Trujillo first impressions

30
Sep
2008

This place reminds me a LOT of Campeche in Mexico. The style of a lot of the architecture is strikingly similar, the buildings are likewise painted colorfully, and the general sense is of a never extremely wealthy city.

At the Airport in Lima…

30
Sep
2008

Waiting for my flight to board to Trujillo. Ricardo will meet me there tomorrow and we will spend a few days in the north, seeing archaeological sites and eating good food. I just noticed that the paper in my passport says my stay is limited to 30 days. After asking around, everyone I spoke indicated that I will just need to pay one US dollar per day extra for each day over 30. They also said I don’t have to do anything until I leave, and can pay the fee at that time. I hope they are right, b/c I couldn’t find any immigration officer to speak to.

Basking in authenticity

29
Sep
2008

My friend Christian asked me for a little help writing an “Artist’s Statement” in English for inclusion in a ceramics exhibition in Korea in which he is a participant. Christian and I have the same feeling about the utter ridiculousness of artists’ statements. The idea that one needs a guide to formal work like ceramics or sculpture, as if there is some code to decipher, is a little silly. But then again, it is often how the art world operates. If the narrative is compelling, so goes the art. Oftentimes without this compelling narrative, no notice will be taken of the work on its own. The intersection of these things is fascinating.

Christian and I started playing a little game, assigning all kinds of meaning to the work that was never part of his intent. And then we hit on an extraordinary idea. What would the art world denizens be expecting of a Peruvian ceramics artist? What would the committee putting together the expo want or need for their interest to be piqued? It was pretty obvious (and unfortunate), but we both agreed that they would want something “authentic”, “Peruvian”, and above all “native”. This is sadly the way much of the art world needs to interact with objects from other cultures. It is pretty insulting, actually. The idea being that authenticity must flow from some quasi colonial/imperial idea of original culture. If Christian were to say that his influences were Bauhaus architects of the 1920s, it would probably be met with much less interest than saying he was trying to recover pre-Spanish (and pre-Inca) images of earth mother and earth father. As a Peruvian artist, it is much more “authentic” to repair the destruction of colonialism than it would be to express yourself as a citizen of the world where influences come from everywhere. This is an insulting trap for artists the world over.

In today’s world, this search for the “authentic” and “native” is more than a little silly. With modern communications and media being what they are, everything is a jumble of everything. While it might soothe some remote aesthete to believe they can find unadulterated purity, it is a fantasy. And this fantasy is not limited to art consumers. In my own travels I have been confronted time and again with the platonic ideal of the authentic smashing up against the real and messy mix of cultures that is the modern world. I think back to one of my favorite stories, told to me by my friend Marites. When she and her husband were traveling for the first time in India, they were invited by relatives of an Indian family they knew in Berkeley to come for a visit. The village was a bit off the beaten track, and my friends were quite tired when they finally arrived, happy to be welcomed into a home in the midst of all the chaos of Indian culture. As they settled in, the mother of the household offered them chai. My friend took it with great pleasure and care, and noticing the aroma and flavor and surroundings, said,

“This is all so wonderful, thank you for welcoming us into your home. This chai is delicious. Where do you get your spices? Where does the tea come from?”

Visions of the misty tea plantations of Darjeeling surely dancing in my friend’s head, the woman responded,

“Oh! It is Lipton tea. I always buy a huge box when I visit my son in Berkeley. From Costco, it is such a good price!”

My friend was crestfallen, but laughing as well. I love this story because it so well illustrates how our romantic notions of things so often take the place of what is actually in front of us. That we find it so difficult to see what is real and potentially beautiful without a special narrative. The best part of traveling (for me anyway) is not in having one’s romantic notions fulfilled (which does happen sometimes), but in discovering things one never knew about, mundane or awful or wonderful, that teach something about a culture. I am not bothered at all by the complex contradictions of a culture, I revel in them. Or more accurately, I revel in the lessons they impart, because oftentimes these experiences are not terribly pleasant.

It is the same with the expectations that the world places upon us for reasons having nothing to do with our personalities. It is of course true that we are made up of the many threads of our environment, including the place of our birth and circumstances of our cultures. But this is not all we are, and in an increasingly interconnected world, for both good and ill, we are a jumble, all of us. Instead of needing to put people into boxes for the ease of categorization and identification, perhaps we could try standing back a bit and just looking, without referring to the artist’s statement. We might be surprised and delighted by what we find.

