I am a lion, part 1
Cabanaconde battle station
Danarel please, I see already your left eyebrow definitely rising up and a sparkle of amusement shining into your eyes. Be patient and let me tell you the story till the end especially because I do not know what exactly the end it will be in spite of the fact that I lived through it. From the mystical red desert of Atacama, I flew to Lima and from there to Arequipa after unpleasant adventures and missing a set of planes. I got confused with so many flights and dates, did a mistake, and made a shameful scandal at Calama (does the name come from calamity?) airport looking for a plane that was due one month later. Do you see the scene? However, my plan to visit the Arequipa’s Monastery of Santa Catalina came to fruition. Within this giant ensemble with romantic appeal were closed for life, in a sequence of cozy flats together with servants and slaves (all female), virgins of the high local Spanish families. The poor girls using imagination and general consensus succeeded to run for two and half centuries, notwithstanding the location, a life of sophisticated elegance and hot love affairs. Alas, the unfair intervention of an activist pope (Lionel Messi?) put a term to this life of charnel and spiritual enlightenment. I should come back to that once.
The other reason to come to Arequipa was to visit the Colca Canyon, some four thousand meters of the fine quality abyss, the deepest canyon on earth till the last year when a drunken Pole placed it in the second position. I had myself, ten years ago, a nasty affair with a drunken Pole, professor of archaeology at Lima, the top position of sorts, who pretended that a bunch of ancient gorgeous Peruvian vessels, I had to authenticate and were then sold to a certain magnate, were false. The damned pots examined after through the thermoluminescence tests for the exorbitant fee of 400£ the piece (the price of a camel cum a wife somewhere), were all found genuine. I still wait for a letter of excuse from the ludicrous academic Pole.
During my stay in Arequipa, I was offered (against monetary contribution certainly) a trekking tour of three days and two nights to the canyon. It consisted of a plunge from the southern rim village of San Miguel (the names are always the same), a nice up-and-down stroll upon the canyon’s bottom, so to speak and a vigorous hike up of 4 hours, 1200 meters to boot, from the Sangalle village to the Cabanaconde little pueblo, back on the southern rim. After that, you can go home if you have any legs or ask for a stretcher. Some thousand meters higher northern rim, a ragged polychromatic crest of striking beauty it is open exclusively to professional alpinists and goats.
Even a total greenhorn (see Karl May, the Winnetou series ), it is not my case, will reckon that I cannot keep the same rhythm with people forty years younger. Spoiled brats! Then I began looking for an alternative with a better acuity than those who try their hand in the world’s oldest lasting conflicts: Falkland, Jerusalem, Gibraltar, Kashmir, etc. Let’s see what it can be done instead of what it should and keep fighting forever. To go down to Sangalle from Cabanaconde looked more reasonable because of the gravity pull. Four hours the stretch, it seems that this is the standard in the canyon. Well, I am not so sure, said a guide, that you can do it, the descent it is more difficult here than the climb. Encouraged, I decided to go check and eventually do the dive alone. Only a fool will deny my wistful precaution. With a night bus from Arequipa after some hefty dozing and six hours, for a change, ride I hit the eastern entrance of the canyon, the drab village of Chivay. From there a two more hours ride brought us at the famous viewing point Cruz del Condor. The scenery, the depth of the canyon, the amazing morning colors of the high-rising northern rim crests and peaks (Hollywood had nothing invented), the texture of the atmosphere, and especially the subtle aerial display of the disgusting carrion eaters, the condors *, whose wings are shaped like those of the Airbus, with upwards turned tips, deserve a standing ovation and leave an imperishable souvenir. I suspect that the authorities are hiding some old horse meat in the mountains to entice the champion scavenger to come in time. One can by now go home and bless family, friends, and neighbors with endless stories coming from the bottom of the soul and show scores of inutile photos of the unforgettable sights type, but I continued for the village of Cabanaconde for a one-half hour more. I was alone.
