Saturday, October 20, 2012

Peruvian Enthusian

National Independence Day in Peru, July 28, is cause for celebration even in such a remote from the Modern World place as this. Who would think anyone here in Peru would care about this place, it not being Europe or America proper. There is poverty here most North Americans could not tolerate the smell of, would regulate into oblivion by enforcing rules of such minor import that the average Peruvian would be drowned by the idiocy, would long to flee from such an ugly nightmare of out of control women with nothing better to do than make too much money from tax-payer funded make believe jobs of nagging and hectoring the infantile population they had bullied into a state of semi-terror with "manners" fit only for potty-trained adults on hyper-diarhetics. Peru is not the p.c pomo America of social justice wankers. The endless bitch of Modernity would fly into frantic temper tantrums over the ways of Peru, Peru's lack of restrictions on nearly everything people can and mostly unashamedly do, much of it in public. One can smoke cigarettes, drink beer, and fart openly in the park while watching a soccer game. People jaywalk! They drink large sodas. Most of them are fat and they don't seem to care. For the oppressed women of Modernity who have to pay for their own birth control pills (!), who demand abortion on demand, who bitch and whinge and scream about sexual harrassment if a man looks at them flashing their pussies at lunch counters at the shopping mall food court, Peru must be a sort of hell on earth. But for Peruvians this is a good place, and they are proud of it. They actually love this country. Who in the Modern world could believe anyone could love a country at all? Who there could stand a nation in which men are free? Peruvians love it. So do I. But it's not so perfect-- even on Independence Day.

For all the bullshit of the Freak Show in the Modern, the crying and snivelling and bitching that sub.s for something interesting to contribute to a conversation among educated people, we do not have death squad legacies to dig up literally from the ground. In Peru the Anthropology gang dress up like waiters carrying Bibles and they note their findings as they brush away the dirt and dust and lift layers of sucking mud from the dead in the search for something maybe like justice for those murdered in war between the Maoist lunatics and the fascist eugenicist Japanese Fujimori and company. Peruvians have much to be pissed off about, and not just that some have to repay their idiot student loans. Here, the Anthropologists dig up real suffering. I could choke the Freak Show slugs who bitch about their miseries on Facebook. If I could I would smash their fingers with the handmade and chunky bricks the locals here use to make bare wall houses with concrete floors they rise from to go to work as, for example, school teachers who do not get paid for months at a time. Men with books note the truth. It's Independence Day in Peru.

It's such a fashion statement today in the Modern world to be a queer. If one is not a queer, one is better off to pretend, to mince and giggle and bleach ones hair and get a tattoo of a rose on ones arse. So I've heard. Not that I know that guy. Not that I know the girl who dresses in black jeans and a sleeveless while cotton tee shirt and chops off her black-dyed hair that she covers with an on backward baseball cap as she walks with a girl I know who dresses for the office. Freak Show girl has decided that gender roles are assigned to females to oppress them, and Freak Show girl is determined to break out of this male oppression by turning queer and walking down the street with her thumbs in her belt loops, no belt, of course, so her pants ride down below her ass-crack,) and she twists on each step so to 'swagger' like she thinks a man swaggers. That she's a fucking moron no matter what she wears is lost on her. To her, it's all a conspiracy to oppress her and the sisterhood of likeminded goofs. She would certainly rescue her Peruvian sisters from such oppression as above, rescue them from joining the police force, rescue them from dressing up for Independence Day in uniform, rescue them from flirting with the macho men of the deep jungle commando forces, guys who sleep in swamps and kill drug smugglers.

Yes, I like it raw and wild, man that I am, and not a shrieking queer oppressed by capitalism. Frankly, I don't care if this is Peru. It's not my country. It is, to my great relief, a free country. Peruvians like it. I like it, too. I like the enthusiasm.

I like the celebration of liking, even if one doesn't have an M.F.A. that puts one in debt for a hundred years with student loans ones imitation of "Piss Christ" can't pay off.