Good ole-fashioned American know-how

28
Sep
2008

Just to show the gang some appreciation (and that I have a few secret talents), I made them all my famous French toast for breakfast this morning. In case you are wondering, it involves thick bread, eggs, cream, milk, cinnamon, vanilla, sugar, mascarpone, sliced almonds, butter and love. Joaquin, Ricardo, Miguel, Christian and Juan Carlos were suitably impressed. At least as far as I could tell from the translations.

Huaca Pucllana

26
Sep
2008

There is a massive archeological site right in the middle of the Miraflores neighborhood of Lima called Huaca Pucllana. Up until about 30 years ago it was used as a motocross site according to our guide. It is a pretty fascinating place, originally built by the native pre inca Lima culture from about 200 -700 AD, and then used by a few successive peoples (Wari) after their decline. One of the hallmarks of the Lima construction is adobe bricks stacked in trapezoidal shapes and like books on a bookshelf, which give quite a lot of seismic stability to the structures. It was amazing what good shape a lot of the buried compound was in. The site was apparently much much bigger originally, but over the years, the Miraflores neighborhood buildings were built on top of it, with only this part (which was a massive mound) still remaining and being excavated.

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A different take on colonialism?

25
Sep
2008

It is way too early I am sure to be making sweeping generalizations about the Peruvian psyche. And yet, the two great Spanish colonial cultures I have been exposed to for any length of time (Mexico and here) seem to have been marked in very different ways from each other. Through my 5 months in Mexico and exposure to books (such as El laberinto de la soledad) as well as interactions with the people, I got a sense of just how still present and marked Mexican culture is by the Spanish Conquest. It is not some remote past atrocity, but a living, breathing, ongoing thread in the culture. It seems to pit different parts of the Mexican psyche against itself, as well as between groups in current society. Although I have only been in Peru a few weeks, my sense of their relationship to their past colonial history is very different. I get the idea from the sites I have visited and the discussions with people that live here that Spanish rule was almost just the next in a line of succession after the Incas. Peruvians seem to be much more comfortable than Mexicans with the various parts of their past, and accepting of the idea that they are as much a product of colonialism as they are previous cultures. They seem to find a way (through their museums, archaeology sites, culture of food, etc) to present without sentimentalism their past stretching back thousands of years, and to integrate it in their current identity. These are of course my superficial first impressions, and perhaps they will change, but it is striking.

Another look at downtown

22
Sep
2008

Joaquin, Ricardo, Christian and I went strolling in El Centro yesterday, and saw a number of interesting things. We stopped by the bar that invented the Pisco Sour (to have a Pisco Sour, ‘natch), visited a number of old city houses (that are now museums, including one with a fascinating Tola exhibit), and wandered through the older streets of Lima admiring the architectural details that are signatures of Lima (such as tied wrought iron work and enclosed balconies).

We also stopped by the fascinating Iglesia de Santa Rosa, where she lived and practced her very odd forms of worship and self sacrifice. Today we would say this woman was disturbed, a masochist and probably schizophrenic in great need of help. Back then, they thought she was pious and sainted her. Thousands of people come every year to worship and leave wishes in the well at the site. It is fascinating to me how context changes the interpretations of things. The same actions that seem the mark of insanity in one culture are venerated in another.

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Lost Weekend

21
Sep
2008

It was a crazy, all night dance party Friday night / Saturday morning. It is interesting that because of the lack of gay venues here, the dance clubs are quite mixed. No one seemed to have any problems and the atmosphere was pretty festive. I’m not sure where Joaquin and Ricardo get all their energy from, but it is inspiring. I myself was alternating between dancing and propping myself against a wall near them while they continued moving to the music. At 8 am we dragged ourselves through the misty day lit streets of Lima back to their place, where we hung out on the terrace for most of the day. We went out briefly just to feel that we had done something and for a brief bite to eat before coming back to the house where I crashed at 7 pm.

I feel pretty back to normal today, and am beginning to look at my options for the coming months. After noting the host of physical difficulties with our visits to high altitudes (chapped lips, bloody noses, difficulty breathing or walking) I am reconsidering my previous idea of going to Bolivia, since every place I wanted to go there is at a greater height than the highest point we were in here in Peru. I am now looking at going first to a few places north within Peru, and then heading to Argentina. Perhaps I will rent an apartment in Buenos Aires and use that as a base for exploring the rest of the country.