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LETTERS FROM PERU #3

THIS IS THE THIRD IN A SERIES OF E-MAILS SENT TO VARIOUS PEOPLE DURING A JOURNEY TO PERU IN APRIL, 2007. THIS ONE WAS DATED APRIL 15.
THEY WERE GENERALLY COMPOSED QUICKLY WITHOUT MUCH EDITING OR SPELLCHECKING, AND I’VE LEFT THEM AS IS TO LEAVE THE UNEXPURGATED FLAVOR.
THE PICTURES ARE OF MASKS WE COLLECTED ALONG THE WAY. WE DECIDED TO OPEN AN ON-LINE MASK BUSINESS DURING THIS TRIP, AND THESE WILL BE AMONG OUR FIRST PRODUCTS IF WE CAN BEAR TO PART WITH THEM.

Sean and Erin took us on yet another wildlife adventure this weekend to a place a couple of hours south of Lima called the ballestras islands,sometimes known as the poor man’s Gallapagos islands. We stayed in spacious accommodations at La Hacienda, the headquarters of a 16th century sugar plantation. The slaves were freed around here in the 1820’s, but the plantation owner didn’t pay much attention, so his “workers” took matters into their own hands and hacked him or shot him or both to death on the steps of the plantation. They had the sense not to burn the place down and ran it themselves for a while. It’s now an inn with wide verandas, capacious rooms, splendid grounds, good food, and fine entertainment. There’s a good-sized church on the grounds and we watched some of the services there this morning. There was a rendition of something to the tune of “Sounds of Silence”, about which we’re still puzzled, but it made for nice musice with the drums and guitar. There is still a considerable afro-peruvian population around with a distinct culture and music . If you haven’t heard rhythm kept on a cow’s jawbone, you haven’t heard music.
The islands thelmselves are a 1/2 hour boat ride out. They’re full of penguins (humboldt species), Boobies (that’s a bird), sea lions and a host of other things we couldn’t possibly identify. My cap endured a direct hit from a passing bombadier. This incident was emblematic of the history of the islands, since they were a lucrative source of guano in the 19th century. Chile and Peru even fought a war over them, and much of the guano-mining equipment is still standing. WE don’t have to go to Antarctica to see penguins, and the teaming life on these barren-looking rocks–quite a sight.
Tomorrow it’s back to civilization and downtown Lima.
There’s a couple of websites below. I know Rachel is interested in checking these places out. Maybe other people will be, too.

http://www.therealperu.co.uk/guide/pisco.aspx
www.haciendasanjose.com.pe

LETTERS FROM PERU #2

THIS IS THE SECOND IN A SERIES OF E-MAILS SENT TO VARIOUS PEOPLE DURING A JOURNEY TO PERU IN APRIL, 2007. THIS ONE WAS DATED APRIL 13
THEY WERE GENERALLY COMPOSED QUICKLY WITHOUT MUCH EDITING OR SPELLCHECKING, AND I’VE LEFT THEM AS IS TO LEAVE THE UNEXPURGATED FLAVOR.
THE PICTURES ARE OF MASKS WE COLLECTED ALONG THE WAY. WE DECIDED TO OPEN AN ON-LINE MASK BUSINESS DURING THIS TRIP, AND THESE WILL BE AMONG OUR FIRST PRODUCTS IF WE CAN BEAR TO PART WITH THEM.

Preface #1–This is a bit long because of the long time away from electronics, but what the hell, you can always push delete.
Preface #2–all hail to Rachel WWW.FERNCROFTTRAVEL.COM–book with her or risk a lousy trip. We choose to let her book us fantastic trips.

Mistah Kurtz, he still dead . . .

