(Villa La Fontana)
Parador El Condor
Amazing trip yesterday crossing the Sierra Grande via the Camino de las Altas Cumbres to Villa La Fontana in the Traslasierra Valley. I just love this type of mountainous landscape. On top, on the plateau, it was snowing and completely socked in by clouds. When everyone trundled off the bus for a 15 minute stop at El Condor, I was reminded of the opening scene of Hirokazu Koreeda's After Life'. It made me so excited, this desolate place of grey rock, that I want to go back there and find somewhere to stay for a while.
Villa La Fontana, our destination yesterday (and highly recommended as a place to stay if you're ever in the area, call +54 3544 499 222 for details), brought us within visiting distance of Museo Rocsen. Peter and Alicia's neighbor Carlos drove us over there today.
From the guidebook:
"The life's work of Juan Santiago Bouchon, it contains over 12,000 items arranged under 56 themes...
"(...) At the age of 8 Bouchon discovered a clay figure of a Roman soldier 2,000 years old while digging in a Roman amphitheatre: the discovery changed his life. After studying anthropology and fine arts and teaching himself natural sciences, he moved to Argentina in 1950 with 8,000 kg. of luggage. Working for the French tourist office in Buenos Aires, he travelled the country, before settling in Nono in 1959. The first museum building covering 100 square meters was opened in 1969; it now occupies 1,325 square meters with plans to extend the museum by a further 2,700 square meters. The museum is staffed by members of Señor Bouchon's family...
"(...) Though his museum may appear to be a collection of everything and anything, Señor Bouchon is clear about his aim, believing that single-theme museums bore most visitors..."
A Hohner 'melodica' such as I had owned as a child and had completely forgotten, a wooden bicycle, the skull of Roman soldier pierced by a lance, a set of Piranesi's 'Carceri d'invenzione' etchings.
(Villa La Fontana)
Villa La Fontana
Standing on the cold highway waiting for a bus which we are beginning to suspect has already passed us (it was on time, the driver waved but didn't stop when we tried to flag it down), N. comments on the numerous films in which persons are trapped and cannot leave a particular place (Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel, Bertolucci's The Spider's Stratagem). I, for my part, can only think of one film where persons cannot leave a particular time (Ramis' Groundhog Day).
Of course Borges was a great bibliophile. But today's big surprise was the discovery, while reading by a comfortable fire in a café in Mina Clavero (where we waited for a bus back to Córdoba), that Borges was a great listologist as well, compiling, near the end of his life, two lists of recommended books, 'The Library of Babel' and 'A Personal Library'. The former consisting of 33 titles, all fantastic literature, the latter, of 75 titles of Borges' favorite books. Borges wrote prologues to each of the works included in the lists (except the last 3 of 'A Personal Library', his last project). Sooner or later I'll publish both lists in Alamut's notebooks section. (Source: The Total Library, Non-Fiction 1922-1986'.)
Finished John Dickson Carr's The Corpse in the Waxworks this evening. Happily -- since R. and I have agreed in principle to use it, or elements from it, as the basis for our upcoming film project -- I really liked it. Especially the erotic fantasy which is chapter 15 (Our Sybarite Scrub-Lady), where, in the midst of a very bad situation, the wounded Jeff Marle finds shelter (and listens to a great story) in the least likely of places... (a rags-to-riches-to-rags story in a woman's boudoir?)
Note I'm in Argentina but not on holiday. Through the miracle known as the internet people back home are continuing to saddle me with deadlines. Ha! Ha! I'm not complaining about this, for I did, before leaving, propose to do a whole lot of work here. Stupid me, thinking that time would be more abundant in Córdoba than in Rotterdam (the opposite is true, everything here takes more time).
Thanks Jeremy. Kafka's fictional pieces (like Henry James' 'Madonna of the Future') are without a doubt masterpieces of infinite procrastination, of endless deferral. Much like Zeno's paradoxical race between Achilles and the Tortoise, to inhabit such worlds is to constantly draw closer but never actually arrive at your deadline. Obviously this is not the same as Blanchot's doing and undoing magic, "What has happened has not happened: thus spoke patience, that the end might not be hurried...". No. In these worlds one really and truly draws ever closer -- but never reaches -- one's finish line.
For breakfast: Nescafe clasico and milk, miel de abejas (acacia honey from the health food store) and very crisp criollos especial (fresh biscuits from the Disco supermarket). Mmm.
Days after our brief excursion to el campo our clothes still smell of wood smoke.
I have finally dived into the book which I'd saved for this trip... The Manuscript Found in Saragossa.
