Sunday


This was my final view of Lima before it disappeared into the cloud cover below that I had been seeing from below for the previous week.

Lima has traditionally been called The Heroic City. This tradition continues to the present day, even if it is not perhaps well known. In fact, when I was walking along Lima’s Malecon and I saw two city workers fixing a street lamp, I noticed that they were wearing t-shirts that identified them as Lima city workers and which additionally included the line, “Ciudad Heroica.”

My week in the Heroic City, which turned into a week and two days when I missed my flight, left an impression on me. Lima is not a tourist’s city. It certainly is not a beautiful city in the way that, for example, Rio de Janeiro is a beautiful city. I can’t think of any particular reason that people go to Lima in that way that people go to Buenos Aires for tango or to Paris or Milan for fashion. Lima’s superficial charms are few, but I found it to be worth the effort to penetrate beyond the surface and search for the substance beneath.

I was asked more than once if I was on my way to Cuzco or Macchu Picchu or some other well-known destination in Peru. I was not on my way anywhere; I had come to see Lima. And I can honestly say that spending a week in a city often bypassed by tourists was not nearly enough; I barely scratched the surface of Lima, and I knew it while I was there.

Of course any city of nearly ten million people will have many events and activities going on; a person could spend a lifetime just exploring restaurants in a city of this size. In this respect I also barely scratched the surface in Lima. Although I had some good meals, I didn’t go to any of the renowned restaurants of Lima; I simply ate wherever I happened to find myself when I was hungry.

I would recommend to anyone that they select a city on whatever continent or hemisphere you like — Africa, Asia, Europe, etc. — and spend a week or two there, just randomly walking and sightseeing, without much of a program. (I have done this in Paris, Rome, and Rio de Janeiro.) You will learn things that are completely unexpected. Many of these things you will not realize until some time later, when you unexpectedly call up a memory that turns out to be unexpectedly valuable. Of course, you must select a place where you are not at home, and preferably do not speak the language. Experiencing this most superficial form of alienation is a condition or a certain kind of enlightenment.

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Friday


I have tried to make the best of my additional time in Lima, but it has been admittedly difficult. The most difficult thing about it was overcoming my expectations. Like the arc of a story, the narrative of a journey has a certain structure, and when that structure is interrupted and expectations are falsified despite one’s intentions to carry through with them, there is (or can be) a certain disorientation. I suppose that this is what I felt. A journey, again, like a story, has a beginning, a middle, and an end. When one arrives at the airport to depart from one’s destination and return to the ordinary business of life at home, the journey is at (or at least very near) its end. Then things go sideways, and the end was not the end. Life has departed from its script. Perhaps that is a good thing.

I had a few more good meals and got a few more pictures, though not many. The photographs above are the view from Larcomar. The Larcomar shopping center, which I mentioned in a previous post as reminding me of Pike’s Place Market in Seattle (except for being much newer and more upscale) has a lot of nice ocean view restaurants. The dessert below is from one of those restaurants, Vivaldino Larcomar. Vivaldino has another location, Vivaldino Grau, which happened to be right across the street from my hotel in Miraflores, the Hotel Antigua Miraflores, where I had an excellent dinner.

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Thursday


Today I was supposed to begin my journey home, departing Lima for Mexico City, but I missed my flight. The LAN representative at the counter told me that they closed the flight two minutes before I arrived at the counter, so that because I arrived 58 minutes prior to departure instead of 60 minutes prior to departure, they refused me a seat on the plane. Of course I know that there is no excuse for being late. I could have started out earlier for the airport. Many things in the day might have made the difference that put me two minutes beyond the cut off time.

That being said, and accepting my full portion of blame without hesitation, I know the difference between people being helpful and people being unhelpful, and the LAN ground staff was about as unhelpful as anything I have ever encountered. There are other times that I have been late to an airport to catch an international flight, and the airline representatives made an honest and earnest effort to get me on the plane. And they succeeded — until now. The LAN representatives shrugged their shoulders and referred me to the sales counter, where the representative offered to get me a flight the next day for a mere $2,500 (or there abouts). At this point I pushed back a little harder, and they found me the same sequence of flights two days later for the same price as my original ticket.