And so…
The Canadian province of Ontario is said to hold 25% of the planet’s fresh water. That’s hard for us to credit after having seen part of this vast swamp that links a throng of each-one-bigger-than-the-last rivers, all converging in northeast Peru at a point 6 km (3.6 mi) bank to bank that forms the beginning of the Amazon river, which is purported to be 30+ miles wide by the time it gets to the Atlantic.
our journey to the mucho agua took us first to a memorable intersection between Sean and Erin’s house and the airport where we saw 1) a 12-year-old juggling four apples; 2) a guy selling maps of the country 3) a twenty-something guy beating on a drum and playing pan pipes. granted, they were all trying to make a buck between green lights, but it beats a cardboard “God Bless Anything Helps” cardboard signs. then we went to an airport where no one asked for picture I.d. We were almost too stunned to board the flight. From Lima, we flew to iquitos, a nasty little town of 500, 000 on the banks of one of the amazon tributaries. It’s named after an extinct tribe and is home to a number of military bases, owing to its proximity to the Colombian and Brazilian boarders. We did have some good food there during our one night stand as well as some productive shopping. The food involved some new dishes–alligator chicharrones, heart of palm in the shape of fettuccine, and yucca/ The shopping involved some items which may be illegal to import and about which it’s probably best not to leave an e-mail trail.
The following day we met Rey (not Ray), our guide, who took us on a 1 1/2 hour drive to our big river embarkation point. The road was a nice tow-laner Through compelling evidence of slash-and-burn agriculture. It took 30 years to complete because successive administrations had broken their promises to get the job done. At Nauta, we boarded a nice boat, one of the kind the Thai’s call a long-tail because the propeller is mounted at the end of a 4-6 foot shaft, making it possible to tilt the motor, run the propeller shallow, and minimize vegetative entanglements. Our first destination was downstream to the aforementioned birth (not the headwaters) of the Amazon, but where the the Maranon and Ucayali rivers join to begin the Amazon proper. Then we headed upstream to our lodge, near the confluence of the Pacaya and Samiria Rivers and the “Reserve” or flora/fauna sanctuary from which the lodge takes its name. The lodge is a collection of thatched-roof, screened in bungalows, connected by board walkways, which are also covered by thatched roofs. The grounds are handsomely landscaped. Our room was comfortable. The water was running (though not heated); the toilet flushed; the beds were mosquito-netted; the food was plentiful and tasty. The next couple of days were a little like being inside the discovery channel where you get to participate instead of just watch. Here is an abridged list of what we encountered on our walks and boat rides.
1. Monkey-cup mushrooms–pink, convex-cupped fungus that are the “”shrooms” of psychedelic fame.
2. Pink and gray fresh-water dolphins. Many and lovely, jumping and playing and spouting. A legend aobut the pink ones will follow in another edition.
3. Tucans
4. Sloths (cuter than you think)\
5. Capuccine monkeys
6. macaws (be sure to tell Lizzy) These were blue and gold and called CAL, CAL, CAL from the treetops.
7. A red-headed swimming iguana
8. Several tarantulas. One teased from his hole in the ground by Rey, two others on the ceiling of the thatch-roofed walkways.

There settlements along the river, of course, and the river is the only way to reach them. People in the villages have outlying “plantations” of bananas, papayas, and rice (they’ll plant the rice in the sediment left when the river drops from its flood stage in a couple of months. there is no flood control here, so the river is left to do all its riverene things.)

LETTERS FROM PERU #1

THIS IS THE FIRST IN A SERIES OF E-MAILS SENT TO VARIOUS PEOPLE DURING A JOURNEY TO PERU IN APRIL, 2007. THIS ONE WAS DATED APRIL 10.
THEY WERE GENERALLY COMPOSED QUICKLY WITHOUT MUCH EDITING OR SPELLCHECKING, AND I’VE LEFT THEM AS IS TO LEAVE THE UNEXPURGATED FLAVOR.
THE PICTURES ARE OF MASKS WE COLLECTED ALONG THE WAY. WE DECIDED TO OPEN AN ON-LINE MASK BUSINESS DURING THIS TRIP, AND THESE WILL BE AMONG OUR FIRST PRODUCTS IF WE CAN BEAR TO PART WITH THEM.

I sent a version of this whole message, but it seems to have gone out blank. I have had bad luck working on line. Let me try once more from memory.