A dream of a book. Awesome.
Concerning 'Huis Clos' (Alamut: 2 January 2001) or the locked room or the space or time from which there is no exit, N. is reminded of Poe's The Masque of the Red Death ("The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave means neither of ingress or egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within...") and Javier writes:
I'm beginning to understand how this country, Argentina, a country situated at the end of the world, might once have been a good refuge, a good safe haven. For the cowboy. For the lost. For the person running away. And I imagine for some it still is.
Our time here in Córdoba is coming to an end. Last night (before sleeping, before the nightmare) I read the following lines in The Manuscript Found in Saragossa:
"(...) Zoto withdrew, and fair Emina said in a sad voice, 'That man is quite right. In any human life the time of happiness is very short. We have had three days here such as we may never see again.'
How sweet the temporary respite! The lazy afternoon, the book, the play...
It's the Argentine Day of Independence and opening night for 753 Piletas.
Una performance en base a improvisaciones en el agua
martes 9 de julio 21:00
Concepto: Nicola Unger
Participación especial de nadadores del Colegio Gabriel Taborín
More info: Goethe Institut Inter Nationes (Córdoba Argentina)
Surprise, surprise, everything comes back, like a comet, sooner or later.
I suppose there must be good biological and psychological reasons for us to prioritize our happiness over our disappointment, our presence over our absence, our success over our failure. But what if we weren't compelled to do this, we didn't have to assign values to our experience in this way? What would our lives be like then?
Last night we ate 3 flavors of ice cream and watched Richard Loncraine's interpretation of Richard III. Tonight we're taking an overnight bus up north to the baren reaches of Jujuy and the puna, where we plan to stay for a bit. Which means Alamut won't be updated for a few days.
N. has bought me a present.
We've dubbed him the apartment's 'watch cactus,' at least while we're away.
Nous Faes, project manager for our new Amsterdam 2.0 project, asks why we want to invite a number of external artists and writers to contribute to the new project. I mean why these particular people? (She knows but she needs to know explicitly for the subsidy proposal.)
Nous, here follows a fragment from Jalal Toufic's writing on dissociative experiences (where, in my opinion, Toufic's writing style itself, like certain other narrative styles, such as the 'play within the play', not only comments upon but invokes: hypnosis, disassociation, and the experience of ontological vertigo -- the latter a condition which each person on our list's work invokes -- a condition which begins when one begins to question the reality of one's own existence...):
Promises, promises. Bus stations here are like airports; bus lines like airlines (sort of...). Strolling up and down the long, long pier of ticket counters, it's tempting to fantasize selling one's body into 30 or more hours of slavery in exchange for an exotic destination. Peru. Chile, Brazil. Patagonia.
We take the night bus north. Bus line: Balut. Looking out the window somewhere in the middle of nowhere I spot the milky way.
(Hotel Internacional, San Salvador de Jujuy)
After what we both agreed was a more or less uncomfortable bus trip (where the 'sleeper's seats' left us 'resting' in that vampirish position between lying down and standing up, that half-state between waking and sleeping (according to Toufic vampires cannot bend or sit -- in Nosferatu the vampire rises, stiff as a board, out of his coffin on the ship), we arrive at the the bus terminal San Salvador de Jujuy. In order to get our bearings, and find some coffee, we make a tour around the block and N. makes her first discovery -- this close to Bolivia (and as it turns out later this close to the bus terminal) the cafes offer two typical Bolivian hot corn drinks... api and tojori. She's excited and I'm willing to try. We sit down at a table and order both. Both are incredibly delicious.
After checking out a number of hotels, we ensconce ourselves on the 9th floor of the Internacional on Plaza Belgrano. N. has a nap. I check out the view from the window. Later we go out for a long walk. At first without a goal, then towards the ubiquitous cross-crucifix crowning San Salvadore's highest surrounding hilltop. Along the way we make another discovery: a chalked sign outside a small store advertising 'coca y bica.' While chewing coca leaves is illegal in Argentina we'd heard that it was available in the Andean provinces but we hadn't expected to see it openly advertised.
We buy oranges and water. We climb stairs and walk through strange neighborhoods. We cross bridges, back-track, walk along the highway. At times we get lost. At times we don't feel entirely safe. It's Sunday. Some kids are flying kites. Others are talking through tin can telephones. By many signs we realise we are no longer in Kansas.
