Saturday, August 24, 2013

Cat Mother of the Amazon All Stars

Paradise seems to need a serpent in the grass to make it real, like putting a pinch of salt into the sugar recipe to cut the sweetness to something palatable. So it is in Iquitos, paradise indeed, but in need of, and always provided with, a snaky piece of human shit to keep it all honest. That snake is named Marco these days, though he's relatively new to the scene, replacing Vic the Canadian, he having replaced some other arsehole previously, and so on. It's just the way paradise is. Marco, though, has stepped on my toes, and needed or not, the man is not so much tolerable to me. He's a cat-kicker.

I go out in the evenings to sit with the expat crowd at a local cafe. Sometimes my buddy Pedro, a charismatic young Uruguayan comes along to remind us by his presence of our younger days, though for most of us not nearly so dramatic as is the current life of this young fellow with beauty queen girlfriends and others who simply stop and stare at him. Pedro is often oblivious to such things. It's a great part of his substantial charm that he goes through life smiling and happy and unaware of his tremendous impact on young ladies. Pedro is the polar opposite of the scum bag who kicks cats. The two met recently on the street. That's how I became Cat Mother of the Amazon All Stars. 

Marco the cat-kicker was across the street from my place one evening as I was out for the day and returning ready to go out to have a soda with my mates. At the time Marco, the scum bag, was torturing a black cat, ripping out hunks of fur from the shrieking little beast. Marco had pulled out a lot of hair from the cat's head and face and was working on the cat's back when the cat got twisted around enough to sink its teeth into Marco's hand. That's when Marco threw the cat across the street and into the stone wall out front of my place. Pedro saw all this and more. Pedro saw Marco pick up two month old tabbies which he threw like baseballs against my wall. Pedro ran out and grabbed the cats and brought them inside and saved them from Marco's further rampage.

When I came home to clean up for the evening with my mates I found two cats, the black one and a little grey one on the courtyard floor of my place. The black cat was a few months old, exhausted and hurt, and the little grey cat was not able to move due to a sore leg and a bruised hip. Pedro told my the story about the cats hurling across the street. I picked up the grey one and slipped him into my shirt pocket and took him with me to the cafe where I sat and kept him warm as I chatted with my buddies. I kept an eye out for Marco.

I returned with the kitten and went to my room and put out some food for the cat. He couldn't walk well enough to get to the dish, so I helped him, and then he could barely eat. An hour later one of the young Peruvians working at my place came to tell me the cat was downstairs shivering. I pointed at the cat and said I was doing all I could. It was then I learned of the third cat, a little brown tabbie. That one had lain unconscious from the impact against the stone wall. I brought him upstairs to my place and laid him next to the other. The grey cat curled up with the little brown one and licked its fur. Soon, both were sound asleep on my bed. When I moved they woke and climbed onto me. I went downstairs, taking them with me.

Cat Mother of the Amazon All Stars
The kittens slept a lot, almost always together, sometimes on me, sometimes on my clothes or my shoes.

I have better things to do than sleep all the time: I have friends to hang out with. Here is Pedro, my buddy David who drives a motokarro, me, and my friend Adrian Walker, my evil twin.

Cat Mother is waiting for Marco....

Cat Mother is not amused.

The Amazon All Stars

But the kittens are fine.

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:

Iquitos, Peru: Seating Ayahuasca at the Cannibal Banquet of the Soul (5.2)

This is the Amazon. One has to expect hardships when coming to the jungle, and one must live with the results of ones adventure-seeking knowing one took a chance. People come here looking for the new and perhaps even some kind of spiritual enlightenment, something different from the daily grind back in the city at the sterile office under fluorescent lights, home for the evening in the leafy suburbs for dinner from a microwave oven. Back home it's muggers and car accidents and heart attacks. Here, one can easily lose a leg in a matter of days from an infected scratch got on a walk from path to the pond. Life in the jungle ain't free. Folks get eaten alive in this land.

What has to be the ironic coincidence of my season was sitting down last evening to watch a minute of television with my friend John, he getting a major kick out of Peruvian kiddie cartoons and crude, locally made slapstick shows. John was watching a movie, some poor excuse to show off young bodies on a beach, girls topless at every opportunity, a movie called Piranha. In the movie lots of young men and women are eaten up by fish. My buddy Lucho lost a pad from his right forefinger when a piranha flipped into his boat one day recently. Killer fish. I liked the movie. I thought it was pretty hilarious, especially so because I had just been looking at photos of Peter Gorman's leg. Since some leg is better than no leg at all, Gorman is probably lucky to have what's left of it. He looks like he was attacked by a movie full of piranhas. Not pretty. This is the Amazon. You can be eaten alive here.