A bit of art and craft on the cheap does it well enough. And if one has no real art to give, one can simply walk to the beach by the river and watch birds and drink beer and shoot the shit and flirt with the fat girls who don't care if they have distended bellies and five kids who will never go to Harvard for law degrees.

The Freak Show with its endless childish bitching hovers over us all, waiting, no doubt, for funding to make it all correct for the poor of Peru who don't live like us with our social justice and Queer Theory courses for the oppressed of the world.

The ugly fascist creeps of the Freak Show will have their chance in a few weeks to extend their dirty rule over the nation I come from. Win or lose, they will always be with us. But I need not be with them, especially when I can be with people who are free, being free myself. Fuck the Freak Show. Fuck Obama and the scum-sucking losers who vote for him. I like my independence, Peruvian style.

The man at Belen Market in Iquitos, Peru laughs out loud when I tell him he would be the worst criminal in the nation if he tried selling that anaconda skin in America. I laugh, too, because he only wants $5.00 for it. Freedom. It even tastes OK as soup. Bitch, bitch, bitch. Fuck Obama. Happy, happy, happy, independence in Peru.

Criss Crossing the Art of Man

I've found a few life-changing insights in the past year that I would not have found otherwise had I not been traveling so far from my usual normal.

Ladies lovely abound in La Paz, dressed up daily in bowler hats and shiny shawls with whiplash fringes and layers of billowing skirts and blankets tied at the throat as they make their ways through the days, life going on nicely, waiting for a bus.

I look a bit strange to the ladies because I have a big black hat that many ladies wear the like of, and my thick leather jacket has fringes to keep the rain from soaking in as I ride my motorcycle in the wind. I look like I almost dress like a lady, but different. Dressed up as I am the ladies call me caballero. We all dress up our best and strut, though casually so not to make a big scene of it, though we all look fine.

Just across the boarder in Puno, Peru on Lake Titicaca the city fathers put on parades to assure the locals that the drug gangs and terrorists have no chance of success against the commandos in the mountains and the jungles.

It has as much to do with dressing up as it does with being dangerous.

But being dangerous is part of why one can dress up. The bullets are as real as the shirts.

Life has little to do with dangerous. Life is mostly making enough money to pay the rent and put food on the table. Some people move outside the norm in their pursuit of money, turning to crime and harm of society in general. One can say it's due to the discrepancies of income. Most really don't care how much or how little another makes. Most simply want to live their own lives, poor or rich or in the middle.


It often means working during the day at some menial job and then in the evening or weekend turning to private vending on the street to make a few more dollars by satisfying the needs of ones fellows.

It's not a perfect system, and some things needed get lost in the hurly burly. Some things are shut out from those who need them.

What one lacks privately, though, is sometimes given to the greater public so all can enjoy the beauties one cannot have alone. I look, for example, at art in the parks, at simple things like benches made better because someone cared enough to make a picture of the land to show the eyes of city-dwellers some ideal life that can be, if only in the mind for now, a sense of pride and happiness.

To sit, no matter whether one is poorer than most in Modernity, on a pretty park bench is to take part in a great experience of being, in this case, Andean. 

To sit and be in the midst of ones home town at ease. To belong.

To live in the right order in which the police lead a Coca Cola delivery truck, it is the good.

Or to rage against it all in painted murals on downtown walls, shouting about the evils of life, this too is good, art being our hope and our explanation of our selves in a chaos we can't really control. 

Most of us dress up to show how fine we are. We wear costumes to make ourselves lovely in the word. And sometimes our costumes are painted for the world around us as we would be. I've changed my clothes many times entirely as the climate changed and drove me to look for protection from elements. But always there is the sense of art that drives me, drives us, drives us all to the ideal as we would make it in the world, man and woman, standing in a crowd waiting for a bus, being particular and private and splendid.

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Iquitos, Peru: Happy, dammit.

Clearly the kid speaks more English than she's been letting on. I was counting out money in bills and coins to pay my rent, and the kid kept grabbing everything she could get her hands on and then tossed it all over the room. I told her, "You better start being cute again or you are going to be looking for a new job!"

She ran off to her mother. The kid saved her job. Good thing for both of us, I think.

