Friday, August 19, 1988

PUNO/AREQUIPA Festival of Santa Rosa de Lima

PUNO/AREQUIPA Festival of Santa Rosa de Lima 8/23/88

The Puno train station along with the Arequipa train station is amongst the worst in Peru for thievery. Thieves especially favor the evening and early morning trains….but there aren’t many other scheduled trains to pickpocket, so it makes the thieves all the more dangerous and desperate.

As a successful thief deterrent, I’ve found the best result is to play “bopper car” with my backpack. If anyone comes too close to me, sidling up to slash my pockets, they get bashed by my swinging pack. This makes for a silly walk ambulating with a sideways drunken twisting motion—Monty Python style. The ladrinos keep clear of me—I'm an unpredictable gringa.

8/19  Today is one of the few days I actually know what day it is. I've had no sense of time. South of the equator, my internal clock and equilibrium are so thoroughly sprung by the extreme northern winter sun, I can't seem to find firm footing. At night I can't even get my bearings by the stars. Familiar constellations are canted too far to the north. The Southern Cross is my guide. Only the moon and the sun remain constant.

This is the year of Año Marina. The Year of Mary parade. Today, they bring Máría out from the church, they air her out at twilight. She's beautiful, this gilded lace Mary of Chiapi—she rides on an extraordinary throne flotilla of flowers— marigolds and roses and carnations. She's paraded clockwise around the Plaza de Armas at sunset amid much fanfare and drums. The air and light are translucent. Crepuscular. Máría arrives back from where she started at the steps of the Catedral de Arequipa. her luck and grace dispersed, her journey done.

Young boys march in battle formation hoisting banners of Santa Rosa with California written on them. It gives me a start to see Santa Rosa de Lima with California embroidered on the banners. We are so far from home from our Santa Rosa, California—Alta California norte. What is the likelihood of those two names appearing on a single flag in South America? Apparently we do not own the name.  And who in Northern California even knows that Santa Rosa is named after the first New World woman saint?

I've a sudden pang for natal ground. Homesickness. A strange coincidence. We ask, Why California? It's a district in Arequipa, the taxi man tells me. A plausible reason ordinary and mundane after all. A cardinal dressed in red stands at the front gate of the church to welcome Máría home. Dignitaries mount the steps looking grimly important. Respite during a time of war. Sendero Luminoso are on the move. The country is at unrest. But for a moment, the clocks have stopped to honor Máría, Pachamama in Catholic dress.

The last time I saw a bishop was when I was confirmed. I remember kissing the square cut pale green stone, watery as his eyes. All the medieval pageantry nonsense disappeared. There was only me and him after all. I said the name I chose was Johanna, in memory of my best friend's mother who died in the fire. The bishop confirmed me Joanne. He said Johanna wasn't a saint's name. But Johanna, martyred by McCarthy, died at the stake for speaking a mother tongue.

Pale pigeons with sunset eclipsed on their wings. The first star, Venus on the horizon, The Southern Cross blessing us in a primal benediction older than Christianity, older than Man...

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