(Hotel Internacional, San Salvador de Jujuy)
After a nondescript breakfast at the hotel we walk to the main market thinking we'll probably find more api there but are politely informed that it is only available around the bus terminal. We go back to the terminal, drink a couple of glasses (mmm...), buy a bag of coca leaves from a street vendor, a package of bicarbonate of soda at a kiosko, and then, after arguing a little bit about which bus to catch, catch a local bus to the hotsprings.
The bus fills. A kid (a boy) stands too close to me.
Termas de Reyes (about an hour from San Salvador). Upon arriving we check out the various pools (hotel, Municipal, private house), then N. proposes we go for a walk before we soak. We decide to follow the creek bed which passes along the left side the hotel, climbing higher and higher up the progressively narrower gully, eventually scrambling up a steep and extremely loose gravel slope to have a look around.
This is easier said then done and once finally up we realise that it would be difficult to go back down the way we came. So we decide to find another way. This too turns out not to be as easy as we expect. (The hidden labyrinth: we can see where we want to go but how do we get there?)
Eventually we do get down (by -- believe it or not -- spotting and following a group of sheep) and, very dusty and tired, have a private bath in one of the pools at the Hotel Termas de Reyes before returning to San Salvador de Jujuy.
(Cabaña el Cardon, Humahuaca)
Woke up early and read The Nineteenth Day and The Twentieth Day of The Manuscript Found in Saragossa.
Api, buñuelo con miel, tojori
After a final breakfast of api, buñuelo con miel and tojori (we didn't find it again) we board a bus heading up the Quebrada (gorge) de Humahuaca to Humahuaca town. We've clearly entered the Andes. As the bus gains elevation the settlements become increasingly indigenous and dustier, the rock formations and colors increasingly spectacular.
At Humahuaca we find a small 3 room adobe cabaña all to ourselves. It's situated a little outside of the town and very, very quiet.
After settling in we climb up to the plateau behind where we are staying. We wander around a bit, by accident stumbling over the remnants of what we're later told was an Inca village. Here the extreme stillness is only broken by short gusts of wind, creature-like, moving and stopping like we are, becoming audible to us in the tiny spines of the cardon cactus.
Up behind the cabaña, Humahuaca
In a minimal environment one's attention is drawn to every movement, every sound. The setting somehow inspires us to speak of plant allies and their own rightful 'set and setting.' This is obviously not the place for ayahuasca but for peyote and other mescalin bearing cacti. One wonders if there is a history here of its use?
As the sun sets and we head back down to our cabin, what was hot quickly becomes cold. The temperature drops, everything starts to freeze.
Didn't forget it is Jente's birthday today. Happy birthday Jente.
(Cabaña el Cardon, Humahuaca)
Before dawn. There is no heat in our cabaña, it's freezing hard outside but inside it is still reasonably warm, proof of the efficiency of adobe in a climate where the days are hot and the nights cold.
Yesterday evening N. became successively dizzy, drowsy and then sick. I downplayed her suspicion of soroche (altitude sickness) though I am secretly wondering. This morning she says she feels better.
Marcelo and Claudia have horses. We book two (and Marcelo as a guide) for a trip this afternoon to Coctaca, an enormous pre-colonial agricultural site.
Neither of us has much experience riding but Marcelo is extremely patient and the horses reasonably gentle. N. has convinced him we want to take a cross-country route, which means we occasionally have to dismount and lead the horses over rough bits, but in exchange are rewarded with extraordinary scenary. I learn the difference between an amble, a trot and a gallop (and their respective comfort levels!) and learn how to operate a video camera while holding on to the reins. N.'s horse seems to enjoy dragging her past thorn bushes. Marcello offers commentary and chews coca leaves.
After six hours N. and I are both tired and sore. I'm on the black horse, the mare, as it gets dark. We're travelling by gravel road now, heading home. The only light comes from the moon. I've just figured out how to gallop comfortably. What a rush this is! Galloping on a black horse through the night! As we approach Marcelo's farm the mare begins to whinny and swivel her ears listening. She's got a foal at home. There is no holding her back now. Suddenly out of the dark her whinny is returned and her foal rushes down the road to meet us.
The ruins at Coctaca
(Cabaña el Cardon, Humahuaca)
Last night I read The Twenty-fifth Day of the Manuscript (wherein Velásquez tells of his revelation in Ceuta). Best story so far. (This book keeps getting better and better).
I wake up under a pile of blankets.
For better or worse I wake up missing my powerbook. This is the longest I've been separated from a laptop in many years and I feel it and wonder about it. I wonder whether having here a laptop connected to the net, with whatever information I wanted instantly at my fingertips, would sully the experience. Would it change a day like yesterday? Could it change a day like yesterday?