So I figured I'd grump at Julio, the chamber maid. But he's cute all the time. I can't get a break.

And it really sucks when they gang up on me. I'll pull through somehow. Such is life in Iquiots, Peru, Oct. 2012.

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:

Friday, October 19, 2012

Everybody has to relearn to forget sometime. Lake Titicaca, 2011

How much easier would life be to wake up screaming than to be awake and to know one cannot scream at all.

I sit and smile and wait for the pain to subside, which it always does eventually. Often I can last without even hope of screaming. I know I won't scream. But sometimes, yes, I do scream. I do so quietly, some rare times a woman walking past hearing me, turning to me to look to see if I am sick or wounded. She stops and stares and can't move on just yet. I see her face, and I want to scream. She keeps on staring.

I thought I had it made, a job made for me, my life made for me at last. Then the committee said no, I cannot be a part of some greater thing, my life not to be, in the setting sun, one of quiet and comfort: I am, they said so sympathetically, so... insane.

I think about it sometimes as I walk down streets that have for me no memories, and I sometimes smile. I am insane. They can say it, back it up with expert analysis of test results, shake their heads and smile sympathetically, wishing me well and encouraging me to apply elsewhere in some other place and time far from here and now. I am in Peru, and I know, as they do not, that I am insane. I see it in the deep blue lake, in the falcon hovering high above the mesa, in the ragged pot-holes of city streets. I know what they can only figure must be so. So insane. I can't even weep over it.

I had a boat ride this day, beginning myself at 6:00 a.m. after the third or fifth straight night of sleepnessness, standing in a hot shower in the darkness, bending down in the darkness as the water beat on my head, on my back, and ran down my legs and into the drain to be gone. My hot shower couldn't last, and this I know. The shock of cold air has to come. And so it did. I walked out of the bathroom and into the the light in my room to face yet another strange day of mysteries I cannot hope to fathom. I float as much as life allows till those snags pull me under and the current tears at me till again I am loose to drift on to the sea of forgetting. There was no towel today, so I got into bed and patted myself as dry as I could, still cold in the skin, still bewildered by the possibilities I cannot know but might well dread.

I remember.
There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
I grew up in a small village so far away now that no one could ever travel so far to see it. I had the lakes and the mountains around it, the forest all over all but the shimmering water and the sky above; the wind, the sun, the scent of pines and oak. It is my home and I shall not return to it. I can now only remember it as the boy who was there and remains there still, who cannot move, who cannot return and who cannot stay. My world is the world of the boy who sees and knows so little, who wonders and imagines and dreams. I see the world in its mysteries and I am moved to laughter and tears as the wind burns my eyes while my dog and I race through the forest like shadows of the past glimpsed in memory. 'Jerusalem!' I cry. New York City. The Lost City of Dinosaurs. Lake Titicaca. And when my feet touch such ground, I, the boy from the mountains, am in a state of wonder that I have arrived in such a place and time, unknown and possibly excited that I, so small and alone without my dog, should be there. All the dreams are alive in the woken world, and there, me, I am there in my own flesh, my own mind, and no one to say to me "...."
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
I look at the grown-ups all around me in a boat sailing softly across an imaginary lake that I am now upon, and I have no idea what to say to them about this myth made real in the now, here, me and us and the lake. Lake Titicaca. I am in Peru. It is not my home. It is the Mystery. I don't understand how it is that I can be here, in this place so magical and real only in the mind of the child I was. Yet, here I am, Peru, Lake Titicaca, a childish dream come true. It is a lake, and I cannot return to my home. I turn to my fellows and I want to speak of Mystery, but I remain silent because I remember drops of memory hat are as deep as the lake I am on this day among those who know what I cannot grasp that I have not grasped and that they, having grasped so much, grasp so little. I used to know Lake Titicaca. Now I don't know anything at all but much that is of no good to know but that one must know to know. "Whither is fled the visionary gleam?/ Where is it now, the glory and the dream?"

I remember. "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting." I remember.

The boat is filled with us, all of us not the same. Two couples sit near me, so different.

