The Eyes of the Inca

The Peru of a Hundred Years Ago Through Peruvian Eyes

Martín Chambi Jiménez (1891-1973) was a Peruvian photographer who was active until a 1950 earthquake destroyed much of his beloved Cuzco. In his studio, he took pictures like the above musical group with their traditional instruments. But he also traveled around, photographing the altiplano of Peru, the city of Cuzco, and such sites as the ruins of Machu Picchu.

Cuzco Street Scene

In 1979, the Museum of Modern Art in New York displayed an exhibition of Chambi’s photographs, which traveled to other cities and inspired other shows displaying his work. Chambi was a native-born speaker of Quechua, the language of the Incas, and he saw the people and the landscape as only a native could see them.

Quechuan Woman Chewing Coca Leaves

Below is one of the many images he shot at the ruins of Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu As It Was 100 Years Ago

Photographers like Chambi are a rare link to the past in faraway places that were not in the mainstream of Western European Civilization.

Social Distancing Follies

The Adventist Health.White Memorial Medical Plaza in East Los Angeles

Today, I drove Martine for an ophthalmologist appointment in East Los Angeles. I went up to the waiting room with her, but was asked to leave because of social distancing requirements. So what happened? I had to stand in the corridor, which was full of other family members who weren’t really social distancing. And there wasn’t any seating to be had.

There is a bridge over César Chavez Boulevard (visible in the above photo), which would be an ideal place to sit—except it was posted all over with signs saying that, because of social distancing, no one may sit down there.

Perhaps one cannot catch the ’Rona when one is on one’s feet. At least, that seems to be the prevailing assumption. If the medical receptionist can’t see you in the corridor, then presumably you are, by definition, social distancing. ¡Que idiota!

Places: Puerto Montt, Chile 2015

Puerto Montt in the Fog

This is the beginning of a new series based on places I have visited since 2001 and always illustrated by my own photographs. In common with all the places I decide to feature is my desire to go back and spend more time in the vicinity. I visited Puerto Montt briefly in 2015 on a trip I started in Buenos Aires, going on to Iguazu Falls (on the Argentina side), San Carlos de Bariloche, Puerto Varas, Valparaíso, and Santiago.

In her book Among the Cities, Jan Morris describes Puerto Montt as the southern terminus of the Pan American Highway. Actually, it continues on the Island of Chiloé across Reloncavi Sound as far as the town of Quellón, from which one could travel by ferry to Chaitén. The port was named after Manuel Montt, who was President of Chile from 1851 to 1861.

The Cathedral of Puerto Montt, Built Entirely of Native Alerce Wood

The Sea Creatures of Puerto Montt

The highlight of my visit to Puerto Montt was the incredible fish market, which Jan Morris described very picturesquely back in 1961:

And wettest, strangest, most southern, most remote, more alien than any melon-flower are the sea creatures of Puerto Montt, dredged through the rain out of the Pacific. There are heavy eels with muscular flanks, big flat fish like slabs of fat, giant clams, crinkled oysters by the million, mountains of spiky urchins, glistening and globular.

If I weren’t on a bus tour, I would have loved to stay for a giant seafood dinner, but I was scheduled to take an all-night TurBus sleeper to Valparaíso.

Unfinished Business

I would dearly love to go back to Puerto Montt for that seafood dinner, and then head across the sound to the Island of Chiloé, which is famous for its UNESCO-recognized wooden churches and wet forests. The Chilotes dispute with the Peruvians the development of the potato, which grows extensively on the island, and which is served with seafood in a local stew known as curanto.

How May I Hinder You?

At My Friend Bill’s House in Altadena

Today, for the first time in over a year, I visited with one of my friends. And you can see the joy in my face in the above photo. I had no idea that Bill Korn would post the image on Facebook, but he did. So I thought I would share the sunshine with you.

Ever since I was a boy, I hated posing with a pleasant smile. Somewhere I have a photo of me as a ten-year-old trying to wreck one of my mother’s pictures. I got even with her years later when we visited Marineland of the Pacific (long since closed) posing her next to a huge sign with an arrow pointing at her and the words, “To the walrus exhibit.”

As you can see, I am not a good subject for pleasant posed pictures. Sure you can pose me next to a beautiful view, but I’ll be giving you the ol’ stink-eye.