It is entirely possible that if I had made a dramatic scene at the counter for the first LAN representative who refused to issue me a boarding pass for the flight, I might — certainly not certainly, but again I might — have gotten my seat on the plane. This is did not do. It was not my first reaction, and I am not good at making a scene. If I had tried to make a scene, it would have appeared forced and artificial. I know. I have done this in the past, and it doesn’t go over very well. When one goes this route one enters into an absurd game where you see how far you have to escalate the unpleasantness to pass the threshold of the representative who is all too familiar with dealing with angry customers. In other words, you need to be prepared to escalate to the limits of our ability, and this carries with it a risk, as illustrated in the airport scene in the film Meet the Parents.

For these reasons, I accepted their spectacularly bad service at its face value, which has only confirmed me in my hatred of flying. But flying is a necessary condition of travel unless one has the time and the resources to take a ship or drive the entire distance if the distance is drivable (and usually when I travel the distance is not drivable). So I fly in order to travel, but every flying experience confirms me in my low opinion of the airlines.

Some time ago I wrote a piece about when computers will become completely useless — since the “updates” that are forced upon us by the industry often reduce the functionality of our computers, it seemed to me a reasonable speculation that successive updates will eventually lower the functionality of computers to such a level that we are better off without them and people just give up trying to negotiate the impossible labyrinth jointly constructed by hardware manufacturers and software vendors.

I remembered this that I wrote about the devolution of computers when I had this experience of unhelpfulness with LAN, and I found myself asking the parallel question: will there ever come a point at which airline service becomes so bad, and the security lines so long, and the security procedures so invasive, and the plane ride itself so uncomfortable, that large numbers of people simply give up on the airlines as no longer worth the effort?

Perhaps you think I am being facetious. Perhaps you think that this is a “privileged people problem” (other posts I have written have been explicitly identified by others as such). Perhaps you are right, but, within certain constraints, a high speed rail service could largely replace intra-continental air travel and change both the practices and the expectations of the industry. The airlines can afford their attitude of impunity because they have no competition in terms of mode of transportation. The airlines compete with each other, but this seems to have been a race to the bottom in which they all offer the same awful service.

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Pedro de Osma Museum

27 June 2012

Wednesday


Yesterday in the Larco Museum (which I described in The Larco Museum) the collection extended from the earliest pre-Columbian art of Peru up to about the 1530s when Inca art was being influenced by Spanish colonial art and exhibiting features of fusion and syncretism. Today at the Pedro de Osma Museum I saw that same fusion and syncretism, but coming from the other perspective. The Pedro de Osma Museum extends from the earliest colonial art in the European tradition (most obviously, oil paintings on canvas and wood, but also statuary, furniture, and other pieces of manufacture) up through the eighteenth century. Thus visiting the Museo Larco followed by the Pedro de Osma Museum the next day was not an intention choice dictated by periodization, but it turned out to be a good sequence and I would recommend others do the same. The collections follow one another, but they also overlap, and the point at which they overlap is fusion and syncretism.

There were three really remarkable paintings at the Pedro de Osma Museum. There was an entire room devoted to paintings of angels, and all of these were of great interest, as the angels represented in them were the perfect pictures of court dandies — in contemporaneous attire rather than the flowing white robes we expect to see on angels. In the picture above, the angel is not only in contemporaneous costume, but also is loading a firearm, which again confounds one’s angelic expectations, since the white robes of an angel are usually accompanied by similarly “retro” weaponry like swords and shields. One other painting in the same room also featured an angle with an arquebus. I can remember thinking when I saw Breughel’s painting of the casting out of the rebel angels in Brussels in 1990 that it would be interesting to execute a painting of the casting out of the rebel angels in completely contemporary costumes and weaponry — with contemporary military-style uniforms, machine guns, jets, tanks, and the like. Or, if one prefers a literary approach (more appropriate to me, since I can’t paint), one could re-write Milton’s version of the war in Heaven in Paradise Lost according to contemporary doctrine and technology.

