THE TIMELESS JOURNEY, PART TWO
The other half of the fruit is rotten even if the buildings are one day old. It is born rotten. These are the wood houses, big prismatic crates, giant matchboxes (they may burn sometimes), the fixed ones on posts or on logs, the floating ones. They are made of wide planks which enclose both the sacred and the lay space, the sleeping and the living room of the family. The box is partially surrounded by a corridor which leads to a veranda from one side and to the kitchen and toilet from other: the whole are more or less open to public vision, the wind, the mind and to the rain. Seasonal cleaning, I will say. A more confluence with nature and its elements, including giant size mosquitoes, is hard to imagine. They are painted in luminous colours, and in spite the structural unity, they differ very much one from the other. Some have thatched roofs, but the corrugated iron is dominant. People are circulating in boats to come in or to go out of this miser Venice. There is always a rope on which few dress items hang; there are some stores, discothèques, churches around.All in the water. I gaze to one slice of the huge barrio from the window of my hotel room, with fascination and delight. I hired a boat to amble on the tick soup that floats, that brews, between the houses. The man is driving too quickly, I tried vainly to moderate him…The next time…There are few indices of real connection to electrical power, while the sewer we know it already and of running water of course, there is plenty…My inquisitor eyes penetrates the planks…there is nothing inside than cheap clothes, basic cooking implements and human bodies…the vertigo of emptiness inebriates me…I am thinking of the endless of objects that are chocking my life…like the 13000 cursed slides of pre-Columbian art and architecture that I carry after me for the last forty years…I became mad of envy…they do not posses anything even the teeth are rare…Oh Greatness of the Empty Space…though many are on drugs and crime…people have to amuse themselves in a way or other…girls are pregnant early…a new generation of paupers are marching in…they will flood the river…so to say…and then I realized another oddity . I am coming from the bleak, sour, envious, frustrated and bitter Europe with its endless demonizing of the Americans, governments, riches, Russia, Israel and Myanmar. Old Europe suffering of an impotent desire of revolution, a flood of immigrants, inept multiculturalism, going into ritual periodical strikes, reeling of terrorist attacks, bombing at four azimuths for good causes and endless lecturing the world. Joy and smiles are rare there while here people laugh, wave the hand and dive into the waves…If by any chance do you care for continuous artistic activity Iquitos is the place. The amount of Arte Povera created here everyday is peerless and its quality is miles ahead of the overcooked assemblages littering the floor of the museums of contemporary art across the world.
This brings me back to Hostal Maravilla Amazonica my place from where I was getting in trance by gazing upon the shanty town at different hours of the day. In three months of travelling some of the rented places took the rung of temporary home. The hostel was sited just on the bank of the river but some fifty meters higher at the end of a long flight of stairs that its landing on a little quay placed already in the enormous swamp where the wooden town was rooted. I think a photo will do better than my depiction… I began a couple of times to go down the stairs but the fear creep into my calves …too dangerous. My hostel, very close to the market of Belen was according to the driver within the Red Zone. Bloody dense, the whole Iquitos is a Red Zone. Hotel de putas he said by making with the hand some movements suggesting copulation. It was not the first one I dwelt in my journey and the experience told me that he was only partially right. I quickly understood that this biological activity if it takes place it was not on my floor and that any new location must have an aphrodisiac effect on couples should them be solid legitimate or temporary linked. The view was gorgeous, the room large and sunny, the hot water never missing, and Marcella, the young and opulent mulatto, who was both reception clerk and cleaning lady, was keeping it in a state of excessive property. Marcella overtly liked me and anytime that she could she transferred me in a new room, always on the upper floor, to bring me closer to the modem and improve my WIFI connection. In exchange, in the evening she was knocking at my door and I was going down to pick the neurotic Amazonian parrot from his perch in the veranda on my finger and bring it inside the lobby. She was scared of him out of her wits. The animal was generally gentle and sometimes ferociously biting. While coming in the afternoon from my walks and native food consumption Marcella was squarely abandoning the novio, basically lover and run after me to check if I had a good day and where I will go tomorrow? I too liked her very much. When I left Marcella was on the brink of tears, inquired when I will come back and did not forget to ask me to write a recommendation in the Trip Advisor. That was done without delay.
I am not going to depict the market of Belen which was just behind the corner of my hostel. I am already running out of space. I can only say that it is enormous, that is the most phenomenal garbage ground to be imagined, that it is a giant open air restaurant, that it is plagued by hundred of disgusting black birds (gallinazo pest, together with the Marabout the ugliest bird on earth) and stray dogs suffering of a skin condition rendering them bald and pink, salamander like, and I
will stop here to make the point. Or better said, three points. I was buying there avocado, nuts and the fruits for the supper. As far as the fruits are the issue Belen is second to none, worldwide. It is the Apple of the markets. At noon I was eating there. Always fish…How I came alive of this experience it is any fool guess. The problem was not the fish, grilled on charcoals on the top of the bananas’ tree leaves. That was sterilized by fire… The problem was the plate washed in a basin filled with a liquid of fearful appearance. I couldn’t care less and I was looking in other direction. I learned that in
India. Either the spiritual energy has the overhand upon material, let’s call this “circumstances” or I am of a particular resistant type, I don’t have the foggiest idea, the fish was delicious. The second encounter was with cigar makers. They have this kind of mounted knife that it is used to trim paper in a printer shop, only that they are hewing tobacco with it. The whole making it is very sensuous even if the products look a little bit rustic. The quality of the tobacco reminded me the black and sharp “toscano” I was smoking In Italy. I looked with curiosity, the first time to see the trade, with attention and indifference. The man who was eager to try any new smoke around, ME, had passed the point of no return. And then I moved into passage Pachecco. That was a riot. The long narrow street was heading towards other flight of stairs leading to the floating “barrio”. The stores were quite similarly furbished with an enormous care contrasting with the nonchalance of the rest of the market. They sold dozen and dozen of bottles with strident coloured tags – aphrodisiacs said (so many brands?) the vending matrons and laughed genially, balsams, many kind of wood more or less holy (palo santo), medicinal herbs, amulets of serpent and toad skin, dry monkey heads, ayahuasca decoctions and row coke, badly tormented alligators and if you have some connections – first quality poisons and elixirs. The whole avenue was a magisterial exhibition of shamanistic inspiration, regional witchcraft and unbounded superstition…thanks God that the inquisition days are gone…I was feeling great and tremendously amused…
Did I say something about the people? Melting pot, revered guardian angel, an amazing cocktail with mixing and blending in progress. Amazonian Indians, for sure, they form the ethnic foundation but an adverted eye, mine for example, ha!ha! will recognize some Caribbean hues and features. There is a good pint of African blood, some Spanish conquistador frames, tough little men body build, a little bit of Asian contribution and the rest, an infusion of all the known and unknown nations of the world. Do they have something in common? The rain and the river, they are aquatic people and if you are looking carefully there is always a streak of green gleaming under the darkest or the palest of the skins. It is the reflection of the “selva”, the rain forest, of the vegetal explosion, domestic or wild. Teeth’ decoration, that means the thin frame of gold or silver, according to the means, around one or more tooth, deserves particular attention. First you cannot miss it, it flashes by itself, secondly the tradition’s carrier is cultural and third is very remote both in time and space. Maya practised it some 1500 years ago and 3000 kilometres away from Iquitos. How the habit travelled and how it persisted is everybody’s guess but it is alive and kicking as you can see displayed by my friend Juan, the boatman, and even stick with that famous singer, a well known collector of many kicks.
THE LIFE IN VENICE