Lost in Oxnard

Interior of the Murphy Auto Museum in Oxnard, CA

Way back in Cleveland during my childhood, there was a TV host who called himself Ghoulardi. He screened horror films and made fun of local figures and places—and he mad fun of one very distant place called Oxnard in Ventura County, California. He even had a raven whom he called Oxnard on his show.

Today, Martine and I drove to Oxnard looking for the new location of the Murphy Auto Museum, which was on a street called Eastman. I spent an hour circling around the place on Rice (where I missed the turnoff, which had a small sign) and Oxnard Road (which didn’t intersect). Eventually, I stopped at an Arco Service Station and found a smog technician who set me straight.

1930 Silver Phantom Rolls Royce with “Boat Back”

We had been to the old location of the Murphy about three times in the past. The museum had to move to a smaller location (about one-third the size) because the former landlord saw an opportunity to make more money. (Bad cess on him!) I am hoping that the Murphy manages to survive under its straitened circumstances and grow back to what it used to be.

It’s Not Just Cars: There Are Also Exhibits of Popular Culture

We did the museum in about an hour (it used to take us three hours) and sought out the local Chick-Fil-A for chicken sandwiches and French Fries. And then I drove back to L.A.

Things Not Worth Doing: One of a Series

Do You Know Anyone Whose Opinion Was Changed by One?

This was originally posted on June 29, 2014.

I have always wondered why people are so willing to advertise their opinions, their place of work, info about their families and whatever, especially by sticking bumper stickers on their cars. I can think of at least three reasons why this is not such a good idea:

  1. There are parts of town where I would not like to advertise my political beliefs, such as in Orange or San Diego Counties. My car is not a new one, but at least it still runs for now.
  2. It is distinctively possible that your favorite candidate could turn out to be an unregenerate louse. After all, why would someone want to go into politics any more unless one is on a power trip? (It didn’t used to be that way, but it is today.)
  3. Bumper stickers are a lot like tattoos: They’re a lot easier to apply than to remove.

As for myself, this blog is my bumper sticker. If, after reading it, you think I am a political conservative, you must not have read it very carefully.

The Eyes of Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) with View Camera

Ever since I attended an exhibit of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work at Dartmouth College in the mid 1960s, I have been a strong believer in the art of photography. Photographers like Ansel Adams, Walker Evans, Diane Arbus, Edward Weston, and Robert Capa have been like gods to me—as was Dorothe Lange. I present only two of her photographs here, but they speak mostly for themselves.

Migrant Mother, Nipomo, CA, 1936

This is Lange’s most famous photograph—one of the canonical images of America during the Depression years. I am amazed at the effect of her two older children averting their eyes from the camera while their mother contemplates her situation.

The Road West, U.S. 54 in Southern New Mexico

Once again, Lange draws beauty out of desolation in this stark image of a highway running straight through the New Mexico desert. U.S. 54 runs north/south through the heart of New Mexico, bypassing the White Sands Missile Range where the first atomic bomb was exploded in 1945. I have been through the area at least twice on my way to Capitan and Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Reliving a Transcendent Moment

There It Was: Mount Chimborazo

This post originally appeared on November 12, 2016, shortly after I returned to Los Angeles from Ecuador.

The text is from Matthew 18:22: “Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” It refers to how many times one must forgive transgressors. That inspired the Swedish author, Lars Görling, wrote a novel entitled 491, which was made into a film by Vilgot Sjöman.

This is a very roundabout way of remembering the route Dan and I took as we emerged from the twisted warren of unmarked streets which is Ambato, one of Ecuador’s largest cities. We were looking for the E-35, which is the Pan-American Highway. Instead we were on E-491, which took us through a number of towns and villages which were not on my map of the country. Nor, for that matter, was E-491.

Then, as we rounded a hill, quite suddenly, we saw the volcano Chimborazo dead ahead of us. The clouds had moved aside, allowing us to see the glaciers on Ecuador’s tallest mountain. If you measure altitude from the center of the earth rather than sea level, it is the tallest mountain on earth, looming in splendid isolation from the rest of the Andes.