With a net connection I can imagine many, many questions I'd be adressing to Google right now.
I wake up thinking of Marcelo's stories yesterday of the indigenous Humahuacas, the Peruvian Inca, the Spanish colonial period, of time lines and time scales (my own and history's and the two interwoven), and thinking about how, without these, we would ever get a sense of (our) repeatability, of cycles and steps, of evolution?
I wake up thinking about reading. How some folks maintain they initially read a book in order to discover whether it is worth reading again. I wonder if the same holds true for strange places? Would I want to re-visit this place?
N. and I spend the morning wandering around the town. Shopping for gifts and for some food to cook this evening. During the afternoon we sit outside in the sun and learn to play Bruno Faidutti's Citadelles (a card game). Towards the end of the afternoon we go out for a last walk up behind the cabaña.
(Hostal de Yavi, Yavi)
(The Bolivian border. The Edge.)
I too succumbed to a bit of dizziness and nausea last night after getting up to pee. N. (sensibly) proposes we rest another day in Humahuaca but I feel better again this morning and want to push on up to the top of the quebrada so that we can visit the 'puna' (the alti-plano or high altitude steppe).
Yesterday, after much discussion, we decided to take the bus today to La Quiaca on the Bolivian border and from there find transportation to Yavi, a small village about 18 km. to the east.
At the bus terminal the bus to our alternative choice, a walled village called Iruya, arrives first. Painted green and loaded with passengers and their shopping... (lashed to the roof: everything from beds, to chairs, to white corn sacks filled with food and clothing...), the driver grinning and huge airhorns a-tooting as it pulls out, the thing looks every bit a ferry. We watch it go and can't help but wish we were on it. (Later in Salta, when we see posters of Iruya we will regret our choice even more.)
Our bus (a Balut bus) arrives late. We get on. The windows are so filthy it's difficult to see anything outside. I'm a bit pissed. The bus isn't full and N. looks for a cleaner window and two other seats. She finds them. We move. It looks like someone has puked onto the floor.
The bus climbs out of the quebrada on to a barren, rocky plane. We leave the shrubs, occasional tree and cardon cactus behind.
We pass Abra Pampa, formerly known as Siberia Argentina, and spot our first llama herds (slapping each other on the lap and yelling, "Look! Look!"
Large sections of the highway (route 9) are unpaved. The air in the bus fills with dust.
We arrive in La Quiaca. I'm immediately struck by the quality of the light. It's very, very bright. Everything stands out in harsh detail.
We wander around a bit. Everything seems a bit surreal. We're still in Argentina but it doesn't feel like we are still in Argentina. N. is tense. We step into an internet cafe and do our mail. Somehow this makes us feel better.
I receive a mail here from Ewan wherein he writes:
Ha. Ha. (Shades of the Trans-Siberia Railway piece by Jochen Gertz...)
We've heard we should flag down a vehicle to take us to Yavi. We do so. A pickup truck, two guys sitting in the cab. When N. asks how much to take us to Yavi they say, "Un peso." We jump in the back. I peer through the rear window. The driver doesn't seem to know how to drive. The other guy is siphoning gas from a jerry can through a hole in the dashboard and offering the driver advice.
In Yavi we seek out the best possible place to stay. For some reason neitehr of us feels very good here.
The shadows are lengthening. We have an hour before it gets dark. We head out of the village passing a graveyard along the way. N. suggests we take a peek.
(Hotel Regidor, Salta)
Whereas the night before last I felt a bit nauseaous, last night I was really sick. And this morning, while I still don't feel well, I feel well enough to leave here. It is clearly time to turn around and head back down (figuratively as well as literally). We decide to try to travel down today past San Salvador de Jujuy to Salta. We manage to do this and arrive, dusty and tired, in Salta just before 10 P.M.
The journey south was not without its high points, the most interesting being the checkpoints where everyone was ordered off the bus with all their bags, the men separated from the women followed by the sort of identity check and search of belongings which one might expect at some very strict border crossing, though in this case we weren't crossing any known borders. The first time it happens we are quite surprised ("Hey! What's going on here?"). The second time, a couple of hours later, quite irritated ("Hey! Why doesn't someone tell these guys we've just done this?"). You'd think that a couple of extra border checks, occurring long after one has passed the border, occurring hours within the country, along a single piece of road, might appear unusual to the locals, even perhaps a tad redundant -- but no, everyone we've talked to finds it quite normal.
How extraordinarily gracefully the people of this country put up with the inconveniences and humiliations... at the cash register... along the highway... How much we (in the west? in the north? in the 'well run' countries?) take our freedoms for granted...