I’m sitting on Sean and Erin’s (For the untutored), Erin is my Niece works for USAID) Peruvian patio. It’s a nice warm southern hemisphere (late summer, early fall) morning. What time? Don’t know, don’t care, we’re on vaction.) In my view are fruiting trees (banana, Mandarin Orange, passionfruit). This morning a Mynah bird work me. Beyond the yard, golfers trudge down a fairway. Beyond the golf course, abrupt hills. The base of the (Jeopardy time. For $5, 000, 000 alex says, “the base of THIS mountain range.) Right. Now you’re rich. Aren’t’ you glad you opened this e-mail?
Lima is on a coastal shelf. 12 million people spread along the edge of a tectonic plate. We’re told to expect earthquakes while we;’re here. It’s a cosmopolitan place. The big supermarket is Wong’s. A multigenerational success story of a family who started with a little Chinatown tienda 30 or 40 years ago and has become a national food power. Only in America? I guess not. Whoops–a golf ball just flew in here. It’s all right, no one hurt. And I did not make that up.
The place is supposed to be a gustatory paradise. There’s a Cordon Bleu Academy branch which sends shefs out to NYC, Paris, SF, etc., then they come back and open up culinary heavens here. We’re anxious to check all that out.
The underside to the whole thing is that the fence is electrified and all the embassy vehicles are armored. Even if shooting assassins are rare, window-smashing-grab-and run thieves are not. They wander not only the parking lots, but the traffic jams, so you can get stuck in traffic and lose a lot more than time if you don’t have the extra-thick windows.
Today, we take off for our rainforest adventure on the upper amazon. We’ll go out of a town called iquitos and spend some time finding monkeys, bright birds, anaconda, and pirhana. There’s electricity onl.y from 6-11 pm, so no more missives till Friday at least.

In the meantime, enjoy yourselves.

C&S

Oh, am glad to report that Caitlin’s (age 4) Spanish is doing well. She had quite a little argument this morning with her nanny (yes, a livein nanny) about whether she could take her “Penguino” to school. The nanny won after daddy stepped in.

hasta la hasta
C&S

ARE THESE OF A LENGTH? BY ME

Hamlet’s question just before his fatal duel refers to the swords he and Laertes will use against one another. Less dangerous but still intense literary duels have been fought over the significance of prose writers. Do short story masters such as Carver and O’Connor and Munro deserve equal billing with novelists. Of course, writers whose fame rests primarily on their novels are often renowned short story artists in their own right. Tolstoy and Faulkner, for example. But who can name a short story by Fitzgerald? And would he have gained the literary eminence if Gatsby and Tender is the Night had been short stories? So what is it about the novel that seems to attract plaudits far beyond those accorded to their shorter cousins? Has there ever been a nobel prize awarded to a short story author?
I recall a theory of art whose author I don’t recall that stated that art increases in significance according to the amount of reality it encompasses. This theory was advanced to explain the difference in importance between such works as Blithe Spirit and King Lear. If we apply that criterion, between a novel and a short story of equal quality, the stature victory automatically falls to the longer work. Touche, duel over. However, if one took the totality of O’Connor’s work and compared them to Fitzgerald’s, would the same be true? Do those delicious and haunting tales really provide less insight into the human spirit than the collected works of F. Scott?
Yet, what dramatist ever would be considered great whose entire canon was a collection of one-acts? Yet, what an impressive group of poets are considered great for their sonnets or sonnet-length poems alone? Is it possible to encompass more reality in fourteen lines than in twenty pages? Or is it that the shortness makes the lines more memorable? That diving deep into a novel for hours and hours somehow creates a deeper experience than spending an hour or two on a short story. Or maybe the intensity of the short poem, hitting the reader with so much in such a short period of time,  creates a deeper impression than the short story or play can.
Turning to the marketplace as an index, novels outsell everything else literary (but not how-to books), and poetry is not even on the chart. Neither are one-act plays–unless you count TV sitcoms.
I haven’t done anything but raise questions here. Maybe some of them don’t even deserve answering. Next week, I’ll come at the whole thing from a different direction. For now, au revoir.

SLINGS AND ARROWS–T.V. FOR THE EDUCATED

An entertaining and still literate–nay, literary–television program? I was about to write a piece on Sling and Arrows and ran across this review while looking for the lyrics to the opening and closing songs. I couldn’t do much better, so reprint it here without permission:

‘Slings and Arrows’:
Submitted by Carole Gordon on July 5, 2006 – 2:07am

“A work of beautifully crafted genius from start to finish … Productions of this quality are rare indeed, and five stars seem barely sufficient.” (Nigel Andrew, Mail on Saturday, UK). The Canadian 6-part miniseries ‘Slings and Arrows’ has had TV reviewers around the globe reaching for their superlatives. Can any show possibly warrant that kind of hyperbole? Well yes, actually, because this show really is that good.