A Herd of Wild Vicuñas

As we drew closer to the mountain, we espied a large herd of wild vicuñas on both sides of the road. Dan and I stopped to take pictures in the rarefied air, which must have been 15,000 feet altitude.

Throughout its length, E-491 was spectacular. Even the Indian villages along the route were more interesting. And then, as we approached the city of Riobamba, we crossed the Pan-American Highway. We spent the night in a spare, but scrupulously clean hotel near the railroad station. By then, we were on the “wrong” side of Chimborazo, which was now covered in clouds.

That was the end of our getting lost: The next day, we easily made our way to Cuenca in about five hours.

The Equatorial Bulge

Mount Cotopaxi in Ecuador (19,347 Feet or 5,897 Meters)

The Earth is by no means a perfect sphere. If you are standing at either the North or South Pole, you are some 21 km nearer to the center of the planet than if you were near the Equator. The reason for this is that the rotation of the planet exerts a centrifugal force that makes of the Earth more of an oblate ellipsoid. The illustration below exaggerates this phenomenon, but gives you the general idea:

Earth as an Oblate Ellipsoid

One upshot of this phenomenon is that some of the mountains nearer the Equator are actually higher than any of the Himalayas, including Mount Everest. The so-called Equatorial Bulge calls for a more accurate measure of a mountain’s altitude than distance above sea level—especially as the bulge means that sea level is correspondingly higher. A more accurate measure is distance from the center of the Earth.

Using this measure, Mount Everest just barely makes the top ten list:

The Highest Mountains on Earth Measured by Distance from the Earth’s Center

According to this chart, the highest mountain is a virtual tie between Chimborazo in Ecuador and the South Summit of Huascarán in Peru. In fact, by this measure eight of the ten highest mountains in the world are in the Andes, the only exceptions being Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Everest in Nepal.

Tomorrow, I will repost a blog I wrote about my visit to Mount Chimborazo in 2016.

A Day in Quarantine

How to Maintain One’s Sanity During Hard Times

To begin with, I have no problem about getting from 9 to 9½ hours of sleep. In fact, during the last year I have slept better than at any other time in my life. I wake at 9 or 9:30 am, stumble out into the living room to say good morning to Martine, who always wakes up before me, and take my pills, give myself a shot of insulin, and perform a finger-prick test for my sugar level. Only then am I ready for breakfast.

Almost all mornings, I make a pot of hot tea, the current choice being Ahmad of London’s Darjeeling. It is usually accompanied by scrambled eggs with chiles, oatmeal, toast, a fried egg sandwich on a muffin, or grits and sausage. While I breakfast, I always read the Los Angeles Times, devoting particular attention to the KenKen and Sudoku puzzles and the comics page.

By the time I am finished, it is close to noon; so I futz around on the computer for a while, either playing chess with the computer at Chess.Com or one of the free games on Arkadium.Com.

Lunch is not usually a big meal for me, so I delay it into the early afternoon, after which I either see a movie on TCM’s website or Amazon Prime Videos, or I read a book. My current read is Paul Theroux’s Sir Vidia’s Shadow: A Friendship Across Five Continents, which is about the author’s long friendship with V. S. Naipaul (1932-2018). Both are among my favorite authors.

At supper, we usually have a hot home-cooked meal. Today, it was turkey burgers with steamed carrots. Tomorrow, I’ll have to shop for and prepare another meal, about which I must first consult with Martine. She’s the one with the trick digestive system. Last week, we have baked ziti with Italian sausage—one of my better efforts.

After we’ve eaten, Martine washes the dishes while I repair to my library with my current book, where I both read and talk to friends on the phone until about 9 pm. That’s the hour when I write my book reviews for Goodreads.Com and my blogs for WordPress.Com.

By the time I am done, I watch TV until shortly before midnight, concentrating on such shows as Carol Burnett (MeTV), Bill Maher and John Oliver (HBO), Trevor Noah’s “The Daily Social Distancing Show” on Comedy Central, and the opening monologue on Steven Colbert (CBS).

Martine has a much more difficult time of it than I do. She either takes long walks or sleeps while playing an AM talk radio station. She goes to bed for the night much later than I do and wakes up earlier, as she is bedevilled by a bad case of nerves. As I always tell her, nerves are a bad business; so I don’t have any.