Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Iquitos, Peru: Architectural Walking Tour (Part 3)

Iquitos Walking Tour 3

Jadis, si je me souviens bien...”1.*

One can pick any random side street in Iquitos between Prospero and the Malecon and still find something, sometimes much, of architectural and historical interest. Brasil is one such street. A hurried two minute dash can easily turn into a pleasant 20 minute stroll if one looks around knowing what to look for in terms of art and style and culture. One can see excellence and beauty if one cares to probe beyond the surface, as it were, into the deeper planes of reality. Sometimes a broken down old building can reveal a charm and history one would pass without notice, but that one might also stop to admire if only there is a bit of potential awareness available. A shabby side street. A lovely walk. Brasil St.

#138 Brasil St.
Casa Texiera

Casa Texiera was built in 1919. Time has been unkind to this one storey house with two entrance doors and three side windows. As my father used to say, what this town needs is a good arsonist. What's left of the paint remaining on Texiera House is so faded it looks like decaying cement. It covers a single story house that has little imposing presence on the street, a large house but a small building. The life is gone from it now. But with the sweeping brush of imagination one can see it in its prime, a beautiful home of sparkling colour, fine and delicate lines balanced in exact and pleasing proportion and perspective. Rectangular doors and windows play against the upper triangular pediments, the central triangular pediment giving an elegant crown to the dignified whole, and that topped by a circular crest interrupting and scrolling the roof lines to include resonant circles of floral motifs and spreading "Lines of Beauty" in the typanum. Just under the rooftop of this building one sees an interrupted frieze of the entablature, between the upper cornice and the lower architrave, which shows a vetruvian wave, this decorative style named after Vitruvius, a First Century Roman architect.

The Greco-Roman neo-classical straight lines ending in symmetrical curls and acanthus and the curves of the wave are combined with the later additions of lithe floral garlands underlying the overall Classical severity. The effect is one of gentle stability and calm stoicism. A formerly lovely building, it is now a near ruin.

Texeira House
First owner: Florencio Texeira and Sons

The Iquitos rubber boom had ended roughly seven years before the Texeira family built this once fine house, and close to 100 years of neglect have taken a terrible toll, though it remains even now a beautiful place even in its Ozymandian ruin.

The Iquitos' Texeira family name comes from the twelfth century surname of Hermígio Teixeira Mendes of Portugal.  The name derives from the teixo tree, a yew tree, that in turn derives from the Latin taxa.

The known family tree begins with Hermigio Teixeira Mendes, who was born into a wealthy Portuguese family in 1180. Teixeira surname used to be part of the Council of People of Teixeira. He participated in the conquest of Seville (November 23,1248), and took the title "Lord of Teixeira.2.

The family coat of arms is a rampant silver unicorn with a golden horn atop an escutcheon of blue field and an equilateral hollow "crux potent" gold cross, i.e., it's a square cross with barred ends [potenzas, "T"] showing a cross emerging from the blue field framed by the exterior gold frame.

The use of personal and family insignia is ancient (it is mentioned by Homer), but heraldry proper is a feudal institution developed by noblemen using personal insignia on seals and shields that came to be transmitted to their families. It is thought to have originated in the late 12th cent., and to have been prevalent in Germany, France, Spain, and Italy, and imported into England by the Normans. The crusades and tournaments which drew together knights from many countries caused heraldry to flourish in Western Europe and the Muslim world. The practice of embroidering family emblems on the surcoat, or tabard, worn over chain mail in the 13th cent. accounts for the term "coat of arms."3.

Shield: A cross "potentia" [with a crossbar at the end of each of your
arms] gold, empty inside, on blue background. Emblem: a silver unicorn
with the golden horn.

Florencio Teixeira de Abreu Da Costa
Fafe, Braga, Portugal B. 1849 - Iquitos, Peru, 1915.

Photography can be a blessing when it captures for eternity the dignity and personality of a man at his best. Those of us who would never know the man in his lifetime can at least see what he looked like, on the surface, yes, but also how the man presented himself to the world in his time. 