Over there sits a young woman with a young man with a young man collapsed outside in the burning sun as the boat flies across the water to the weeds. The boy is sick and lays in the sun and is left alone. He stays that way all day, his friends leaving him to his illness and the sun. We chat all around him, our various talks and tales whispering in the wind. Shortly we arrive at the floating islands of Uros, reed islands inhabited by people who, whatever their connection to their ancestral past, are now Modernists in a read diorama of cartoons on Lake Titicaca. These people, living in a memory that was never true of themselves, live life for cash and hand-outs and the necessities of living in the here and now. Tourists like myself bring them money so they can live another day floating in this soggy daydream. But I don't care about the people on the reeds, only about the lovers near me. Is it the real in the here and now or am I taken in by sentiment and longing and memories? I will never really know, though I will remember, and the memories will haunt me and cause me illness from which I cannot escape the pain of. It was so much better before I knew.

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.*

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!**

Fires burned and smoke rose across the lake, leaving us to wonder who and what. One man suggested it was the reed island set ablaze by the girl who smoked cigarettes there, who left her friend behind. We chuckled.

And then across the lake 20 minutes later, another burning.

The darkness set in, the storm rising as we passed a Potemkin Village of ancient agriculture. Life was, so they say, so much better when.

Later, a boat burned in the darkness, two orange spots in the night. "Diesel and plastic," said a tall, white-haired German. We sailed on, leaving the boat to burn, a storm threatening to capsize us. We are who we are; we are not them.

*William Wordsworth, "Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood," (1804) Poems, in Two Volumes (1807).

**Alexander Pope, "Eloisa to Abelard," ( 1717)

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Iquitos, Peru: Hostel Birthday Party

One can easily slip into what one man on the road in Bolivia called "hostel culture." I'm sure he didn't think up that expression himself, he being seriously mentally ill, incipient schizophrenia being my diagnosis, and was falling ever deeper into madness by the day in his isolation from Bolivians and his fellow Americans at a hostel in Sucre. What small hope he had of surviving his bouts with bouncers at a local brothel came from what little help he would accept from those of us who value a compatriot simply because he is one of ours. He was at a hostel among us, and as repulsive and mad as he was, we did what we could to keep him from being killed. And then, as happens so often, he left to plunge into his own fate. There is so much one can do and so much one will do, and then it is up to life to sort out the mad. But life can provide, and for the traveler, life provides hostels.

I find myself often in need of company, and hostels give me a chance to live among friends and adopted families, if for only some short time, and give me a centre in life otherwise lacking. Take, for example, a birthday party, mine being solitary as a rule, though I have had a few over the years by chance-- at hostels.

The thin fellow in the photo above works at the hostel in Iquitos where I now reside in some limbo-like life of a myopic traveler. My friend's name is John. I need his company to make my life worth the effort. John and I sit and chat in the evenings when I can't sleep and he has to sit up all night in the courtyard to mind the front gate, letting in and out anyone who requires his key.John pretends to work, as we used to say in the Soviet Union, and Xavier [seated next] pretends to pay him. I sometimes slip John a bottle of soda or buy him a pack of the brutal black Amazonian tobacco, mapacho, for sale at Belen Market. John's gratitude makes me wince.

John is part of this extended hostel family, the lowest man on the totem pole, as it were, he being the cleaner during the day, the night watchman when no one else is around, and the skinny guy who probably doesn't have as much to eat as he might like. But on his birthday he is the man. Those of us who stay here on some long-term basis know him and like him and we are part of his birthday party.

Paula, my pal, cooks and cleans and tends to things like a mother of three, now all grown and gone, Paula being the school teacher who goes off into the jungle for days at a time to teach the kids French and German and painting and crafts of various sorts. I've gone with her, and I found there family, too. But the hostel for now is my closest place to call a home, and during dinner we bond ever more.

One hears, or more likely reads, of "racism" in Peru. I still have no idea what it means. I could ask my friend Jorge, but I suspect he too would be clueless. We just live, and today we have a birthday party for John. There is no distinction here between who is native and who is foreign. We all eat the same cake.

