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PostPeru: Seven Interpretative Observations (John Eipper, US) (John Eipper, USA, 03/08/08 3:31 pm)
JE writes: As I watch the falling snow in what seems to be month six
of the Great Midwestern Winter of '07-'08, I'd like to share some leftover
observations from Peru:
1. The surface of the mountaintop "lost city" of Machu Picchu looks
flat in photos; in reality it has infinite stone steps all over the
place, to create many levels--not altogether unlike a 1960s'
split-level suburban home. Machu Picchu might be the most
breathtaking landscape in the world.
2. Government tourist venues in Cuzco are more monopolistic and totalitarian
than anywhere I've visited before. For example, to enter one single
museum (such as the birthplace of one of my favorite writers, the
mestizo chronicler/historian Inca Garcilaso de la Vega), one is
obliged to visit a different tourist office to buy an overpriced
"boleto parcial" (partial of what?) that also entitles the holder to
visit other museums of dubious worth and/or interest. The upshot: I
dropped 40 soles (nearly $15) to visit Inca G's house, which turned
out to be an art museum that had no displays or information on the
writer himself or his youth. These sound like European prices to me.
3. While #2 might be construed as a cultural holdover from the
centralized economy of the Incas, nothing else in Cuzco (the
"Bellybutton of the World" according to the Incas) reflects this
philosophy: the foreign tourist is hounded by "the market" here more
than anywhere else I've been. Period. A foreigner is approached about once every three minutes when walking the Cuzco streets. Personally I am torn: of
course I find the endless touts, hawkers, beggars, masseuses,
sweater-mongers, bootleg tobacco and CD peddlers to be obnoxious, but
I realize that we folklore-craving tourists are ultimately the ones to
blame for this situation coming about.
4. That such a splendid culture (the Incan) could flourish in the
profoundly rugged--literally vertical--Andean topography dazzles the
imagination. How did this sprawling empire remain cohesive over such
a geographical space--and without a developed writing system?
5. Peru is, in many ways, the flip side of two of its Andean
neighbors: whereas in Colombia and Ecuador the highlands exercise
political power over the coast (in Ecuador, vibrant Guayaquil has
become larger and more economically significant than conservative Quito),
in Peru the situation is reversed: The Costa controls the Sierra. Lima holds
political control, yet the tourist "soles" flock to the Cuzco-Machu
Picchu corridor--from which, according to the "Serranos," Lima is
interested only in claiming its share.
6. Peru is the land of the "Chifas": Chinese restaurants with their
own purpose-specific name (instead of, say, "restaurante chino").
Asian food in other Latin American nations is marked as exotic; in
Peru it has become part of the national fabric. Many conclusions
might be reached from this, not the least of which would be the
acceptability some years back of a President of Asian background:
Alberto Fujimori. (Few in Peru seem to have much to say about
7. So if we're talking about politics, why did the Peruvians re-elect
Alan Garcia in 2006? His 1985-1990 presidency was an unparalleled
disaster, which saw the collapse of the economy, a vertiginous decline
in living standards, 2,000,000+% inflation (ever the numismatist, I
bought a 5,000,000 Inti banknote, dated 1990, at a street market), the
unexplained disappearance of most of the money
slated for the construction of an elevated train/transit system in
Lima, the terror of the Sendero Luminoso, etc. I posed this very
question to a Cuzqueño intellectual at dinner on March 4th: why
Garcia, again? His reply: Would you rather die of cancer or AIDS?
He was referring to the 2006 run-off election between Garcia and the
maverick Ollanta Humala, a soldier-cum-politician largely in the mold
of Hugo Chavez. Garcia's campaign message was largely based on a "I've learned
from my mistakes" approach. This counterintuitive strategy worked...
So here are my seven disconnected observations, with my apologies to the great
Peruvian political philosopher, Jose Carlos Mariategui, and his
seminal 1928 book, *Seven Interpretative Essays on Peruvian Reality*. I am no Mariategui, but the number seven might have some magical power.
-- For information about the World Association of International Studies
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John Eipper, Editor-in-Chief, Adrian College, MI 49221 USA