De izquierda a derecha:
Augusto, Enriqueta, Francisco, Dora, Mercedes, Juan, Carlos y Florencio.
Al centro, Antonieta Vela.

From left to right one sees the family of a strong man, his strong and attractive children and in the center his wife.  Photography can also be a curse, as ones camera becomes ubiquitous and undignified, and ones photography becomes cheap and a weapon of savagery. But here, in the birth stage of photography, is the Texeira family in Iquitos, Peru.4.

There is currently some attempt at high style in a small office inside this formerly elegant building, someone having nailed a mouldering jaguar skin over top a plasticised map on a back wall. This Chuck Jones/Tex Avery image of 'Wile E. Coyote meets speeding truck as Roadrunner "Beep-Beeps" away' aesthetic look further degrades a building deserving of a better fate.

#145 Brazil St. 
La Ex Carcel (Former City Gaol)

We continue down Brasil St. to note the [first] jail house, Carcel de Maynas.

A "correctional facility" is a societal statement of optimism. So too is capital punishment, if one is generous in understanding that there is a lesson to be learned and that people in general are actually smart enough to learn it. Considering that Iquitos was in 1900 a frontier town of roughly 10,000 people, most of whom were often only days previously jungle dwellers with no formal laws to know and obey one might be relieved to see a jail in which people were confined and perhaps trained in Modern ways. The drastic and immediate change from life as a hunter-gatherer to factory worker and wage earner, at best, is outrageous but inevitable. Forced labour among the indigenous who then found themselves locked up for alien transgressions is a stark injustice; but such is life. The gaol is a reminder that social change is terrible at all times, even when it is meant to be generally beneficial. And unlike the draconian laws of early industrial England, for example, when the emerging free market replaced for the most part the previous feudal and manorial closed economy, when a man was hanged for petty theft to instill in the perhaps unwillingly modernising peasants the concept of private property rather than communal, time spent in gaol is preferable to being killed at the gallows. In spite of the maniac mayhem of some aberrant rubber traders, there was a real attempt at "reform." Iquitos' gaol is evidence of such dubious humanitarianism.

In a letter from Don Jorge M. von Hassel of March 10, 1900, he addressed Special Commissioner of the Supreme Government in Iquitos suggesting the construction of  a  jailhouse on a vacant lot located next to a state factory whereat "prisoners could work at common trades for their own benefit as well as that of the State and society in general."

Supreme Resolution of 5 October 1900 approved the contract with Hassel, a civil engineer and member of the Society of Engineers of Peru, to do the work. The building was inaugurated 2 June 1902. The building is brick with a tin roof and cement floors. There is a
acebollado tower with narrow rectangular windows in the cupolas at either end.5.

First City Gaol, Brasil St.

“We were fierce cripples at home in hot climes.”6.

One sees a deep commitment to the struggle for civilisation in the Amazon in the fact that the gaol is made of huge stone blocks, stone being a rarity in the jungle, the ground being mostly silt, mud, or a thin layer of dust over clay. Stone had to be transported from the Andes, a hard way 100 years ago. Such a trip would be physically brutal, time-consuming, expensive, and often fatal to those who attempted it. And all that to build a gaol for the unwanted.

Iquitos' "Most Wanted Man" was probably unwanted by the rest of the world. 

City gaol tower

Yet, one sees in the cupolas, the domed roof tops of the two towers at either end of the front of the gaol, that people took care to make the building somewhat beautiful, even adding what appear to be circular Celtic design roof vents along the parapet and with cornice molding on the entablature.