The picture above of scenes from the life of Saint Ignatius Loyola was not among the three paintings that I found to be remarkable at this museum, but it was one of two pictures here that included mother-of-pearl inlaid into the painting itself, so constituting an early exercise in “mixed media” composition. That was interesting in itself. The other two paintings that impressed me were not readily photographable. One of these was “Union of the Imperial Inca Descendants with the House of Loyola y Borja” which the museum described as a conciliatory gesture to a restive population, but which to the modern (and democratic) eye looks like a remarkable exercise in coopting any kind of Divinely constituted authority, even if not the Christian authority of the Catholic Kings of Spain, in the interest of preserving autocracy at the expense of any kind of popular rule. Just as a contemporaneous setting of the fall of the rebels angels would be an exercise, so too would a Marxist interpretation of this painting of royal union across social systems and religious traditions.

Lastly, in the “Allegory Hall” there was an enormous painting (taking up the whole wall at one end of the room) of the institutional church represented as a ship. The mast is a cross, but Christ does not hang on mast/cross. The Holy Spirit appears not near or the top of the painting (usually top dead center, immediately below God the Father), but fluttering like any other bird among the spars and rigging. In the upper left is a representation of Constantinople; there is another city in the upper right corner, but I could not read the writing identifying it. It would be worthwhile to study this enormous painting in detail, as it would no doubt have a lot to say about the particular species of eschatological history that it represents. It is important to keep in mind that broad divisions within categories of thought like eschatological history or naturalistic history are in no sense monolithic, and that within any one tradition there can be differences and even bitter conflicts. This is where the minutae of history comes in, as it allows as to discern the fine-grained features of a particular mind or epoch, and paintings like this reveal to us some of this minutae.

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The Larco Museum

26 June 2012

Tuesday


Today I visited the Museo Larco, which, in terms of curation and the care of the collection, is everything that the Gold Museum should have been and was not (or, at least, no longer is). The Gold Museum allows its treasures to languish in crowded display cases with little or no documentation; the Museo Larco has a building that is both beautiful and spacious, with large and attractive displays, as well as descriptions of the objects displayed in (if I remember correctly) six different languages.

I had read that the Larco Museum is the largest collection of ceramics in South America, and part of the museum consists of shelf-upon-shelf and room after room of pre-Columbian ceramics. This part of the collection is something that only someone with expertise could fully appreciate, and it is not laid out in the same spacious and informative manner of the rest of the collection. In any case, there are a lot of ceramics here, including the jar pictured below painted with insect motifs. Some of the animal motifs are so realistic that one recognizes them immediately, without any hesitation; other are either sufficiently stylized or unfamiliar to me to recognize immediately; still others shade over into biomorphic representations of gods or men so that one must understand the scene depicted in order to be able to identify its elements.

While the museum collection is mostly ceramics in terms of absolute numbers, the galleries aren’t dominated by the ceramics, and there are in addition gold and silver artifacts, jewelry, weavings, statuary, and a couple of examples of Quipu, which was the Inca record-keeping system consisting of elaborately tied and knotted strings. Because of the usually dry conditions of the Peruvian coast (a result of the cold Humboldt current), quite a number of exquisite pre-Columbian textiles have been preserved, many of which formerly were wrapped about mummies in the dry desert conditions south of Lima. I was particularly interested in the textile pictured below.

When I saw the textile above I was immediately reminded of the Överhogdal tapestry in Sweden (pictured below), both because of some of the distinctive colors employed in the weaving and the preponderance of rhombic-shaped figures. I suspect that the rhombic figures are an artifact of the weaving process, and that the Peruvian weaving above and the Viking weaving pictured below involved similar techniques. Both are very different from, for example, the sinuous Gothic lines of the Bayeux tapestry, which represents a very different technique of stitching the figures onto the cloth rather than weaving the figures directly into the warp and weft of the cloth.

Yggdrasil as it appears on the Överhogdal tapestry in Sweden. Note the many rhombic figural elements in the composition.

Whatever the similarities between pre-Columbian Peruvian textiles and pre-Christian Scandinavian textiles, I am not suggesting any link other than their shared status of objects of human craftsmanship. No doubt an expert could point out many global similarities that I have missed, as well as many subtle differences that I failed to notice.

The Museo Larco is probably the best museum in Lima, and even though I arrived near the end of the day, there were still tour buses arriving to discharge their human cargo, which gives some sense of the stature of the museum. I read mixed reviews on the internet, and when I think of some of these “reviews” after having seen the collection myself I am chagrined. I would say without hesitation that if you see only one museum in Lima, make it the Museo Larco.