My intention is to depict shortly Cabanaconde, and say something about the local Peruvians, human beings are a subject too, their habits can be funny here and there, and then go back to the major issue, the lion. So this village placed far from everything, is one of the most miserable, poor, and dirty I saw. My multi-colored hostel (brick, orange, blue, yellow, and green), without to be a real garbage bin inserted organically into a larger garbage bin, was repelling enough. The fat, Hispanic stock woman running it, woman and child, dominant local team, the father often absent or gone, were quite nice. She was charging ridiculous prices for dishes she delivered to some French fowl living there too. Who cares? The surrounding mountain and hills stroke a chord in everybody’s heart.
The people in the village were small, sometimes untidy and those who cannot afford scissors (many) have tremendously hard and large toenails. Kind of claws I guess.. In general, I am speaking about the Peruvian crowd, the majority with strong Indian roots and some African genes. The creoles, middle and upper class, with some good pints of European (Spanish) blood, and forcefully the Asian, are different. But the ones who interest me are the commoners, who alas…are far away from the Greek canon. …As a whole, the two sexes are fat as well from the forward than from the behind point of view. They are eating endlessly all day plethoric meals. The basic staple food is the hormones-boosted chicken and holy pork. Hips are also wide; Women show some high testosterone levels. Indifferent of age many have a dark, round, flat face. Moon disc if you want. Children are kings, either on the mother’s back or in their parents’ arms till an advanced age. They are fat too. Peruvian are either enormously kind or ferocious criminals. I didn’t meet the criminals except for today when one succeeded to steal my purse. Peanuts! I admired the technique.. The kind ones are going out of the way to indicate you were to buy what they do not have in their store…The difference with the nasty (let’s not call names, french for example) stores owners is striking; they will say nay even if the product you look for IT is on sale at the just next store! Again at the national level, the Peruvian are amazing producers of garbage and among the best performers in garbage maintenance. Endless injunctions hanged all over require not to urinate or not to throw garbage into the public space, under pain of death; I swear that I had already seen these panels thirty years ago when I did a short visit to the area. Not that they had or have any effect. Men in their prime, forty?, dye hair in a dark matt hue. Women enjoy a natural shiny black rich mane. One more example of sexual dimorphism I believe. The quantity of stray dogs is staggering. Often they share the habitat with a disgusting blackbird, a vulture, which seems to come out from a horror movie, witchcraft, whatever (gallinazo!). The country is studded with private schools. Ferocious Latin disco sound hits you everywhere. People follow tv shows even during the time they are making love, quite verified.** Many women are enrolled in the police force. They are thin ones, probably of import. If you like you can have live worms, or fried worms as much as you want. Sheer protein. Fruits are amazing, coming directly from the paradise station, volcanoes are rumbling, and the mountains are viciously disintegrating towards the road. Once, the huge blocs will fall. Karma. Do I have to say something more? Yes, a large slice of the population fancy gold or silver FRAMED TEETH.***This act of insanity has some amazing trans-cultural roots. Aztecs and Mayas during their remarkable cultural development (war, arts, science, drugs, ritual, and sadism) were indulging too in this preposterous amelioration of the image God gave them. Did the custom spread to the Inkas? Or do some decorative drives have multiple origins when the living conditions are similar? Locals are not the only maniacs; Californian flesh covered by tattoos does not look any better. And to be honest, keep in mind, that I depicted poor village guys and dolls, the lower classes, the naturals, you go to Lima, at Cuzco, to Arequipa and realize that smashing beauties and smart fellows are abundant. I didn’t make the world….Money is BEAUTIFUL!
