Sunday, March 28, 2010

Printing Press Street: Lima, Peru

In the very few days I spent in Lima, I managed to wander along narrow streets into a passageway of crumbling Colonial buildings. It may have been an "area where I should not have been," though at this point it probably only exists in my personal record. In my memory, which now houses the images of that small street as a series of still photographs, the street did not have street lamps, the sky was a velvety, cobalt blue and every door was only slightly ajar, cracked and carved wooden portals sitting uncomfortably on their hinges. The whole street hummed with presses. Lima tends to be organized by sector - here is the cake street, where you can purchase a cake to suit your needs, here is the shoe shop street, where you can fix your soles at any one of 50 vendors lining it, here is the weird cardboard-and-tissue-paper party decorations street, etc. This, I gather, was Printing Press Street.

I had just landed in Lima for the first time and Printing Press Street was solidly romanticized by me in the ten or so minutes it took to traverse that alley through cabs and pedestrians. For a word nerd like me, wandering down a back-way where every single doorway led to a giant machine, purring, and the scent of ink and paper wafted out of busted doorways that had probably been carved hundreds of years ago was maddeningly enticing. Nevermind that most of what I saw being printed were [gaudily designed] advertising posters, pamphlets and leafleting sundries.

I didn't yet know about Peru's publishing piracy problem at that point. Daniel Alarcon writes about the absurd facts of said industry - as large as, if not bigger than the official publishing industry of Peru - here. Learning about all this in retrospect is vaguely amusing, impressive and depressing simultaneously, but experiencing it was maddening. As Alarcon points out in the Granta piece, book stores are hard to come by. Before taking off for Iquitos by boat from Pucallpa, I ran around looking for books for the week long trip and did not find a single book store in the entire town. When I had finally given up, reclining in my leopard-print hammock on the boat, a man came by hawking pamphlets and reading materials "to help you sleep." I should have looked for book sellers instead of book stores, apparently. Alarcon also points out that pirates, not bound by publishers' rules, contracts, or moral obligations to the writers, take certain liberties. The most impressive of these, for me, is the power of abridging. Throughout Bolivia, for example, there are book stores and stalls full of pamphlets that look like children's coloring books but are in fact abridged versions of books like Les Miserables and Three Musketeers and The Complete Aesop's' Fables [abridged] - thick books twiddled down to a few breviloquent pages. They all come from Peru.

So I wonder, now, about Printing Press Street. Was it the heart of the illegal publishing industry, pushing posters by day and switching to Don Quijote (a most popular street book throughout South America) reprints by night? The plan is to find out.


Friday, March 12, 2010

A Conflict with Geography (Natural and Man Made)

So malleable am I to the height of the skies and mountains, to the proximity of seas and buildings splayed out like a handful of jacks, that my attention seems to linger on maps, physical, more than maps, otherwise (cultural?). I knew, for example, that Valparaiso would be the Queen – Chris Marker showed me steps looking out to sea, neighborhoods melted over hillsides. And I knew Iruya would be the Gem – its white washed church pierces the sky as a culmination of the winding Route 9 after it has led you past Purmamarca, and Maimara, Tilcara, its mountainside cemetery, and my favorite, Humahuaca, which sounds like wisps of smoke when you say it out loud. New York, too, and Buenos Aires, flat, by water, lit up eternally in the dark – tiny lights like bioluminescent Dinoflagellates in the city sea. Scraggly Maine, salt-crusted, Cusco sunk in eucalyptus trees, Chimgan, snow-capped with icy streams in teal, Pittsburgh stitched together with iron bridges and smoothed by vines running down its hills.

What’s it like here? then is a superfluous question. I see the river, the bridges, the slanted layers of sedimentary beds jutting out in lines only to crumble before they get too far, the buildings dusty and not tall enough, the mounts somehow unspectacular, streets like threads weltering steeply; I get lost and am afraid of driving on them but keep pressing the gas so I don’t sink backwards. It’s un-extraordinary, which is not unusual, but years here would be ___________.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Little Guy Goes To Heaven

I came home today to find a little mouse – all wet except his head which made it seem un-proportionately large – dying in my kitchen sink. Little Guy was slumped against the side of the drain, heaving at times and then falling still, his slick fur vaguely pinkish, as if blood had been washed off.

I tried to get Little Guy to crawl into a container so I could bring him down the stairs and feed him to the many cats that patrol Quincy St. but he was too weak to climb out of the drain. Ever helpful, I was going to assist but thought perhaps Little Guy had been poisoned by one of the many powders inconspicuously lining the edges of every cabinet and corner of our kitchen. This could kill the cats! I thought. Unlikely, I know, but still, Not me! My cat-lady friends would disown me and the remainder of my days would be haunted by the sassy felines of youtube. My second best plan was to nurse Little Guy back to life. I stood for a solid five minutes leaning over the sink and asking him what he thought of the idea. Little Guy’s breathing was becoming less and less perceptible and finally I had to admit that he probably wasn’t going to pull through. Still, what to do?

It seemed incomparably cruel to flush Little Guy down the toilet or put him in the trash (remember people, disposal methods in Brooklyn are a bit limited) as he lay suffering, so I finally decided I would let him breath his last in peace and then I would do the disposing, with Little Guy blissfully unaware of his inglorious end. I picked him up by his tail, put him in a box on the windowsill, turned on some music and started cooking. The whole time I’m feeling kind of uneasy with the slow yet impending doom of Little Guy on the sill and the apartment is eerily quiet and cold and still. At some point Little Guy II emerges out of the stove and goes exploring while I’m standing there going, “Hey buddy, what’s the deal, aren’t you scared of me?!” I finally make a move to get at him and he runs around my pot of boiling water, singes his fur, and makes a getaway. It smells, undoubtedly, of an impending mouse revolt in apt. 285.

Soon after, my roommate comes home and I laboriously relay the entire tale to her. She picks up the box with Little Guy, goes straight for the bathroom, and flushes him. “I think he said, ‘Thank you.’” she says.