In the evening I finally had the opportunity to visit a bookstore here, as I always enjoy looking at the philosophy sections in books stores to see what people are reading. I prefer looking at used book stores, but I haven’t found one yet, but I found a large enough new book store that it had a couple of bookcases of philosophical titles, and it was interesting to see that the titles available were quite wide-ranging and did not represent any kind of partisan or ideological selection. There were many titles by authors whose names I have never heard and did not recognize. I should have taken notes of these names. Maybe later. I was scolded by a member of the staff for taking pictures inside the store, so I left soon after.

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Monday


Today I took a continuous five hour long walk, from 1:00 pm to 6:30 pm, with a half hour break somewhere near the middle of that span of time. I previously mentioned my evening in the Barranco District, and that I might walk back in order to see this all on foot. That’s what I did today. I started at my hotel in Miraflores, walked to the Malecon, and followed the waterfront to Parque del Amor, just south of which is a bridge. I had previously noticed another walkway down to the ocean under this bridge. You can this this walkway down in the photo above.

Once down to the waterfront again I walked along the beach — from Playa Waikiki through Playa Redondo to Playa la Estrella — and this eventually brought me to another point where a busy road connects Lima proper to the highway that fronts the ocean. This road is Quebrada de Armendáriz, and it is the road the more or less separates Miraflores from Barranco. Here I walked back up from the waterfront into the city, crossed the bridge and entered Barranco.

In Barranco I made for the area I visited the other evening, around the Bridge of Sighs, which I walked under and down and found another walkway to the waterfront, this one, unlike the previous two I mentioned, does not follow a road (and is therefore a much quieter walking experience). From this point below Barranco there is a marina visible just a little further south, but I went back up the hill to Barranco and didn’t walk further south along the water.

I took my ease for about a half hour in a small restaurant (the Javier Restaurant) below the Bridge of Sighs, where I enjoyed a pitcher of chicha morada while taking in the ocean view. After resting and taking notes I wandered through the historical streets of Barranco, taking pictures of curious facades and interesting buildings. I found my way, getting only a little bit lost, to the Museo Pedro de Osma, but upon my arrival found it to be closed on Mondays.

The closed museum was the furthest extent of my walk. At that point I turned around and began to make my way back north. I followed the Malecon back to Miraflores, without going down to the ocean again.

As the sun set, the haze cleared enough to reveal the dark red disk of the sun setting over the Larcomar Mall, where I had walked a few days previously. The Larcomar Mall is quite nicely designed into the edge of the hillside, with several places to enjoy the view and many ocean view restaurants. It reminded me to Pike Place Market in Seattle, although Pike Place Market is probably as old as Seattle, Larcomar seems to be quite recent.

After nearly five hours of continuous walking I was quite glad to get back to my hotel and collapse for a time. I suspect that I will feel the effort in my feet and in my legs for a few days at least. I’ve written before about the cognitive value of walking, but today’s walk was pretty much absorbed in the things I was seeing and not a meditative experience, although I did have a few good ideas while I rested, and which I recorded in my notebook. And so this post is more of a straight-up account of the day than a reflection on the experience, which latter is the sort of think I would rather post. But I must rest with the thought that sufficient unto the day are the ideas thereof.

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Sunset over Larcomar Mall on the waterfront in Miraflores. Larcomar made me think of a modern Pike’s Place Market (an institution in Seattle) because it is built into the side of the hill with a view of the ocean.

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Sunday


Probably the most famous museum in Lima is the Gold Museum — Museo del Oro — but the Gold Museum is actually two museums: you walk directly into the Weapons of the World museum on the ground floor, while to see the Gold Museum you must descend into a vault to see what must be one of the world’s great collections of gold objets d’art. No doubt there is much more gold in purely quantitative terms in the world’s gold stockpiles (like that at Fort Knox), but in terms of gold worked for aesthetico-religious purposes, I don’t know of any rival to Peru’s Gold Museum (although I should admit that I have made no attempt to study the issue).