John served in the military, and it was less than pleasant, John not being able to rise to the level of professionalism that the navy requires in this maritime nation of ocean and rivers, and thus his time was hard. He fits in at the hostel as a man without rank in a rankless environment of travelers, a Ph.D. candidate and his M.Sc. companion as happy to share a meal with him as we others are.

Juan Carlos, to the best of my knowledge, has no Ph. D., and he too is happy enough to sit with John and have a birthday dinner. Juan Carlos lives much of the time in the jungle. When he is with us in the city he is one of us. Our cake is his cake.

Being a man of good manners and proper upbringing I thanked our gracious hostess for going to the supermarket to bake us a cake for John's birthday party. I was trying to kiss her to show my sincerity but her husband kept getting in the way. So I thanked him for making the box the cake came in. Living in a hostel requires one pay close attention to manners and social conventions. I do.

Greedy cake pig that I am I ate my slice and wanted another, but by then the cake had disappeared into some back room. I looked at John's piece on his plate. We all had finished our meal and John was still lingering over his dessert, savouring each bite with such a dramatic flair that I realised that he was showing us all his appreciation for this recognition of his life. To me and the others it's just a piece of cake, but to John, a man who has very little in life, it is a matter of place, his being low, and he wanted us all to know, to see quite clearly, that he thanks us for this small favour. I could be angry at him for being so grateful, but I am grateful to him for the small favour of his company in my life so far from my own home forever. It's hostel life, a day or a week or sometimes a few months of friendship, and then we part. John will have other birthdays, none with me present, and I will fall into a ditch somewhere and be lost. Today, birthday celebration day, I have a friend who makes me happy.

Happy birthday, John.

This is, in fact, not John's birthday. I am behind in my writing, and I post now because Paula and I were out for strawberry ice cream and a sit down by the fountain at the Plaza Mayor among young families strolling in the warm evening air after a rainstorm, and I told Paula how much I despise a woman who comes around the hostel to scam and pinch and weasel, all of that making me long for good company at home, for John's company, and Paula's and that of others. Tomorrow it's breakfast, and later it's lunch. And when the day is done, we will have dinner. Another day passing like the great river beside us.  Life goes on.

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Heartbreak Hostel: Fly away, fly away from Iquitos, Peru

Guillermo and Maria are leaving my place in some moments from now for a few days away in the jungle, and not long after they return here they will leave for good back to Spain to resume their more settled academic lives after finishing their research project in Peru, based mostly in Belen Market of Iquitos. I could be heartbroken at their departure, and normally I would be close to tears at their leaving. But I have lived a long time and I have lived a life of leaving, each passing and parting tearing a piece of me and keeping open the wound of loss till I spent some time with Paula, my French lady friend, a school teacher and lifetime exile like myself, she long since resigned to living in nations other than as that of the Pied Noir she had assumed would be her natural native life. Paula, school teacher and exile; Paula, a French girl who loves living even when it is bitter and she is depressed; a smiling and beautiful girl who sees children growing up daily as she tries to make them one step above where they were when she met them first; she tells me and I understand that her charges are not hers to keep but hers to send away.

Go into the world. Live your lives.

Preparing Dinner
So we had a dinner party, Maria and Jo doing much of the cooking, Guillermo and Paula pitching in with John and others to make a meal we all shared for our last night together.

Maria and Joe made some dinner...

 And Guillermo did some preparation for out meal as well.

John got a lesson in making ceviche...

Joe made himself at home in the kitchen, a pro.

And I gave thought to Paula's look at loss.

 Life is too short to think about loss.

 We eat, we talk, we part.

Now, at this long-past-time date I see those I have lost as having gained themselves, and I having had some short time of joy in knowing and sometimes loving.

Seals and Crofts have a lovely song called "Hummingbird" that came to mind when I finally understood the nature of leaving, but the song turned into another, one pretty, one calm, one I will pass on to readers here, nothing about birds flying or not flying.

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, October 14, 2012

Iquitos, Peru: Almost Close

Erin asked, “Do you think we will ever meet again?

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