(Note to myself to come back to this day. The moment of waking at the frontier. The moment of staring at the ceiling. The moments held in that small shabby room in Tres Cruces, where a circle of mainly indigenous men stood close to the walls. The moments revealing bad teeth, when nervous, joking, wry faces looked at each other and broke into smiles. The moments rearranging dusty clothes. The moments hands picked up and dropped belongings stuffed in old bags and white corn sacks. The moment the gust of wind blew the wooden shutters open with a bang...)
Local winds: The Baphomet.
Today I saw my first dust devils.
(Hotel Regidor, Salta)
A perfect day. A really lazy, perfect day. We like Salta. We're very glad we came here.
Tree on Paseo Güemes, Salta
(Recipe for a perfect day: take perfect weather, mix with an excellent hotel breakfast, then gently wake up the body's natural desire with some good window shopping. Aong the way discover the perfect 'Disco Supermarket' and the cable car up the mountain. Follow this with a good book and a nap in the sun, being offered a joint and walking down 1,136 steps. Finish off with some perfect ice cream and a hilarious tour of a crazy Franciscan church. Ah... heaven...)
We check out of the hotel, stash our bags and spend the day shopping for clothes for N. We leave tonight for Córdoba.
Another bus from hell. N. maintains that in his mind the ticket guy was telling the truth. I say that he lied. Whatever... In any case we made it to Córdoba in 14 hours. The best bit being the first hour and a half when they showed the film 'Speed'. Can you believe it? A film about a bus with a bomb on it. Perfect. And it was so funny to see the 'Limite de Velocidad' warning light on our bus lighting up next to the screen that we didn't even mind that the VCR had a serious tracking problem...
Good-bye Córdoba (though N. will be back soon for the theatre festival, most likely I will not). Good bye apartment on the noisy Ituzaingó. Good bye delicious facturas and criollos from Panadería Independencia. Good bye laundryman downstairs.
Tonight we take the 21:45 bus (true 'coche cama' sleeping seats) to Buenos Aires.
Hear! Hear! for Betel's seamless bus service between Córdoba and Buenos Aires. We arrived comfortably and on time (just before dawn) at Retiro.
After dropping our stuff off at Javier's house in Belgrano we headed back downtown and spent the afternoon and early evening wandering around shopping for books and presents.
It's good to be in Buenos Aires and good to be staying with Javier.
We walked and walked today (first in Belgrano then downtown) and as we walked we kept being reminded that this is a big city -- that what on our map appears to be a short distance is in fact otherwise. Walking from Retiro we tried to reach San Telmo for the second day in a row. And failed again. Not that it is that far. There are just too many distractions in between.
This evening we attended a performance/dance piece at the MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires) together with Javier and his girlfriend. Afterwards we all ate Peruvian food. (Hot! Good!)
Another lazy Sunday. According to N. "a decadent day" ("even more decadent than last Sunday..."). A day spent wandering from place to place. From sitting on a bench at the entrance to Recoleta cemetery reading 'City of Angels' (a capsule commentary of the cemetery's various tombs) to finally reaching San Telmo and watching tango on the square (this time we got smart and took the Subte). A day for eating cheese cake and drinking coffee. For visiting Centro Cultural Borges to see a magic show by a world champion magician.
Eva Peron's final resting place.
Conclusion. Closure. Our last day in Buenos Aires. Strange to look back over the seven weeks here in Argentina. A lot has happened. A lot to reflect upon.
While N. did some last minute shopping for clothes I went out on a mission -- to photograph and video the two street corners mentioned by Borges in his essay on Nightmares (mentioned in Alamut's 27th of June entry).
Picked up some last-last-minute books (including Panofsky's amazing 'Tomb Sculpture' which somehow seemed to complete the closure...) and a replica painting of an angel wearing a 17th century uniform and carrying a musket (an 'Arcabuceros Angel') which I had been eyeing.
Ended the day with Javier back in Belgrano with drinks and other treats.
Up bright and early to repack everything and stress and worry a bit about the weight of all the books I bought. Ugh.
N.'s flight leaves 3 hours before mine which means I have an extra long wait at the airport. But as my luck would have it I get bumped to business class (which, as far as I can remember, is the fourth time that this has happened, and all on long distance flights too, which makes such luck very nice indeed).
Trans-Atlantyk watched two very forgettable movies ('The Count of Monte Christo' and 'The Majestic') and read Lewis Carroll's 'Sylvie and Bruno'.
ALAMUT.COM is artist owned and operated.