Birds do it, bees do it, and people do it too. They make things beautiful. Maybe bees don't do it consciously, and maybe birds do it by accident during mating season, but the rest of us, even the worst kid in his mom's basement with stinking socks and heavy metal posters taped on the wall or his equivalent of other lows sorts, all of us in some way strive to beautify, some more successfully than others. We, those of us with educated taste, strive for genuine beauty, and often we succeed brilliantly, with genius at times, making the world universally grateful for such success among us. Beauty is the best of life. Sometimes we have to settle for less than genius, for less than the Italian Renaissance oil paintings that for me are the height of nadsat fashion. I'm quite happy to settle for less when there is only the best available in lesser forms. I can be happy with, for example, lovely works of middle class imitations of la haute. I can get right excited about wrought iron rails. In Iquitos, wrought iron is often beautiful.

Wrought Iron

Before the development of effective methods of steelmaking and the availability of large quantities of steel, wrought iron was the most common form of malleable iron.

Wrought iron is no longer produced on a commercial scale. Many products described as wrought iron, such as guard rails, garden furniture and gates, are made of mild steel. They retain that description because in the past they were wrought (worked) by hand.
"Wrought iron" literally means "worked iron". Wrought iron is a general term for the commodity, but is also used more specifically for finished iron goods, as manufactured by a blacksmith.7.

The expansive version of silversmithing, wrought iron is seen in balcony rails, grates, gates, and fences across many of Iquitos' better Rubber Boom era buildings. The wrought iron work one sees most of is in floral designs, following Hogath's “Lines of Beauty” aesthetic outline. It is often pretty, but one must assume wrought iron has deeper reasons for adorning so many buildings. Why wrought iron? Here I am forced to guess, not having access to better information.

Blacksmithing has been with us since the Iron Age, and yet wrought iron is a recent invention. I suggest it comes about due to the rise of the Industrial Revolution of c. 1760, with the rise of steam power and other industrial mechanicals. Iron production rose geometrically in the late 18th century primarily to meet the needs of industry, but it must also have found a ready market in city security. Many strands would lead to the culmination in wrought iron, and I see it thus:

One master iron smith and a handful of apprentices can do only half a day's work, and probably not six days a week. Taking time out for meals and socialising and other mundane but essential activities in a working day, the productive hours of a blacksmith might at best come to 7 or 8 out of 24. How much ironwork can one man with a hammer and anvil make in eight hours? At the end of the day he could probably carry his work home on his back. The iron smith's labour would be therefore valuable because production would be strictly limited to the essentially useful, e.g. tools and weapons. Those with the means to hire a blacksmith would probably not hire him for frivolous purposes. A shortage of iron and skilled iron workers would mean limits to decoration. And those who could afford iron work would probably turn instead to silver and goldsmiths for ornamentation.

Even with the rise of the Industrial Revolution-scale iron production one cannot imagine any reason for foundries to create wrought iron simply for aesthetic reasons. With the Industrial Revolution came overcrowding in cities, anonymity for the first time in human history, and also a rare opportunity for wide-scale theft with relative impunity. In short, the city grouped people in masses, crowded them into cities where they could, if they had to, steal because, unlike rural poverty, urban poverty often means a lack of distribution rather than a genuine lack. Anonymous people, then, could successfully steal because there were things to steal; because they probably would not be captured; and because they had little concern for those they stole from, theft victims being also anonymous. Crimes of opportunity in place of mass starvation among those who simply could not find anything to steal. Cities created a “middle class” of people with sufficient money to live private lives, though without electricity, requiring many hands to do the needed manual labour in a large house, such as one sees in Iquitos, for example. Such people would double as live-in security, but not necessarily sufficient for all occasions. Prior to Robert Peel's organisation of the London Metropolitan Police at Scotland Yard in 1829 and the eventual spread of the concept of a professional city police force, cities relied on night watchmen, and too, I think, on the rise of iron production in the form of protective barred windows on urban dwellings. Those newly able to afford barred windows would also be those anxious to mimic the rich manorial aristocrats rather than to mimic rich prisoners at the Tower of London. Wrought iron would then take the form of a middle class income earner as mimicry of silversmithing for the truly wealthy. Silver filigree and gold foil becomes wrought iron palmettes, and marble acanthus scrolled capitals and festoons become scrolling loops of black iron on a front gate. Iron becomes relatively cheap, accessible, decorative, and functional in terms of security. Stone, yes, but later for the masses of social climbers, it was iron. Perhaps the transitional phase of ornately carved stone is from the Spanish Renaissance.