Let’s go back to the Cabanconde. The Plaza de Armas, which is the name for the central square was drab and dull. In the middle, there is the statue of the infamous carrion eater. Didn’t they find a better bird? Restaurants are plunged into darkness. If you want privacy…there is no better place, so are the stores but everybody is cool. The church dominates the plaza and flattens the stupid condor. The church is ugly, clumsy, and imposing. Why the Spanish built such a huge church in a fleabag like Cabanaconde is beyond my understanding. The church has mighty walls, a little bit cracked; we are in an earthquake country, with high-positioned windows. It is girded by buttresses like a fortress. Add to that two towers, a dome, a transept, decorated with outer large high reliefs, a series of barrel vaults inside, an array of tree trunks supporting something, and great statues of saints and virgins with rustic outlook. One of the major saints has a straw hat. A straw hat instead of a holy halo! Authenticity has its price. Let’s go further. The houses are in majority built of some few layers of stone and the rest of the wall is made of adobe bricks in bad condition. The door frame is generally of stone and probably holds together the whole contraption. The windows are often shut with boards, and the courts are enclosed by clumsy thick stone walls topped with cactuses, they are pretty dirty, but give secure (first class thorns) shelter to various animals: donkeys, mules, horses, and many pork. The roosters of the village do not sing, they should be mute or emasculated. The streets are generally unpaved, and a large hotel was built, but it never opened. It was bankrupt before going into business. I like that! And if a large restaurant opens, it closes soon. Bad luck!
There are two cute protestant churches, well built; one is Anglican, the other something else. That killed me. Man do you feel cut for spreading the holy Gospels, please go to Afghanistan, to Yemen, to Syria, go to France. Did you hear about these countries? They need that. They must have a compassionate God…Don’t come here into an old, more or less Christian country, to steal souls.. It is a shame …May God forgive me, but you are behaving like a horrible harlot…Do I have something positive to say about Cabanconde? I am a terrible person..I have to find something before I am arriving to the canyon because after it will be tough. Women are clad apparently in a traditional dress, I said apparently not because I suggested that they are naked, the issue is different. Wait a moment. This dress has many parts, I cannot and want not to name them all, but I recognized a hat, a vest a long skirt, a shawl…etc.. The material indifferent to its use or shape is embroidered with similar floral patterns. They are quite stable and easy to recognize. Horror vacui is the dominant feature, i.e the embroidery goes all over the surface.
Only women of certain ages fancy it. What will happen with the young one dressed in shredded jeans and strappy vests, I don’t know and I don’t care. I want to go out of that…Ten minutes before leaving, I run madly to find the man who was behind that, which means decorating the cloth for all the matrons. You can not believe it but I found him…The fairly,dark guy, clearly a native, has a workshop of “boraderia” or embroidery in a comprehensive language. He enslaved his wife, daughters, and more or less legitimate relative…they use sewing machines to ruthlessly embroider every piece of textile…I feint enthusiasm…Please forgive me Danarel, I am such a hypocrite, but after I realized that I made a taxonomic discovery. Let’s summarize: there is traditional ethnic art or crafts done when the culture is sound and kicking, there is airport ethnic art done for dummies, and here my contribution there is modern ethnic art to be used, consumed inside the culture notwithstanding its low quality. Splendid, show me the Dubuffet hoodlum with his Art Brut nonsense to kick his lower back (?!).
* There is some intriguing connection between the condor and another famous American bird, the turkey. In the beginning, I was thinking only of the color of the feathers and of the famous, more or less erectile, caruncles the two birds have on the top of the beak. A drawing of the wild turkey by Aubusson reveals that the formal similarity is much wider. I wonder what the European emigrants or colonialists received from the American natives, during the famous Thanksgiving Day? Turkey or condor? Whatever it was the givers were badly rewarded!
** Like other people I happen to know the Peruvians muddle up “b” and “v”. I insisted with little success, that my Christian name should be pronounced with “b” from bife and not with “v” from vaca.
*** do you recognize them? she is Madonna, the singer smiling for the photographer, he is Juan Terrio a boatman smiling at me because he knows that I am a regular chap and not a politically correct faked dude
I AM A LION, PART 1