Here in the Amazon basin surrounded by rivers everywhere, most of the locals don't know how to swim. Most people live from fishing, but they use canoes and nets, and they know enough not to fall into the water. They're clean folks, most of them getting a bucket of water from the river, checking to see what's in it, and then they pour the water over themselves as they sit in the canoe. They don't jump in the river and bathe. If they were to do that they know they could well be eaten to death.

Most tourists who come for a visit to the Amazon city of Iquitos come for a few days or a week to take ayahuasca or to walk in the jungle with a guide who shows them crocodiles and snakes and bugs and butterflies. Most local people have never seen a jaguar. The only hope they would have of that is to be lost and helplessly hurt in the night, and they would then be eaten. Tourists come here to have a tame adventure in the wilds. Then they go home with colourful stories and digital photos and knick-knack souvenirs. Some come for the ayahuasca, the jungle drug they take at mostly up-scale “lodges” not too different from convention centres back home. They stay for a week, see visions, and take a mototaxi to the aeroport to return home to tell their friends what a deep spiritual experience they had in the jungle. They don't come here expecting to lose a leg. But, sometimes folks get eaten anyway.

Ain't no big thing to sit next to a corpulent middle-aged hippie and see him turn a page of a paperback novel and then sweat like he was sitting in a rain storm. No big deal to see him suddenly grimace, his eyes bulging, his body going through a full top to bottom spasm of pain: one might assume he has a conscience and he's just remembered some random incident from his worthless life. No big deal to wait till he's done and then say, “Norman, how ya doin'?” And no big thing to hear him speak between gritted teeth, barely audible, “Hurts.” And then he slowly lets out his breath and takes a swig of bottled water and hangs his head down and tries to clear his mind a bit from the pain one can see so clearly in the bandage that goes from knee to ankle, a bright yellow stain that deepens by the hour as he sits and ya chat about cowboy novels and the nature of being a man in the world today. Hour by hour sitting at the riverside cafe, day by day on the Amazon River in the jungle city by the eternal flow, Gorman was losing his leg to flesh-eating disease. I have one of Gorman's Elmore Leonard cowboy novels in my bag. I say to him: “This'll make a great story for you, assuming you live through it.” Gorman flashes me one of his phonier well-practiced grin-smiles. He was just walking along, and then he got a scratch. An hour later he couldn't bear the pain of his pant leg touching his skin. He didn't know it then but he was being eaten inside out.

Gorman is a writer, and a good writer at that, if not a good man. He writes vivid prose that comes alive on the page as he describes some small incident of small people doing some dirty and stupid thing that comes to ruin in a dog-eat-dog world of semi-fiction. Then he wrecks it all with some long pages of maudlin crap about “healing ceremonies” in the jungle with Mother Ayahuasca, loving goddess of the plant universe, and I want to reach out and pound that stinking, suppurating leg of his. He's a con man who scams lonely fat girls and insecure effeminate men by telling them about how wonderful they are and how their drug-induced visions are making them whole again after the terrible traumas they have unfairly had to suffer in the modern world. I could puke. He knows it. I'm not shy about saying so. So we don't talk about that stuff. We talk about cowboys and the open range of the Wild West. Gorman probably could have written good Western novels.

Gorman and I read a Leonard novel, Hombre, in which a White boy, kidnapped by Indians, grows up and returns alienated in the White world as an adult. Hombre, known to us as “Man,” dies while doing the right thing, i.e. saving a woman from death at the hands of bad men. It's not a heroic end. It's just what the average man would do in that position. Unfortunately, there aren't so many average men around. Gorman and I stare at each other across the water ringed wooden slat table, his ashtray overflowing with smouldering cigarette filtres and cellophane wrappers and bits of tin foil. His little grey-brown goatee sticks out as his head goes back against the Portuguese tiles of the colonial period building that is the cafe we sit at on the patio looking out at the white painted concrete balustrades that fence off the Malecon Tarapaca from the Amazon River, the malecon walkway filled with gawking tourists and strolling local families and wandering foreign hippies squatting down selling handicrafts on the pavement. Gorman looks like he's going to pass out from the pain. Gorman comes to and sips more water, reaches for another cigarette, and suffers, big drops of sweat falling from matted, twisted horns of long hair dangling around his bullfrog throat.

Gorman came to Iquitos to sell folks a jungle adventure tour and grand ayahuasca visions and a chance to forget themselves as small, unimportant losers in a big, unimportant world. Gorman sold his tours and made some money to pay for his family back home so they can live. Nothing heroic, just the ordinary thing a man does in the world. Big time ayahuasca guru, Irish Catholic who ran off to live with hippies and came back to make a living in the world at large where he lost half his leg to flesh-eating disease. Well, this is the Amazon. Ya know, (and you know) sometimes ya gotta get eaten.

“Hey, man.” 

For Gorman's account: 

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: