SUNDAY, JUNE 15, we flew from Albuquerque to New York. Late Monday took the bus to East Hampton. Tuesday from 5 a.m. to 2:30 I weeded, watered, transplanted, & mowed with your old hand mower. The new white Canterbury bells Gail grew from seed were everywhere. Wednesday I drafted & sent off by e-mail a review of the book I was reading all through New Mexico, Guns, Germs & Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, by Jared Diamond, who graduated first in our Harvard class (as I think I reminded you) & still is the smartest of us all: "The Ultimate Guide to Ecological Tourism" is what I call it & how it served me in New Mexico & on this trip.
The car we ordered to take us to La Guardia never came, so we grabbed a cab about a quarter to six. By the next morning (THURSDAY, JUNE 19), we had made it to Cuzco, though we had nearly to fight our way on the plane from Lima, which was overbooked. We telephoned at once to Salome Gartner, who came round with her brother to our hotel to give us a first tour. People ringed the main square to watch a parade by troupes of dancers from the entire region, every town & school with some different set of costumes & story to act out: men flirting with girls, hunters stalking a stag, Spaniards in garish white masks against brown Indians, each accompanied by pipers & drummers playing Andean music. Over lunch, Salome told us a bit of her family history: her grandmother of Spanish descent who married an Indian, but hated her daughter because she was dark, put her in a convent, then married her off to a man who was interested only in the family's money, beat the children & his wife, made sure she was pregnant & went off with other women. The theme of the racist grandmother took us back to St. Lucia, where an artist we meant told of being kept in the country by his grandmother because his mother married a black man & he was too black.
Back at the hotel, they were laying new carpet in the hall outside our door & we couldn't get away from the smell of the poisonous toluene glue. The only other room free was on an air shaft with no light or view, so we decided to look for another hotel. Losing no more time, we started to poke around in the markets: women along the sidewalks under the porticos spreading their bundles of sweaters, gloves, Andean caps, which have ear flaps, ponchoes & patterned cloths. We soon got to know the themes: 'Alpaca', 'baby alpaca', 'made by hand' they claim for their best. We tried to learn to tell the difference. By Thursday evening we both were feeling sunburnt: Gail's hat was in the luggage that Aeroperu sent to Arequipa when they bumped us from the Cuzco plane; I was looking for a flexible hat & most of those in the markets were stiff. The sun hit us especially hard because Cuzco is more than 10,000 feet above sea level, which also made it hard for us to get enough oxygen. It was evening before the luggage arrived.
FRIDAY MORNING (JUNE 20), we went scouting & easily found another hotel, new & just a block away from the main square, on one of the porticos lined with vendors. Setting out to find a comfortable hat for me, we walked over to the square, Plaza de Armas, keeping under the porticos because the sun was already hot. When we wandered into the cathedral, guards shooed us away as tourists, but we insisted we wanted to go to the service. When the priest elevated the host & prayed por nosotros outside the pipes were shrilling Andean music for the festival of the Inca god Sun. The altars & even the picture frames are all thinkly smeared with gold, so ostentatiously that it becomes disgusting. All the images of saints & the tormented crucifixes look so foreign here, so arbitrary, so repetitious & formulaic. If only they could all be heaped up on the Plaza & burned! The guidebook spoke of workshops up the hill behind the cathedral, so we began a laborious climb, stopping often to breathe deeply with the diaphragm. We stumbled on the palace of the Archbishop, which might be almost any Mediterranean structure, with its classical lintels & pediments, inner courtyard surrounded by balconies, a fountain, fuscia trees in flower but which rises on a foundation of regular, rounded & fitted stones built by the Incas: the archictecture becomes the emblem of the cultural clash described by Diamond, Spanish (European) overwhelming native American. A little further up, we found a whole household in old Spanish style, again the high stone threshold & long access corridor opening into a courtyard with a fountain, only here a woman was seated in the sun shucking short, white ears of corn & spreading the kernels to dry. In a workshop off the court, her husband was painting images of saints in gaudy gilt. They invited us back into a maze of corridors & courtyards, one with ckickens pecking & another with workers making molds in the style of Inca pots. The layout could be a dwelling in Pompei or Cheng Du.
In another sprawling Spanish colonial house we found the workshop of "Georgina de Mendivil e hijos," where the paintings at least left the old Spanish style for a more spontaneous, folkloric look. In a gloomy glass case, I spotted a bronze stirrup with faces like sphinxes stamped on either side. The clerk was unsure whether it was for sale, but returned to say that it had been dug up in the courtyard, was antique, & could be purchased for 40 soles, a high price on the local scale. After a bit of bargaining, I got it for S\ 35 ($13.46). By comparison, in a flea market on Sixth avenue a blown glass bottle from the late c18 excavated from a New York well goes for more than $100. What made me fix on that stirrup was the argument in Diamond's book that horses & horsemanship were one of the cultural elements that gave the Spanish their decisive edge over the Inca empire. Also, on this particular stirrup the stamped sphinxes were a trace of the classical tradition that helped to determine Spanish ideology & conduct: the Romans brutally colonized the ancestors of the Spanish & added them to their empire.
Friday evening we climbed back up the hill to hear a concert of Andean music by a group organized by Salome's brother Gustavo, a soft-spoken, courteous man who performs with great verve. To give you some idea, they used a range of string, wind & percussion instruments. I counted guitars or mandolins (or challungas) with six, 10, 12, 16, & 20 strings, ranging in size from a familiar big guitar to tiny versions, one even with an armadillo shell body. Besides there were three sizes of conch shells (producing a very resonant sound: they were used in St. Lucia & imported by the Incas), two combinations of rams horns, an 8 foot trumpet of bamboo, different lengths of round & square flutes, pan-pipes in all sizes, from tiny (shrill) to giant (breathy), then three forms of drum, from shallow to deep, castenets made of sheep hooves, & even a violin. Since most of the musicians seemed to switch between most of the instruments in different combinations, I thought of Grandpa Van Sickle, able to play so many different instruments in the band in Durand. The novelty, variety, & intensity of the music left us exalted. This had to be a high point of our trip.
SATURDAY (JUNE 21) I lay awake, unable to get a good breath, recovering by using my diaphragm to breathe. All night, every time I would relax to go to sleep, I felt suffocated, had to use the diaphragm. At five-thirty I took my first pill for altitude sickness, Diamox, which I had hoped to avoid. The light had been growing in the room for two hours, yet this was the shortest day of the year. I kept going over Friday's events, our first full day & very full. The music & the dances in the streets, old men drumming while younger people dance, reminded me of the Corn dance in Taos, so much more solemn, restrained & ritualized. There the pueblo owns the land. Here there has been a reform, so that many farmers now own the land they work. But I wonder what kind of community these people have & how it relates to the tradition of the Incas. After all, the Incas came in & took over from prexisting cultures. Also, from what I gathered, they had their own language which was not that of the farmers, who spoke Quechua, as they still do today (yet in the nearly 500 years since the Spanish came, Quechua has to have changed & it must differ considerably over different parts of its range). Whatever role music & dance had in Inca culture, the fundamental activities had to be agricultural & political. Today, what does it mean to talk about "Andean cultural identity," as a woman did at the end of Gustavo's concert (she represented the city's cultural affairs office). Should those of Spanish descent feel nostalgia for the native traditions their ancestors destroyed? What should be felt by those of mixed Spanish & Indian blood? What do the descendants of the peasant farmers have in common with the Inca rulers? Or can it be that the effective destruction of the real Incas leaves them and their culture free to be used as a unifying focus? That's a nice theory, but not the way things are turning out. In the Pageant of the Sun (Inti Raymi) which we & so many others had come to see, all the parts are played by local people. Salome once played the Inca empress, coya. But today she would no longer be eligible, because the organizers have decided to exclude anyone not of pure Indian descent. At the concert we met an anthropologist from the University of California, Davis, who grew up in Lima, married an American, eventually took a Ph.D. at Chicago, & studies dance. She said that the dances have multiple meanings for those who perform: mestizos may mock Spanish by putting on white masks, yet the Spanish are still felt to be superior in a society where skin shading determines social standing. The dances we saw, with girls flirting or hunting, reflect, she also explained, the interests of the younger generation, since traditional dances in Cuzco kept women out. The young people import dances from the Altiplano, to the consternation of the conservatives. Then my mind turned back to the bronze stirrup with its classical sphinxes.
The Spanish, I reflected, not had the technological advantage of horses, but they stemmed from a cultural net in which horses had figured for thousands of years. One foundation myth was the story of the war at Troy -the leading example of a city holding property that becomes a target for conquest. In the battle for Troy, horses pulled the chariots of fighters, but even more important, the model of a horse served to trick the enemy through duplicity. This double-dealing was right there embodied in the code of the culture, which boasted as one of its defining heroes the crafty, cunning liar Odysseus. This was the cultural code that was reenacted by the Spanish when they deceived & trapped the Inca emperor at Cajamarca, a code of treachery & carnage, Did the Inca gods not tell lies & play vicious tricks as the Greek gods & heroes did? Was there no raven, no fox? All at once I realized, too, that the carnage in Lima earlier this year might be read in terms of these clashing cultural codes. The guerillas invoked the name of Tupac Amaru, who led a native rebellion against the Spanish in c18 & was captured & killed in old Roman fashion on the Plaza at Cuzco (his limbs tied to four horses so that he was torn apart). But the guerillas were finally outsmarted by Fujimori & company, representing developed Eurasian culture. [Plenty of irony in this: since the Indians & Japanese share common ancestry in East Asia. Also, you should see the emphases in the language Fujimori uses to present himself in numerous billboards & inscriptions on public works: Constitutional President Engineer Alberto Fujimori Fujimori. Note the underlining of constitutional (as opposed to military coup) and engineer (professional status & technological prestige).]
Thinking of these clashes of the cultures, I wonder at the advertisements on TV, which we saw for the first time in our new hotel. The images are so 'American', with the elaborate appliances, the skinny, tall, blond women, the whole apparatus, which contrasts so strongly with the appearance of almost everybody here in Cuzco, especially with the Indians, who are short & dark, who carry on their backs huge bundles (often of the goods they display under the porticos, as the Indians do under the portico of the old Spanish governor's palace in Santa Fe: there we thought the crafts seemed rather poor & artificial; here they seem more authentic to our eyes, which are always scanning, checking, comparing as we walk, in the exploratory, acquisitive manner of our hunting-gathering ancestors & their descendants the explorers, traders, pirates -Odysseus again). As for my main search of the morning, the only soft, Panama style hats we found were too small or defective.
So we came back down from the heights & walked back towards the central market on the other side of town. When we asked directions of a policeman, he told Gail to put her camera inside her jacket. One stand did have panamas folded up in a a drawer, but still too small. Climbing up stairs into the market itself, we found ourselves facing buckets of offal, then smelly curtains of stomach linings, hearts, livers & lungs, sheep heads, before we made it to the fruit & vegetables & clothing. The stands with beans & grains were especially colorful & well stocked. Still, it was a poor market by comparison with those we saw in Mexico & Germany, to say nothing of Oxford, Padova, or Campo de'Fiori in Rome. What we did luck into at the top end outside was a museum shop of antique textiles, where we bought two woven squares [that now look very elegant in our library]. Once contains strips of vicuna wool, the proprietress said: the shawl of of a 'nina noblessa' never worn by poor people, 'Solamente la noblessa usa vicuna' ('only a noble woman wears vicuna'). The other piece was a cloth used to wrap coca leaves in the fields, carefully folding over the opposite corners to make a bundle.
For lunch, we ate in a courtyard, where a whole table full of young people were drinking & singing to the accompaniment of two guitars. When they came to Auld Lang Syne, I chimed in. Two older men at the next table were gossiping across a forest of empty beer bottles. Beer more than the Mexican & New Mexican margherita seems to be the standard drink. The trout was fried & very good, but came with french-fried potatoes, rice & green salad, which we had been warned to avoid; but cooked vegetables were as scarce as hens' teeth. Somehow we managed to get back to the Plaza, find the right hat at last (good price & with a woven band), & take in some of the floats in the day's parade (one from the Faculty of Engineering, with students in coats & ties, no Inca trappings), & wonder at the number of empty beer bottles piled where the parade left off. By then we were dragging our feet, yet we still had the concert of Andean music by Salome's brother & friends. It was so lively, varied, dramatic & strange that it started me all over again.
Once Gail woke up about eight o'clock, we began discussing how to arrange our formal visits to Inca sites. In the end, we decided to take the first class train to Macchu Picchu on Monday. Since we didn't want a guided tour, we had to rush to the station to buy tickets before noon. Then we did sign up for two tours of nearby sites. We had been so proud of ourselves for finding a hotel centrally located, with a view from our window over some tile roofs to the church towers around the Plaza, but Saturday night the sound of pipes & drums in the Plaza went on till dawn.
SUNDAY (JUNE 22) we were supposed to tour the 'Sacred Valley of the Incas', but the main road was closed for an automobile race. Our bus took a long detour that let us look at the small farms in the Cuzco valley, with houses & fences made of brown mud bricks, but fields broad. We cut over, then, to the parallel valley, where the Urubamba river rushes down towards the Amazon. At first the road was cramped next to the river in a narrow gorge that soon began to widen, giving space to farms. Patches of winter wheat were ready for harvest & some of them appeared in plots & terraces high above us on the shoulders of the gorge. I could scarcely believe that a bus could get over a road so narrow & rocky, but we finally made it to our first destination, Pisaq, only to find hundreds of other buses & vans blocking the road. None of the tour operators had wanted to lose business, even if they couldn't deliver their tours. Police kept us back from crossing the one bridge to get to the market while racing cars came careening around a 90 degree turn on the other bamk, then lurched across the span & roared up the hill. After 40 minutes waiting in the sun, some of us rebelled & crossed the bridge in spite of the cops & cars. But the Pisaq market, so highly advertised, offered little that we had not already seen in Cuzco. Prices were high. Nor did we get to visit the Inca ruins high above the modern town. By the time we started home it was dark & the evening star hung very bright in the West, not far from another bright star. Our guide did not know their names, although the evening star is one of the Inca gods.
MONDAY (JUNE 23) got up at five to catch six o'clock express to Machu Picchu. As train zigzagged up the slope to get out of Cuzco, frost was on the red earth & green plots. From the top, snow capped peaks visible in two directions. The train first crosses a high plateau, where the symmetrical division of the fields made me think of the symmetries of Inca stone work. Many of the sod farmhouses were thatched. Cabbages growing. Leaving the plain, we began to follow a river down through a narrow gorge, very steep, high sides, a few isolated farms, until everything opened out into the valley of the Urubamba. Farmers were cutting & stacking grain by hand, a dozen or so people bending, cutting sheaves, & stacking them. Above us, the snow capped peaks were now closer. The valley narrows again & sides grow steeper & until the train runs just above the rushing water: a fat bird appears on a rock, russet, rounded belly, the rest greyish: some kind of ouzel? At Kilometre 88, we saw ancient terraces across the river (guidebook says that habitation here goes back two thousand years, well before the Incas). In the trees we began to notice parasitic plants, tall stems with pointed, paired leaves & red flowers, then orchids, & it dawned on us that the valley was dropping rapidly in altitude, so that we were moving through climate zones down towards the equatorial jungle. Growing wild there were canna lilies.
As the train slowed, I looked up, way up to the rim of the valley & saw what looked like buildings: that had to be Machu Picchu. We managed to make the first bus by a combination of innocence & guile. We had to line up to buy our bus tickets, unlike people who had signed up for tours. But then we were uncertain where to go, it couldn't be that mass of people all clustered there behind a metal rail, so we moved toward the buses. People were getting on the first one, so we ducked under the rail. A policeman protested, but by then we were on. The road was all S-curves, no shoulders, with steep drops: not one I would have cared to drive. I didn't even dare to look down. Since we had no guide, we decided to go first to the last stop on the tours, the high mound to the left with temples & a carved gnomon that indicates the positions of the sun at equinox & solstice (reflecting astronomical lore like that we had seen at Mesa Verde). We took our pictures in peace, sat there for a while in the shade of the Inca walls, lining up the carved stone with the notched peaks in the background, even listening to several of the guides who came through while we sat. Walking back then down through the city & out the great trapezoidal gate, we climbed a trail past the old farming terraces: growing out of the cracks between stones were tiny delicate ferns & a plant with veined, oval leaves & reddish stems which looked very familiar: it is a tropical called tibucina & we have one potted in our conservatory-living room.
On one broad terrace we saw the remains of the cemetery, with a large, flattened stone that supposedly was used to prepare & dry mummies. Looking back down at the city, I was struck at how familiar the whole layout seemed, with the high places to left & right for special functions, sacred & political, then the lower, flat area in between, like a market or agora or forum, a piazza or plaza or square: community space, such a human pattern. Yet the placement of the whole was so audacious, so remote, difficult of access, so high. What ingenuity! What determination! Will! The accomplishment was rubbed in every time I had to stop to catch breath, which was after three or four steps in any direction.
Back on the train, looking at the great rounded boulders along the river again, it struck me that these are the forms captured, inserted, regularized in the massive Inca walls. Suddenly a plowman appeared, with two black & white bulls, pushing a wooden handled plow: such a paradoxical image, far more complex than pre-colonial life, which had neither animals to pull nor iron to cut the soil, yet so much simpler than mechanized agribusiness & of course so much more sustainable as a way of life. I was looking forward to return views of the farms & the plateau when we heard that we would be leaving the train at Ollayantambo to go back to Cuzco by bus, the same route we had followed the night before. A private guide occupied the front seat & gradually proved to be the best informed person we had met, giving me the name of the evening star in Quechua, Ch'aska, & explaining that while the brightest star is Canopus in (I believe) the constellation of the Southern Cross, which I had never seen before.
TUESDAY (JUNE 24): at last the day of Inti Raymi, the festival of the sun. By 7:30 bands were playing in the plaza, firecrackers going off. Last night, the streets were so packed it was hard to move, many people in woolen caps & ponchos, women from the villages with their tall, stiff straw hats, families with linked hands moving single file, one hand on the shoulder of the person in front, music playing for dances in the plaza & other squares. Thinking back to the ride home over the plateau, it struck me that the way the plots of land vary in size but intermesh into a larger pattern resembles the plan of the Inca walls, with their varying shapes & sizes of stones, so that the walls have two analogues, both the shaped boulders of the river bed & the irregular regularity of the fields. The terraced mounds, then, rising to either side of the central plaza at Machu Picchu, have their analogue in the high plateaus & steep framing slopes & peaks. So what had been impressive at Machu Picchu? It seemed like such a readable, intelligible human habitation, with its signs of plan & order & hierarchy. I kept thinking of Roman steps, with their depth equal to their rise. The Inca steps even steeper. All this, but more so in Cuzco (Q'osq'o they now like to write in Quechua), with the long walls & interior courtyards, like a Roman city, yet very different in the forms, very anchored in this place, just in the terracing & use of stone, the peaked roofs, covered in thatch. What I told a German journalist at dinner, who said that Greek architecture more elegant, was that this civilization strikes me as a terrific tour de force, accomplishing what it did in the face of such obstacles -testimony to human inventiveness & drive at its best, taking things as far as possible, given the lack of domesticatable plants & animals -my arguments informed, perceptions shaped by Diamond's theorem. In the end the German seemed convinced.
To me, what keeps welling up in my mind is how humans, in pushing to such accomplishment, need religion & government, which always then push to excess & get caught in the the inability to adapt: so the dynamic dyad of regularity & change, constructing & reconstructing culture, with the inevitable clash, which produces tragedy: look at the excesses of the Spanish conquerors, first the Pizarro brothers, ruffians all, who came to violent ends. That good guide in the bus, Mr Hoerta, told us how Pizarro in fact took advantage of civil war among the Incas, was hailed in Cuzco for getting rid of the outsider, Atahuallpa. One can only speculate what might have happened if the Incas had not fallen, but had traded & acquired horses & guns, as the Plains Indians did. But that was not in the cards. The Plains Indians were nomads, had little the invaders could seize, while the Incas had cities & hoards of silver & gold (Troy again, the stronghold to take & pillage through violence & deceit: western mythology, code of conduct, how to proceed).
Meanwhile, Gail wakes up & we have to decide whether to stay at this altitude, or retreat to Arequipa (where we might try to see condors), then go home early, also what to do about the festival right here. We rule out paying $30 for a tour bus & bleacher seats on the plain up above the city at Sacsayhuaman, with its massive walls built in a zig-zag pattern, which to some has suggested the teeth of a giant puma, the head of the city, to others a defensive device. By the time we have had breakfast & changed our flight to leave the next morning for La Paz, we get to the plaza just at the festival is winding down, getting ready to process up the hill, so we see the dance of the hunters entrapping the deer & the masked old men with staves, looking like my idea of a Greek chorus. Then the Inca, a very tall & handsome Indian, climbed up on to his platform chair, looking the way the Pope in Rome used to, when he was carried on men's shoulders instead of riding in an armored jeep, & he was carried off to drumming & piping, following the whole procession out of the plaza & up the steep streets towards the hill.
After a long lunch, we took a taxi up, a difficult ride because of the traffic, only to find the Inca ramparts & the knoll opposite occupied by huge throngs, which in detail looked like thousands of family picnics: many fires, meats roasting, bags of popped white corn, huge wicker baskets being carried piled high with roasted guinea pigs (one food I did not try, although they looked rather like rabbits). Being taller than almost everyone else, we managed to get to the edge of the knoll, where we could see the dancing on the plain below. When it was over, Gail begged a ride from some people who had their own private bus, so we made a quick escape, nor did we risk trying to walk down.
WEDNESDAY (JUNE 25), leaving a day early, sorry to miss another concert by Gustavo & his group but feeling we had seen as much as we could absorb, got the plane for La Paz, flying first down the valley from Cuzco, saw where our bus had turned over to the parallel valley, flew near the snow-capped peak of Ausangato, above 20,000 feet, with glacier & run-off streams, alluvial plain, walled fields, until at higher altitudes, no vegetation, but streams of water glistening in barren canyons, though to West it looks as if land less rugged. Finally, a road appears, then a town, then more glistening streams & then lakes, water trapped up here on the heights. A line of snowy peaks on the eastern horizon, terracing down below, even in these brown canyons. A big, snaking river, classic meander pattern, a lake, then another, bigger, can't see to end, must be Lake Titicaca. Blue bordered with green bands. Algae? Reeds? Getting to La Paz? Taxi? No, Gail found microbus (public transport) stopping right in front of our hotel (on the one main street, which runs down the center of the canyon in which La Paz is built). Since we were a day early, hotel had no room, but found us a place near by.
Having even more trouble breathing, we began exploring the center, looking for somewhere to eat. Got to the main square (Plaza Murillo), where the cathedral in Roman style stands next to the palace of the president with baroque trim, guarded by soldiers with machine guns & bayonets: the formula of religion & government together again (the guns looked like those guarding banks & ministries in Rome or Istanbul, or anywhere that the "system" needs to show its force to stay in control). With our hunting-gathering instinct, we found the old convent of St. Francis turned into a market, with stalls where nuns used to live. I bought a drumstick with a leather head & an embroidered jacket from Potosi, from a woman who spoke good English, turned out to be a Sephardic Jew, with roots in Spain. Finding a restaurant to take credit cards proved difficult. One advertised Argentine cooking & served only steaks. We fled. Right across from our hotel, we found the Plaza Penthouse, staffed with waiters in black tie, very solicitous (I put on my new jacket to feel more appropriately dressed: hadn't worn a jacket & tie or shaved since the second day in Peru, was getting pretty bristly). But the duck galantine did not taste fresh. Gail's lamb tasted like spoiled, tough mutton. She couldn't eat it, settlied for custard. We fled. But then we couldn't sleep, because Bolivia beat Mexico in the soccer semi-finals & cars drove honking through the streets for several hours (just they way they used to in Rome).
THURSDAY (JUNE 26), we weren't ready when our tour bus came because noone told us that Bolivia is an hour ahead of Peru. The bus gave us a tour of the city, vendors lining streets, as we picked up fellow tourists, then half an hour went to palaver, because the operator tried to force two extra people into the already crowded microbus. We & our guide rebelled. Finally we set off for Tiwanaku, a pre-Incan civilization on the Altiplano, first climbing up out of the canyon in which La Paz is built (the highway curves around dramatically as it rises & the whole city unfolds below), then heading off across the plain, remarking the farms, each with its dark brown mud-brick yard & buildings, mostly covered with thatch, like so many little fortresses, & across the fields, low round mounds of stones collected, behind us the snow-capped chain of the Cordillera, ahead lower blue hills. Stop for police check point, at provincial boundary (this also in Peru). Detour here pure dust. Rush to get windows closed. Otherwise road new macadam, until we cut down to the ruins: a low pyramid & a low platform & a recessed open court. What impresses here is the geometry of it all, so regular, so precise: religion taken to an extreme. Again, the mound has its parallel in the form of the nearby mountains & the regular precincts echo the regular enclosures of the farms. Enjoyed a quinoa soup. Children were peddling fossil trilobites (probably fakes) & reproductions of pottery. When I said I had no change, one boy suggested trading a pen. So I gave him a red ballpoint in exchange for a clay pot with human features but puma claws.
On the way back, we got to talking with our guide, Zandra, who turned out to be serious & articulate: grandfather was Aymara, the predominant tribe around here, grandmother mixed Spanish & Quechua, mother Aymara & Quechua, father Quechua. When we saw a large hawk soaring over the ruins, she called it an eagle but I think it was only a buteo (cousin of red-tailed hawks). She directed our driver on to a side road up a ridge, so that we could see Lake Titicaca in the distance. Zandra described for us the life of an Aymara community, saying that each of those scattered farm dwellings belongs to some group, an aylla or clan. When a young man likes a young woman, he takes her away for three days to another community. Then they come back & live together for a year (switalli). When they marry, the whole community gets together & builds them a house. That only works in the country, she admitted.
Getting off at St. Francis, we bought some Alpaca yarn & asked help to find a better supper. The clerk sent us down into the upper class section of the city, further down the canyon, near the American embassy. The restaurant actually had a salad buffet with cooked vegetables (string beans, beets, cabbage, broccoli): then they served the trout with the same french fried potatoes & rice that we had been getting everywhere else (potatoes grow up here, but rice? Why it's a staple we couldn't figure out).
FRIDAY (JUNE 27), this time we were ready when the bus came to take us to Lake Titicaca. We spent the forty minutes to the terminal hearing the ghastly adventures of an Australian couple who were seeing the world to spend the money his ex-wife was trying to get from him in court: their ferry broke down in the Amazon, she suffered dysentery & diarrhea, until the Indians gave her a medicine that stopped her up for three days; dust storms & blizzards in Chile, volcanoes & hot springs at an altitude so high the drops froze before they hit the ground. On the road up out of La Paz & starting across the plain, I was struck by the frantic development, buildings stuck in everywhichway everywhere, really a chaos like that around the old walls of Rome, driven by the same greed & need: flight from the harsh life of the country, but for what? To eat the unsanitary meats & imported foods of the city markets? See the television, with the same formula we saw in Peru, of light-skinned, tall consumers & electronic products? Development in Spanish is disarroyo, which to me looks like disarray. The thing that strikes me most about Lake Titicaca when we get to it is the interface with the farms. Narrow plots with their low fences run right down into the reeds at the edge, making it clear that the level of water varies from year to year (we heard that whole villages were flooded eleven years ago). At other points, however, there is an air of waterside development like any resort. We ferry across a strait between two segments of the lake, bus on a barge, the rest of us in a boat.
We get to Copacabana, lake view, which turns out to have a cathedral that looks like a mosque, all white with mannered courtyard & arches, but for the rest is a dusty little town. We found a hotel just down the street from our travel agent, right on the beach, with a view over the lake, so we took it, then signed up for a boat trip to the Island of the Sun, where the first Inca supposedly came to earth, according to one legend. Where we landed, women were doing their washing in water that came coursing down the steep hillside by an Inca stairs. Slowly we dragged ourselves up, stopping very frequently to catch breath. About half-way up, since children brought their alpacas over to be photographed, petted & tipped. The wool was very long & thick, one dark brown, another white: made all the sweaters & scarves we'd been seeing seem more believable. On the boat, Gail had been talking to a German man with a cute little girl. Now it appeared that they had a personal guide, who was directing them to follow an old Inca trail across the high terraces to visit a temple which the others were going to visit by boat. The guide pointed out to us the fragrant plants growing thickly along the terrace walls, which made the walk very pleasant. He also showed us wheat & barley growing on the terraces, as well as quinoa, which was a staple crop of the Indians before Europeans imported grains. On the way down to the temple, I found a fossil snail in the limestone, which I gave to the little German girl.
On the trip back, the guide taught me the personal pronouns in Aymara & the verb meaning 'speak': naya parlta, 'I speak'; juma parlta, 'you speak'; jupa parli, 's/he speaks'; but then plural, jiwasa parltana 'we in this immediate group speak' but then juwasaka parlapxtanaz, we all speak: right there an interesting way of conceiving the social situation, one way of defining one's immediate reference group as opposed to a more general grouping: conspiratorial? Also, I wondered about this verb paranya, parlana in view of French parler, Italian parlare & Spanish, parabola, hablar. Then there is milk'a for 'milk'. My informant, Nemecio, also taught me how to say, 'How are you?' & 'Well': kamisaki & waliki. Then he said he had heard a phrase, quo vadis, & wondered what it meant. I told as best I could the story of St Paul fleeing Rome, only to be stopped by a mysterious stranger (sc. Christ) who asked, 'Where are you going?', which caused him to reflect & return to witness to his faith & die (if I remember correctly). Then Nemecio translated it into Aymara, kawkarusa sarata & Spanish, donde vas?.
SATURDAY (JUNE 28): out on the beach were stocky shorebirds, shaped like plovers, with white V's in the wings when they flew, recalling a willet or avocet but not these. The same birds occurred frequently in the fields & wet edges. Will have to look them up (lapwings?. In front of the church, we saw cars lined up for the blessing: decked out in red pompoms & festoons of flowers, their owners pouring champagne on the wheels. A plump, balding Franciscan friar, his brown robe fastened with the usual knotted cord, was making the rounds with a copper bucket of holy water & a little baton with a red sponge on the end. He would dip it into the bucket, shade the water over the motor & over the people, sometimes playfully tapping one on the head with his sponge. In the market surrounding the square, Gail fell in love with the wicker baskets & I found broad brimmed, soft felt hat. For lunch, we found our German friends with Nemecio, who told me how to get a bicycle-carter to bring our bags up from the beach to the bus. This time, the bus was nearly full with passengers from La Paz, but at the border someone offered us the guide's seats right next to the front windshield, so we got a fine view of the panorama as we reentered Peru. In wet places we began to see glossy ibises & a white-faced duck that looked like a teal, white herons, coots, an egret sharing a pond with cows. Here the walls of the fields began to be made in stone, standing only one stone thick, so that light shows through like a lattice at this hour. The bus driver stopped to buy bread, then threw buns to the stray dogs that ran out barking as we drove along. At one stop, Gail got a picture of an ibis. Across the fields, we saw a harrier with its white rump cruising low. The last 50 kilometers into Puno are alpaca land, many herds, some of them sheared.
Here the whole landscape patterned with those lattice-like stone walls, the low sun shining through. Some fields have raised beds surrounded by irrigation channels. Flocks are beginning to leave the fields for home. In Puno, there was a swarm of agents trying to sell us taxis & hotels. Gail went with one to look at offerings, which were aweful. I went with another, but no rooms with windows or else no credit cards. We ended up in the Station Hotel, in business since 1898, their original license framed in the lobby. The local Rotary Club banquet was going full steam in the dining room, with orchestra & solid businessmen doing the tango, but that would be over in an hour they promised. Water was hot but radiator only tepid. Newspaper headlines had announced 200 children dead of cold in Puno this year. We asked for extra blankets & a heater. Across the street, old stone station on the Inca rail, line to Cuzco, & just a few doors down a colorful evening market, knits & weaves, food, then, further up, a pedestrian mall lined with restaurants & more vendors. Two music shops were selling brass instruments & hard drums for bands, others had the pan pipes, castenets, smaller drums of Andean music. We bought two Alpaca caps from a handsome woman named Eulalia, took a picture.