The Gold Museum is not, I am sorry to say, very well kept up at the present, and the admission is now 33 Soles, which is pretty high for a museum admission here. The treasures are crammed into aging cases, and even if it is not practical to expand the size of the vault holding the gold (which would obviously be expensive) it would be possible to up date the cases and the labeling of the displays. Although there are few labels, and the English translations are often incomprehensible, the first and perhaps most famous figure one sees upon entering the vault is a tumi figure of the Lambayeque god Naymlap, who is identified as the god who brought civilization to the Lambayeque region. Now, I don’t know how accurate this is (as I wrote, many of the English language labels of exhibits are indecipherable), but I rather like the idea of a god that “brings civilization.” It is, in any case, an interesting idea.

The Weapons of the World museum is similarly crowded, with an impossible density of display, though it is amazing just to think of how all these guns and knives were collected in one place. I’ve been to other military museums — for example, in Paris and Brussels — that include entire tanks in their displays. The largest item on display at the Weapons of the World museum is a genuine Gatling gun. The bulk of the collection focuses on small arms — guns and knives, as noted — and is fully international, with perhaps more items from the Old World than the New. There is, for example, a comprehensive collection of Samurai swords and armor.

Many notable military men have visited the Weapons of the World museum, and it has apparently become a custom to give a gift to the museum, so that the cases are filled with items identified as gifts of particular persons. There is an entire uniform (dressing a full size mannikin) that once belonged to General Pinochet (dating from when he was still in power). There was also a uniform from Generalissimo Francisco Franco, though it wasn’t clear to me if this was a gift from the general himself. Although gifts of this nature give an uncomfortable reminder of right wing dictatorships — I was wondering if I had looked carefully if I might have found a gift from Alfredo Stroessner — there also appeared to be a gift from one of Castro’s revolutionary cronies (though not one of the more famous among them), so that the museum appears to be equal opportunity for military ideologies.

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Evening in Barranco

23 June 2012

Saturday


I spent Saturday evening in the Barranco district of Lima, which is the next district south of Miraflores. It would be possible to walk from Miraflores to Barranco just by continuing south, but I took a taxi to expedite the trip. Maybe later I’ll walk there just for the experience of covering the intervening ground.

Barranco is an attractive and historical neighborhood with lots of street life and colorful opportunities for photographs. Barranco even has its own “Bridge of Sighs” (Puente de los Suspiros) — not nearly so well known as the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. At the south end of the Bridge of Sighs is a large restaurant that serves traditional Peruvian food. I got a great table by the window with a view of the Bridge of Sighs and was able to enjoy the sight of the human traffic over the bridge while I ate an enormous meal of beef, corn, and potatoes. When I left, the line for a table was snaking out the door and down the street, so i got lucky.

There is a wonderful viewpoint in the Barranco distinct that I hope to visit during the light of day, though the view at night was quite captivating.

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Friday


I left the Northern Hemisphere just as summer was beginning and came to the Southern Hemisphere just as winter is beginning — this made for an interesting contrast to my trip here in January, when I left the Northern Hemisphere in the winter and traveled to the Peruvian desert in the midst of summer. But Lima doesn’t feel all that different. It remains overcast, as I saw it in January, and the temperatures are mild. Although Lima isn’t on the equator, and is far enough off the equator to experience some predictable seasonal variation, it is close enough to the equator to not experience a dramatic seasonal variation. In other words, it is a city of the tropics.

In addition to being a city of the tropics, Lima is also an oceanfront city. But Lima does not have that pervasive oceanfront ambiance that one finds, for example, in Rio. Walk a few blocks inland, and you would never know that you are in a city perched on the Pacific Rim. But walk to the edge of the continent and you will have sweeping views of the sea and there is no mistaking where you are.

I wrote above that Lima is “perched” on the Pacific Rim, and “perched” is the right term: Lima sits on a high bluff overlooking the ocean. Fronting the top of the bluff is a long and very nicely kept oceanfront promenade, Lima’s Malecon, where the residents of the city come out to enjoy themselves and the vantage point afforded by their city. There are joggers, parents playing with their children, newly married couples having their pictures taken, parkbench romantic trysts, skateboarders, physical fitness enthusiasts who use the exercise equipment installed along the walkway, dozens of tennis courts (many of them surfaced in clay rather than asphalt), many people walking their dogs, and every other conceivable urbanite passing their tropical days in appropriate languor.