Plateresque (plătərĕsk`) [Span.,=silversmith], earliest phase of Spanish Renaissance architecture and decoration, in the early 16th cent. Its richness of effect was primarily based upon the work of the Italian Renaissance, mingled, however, with surviving Moorish and late Gothic design.8.

Decorative screens are nothing new, though they were mostly used for mystery, e.g. in church services; and for hoarding, as seen in Iranian military conquerers of India and Shi'ite Iranian Muslims' development of purdah, i.e. sex apartheid. Privacy is a relatively modern concept, and one disregarded all too often even in the Modern world today. Wrought iron screens in the Western world then, I argue, arise with security concerns in cities of the Industrial Revolution and are ubiquitous because of the growing wealth of the middle class and the opportunity to commit theft. A superabundance of cheap iron makes it all possible and prudent for the rising middle class. What they couldn't do in silver and gold they did in iron. Sometimes it approaches, if not actual beauty, at least some higher aesthetic than mere prison bars. Very often wrought iron work is pretty, or as in this case of architecture, decorative.

Our Western architectural aesthetic is based primarily on the ideas of Plato and secondarily on those of Aristotle. We value, aesthetically, proportion and symmetry above all else. Hogarth's addition of the Line of Beauty is an addition to the previous square-circle-cone paradigm. But Hogarth too demands proportion and symmetry. One finds it all in wrought iron, sometimes overwhelmingly so. But regardless of the elaborate designs, the basics are quite simple, and mostly floral. Take the water lily, for example, or the palm leaf.

The palmette is a motif in decorative art which, in its most characteristic expression, resembles the fan-shaped leaves of a palm tree. It has a far-reaching history, originating in Ancient Egypt with a subsequent development through the art of most of Eurasia, often in forms that bear relatively little resemblance to the original. In Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman uses it is also known as the anthemion (from the Greek ανθέμιον, a flower). It is found in most artistic media, but especially as an architectural ornament, whether carved or painted, and painted on ceramics. It is very often a component of the design of a frieze or border. The complex evolution of the palmette was first traced by Alois Riegl in his Stilfragen of 1893.

Even everyday garden gates throughout Western suburbia are topped with almost identical pairs of scrolls seemingly derived from the motifs associated with the 'akhet' and the palmette, including the related winged sun-disk and sun disk flanked with a pair of eyes. Churchyard gates, tombs and gravestones bear the motif over and again in different forms.9.

My best evidence of the origins of wrought iron in architectural decoration in Plateresque comes from “Victorian Filigree, as seen in this piece from Australia.

… Victorian Filigree, or ‘iron-lace’ as it came to be known. Because of the new wealth in the nation and the desire to express that, verandahs were no longer limited to just one story at the lower level of the house. Now, they were double or even triple stories, and decorated with much of the beautiful filigree work that has defined the time.
In places of extreme heat, the importance of verandahs couldn’t be over-emphasised. They shaded the house from the extremes of the sun and provided a cooling, shaded area protected from the heat. This was one of the reasons that filigree on verandahs was so popular in Queensland – there were so many verandahs already.
Filigree was also used on iron gates, iron staircases (particularly the spiral staircase) and to enhance corners and doorways and with the introduction of the filigree catalogues, it was a great way to add finesse, style, extra shading and lightness in material to verandahs on free-standing houses and buildings as well as on terraces. A leisurely stroll through the older streets of Glebe, in Sydney, will take you past many a grand filigree terrace.10

Much of the now antique wrought iron found today in Iquitos originated in France. One can only hope for more detailed information as this work progresses.

#156 Brasil St.
Add caption

First owner: Juan Suarez de Freitas Teodocio

Built in 1912. Perhaps because of the folks across the street, Casa Morey/ Suarz has a high stone wall and heavy wrought iron fence at the property boundary, and inside a guard house to this day manned by the usual idiots drawn to such employment. But, beyond the wrought iron fence and stone wall of this recessed mansion one finds a bullnose staircase leading to a two story house fronted with Corinthian fluted columns, faced with ersatz tesserae square tiles, etched glass windows, neo-classical pediments, topped by an occulus window.

Front of Casa Morey

Slightly delapidated bullnose staircase

Faux mosaic tile

Neo-Classical pediments with acanthus motif typamum

Fasces spindles forming arched balcon.

Etched glass with amphora

Though one needs studiously ignore the decrepit state of the building, it is over all a magnificent piece of architecture in the city centre.

#163? [Currently misnumbered as #129] Brasil St. 

Cannon balls adorn the rooftop of the Departmento de Asesoria Legal, Ejercitos del Peru at 163 Brasil Street. This is not a particularly beautiful building, (though of importance in this riverside city;) hence it's not too surprising that the roof is adorned with decorative brass monkeys to perk it up. How often can one legitimately bring up the story of "the balls on a brass monkey"? Aha. I can't resist. In this fluvial city on the Amazon, much depends on the navy and other sailing trades. Thus, one sees piles of replicated cannon balls atop a naval building-- held in a "brass monkey." And then, what about the balls of a brass monkey?

Departmento de Asesoria Legal, Ejercitos del Peru

The first recorded use of the term "brass monkey" appears to dates to 1857 when it was used in an apparently vulgar context by C.A. Abbey in his book Before the Mast, where on page 108 it says "It would freeze the tail off a brass monkey."11.

That would be secondary to the concerns of most visitors to Iquitos, their interest perhaps being primarily about local history, two portraits below proudly displaying images of heroes of the nation.

Jose Hippolito Unanue y Pavon (1755-1833)
Unanue was a medical doctor and father of Peruvian independence.

Francisco Bolognesi Cervantes (1816-1880)

Francisco Bolognesi Cervantes  was a Peruvian military hero. He is a national hero in Peru and was declared patron of the Army of Peru by the government of Peru on January 2 of 1951.12.

This brings us to the end of our third segment of a walk around Iquitos, and we find ourselves near the corner of the Malecon Tarapaca, down which we will end for coffee and a sit with the blissful scenery of the Itaya river and become the some of the coolest people around at Dawn on the Amazon cafe, owned by the coolest guy in town, Captain Bill. First, some of the best architectural sights in the city as we look at, for example, the Hotel Palace. That'll be next.

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:


1.Arthur Rimbaud, Une Saison en Enfer, (A Season in Hell); 1879. (“Once, if memory serves me well....”)
*C.S. Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia. “I, Jadis the last Queen, but the Queen of the World.”
3.Google url.
5.C.f. Ibid, Promperu.
6.Rimbaud, ibid. Paraphrase.
8.The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. 2007, Columbia University Press.
11.C.f. Department of the Navy -- Naval History and Heritage Command.www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq107.htm
12.Bolognesi, Wikipedia 

Monday, February 04, 2013

Iquitos, Peru: Brujos at Belen

You know how frustrating it is when you visit the local Whole Foods store for a bottle of snakes and a few packs of hatred powder only to find they are just plain out of it all. "What? No snakes in a jar again!?" you cry in something close to a fit of murderous rage. Well, it's one reason Iquitos, Peru doesn't have grossly expensive chain store supermarkets for fussy eaters who piss off the rest of the world with their nagging and whining and prissy bullshit tantrums about good ol' plain snakes in a jar shopping. You want snakes in a jar? You got 'em at Pasaje Paquito at Belen Market. And hatred powder? Lots of it. Leave the yuppie cry-baby shopper to his gloomy vegetables and tofu crap, the rest of us can eat and drink like real men. And then we can toss some hate powder at the pussies who weep over it all. I say, "Bite me." I shop at Iquitos' Belen Market.

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: