61. Lima III
My third and final stop in Lima this year is mostly errands and chores; but I have a delightful ceviche lunch with Aldo and a co-worker of his, wander the streets a little, and finally do what the locals always tell visitors to do first. I take the open-top City-Tour, the bus that leaves from Parque Kennedy in Miraflores and explores the sights of downtown Lima, with no worries about parking the car or making sure to take the radio out of it.
The City Tour
I should, finally, go on the City Tour. Wednesday is a fine morning, and I set out walking toward Parque Kennedy, only to learn I’ve misunderstood: the buses do not leave every hour or so between 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 pm. Rather, one leaves at 9:30 and the next at 2:30. It is now 9:45.
But the next morning I front up at the ticket office in timely fashion, so early that I have a moment to snag a coffee at Starbuck’s and phone Aldo to arrange to meet for lunch when I return.
Sitting on the upper deck of the bus, waiting to start, feels odd: six months ago, perhaps to the day, I stood just here, looking at the international photograph exhibit and talking with a local man. In my mind, I compared Lima perhaps to San Francisco and Beijing and Reykjavik, but not yet to Huancabamba and Cajamarca and Arequipa and Amantani. I had not yet been to the mountains, so as to recognize, as I do now, the clothing on those indigenous women selling crafts a few dozen meters away.
Today, it feels odd to be wholly without control over the vehicle I’m riding in.
The greyness of the day or the murkiness of the emotional context give it all a very muted aspect. I am leaving Perú. I have come to like Perú. Very much. I am not quite sure what is next or why I am finally, on my last day, taking this tour I never got around to on our earlier stays in Lima.
From the “catacombs,” way below the huge old church, I look down to a still-lower level and find these:
How neatly arranged they are! To see the skulls and bones arranged so, in concentric circles, in a photograph, without more, is more compelling than the sight itself. The photograph alone has perhaps a bit more power to disturb us, because we do not have a context: how long have these been here, and who arranged them so neatly why? Were they placed here by the murderers as a cautionary tale for those inclined to question the regime? Or did they straggle separately into the land of death, over many months or years, from natural causes, and wait centuries for someone to arrange them so, and centuries more for this photograph to be taken? We do not hear the clipped voice of the tour-guide or feel the fat gentleman from Spain trying to push us out of the way to get a better view himself, as we try to hold the camera steady enough to make the picture in the dim light.
I want also to think about these for a moment, the skulls themselves. To muse on how often, in Perú but also in Mexico, the culture cheerfully rubs our noses in the fact of Death. That Death and Life, yin and yang, bear a deep and abiding relationship is pretty obvious, yet modern American culture [if you’ll forgive the oxymoron] brushes every hint of death from sight instantly, like crumbs from a table-cloth in a high-class restaurant. I feel quite sure St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, the little red one I was made to attend intermittently as a child, had no such interesting display in its basement, and not merely because of its limited size and age.
Fortunately within moments we are back above-ground, brought back to the reality of contemporary everyday life, with its reassuringly familiar sights and sounds.
As we continue, I photograph also a woman and child, presumably begging. Of course I wish I could give them something, but from the upper-deck of a tour-bus whirling past, that isn’t too practical. I consider it just long enough to realize that a coin hitting the pavement from here would not only startle them and seem horribly disdainful, but could even bounce up and hit the kid in the eye or something. I content myself with certainty that at this distance, with everything going on at street level, they clearly do not see me photographing them, if that would matter. Yet when I look at the resulting photograph, their eyes seem to be locked onto me.
Nearby, San Martín remains in his saddle, and a long-dead orator passionately exhorts oblivious citizens.
Nearly a decade into the 21st Century, a portable typewriter can still make you some money on the streets of the city, writing for those who can’t.
When traffic slows down, vendors dance among the cars and trucks and buses, selling kites, toys, soft drinks, air fresheners, lottery tickets, and even books — though a sudden light change sometimes means sprinting a block to complete the sale.
From the top of a bus, from my vantage point as a lone visitor who knows no one and leaves on the midnight plane, without attachments, suddenly it seems as if I can see everything, and everything I see evokes senses, even if in fact I know nothing, not the text of the letter the typewriter man is composing for his client nor the dreams of this resting laborer, nor even the next turn in my own life, and yet everything feels quite right. I am full of reflections today, compelling ones to me but too inchoate and quirky to share.
For a moment the view from the top of the bus looks as if some Great Comic Strip Writer in the Sky had drawn me these two pairs of lovers, one large and one small, one flesh and one stone, but both full of such passion as to remind me that, as I have felt at various moments in my life, love is a country that canceled my visa long ago.
I grin, a little sorry that the sunlight isn’t brighter, wondering whether the picture would be stronger or weaker in bright sunlight, but mostly grateful that this bus with this photographer clinging to the top of it paused here at just this moment.
A familiar sight! La Rosa Nautica. Yet another view of it. But this is as close as I’ll get to it this week. It strikes me that this is my third stay in Lima, and the first not to include a supper down there. But the thought quickly gives way to curiosity whether framing three such different views of the same landmark would look at all interesting.
And then I’m back where I started. Back where the bus started this morning and the journey around Perú started more than six months ago, though rather than contemplating any of this I’m busy dialing Aldo on my Peruvian cell-phone and starting the short walk to his office building.
We have a pleasant lunch at the menu place where we’d lunched six months ago. He has with him a book of Vargas Llosa’s, in Spanish – and surprises me by telling me it’s for me. I point out that he has an optimistic view of my capabilities in Castellano. He acknowledges that, but encourages me to grow into the book.
In the evening I walk around. In Parque Kennedy it’s a nice evening, and lively. I stroll about, then find a perch and write idly in my notebook:
I sit, quite quiet and relaxed, on a bench in a park, city, and country that are not mine. it is a cool evening. There is a pleasant breeze. Vendors, lovers, chess-playhers, and conversationalists are all here doing what they do, as are children, not far away, the rusty screeches of swings more consistently audible than their screams of joy, of excitement, perhaps merely of childhood.
I am alone. Quite alone. Too, I am in a curious moment when all waves have rolled in and crashed, with their usual sound and fury, and are ebbing now, while their successors are in sight and imminent, though I cannot yet discern their shapes. This Peruvian journey is over, a sustained period of rhythmic peaks and valleys of excitement suddenly ending, a little too soon, like a disappointing orgasm. An eight-year relationship is also over, with a much louder crash. I have left the flat in Arequipa, where i felt comfortble, isolated, relaxed, and the black quatro por quatro, which was our real home these many months.
After some speculation on how it will be working in San Francisco again:
I know nothing and, for the moment, am comfortable knowing nothing.
It’s a nice night, though.
Why is one often so much more comforatble in a park where the dominant language is not one’s own?
Only night’s cool breeze
knows me now. All around, the
language is not mine.
It seems all my life people
have spoken some other tongue.
I feel very good. Quite content in my solitude. Curious about the future.
The next day all the way out to the airport, I feel more and more closely trapped in a web of sadness. Sourceless, it subtly builds its hold on me, strand by strand, before I recognize it consciously.
The truth is, I do not want to leave Perú. This Peruvian journey has been a delightful adventure, and I do not want it to end. I’d probably known that, but as I ride to the airport, check bags, and wait for departure, I feel it a lot more strongly than I’d have anticipated. I’m full of hopes for what lies next, but right now my sadness at leaving Perú is a fog that muffles the sounds and dims the lights of those hopes.
Perú has been kind to me. A few individuals have become close friends I do not want to lose, many more have shared with me a moment or two of magic or kindness, wild countryside and beautiful images are stamped as clearly on my mind as on the hard-drive full of photographs. Life here has been, more than usual, a string of steps into the unknown; and if some have brought hassles, most have brought wonder.