartoon villian he is made out to be above.

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: