Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Iquitos, Peru: Seating Ayahuasca at the Cannibal Banquet (Part 5.1)

Norman Gorman, the big light of ayahuasca drug tourism in the Amazon, has survived one nasty bout of flesh eating disease that nearly cost him his life. The disease might yet cost him his leg, what's left of it.

OK, his name is actually Peter Gorman. Gorman is the author of the highly popular "Ayahausca Bible" known officially as Ayahuasca in My Blood. I couldn't read it, and I read almost anything that passes by. Not that Gorman's book is badly written. One the contrary, Peter Gorman writes very nice prose, flowing and clever, succinct character sketches that are vivid and fun, and dramatic episodes that come alive on the page and in the mind's eye. He's a talented writer. I've been reading shit that I cannot believe ever passed an appraiser's eyes. I've been reading shit that one would think rejection slips were created for. Bad shit. I can't find the energy to describe the shit novels I have read in the past year of living in Iquitos. But I couldn't read Gorman's book. I tried. I tried and failed badly, having read such awful shit otherwise that I was nearly suicidal from it. But not Gorman's book. Could not do it.

I tried to write about the man and his book earlier, and till now I've left it as a draft, which I publish below. Next, a bit about the man I know as opposed to the caricature of a man I disliked when we had our second encounter, the first being some forgotten explosion of personalities that lasted a couple of minutes before I stormed off in a major huff and didn't see the man or even recall the incident again, though others who witnessed our encounter did recall it in detail.

Here is what I wrote then. It's true. It isn't is the whole truth. I won't claim to have gotten that far, but today I can write that I know Peter Gorman far better than I did, and that it doesn't take jungle drugs to know good from bad. That kind of knowledge takes some experience and an open mind. I can be a monstrous prick, but I like to think I'm a prick with an open mind. I learned something valuable in knowing Peter Gorman. In some slight sense I have made a new friend. That, more than anything I could gain from taking drugs, is what makes my life good: knowing a man to be a good man when I thought otherwise. I like learning. I like people. I like learning that I am totally wrong sometimes. I think I was dead wrong about Gorman. First the bad news. Then my revised opinion of a man I got to know a bit. And then the story of Gorman's encounter that nearly cost him his leg and his life while I sat beside him reading Elmore Leonard novels Gorman lent me.

My second encounter with Peter Gorman and some follow up with a seminar on ayahuasca.

Gorman. I called him Norman. His name is Peter. He wrote the “Ayahuasca Bible,” Ayahuasca in MyBlood: Twenty Five Years of Medicine Dreaming.[1.] The man drives me nuts*, and I can't read his book for the life of me. He's a fine writer regardless. He is only to happy to agree, shouting on the cafe patio at the river side Malecon Tarapaca at Iquitos, Peru about the fancy journalism awards he's won. Drives me nuts. He's a goateed New York Irishman from Queens, now in his mid 60s, which is amazing because he's a hardcore alcoholic and he must be pickled to the roots to stay so long on his feet. Gorman isn't a long haired guy so much as a man who looks like he hasn't had a haircut in the past four months, shaggy, his grey locks hanging over his ears and down the nape of his thick neck and curling toward his bullfrog throat. His thick eyebrows accentuate his wild but unfocused eyes, and in all, if not for the obesity that should soon give him a world-class heart attack, he's a handsome fellow in the style of bit-part television actors who didn't quite make it, second assistant hit man on daytime detective show reruns. Drunk. All the time dead drunk. Drives me really nuts. In the evening after a long hard day of guzzling aguardiente he's so drunk as he sways in his chair outside at the patio on the Malecon that he looks to be in danger of falling yet again onto the concrete. But he catches himself just in time – this time – and he bellows to the uncaring world: “I, Norman Gorman and Alan Shoemaker [sitting quietly beside him] made this town. If not for us, this town wouldn't eck-thiss-tt!” The man drives me fucking nuts and he drives all those seated at the cafe to other places, anywhere but around the hero of the ayahuasca crowd.

Gorman is talented and could have made it as a writer of women's romance novels if he had the discipline, but he clearly doesn't and likely never did. He's a massive drunk. The man is totally fucking nuts, and he drives me nuts right out of the area. He's falling over, and there is no stopping him. There he goes, a heavily obese middle aged man falling in slow motion down on the pavement at an outdoor cafe as two elderly local ladies watch without expression, Gorman falling, too drunk to get up again. Some hero.
The price of small fame: Norman Gorman dead drunk at Iquitos, Peru, June 2013

Gorman is a big part of the Modernist ayahuasca drug tourism industry in Iquitos, and perhaps central to it, being in the business for close now to 30 years. He started as an alcoholic tour guide in the jungle, taking folks out for an unfamiliar drug that he would soon popularise to the point it is today mainstream, at least in South America, and is well-known, it seems, in the Modern world if one judges by the sheer number of tourists who sit at local cafes and babble about “The Medicine” and their healing ceremonies at luxury resorts where they are pampered and babied by Mother Ayahuasca's handmaidens of cold hard cash.