On on cliffs below Lima and above the ocean there are messages spelled out, Nazca-style, in stones, although these are easier to interpret than those at Nazca.

As I walked along the Malecon I eventually found a stairway down to the ocean itself — I was looking for just such a stair, and I expect that there are several of them — and found at the base of the bluff supporting Lima those Limeños who come to the ocean to enjoy themselves. The beach itself is a pebble beach, and it has that distinctive sound of pebble beaches that is familiar to me from Oregon. This sound always reminds me of the line from Matthew Arnold’s poem Dover Beach, where the poet speaks of, “the naked shingles of the world.”

There were a lot of surfers in the ocean. As in Oregon, the Limeño surfers wear wetsuits. The wetsuits has presided over a quiet revolution in watersports in those places in the world where the ocean is not warm enough for swimming with a swimsuit alone. If you swim in a swimsuit, the longer you stay in, the colder you get. If you swim in a wetsuit, the longer you stay in, the warmer you get, which creates an incentive to stay in the water. When I was a child, one never saw surfers at Oregon beaches, and now the sight is common. I expect the same thing is true of Peru’s coast, because while Lima is in the tropics, the cold Humboldt current circulates water from Antarctica, and this makes for a cold swim.

If you’re right on the ocean a tsunami would be a danger, but the high bluff that Lima sits on means that most the city is very safe.

Because of Lima’s commanding situation on its bluff above the ocean, if there ever comes about significant rises in sea levels due to climate change, Lima will be safe. The Pacific would have to rise a hundred feet or more to swamp the city. Lima is similarly safe from all but the highest tsunami waves, though everything at the base of the bluff would be washed away, and there were warning signs for tsunami escape routes along the waterfront.

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Avenida Grau, my temporary address while I stay at the Hotel Antigua Miraflores.

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Thursday


Recently when I looked up the word “Hispanophone,” which of course designates all Spanish speakers, I learned a word that I had not before encountered: Hispanidad. The term “Hispanidad” stands at one remove of abstraction from “Hispanophone,” since it designates everyone who is part of the Hispanic tradition, which, I think, is a more general concept than that of the Hispanophone community. The Hispanophone community can be narrowly defined in terms of the Spanish language, but the idea of la Hispanidad ought to include (it seems to me) much that is derived from the Hispanophone world but which is not narrowly definable in terms of the Spanish language.

I am taking a short trip in the Hispanophone world, among la Hispanidad, returning to Peru where I briefly traveled last January. On my way to Lima, I flew through the Mexico City airport, which is the first time that I have been to or through Mexico City.

If an idea could be said to have a capital, it would not be too far from the truth to say that Mexico City is the Capital of la Hispanidad. It has a cultural position in the Hispanic milieu (at least as far as the New World is concerned; I will leave aside the Old World for the moment) not unlike the cultural position of Cairo in the Arabic milieu. Certainly Mexico City looked enormous from the air as I flew over the city, and I thought about the 40 million people below me. Mexico City is not only the largest city in North America and among the largest cities in the Western Hemisphere, it may be the largest city in the world, but that depends upon how you count urban populations, which can be done in more than one way.

I thought that I was going to have more than enough time to make my connecting flight in Mexico City (Aeromexico to Lima). In fact, before my arrival I was wondering what I would do to pass the time. As it turned out, passing the time was not a problem. The Mexico City airport was on a size and scale appropriate to one of the largest cities in the world, and it was sufficiently different from my expectations that its layout was not entirely transparent to me. Making my way through what felt like the Byzantine labyrinth of the Mexico City airport, I felt as though I were negotiating la Hispanidad itself — an abstraction realized in fact and imposed upon the traveler. And this, of course, is why we travel — to have a reality imposed upon us that is not of our making. Consider this a proof of realism (and I use this term in its philosophical signification of anything that is not dependent upon the mind for its existence).

By the time I arrived at my gate — sweating and out of breath — the PA was announcing the last call for the flight to Lima, and I half-walked, half-jogged to the gate so that they wouldn’t close the door on me. I was the last person to sit down for this full flight. (All my flights today were full.)

I am writing this post from a hotel computer because I cannot get my computer to work with the hotel’s wireless network. I’m not sure how to resolve this, so for the time being posts will be short and without pictures.

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