Leaving Paracas and traversing the edges of Lima, the landscape morphs gently from empty(ish) desert into something that looks/feels/smells like every other city I’ve ever visited. Arteries of cars feed into the heart of the city and we follow the heartbeat of these lines until the bus station, where I jump in a taxi to Miraflores, my home for the next two days.
Miraflores is a rich, green barrio snuggled comfortably against the coastline. As a foreigner, it seems that staying anywhere but Miraflores or Barranco (a neighbouring barrio) would be dangerous~ and I feel like breathing easy for a couple of days. The contrast between Miraflores and the rest of Lima is like the contrast between Colaba and the rest of Mumbai- orderly and clean, full of banks, European cars, and the ultimate marker of affluence ~a shop selling fashion for dogs. Miraflores is in stark contrast to the peripheries that I will never set foot in. Walking home at 11.30 at night by myself that night after dinner (something I would never have done in any other place in Peru), I can feel the ways that my limited access to nocturnal spaces in the last two weeks have crept inside. The abundance of freedom that I now sense speaks to the lack of freedom that I have experienced, locked out of spaces by my status as Western tourist, and, of course, by my gender. I rediscover (briefly) the pleasures of night walking in the summertime. A soft breeze keeps me company as I stroll home, happy and peaceful, wallowing in the sense of feeling completely safe.
But this contrast, it doesn’t sit comfortably. I am cheating. This isn’t real, my thoughts tell me. This isn’t how most people live. Don’t people get angry about this gap between rich and poor? Safe and unsafe? During my time in Lima, I ask someone this question. I don’t understand, and I really want to. The answer I get unsettles me in its’ logic and linearity. I am told that, actually, although the city setting draws out the disparity between rich and poor and puts it on show for all to see, rather than being a source of irritation or anger, it is a source of gratitude, of pride. More than 50% of people in Peru used to live below the poverty line (this statistic is given to me, I am not sure how accurate it is). Now, that figure is closer to 30%, and people are generally appreciative of that increase in the “quality” of life.
My time in Lima tells me stories that move beyond the trials and tribulations of a capital city. I use my time in Lima as an opportunity to wade through the thick, deep layers of Peruvian culture in the Archaeological museum, the Larco museum, and the historic downtown area. To help me do this, I contract a personal guide for two days and she stuffs my brain with information and answers all my questions…
The archaeological museum teaches me that before the Incas there were countless other cultures, waxing and waning across time, each building on the other. Rising and falling, in the same way our society will, one day. There is one special moment of heart connection with what I am seeing. There is a silver box, one that apparently belonged to a young girl thousands of years ago. Its’ contents laid out for the viewer, for me. The innocence and simplicity of this gift from the past moves me to tears. What child has not kept a box filled with special objects? Hers is filled with miniature tools and silver adornments. I remember my own childhood and in that instant we are connected by the universal experience of being a child, of learning how to be in the world…..
The pottery in the Larco museum is absolutely beautiful. Each piece tells a story of how life might have been. Many of these things were found inside tombs by grave robbers who then sold them to the Larco family. Such objects were often found when excavating land for construction purposes, so it was normal for wealthy families to have private collections in their houses. These objects were often used to accompany the deceased (who were mummified and buried in the foetal position) into the next world. Were they a reminder from their loved ones of what their lives once were? A departure memory kit? What stories will we leave behind to the future beings, thousands of years from now? Will the people of the future look upon us with the same tenderness that I feel looking at these? My guide (her name is Jenny) also takes me through the collection of erotic pottery, which I love. It is a privilege to have a glimpse of the sexual lives of people in another time. Men and women together, sometimes babies, women giving birth… I notice an absence of references to homosexuality. While there are references to fellatio, there are no references to cunnilingus, which is also interesting to observe.
An exploration of the downtown area includes a walk through the city streets, where I see a large number of police. The highlight for me is the Cathedral, housing some of the most amazingly intricate altar pieces I have ever seen, and an olive tree park where I see the olive tree stumps from the 16th and 17th centuries. Starting off as an olive grove, it gradually transformed into a public space for people to stroll. In the heat of the day, we wander under the shade of these trees, our footsteps retracing the same lines of those who came before us….