Gorman is in the ayahuasca business. So are many others, one of whom was having a public presentation at Dawn on the Amazon cafe. Gorman was so drunk that he couldn't have made it even if he'd wanted to. I took it in just because. Lots of blah-blah and endless ya-ya. 

"It's not a drug, it's a medicine."

I fail to forget my own language, and thus I am offended by those who can and do say such a thing to my face as if I will nod and smile, perhaps agree, and maybe even go all out and say something deeply spiritual in line with them, “And Father Anaconda visits me in my visions and tells me that my chakras are blocked but with the work of a shay-Mahn I too can heal."

No, I am simply offended by the conformist idiocy of babble. I'm offended, but it's not my place to offend others who offend me just because. I let it all pass. In fact, offended or not, I even seek it out sometimes so I can perhaps learn more about the subculture that has over-run my nation and its people to the point I am now convinced I will never return to my home. Still, like a train wreck beside me I find myself drawn to stare at the wreckage, my voyeurism never seemingly satisfied. I must know more and see ever deeper into The Heart of … “Oh, man, are you kidding me?” I sit and watch and listen and examine. “It's not a talk on ayahuasca: It's a seminar exposing the crypto-fascist sociological narrative informed by a dominant ideology of the corrupt white male establishment.” It's not English, it's babble. So I go to listen to one who is informed about ayahuasca, to the local gringo hangout where I will sit for an hour listening to a doctor from American tell me and us about The Medicine. It's not a drug. It's not a drug. It's not a drug.

I head off to Dawn on the Amazon restaurant with Chuck, he feeling alive and fine enough, considering that he is the oldest man on earth almost and is ready to check out some cremation details in town, as well as to spend an evening listening to Dr. Joe Tafur at some point further unknown to me associated with U.C.S.F.'s Psychiatric programme, the doctor who will lecture this evening about ayahuasca, psychedelic medicine, and the spiritual disorder of limbic dysfunction. We arrive a bit early and sit in the soft seats. Chuck orders another beer. I somehow take my eyes off of the young woman seated next to me, she with a shaved head and tattoos encircling her too visible nipple with a ring through it, and I make cooing noises about the little slide projector on the table in front of us. Chuck and I talk briefly about baseball. The room fills with people of all ages and lifestyles, crowding us badly, making me want very much to exit, though by now that is impossible to do so gracefully. I am as stuck as my chakras.

Gandhi would be in Seventh Nirvana to see so much India cotton in one small room as this.

I close my eyes and concentrate on my spiritual health and half-listen to the doctor as he begins to explain how at his resort for ayahuasca healing you too can become a human being without psychic pains if only you check in for a weekly rate of – damn, I didn't note that. But it's not so important at this point because it's all about healing your spiritual disorders, not about the money involved. The money is incidental, though Dr. Joe is not throwing it away on the likes of me who will go to his resort to write about the miracles he performs only if he lets me in for free and doesn't expect much from my report. I open my eyes to see what is likely my first Powerpoint presentation. It looks much like a slide show that my grandparents use to put on to show the neighbours their summer vacation pictures. But this is about Spiritual Disorders, not a week at an anonymous lake somewhere in the mountains where working class old folks go fishing. This is serious, a presentation by a doctor informing us all about our limbic health systems. Gorman is missing all this, his eyes closed too, he having passed out on the street a while earlier beside some dogs.

Enlightenment. I get it. My psychic fucking pains are not that at all: My psychic fucking pains are actually PTSD. I can be cured of this terrible state of being alive if I can just curl up in the lap of Mother Ayahuasca and partake of a healing ceremony. Ayahuasca treatment allows rapid limbic reunion. Now I know. The problem is that I don't understand it. Maybe this is not enlightenment after all. It's my neo-coritcal brain getting in the way of my limbic system. I am at the feet of Mother Ayahuasca, and damned if I get anything more than an unpleasant whiff of toe jam and rotten leather sandals. I am a bad person, I know, and now I know that I could be a better person if only I reunited my limbic system with the rest of my dirty and evil mind. Traditional ayahuasca healing treatments and a proper dieta and many intense sessions with a highly qualified Shipibo [always bolded in print] sha-Mahn with up to 40 years of training in the jungle would, for the low, low price of only – NO! I forgot again to note the price! I do note that ayahauasca with the Shipibo sha-Mahn will restore my limbic reunion and that further, this being the central point of the evening's lecture and question period following, is that with all this medicine and therapy I can really, really, and everyone has see this happen, I can alter my Sacred Geometry so that I am whole again. DNA, I find to my amazement, is that very thing. I learn something new and useful every day.