Yet most viewers will likely not know of this show, let alone have seen it. For this is one of those gems which has been hidden away on the outer reaches of the cable channels, such as The Movie Network (Canada), Sundance (US) and Artsworld (UK).

The six-episode series centres around the fictional New Burbage Shakespeare Festival, show-casing life’s dramas on-stage and off. But don’t let the fact that this involves Shakespeare deter you. This is drama of rare quality; smart, slick, witty and brilliantly acted by an ensemble cast of Canada’s finest.

The show starts on the opening night of the Festival’s insipid production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, directed by the creatively moribund Oliver Welles (Stephen Ouimette). At the same time, in a derelict theatre on the other side of town, Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross) is struggling with faulty electrics and a blocked toilet as he tries to stage ‘The Tempest’. Welles and Tennant were once close friends. Together they produced a definitive version of ‘Hamlet’, in the midst of which Tennant suffered a breakdown, jumping melodramatically into Ophelia’s grave during a performance. The third character of the central triangle is Ellen Fanshaw (Martha Burns), who was once Tennant’s lover, and Ophelia to his Hamlet.

Welles dies a disappointed man early in the piece, returning as an apparition to unsettle and taunt Tennant, much as the ghost of Hamlet’s father haunts the Danish prince, only with rather more witty one-liners and existential musings.

Behind the scenes, the Festival’s business manager (Mark McKinney) is manipulated by corporate witch, Holly Day (Jennifer Irwin), who envisages the future of the Festival – and her opportunity to make a fortune – as a Shakespeare theme park with fewer classics and more musicals, providing an interesting commentary on the clash between commercialism and creativity in the theatre.

Don McKellar does a wonderfully eccentric turn as a pretentious director, who tries to turn the Festival’s new production of ‘Hamlet’ into a pyrotechnic pop opera and ends up duelling with Tennant.

The show also contains some delicious real life parallels. A Hollywood star, Jack Crew (Luke Kirby), has been brought into the Festival to attract the punters, echoing Keanu Reeves’s turn as Hamlet in Winnipeg in 1995 (a connection confirmed in the production notes), but there may also be at least a passing nod to Paul Gross’s own outing in the role at the Stratford Festival in 2000, a move dismissed by the Canadian media at the time as ‘stunt casting’. The pundits then were proved wildly wrong; but this experience gives Gross’s portrayal of the faith displayed by Tennant in Crew’s ability to deliver, additional levels of poignancy.

Then there is Kate, understudy to Ophelia and on the cusp of getting her big break, who is played with great charm by Rachel McAdams, now just about to become one of Hollywood’s hottest properties.

As well as being thoroughly involving, tightly structured and totally engaging, every single one of the characters is beautifully drawn, with cracking dialogue. In other hands, this show could have been full of snark and sarcasm, but this is clearly the work of people who love the theatre. It’s infused with warmth and affection, while still recognizing that egos in the theatre can be as large as a medium-sized planet. As the theatre caretaker says, “If I was bothered by vomit, I wouldn’t work in the theatre.”

The old theatrical saying goes, “Leave them wanting more”. Sit down to watch the first episode of ‘Slings and Arrows’ and chances are you’ll still be there several hours later as the sixth episode ends, begging for more. Fortunately, there is more, with two more seasons already filmed.

The DVD also contains:

• trailer (which reveals rather a lot of the storyline, so save it until after you’ve seen the episodes)
• bloopers
• deleted scenes (well worth the price of admission)
• production notes
• cast information
• lyrics to the two songs specially written for the show, “Call the Understudy” and “Cheer Up Hamlet”.

The latter song, which opens each episode of the show, brilliantly chastises the melancholy Prince:

“Your incessant monologizing fills the castle with ennui
Your antic disposition is embarrassing to see
And by the way, you sulky brat, the answer is ‘To be!'”

Or, in this case, “To buy!” Definitely, “To buy!”

Slings and Arrows: A+
Extras: B+
Final grade: A