Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Digging in the archives: A story from Peru

the cobblestone street that i walk down early in the mornings to get to my spanish school is just barely wide enough for a daewoo to squeeze itself down. there are sidewalks about the width of a large shoe on both sides, and my morning walk is comprised of a strange sort of tetris-type advancement, with the faster pedestrians passing slower walkers frequently by stepping around them into the street, and everything coming to a standstill each time a car or taxi passes by. if you are unfortunate enough to get caught next to someone as a microbus or somewhat larger car speeds down the tiny lane, it`s quite possible that you could lose something important, such as an arm. it`s best to pay attention.

i usually walk pretty fast. it`s a habit borne of madison`s large campus distances, and one i have had trouble trying to break. it`s commented upon constantly by people i walk with, both here and at home, and a particularly caustic (yet hilarious and non-blog-friendly) comment made by an old brit friend of mine in flores gave me pause, literally, and ever since i try to stroll instead of run when i have the time.

this morning i was walking slow, as i had plenty of time to get to school. i was a little late yesterday and wanted to make sure i got there with plenty of time. so rather than play the chicken game with the other early-morning commuters, i just slowed my roll and sauntered along.

the buildings on the street are all white, and at least two stories tall. every twenty feet or so there is a door, usually bright blue, that opens to reveal an internet cafe, a garden tucked away in someone`s private yard, a bakery, or a tienda overflowing with over-processed, sugar-filled treats, alcohol, water and bad-looking fruit. the basic necessities of any corner store. there is a shit-tzu with a ponytail on top of it`s little head standing gaurd at one of these tiendas.

this morning there was a very short, very old, stooped man with a small hump on his back walking in front of me on the sidewalk. he stood at no more than five feet, and walked slowly while intently watching the space on the sidewalk directly in front of his next placed foot. he wore black slacks with narrow pinstripes, and a navy jacket with wide ones. the cuffs of the ill-fitting jacket were soiled with various stains, and the pant cuffs were dirty from the ground, dragging too long past his scuffed dress shoes.

his hair was washed and neatly combed, and despite the dirt upon his clothes, he carried himself with grace. his hands were clasped behind his back, the first two fingers of his right hand held firmly in his left. his fingernails were yellowed and tough and bearing the ridges that old people often have on their nails, and very clean. his pinky nail on the right hand was long and tapered to a point.

for whatever reason, this man commanded all of my attention as i walked along slowly behind him, and the image remains in my mind, even after describing it here. there is often no explanation for what strikes my attention or interrupts my internal dialogue, but the man on the cobblestone street did that for me this morning. i followed him for a few blocks and then wished him a good morning as i passed. he did not respond to my greeting nor look up from the sidewalk in front of him, but continued to plod on to wherever he was headed.

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