I try not to step on anyone's toes as I leave for a mapacho smoke outside. I look down the street and see Gorman still asleep on the concrete, he twitching occasionally, though I'm pretty sure he doesn't have fleas. I ponder the last words I heard from Doctor Joe, a decent young man in his early 30s, clean cut and with a full head of lovely black hair. He's a bit awkward in his public speaking mode, but face to face as we were a few days earlier he's relaxed and friendly and treats me like any man running a small business, a man looking for new customers. Gorman don't need no steeeenking new customers. I puff thoughtfully. I try to make a smoke ring, a shot at sacred mapacho geometry, but I choke on the damned stuff. No wonder it terrifies daemons. Down the walkway, Gorman coughs too. Dr. Joe's last words, that he's associated with MAPS.

MAPS is "Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies." I read some of their literature to find out what I can about ayahuasca.

Westerners discontent with their Judeo-Christian heritage have long sought alternative spiritual traditions. In the 1950s, the Beats dabbled in Zen. In the 1960s, the hippies flocked to Hindu swamis. In the 1970s, the Reverend Moon and other cult leaders swayed large followings. In the 1980s, the New Agers embraced Tibetan lamas. In the 1990s, shamanism came into vogue. Perhaps within a few years, the avant-garde of the United States will undergo a mass conversion to Islam in order to assimilate this estranged manifestation of the Other.[1.]

Yes, middle class Modernist cultural imperialism today in Iquitos has settled on Shipibo shamanism and ayahuasca. Much of the rest of Modernity is in the throes of dhimmitude, a close proximate of conversion to Islam itself. For now, for those in Iquitos as drug tourists, cultural imperialists, sensation seekers, and the plain old neurotic anomie-ridden foolish there is today's latest fad, doing what their friends do in Iquitos, i.e. taking ayahuasca and feeling special for a week or so at a “lodge” curing their psychic fucking pains and reuniting their limbic systems. I won't say it's a total scam. But the writer at MAPS is less generous than I, noting that

[A]n enterprising shaman ... earns a couple hundred dollars per month catering to tourists while his neighbors can not even afford a thirty cent taxi ride. He charges thirty dollars to give ayahuasca to a tourist, while the going rate for a Peruvian is about two dollars.[1.]

Other people's money is only of interest to me if I can sell them something legitimate at a profit to myself. I'm even in favour of locals making as much as they can from the gullible tourist.

“While many shamans undoubtedly come to their profession to help others, be aware that ayahuasca tourism is a thriving business in Peru, and that you will likely be treated as just that - a tourist.”[1.]

I'm not so keen on the tourists' moral preening about healing their inner children; and sentimentalising ayahuasca is too much for this plain mountain man. But I am not a scientist like Doctor Joe, so I have to rely for such expertise on writers at MAPS.

If one were specifically interested only in experiencing ayahuasca, it would be more cost-effective to home-brew a batch with ingredients ordered from an ethnobotanical supplier. With the help of an experienced friend as a sitter, one could have an intense entheogenic experience in the safety and comfort of home or in an isolated natural setting. This do-it-yourself approach could potentially be far more enlightening than what one might experience after traveling all the way to South America.[1.]

I'm taking the expert's good advice, which advice is what I had wanted to do from the start. I recently bought a half litre bottle of ayahuasca from an old lady in the back yard of her slum dwelling for $10.00, and I'm going to sit in my own room and drink it alone by myself while my Peruvian friend John sits around listening to music and keeps an eye on me so I don't do anything dangerous.

I stood outside Bill's Dawn on the Amazon cafe and stubbed out my mapacho smoke because it was making me puke. It must have drifted down wind, because it was having the same effect a few doors down on Gorman. Next time I'll puke from ayahuasca.

[1.] R. Stuart, “Ayahuasca Tourism: A Cautionary Tale”

*I had a chat with Peter Gorman recently. We pissed away half an hour or so and will likely do so again, assuming people actually read this part of my account of ayahuasca and ayahuasca gringo subculture in Iquitos. It would take just about nothing for anyone at all to quote me slagging Gorman above as if that's the ultimate word delivered from God about the man. Others could easily say that I hate Gorman. Fact is, I like him just fine. To find out what I found out about the man when I took some time out to talk to him, please follow part 5.2 of this account of me taking ayahausca.

I try to be fair. I'm willing to keep at it till I find out what others like about ayahuasca; and I am more than willing to meet Peter Gorman to find out more about the man himself rather than the public figure he is. The funny thing is, when I write my further account of Gorman, a man I like, others might then dislike him. Please wait till I finish before concluding on the basis of what I write about the man. And then keep in mind that my opinion is that of just one man.

Next, a revised view of Peter Gorman.

A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:

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