Friday, 9 February 2007

There is a corner of a foreign classroom ...

... that is forever Arsenal.

I'm still teaching in Cusco and I've had a slight pay rise, so now I'll be earning a decent weekly wage. Problem is, I'll be earning it over a month.

Apart from working hard I've been to see 'An evening of Andean folk music', an entertaining evening in a room full of white faces and European accents, probably the highlight of which was the traditional Incan rendition of the Doors' classic "Light My Fire". Then I walked home past the young Cusqueños breakdancing in the main square.

Plus I watched the Superbowl* with some Americans from the hostel.

* The Superbowl is to American Football** what the FA Cup is to real football, except it takes about five hours to play because they stop playing every six or seven seconds so someone can explain the rules to the players and show commercials to the fans.

** American Football is like a sport for people with a thyroid problem.

Anyway, that evening I was chatting to an English guy and his crazy Israeli girlfriend, and she told us that in Hebrew the word for footballer is the same as the word for actress. If anyone is in a position to verify this I'd be grateful, because I love the idea of those overpaid premiership nancies being described in this way.

I've also discovered my new favourite occupation, which is the professional local. You get quite a lot of people in the streets around here wearing traditional dress, wandering about with animals, being ethnic, engaging in traditional handicrafts and suchlike - what they want is for the tourists to take their photo, for which they charge a small fee (to cover wear and tear on llamas etc).

My favourite was an old guy a group of us surprised on our way down a steep hill from a ruin. I don't know how we surprised him, we were all exhausted and puffing like Prince Harry, but from a few metres away we saw him leap up and grab a small bundle of wood to throw over his back, so that as we walked past we supposedly encountered him traditionally gathering authentic ethnic firewood in an authentically ethnic and entirely traditional way. He wasn't best pleased that we didn't actually want to take his photo (well, he'd woken up for it and everything) and I'm sure his curses were entirely authentic as we walked past.

I have a mental image of this old guy, slipping into his Levis at the end of a long day being ethnic and authentic, sitting in front of his gas fire and complaining that modern tourists just aren't what they used to be.

On this same trip myself and one of the Canadians (who was fortunately in possession of a working set of bowels at this point) took a breather on one of the small walls, just in front of a slightly smaller wall. A guide came up with a group of Americans and explained to them that this was the site of an ancient temple of the sun, you could tell this from its position in relation to the dawn and the carvings on the rock, which, though worn, were clearly of a traditional Incan sun god. A minute later another guide came up with some English tourists and informed them authoritatively that this was the site of a temple of the moon, which you could obviously see from the worn carvings and its position in relation to the stars.

While this was happening I could hear another guide tutting behind me, and as soon as he got his chance he started explaining to his group that *actually*, this was indupitably the site of the barracks, located as it was adjacent to the fort, and bearing the tell-tale, but slightly worn, carvings of the Incan military. After that it became both a grain store and a kitchen, but I think if we'd waited long enough it would have been where they dried the alpaca dung to make fuel.

Unlike in a lot of Europe, where the older buildings have been regularly demolished to make new ones, modern and ancient Peru coexist quite happily side by side. This is because modern Peruvian cities are quite sensibly built in the valleys, were there is a convenient water supply and it's not so hard to shift the big slabs of heavy rock, but the Incas, being the first genuinely masochistic society known to man, seem to have built everything on the sides and at the tops of the steepest slopes available to them, causing themselves all kinds of logistical difficulties.

I've hard the guides marvel at the ingenuity of these people, enabling to solve issues like 'how do we get all this water from the river up to where we've built our homes?', but the idea of building in the damn valleys in the first doesn't seem to have occurred to them.

I always try not to, but I am enjoying some of the mis-translations here. I had lunch in a place yesterday that offered "small sticks of potato" as a side order to almost every dish, and it was an embarassingly long time before I realised they meant chips. Obvious, really.

Yesterday a guy that works in the Language Centre apologised to me because "My English isn't well". Don't worry about it sunshine, I told him, there are times when my English isn't well, either. Mainly on a Friday night, it must be said.

It put me in mind of a recent panic I had when the bus I was catching with the Canadians wanted to leave while one of them was in the toilet (he spent a lot of time in the toilet that week). I managed to blurt out "Mi amigo es ...", then had a mental block on the tricky word 'in' (en) and finished "... el baño".

So I told the cobrador "My friend is the toilet". And you know, there are times when that's true as well. Those same Fridays usually.

They're either gearing up for the next war here, or they have a military parade every Sunday, I'm not sure which. It's impressive because they have rows of heavily built guys with machine guns marching the streets, and behind them they have the women's brigades, who have little khaki hand-bags instead of guns, thereby managing to be socially inclusive and thoroughly patronising at the same time.

All my love


North Americans have a reputation for one-up-manship in England, for always having to outdo everyone and everything they encounter. As you'll see from this report, this reputation is thoroughly undeserved.

A guide was showing a couple of North Americans some of the sites of Cusco, and he told them that even in the most expensive part of town you could buy a property for about thirty thousand dollars.

"I don't think you can do that in America, no?" asked the guide
"It depends where you are" said the husband "I think maybe some places you can"
"Yeah, sure you can" countered the wife "even in California you can buy a place for fifteen, maybe twenty thousand dollars"
"I thought American houses were more expensive?" asked the guide, slightly discomfitted
"Oh no, we've got some of the cheapest places in the world back home"


My final mention of the Canadians, and possibly a "you had to be there" moment: the poor sick man was in the bathroom, making all kinds of interesting noises, and one of his friends tried to pass him a bottle of water to rehydrate. In a loud, booming voice, the invalid warned:

"Watch out - I'm naked and I'm covered in sh1t!"

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