SUNDAY (JUNE 29) about eight we followed the railroad tracks down to the pier to find a boat to visit the floating islands, which are woven of reeds. We discovered that the open boats at the dock belong to the Indians themselves, so we paid them directly, not some tour operator. In the reeds near the shore, saw about twenty flamingos, with their whitish bodies looking a lot like the sheep on the field near the edge of the lake. Other birds included one small duck with white cheek patch, a large buff rump. Also, among the reeds, indeed walking on the green scum, what looked like a gallinule with a red ridge on its head, also a black bird skulking with red legs, like a rail. At the island, we disembarked on the spongy reed surface, immediately saw young night herons with their wings clipped, then gallinule chicks pecking around like chickens, ibises foraging at the borders, a whole stand in the little market with stuffed marsh birds, & to the side, in the shade of a cottage, a whole heap of dead birds: snared & strangled, we learned, for the feast of St. Peter. Otherwise, hunting is forbidden (the birds would soon vanishh). The market also featured stuffed, glazed frogs. Clearly the Indians know the local wild population & make use of it, even to keeping gallinules as pets (to grow up & be eaten I'm sure; but the herons? Edible? I should have asked.). Our boatman proudly showed us the local school, two buildings with tin roofs & inside stools neatly stacked. The little children around the village, however, looked rather uncared for. The women were knitting & staffing their stalls. Saw a handsome sparrow, with tan & brown back stripes, crested head, sharp pattern, buff necklace, on the skeleton of an abandoned latrine. Baby black pigs playing on a reed mound nearby. Cooking done in clay ovens out of doors (cf. the little clay ovens used for cooking in St Lucia). A curved stone shaped with two handles still used for grinding corn. Puno's altitude, 3,827*3= 11,481 feet, Cuzco only 3399.
That afternoon we signed up for one last tour, to see the cemetery at Sillustani. This guide was a mine of information, so we learned that the population in Peru is divided, with Aymara speakers 6 percent, Quechua speakers 22 percent, also that the stone walls I had been admiring help to collect heat, encourage crops, so, too, the water around the irrigated mounds I had seen, Lake Titicaca rose five meters in 1986, flooding many villages, this year rose only a meter, which made the islands float, but the waves were so big that one family's sector broke off & was lost. In the Inca period, guide continued, Quechua was the working class language, while the ruling language has been lost except for a few words. The site is a stark hill, rising between a pond & a considerable lake, with towers rising on the heights & a network of low wals, terraces & steps. A flock of sheep & alpacas grazing. A buteo flies over, dark wing tips, white & dark bands, tail while, with dark band on tip. Falcons on the tallest tomb, yellow feet, dark back of head. A caracara flies over, big orange head, white belly, white tail with black band before the tip. Small birds on the hillside: a wagtail? brownish above, line over eye, wing bars, jerking tail. Also a little fat bird all steely gray. Another with white under the tail, brown above. Outside the museum, a woman spinning alpaca wool. Inside, mummies, with elongated heads. Calls of gallinules from the marsh. Some flamingos fly up. Pink clouds reflect in the pond. Sheep painted pink as for a festival. Altogether, a very suggestive place, with its stark hill, brooding towers, water on two sides, mesas rising from the lake.
SUNDAY (JUNE 30): stopped taking Diamox for high altitude & started to shave (not easy to get clean). Spent the last morning in Puno repacking then shopping: found one good brown, handknitted alpaca sweater & a cardigan from a vendor who set up early. Checked out the musical instruments again, but the tamborine was made of plywood & looked very weak. Got a final taste of quinoa soup for lunch & good fried trout, also cooked vegetables. Took a microbus to the airport at Juliaca (I slept in the back seat, but could see that the landscape was a variant of the familiar, the stone fences, the enclosures, the scattered flocks. In this context, two prisons & a convent read like ironic amplifications of the basic pattern, enclosures farmed out here to the country by the urban society that exploits the farms. Dust clouds blew across the airstrip. A llama wandered by. Then an alpaca. Our plane was over two hours. The hills grew blue, the sky yellow-orange, then dark. One hoped the llama & alpaca had been corralled. We had been planning where to stay in Lima, what museums to see on our last day. But now we would be getting in so late that the process would be complicated. Did we want to face the confusion of competing agents & drivers, the uncertainty of where to leave our luggage, how to get to our plane? We had had a very interesting time in the country. Why spoil it with a hasty & tiring time in the city. We decided to see if we could get the evening flight to Miami, never leaving the airport at all. When we landed, she rushed to the United Counter. I followed dragging the luggage as soon as it appeared, arrived just at the last possible moment. We were on to get home a day early & needed the time. Guests were coming to stay with us over the Fourth of July weekend in East Hampton. We could use the extra day to begin to get settled & pack.
Back on e-mail, I learned that my review of Guns, Germs & Steel, had been accepted for publication by Bryn Mawr Classical Review: I resisted adding a section on how the book had focused the visit to Peru: the farms, the pastoral culture of sheep & cattle wearing away at the dry land, destroying the scarce vegetation, sending to market the putrid meats, the interlacing of religion & power, the urban lure undermining life in the countgry. Now I see that over a week had gone in getting this together, what with all the work to do in my own garden & the distracting inspiration of guests. How arbitrary such a garden, I reflect, where nobody's life depends on whether I fail or succeed.