Thursday, July 18
We checked out and headed in the direction of Sucre, the old capital named not for sugar but for the other founder of Bolivia (i.e. not Mr. Bolívar), although French tourists like to come here for the name. Without counting, I thought I noticed more German tourists in Argentina and more French tourists in Bolivia.
Driving out of Potosí, you really notice how much it’s like a giant West Virginia. All tailings and chemicals. Economic Development always means destruction of the earth. Well-being for this generation of workers means death to their grandchildren. It’s the sort of conundrum that evolution takes care of in the very long term, as it did with oxygen pollution. We passed a big airport expansion underway. Runways at a high elevation must be long.
There were no roadblocks along the way. We stopped at a couple of miradors, including the Puente Sucre, a bridge that used to span the Pilcomayo River. It fell into disuse, was reconstructed, and then a couple of meters of the reconstructed bridge dropped into the river again, so now you just admire the towers and use the new bridge a couple of kilometers downstream.
We arrived at the hotel Merced, and walked to a dumb international restaurant in a nearby fancy hotel for lunch. Boeuf a l’orange on the patio with mashed potatoes that might have come from a box. Then we did a bit of sightseeing, walking around the Franciscan cathedral near the square, and stopping at a museum which should have been open, but whose owners had decided to take the day off. Furries were dancing in the road around the plaza. Evidently, a safety campaign, suggested by zebra striping in crosswalks in La Paz and featuring dancers in zebra costumes, has spread to other cities. In Sucre, there are orange and green crocodiles. Sucre is a university town, which must contribute to the availability of costumed workers. Students are a large part of the crowd, even outnumbering tourists when you get a couple of blocks from the main square.
The strongest public awareness campaign is against littering. It’s not just somebody ran off 100,000 No Tire Basura signs and that was it — there are zillions of handmade signs against littering, using different images and individual wording, and it must be that a ton of people are involved in this. I hope it works. There is trash all over the world. People haven’t really internalized the idea that modern packaging doesn’t decay the way basketwork of the last 200,000 years decays. it will be with us for a while. And one doesn’t throw things “away” on a round planet.
After that, Ray walked around with Julio, while I went to find a place to work. The closest hit in Google Maps for “coworking” was a spot around the corner called IDIF, Instituto De Investigationes Forensicos. That location was actually being renovated, and I walked a few blocks to where it had moved. It appeared not to actually be a coworking space, but they sent me to Metro Cafe, where there was actually fast WiFi. My main mission was to do a 3GB download of the latest version of Xcode. It failed after 45 minutes, but I got a good copy of it after another hour.
The walk with Julio took us to the Parque Bolívar, not far from the center of town. This park features a viewing platform which they affectionately call the Torre Eiffel, because it was designed by Gustave Eiffel in 1906, and is similar to his larger structure in Paris. It’s painted orange, like the Golden Gate Bridge. In the middle of winter, the park is a little tatty, plantwise, but the citizens were still there.
We had dinner at Pueblo Chico, a little place on the square.
Friday, July 19
On this day, we were scheduled for a tour out of town to a little village. I was prepared to skip the tour, but during the download the previous night I discovered that the work I thought I’d have to start on wasn’t actually necessary.
We started at a little viewpoint square at the top of Sucre for a visit we’d skipped the previous evening due to the angle of the sun. Then we continued on out of town, stopping first at the entrance to a village called Tarabuco. Tarabuco is famous for the ferocity of its native warriors. They trained by living outdoors for years at a time. Their signature move was ripping the hearts out of their Catholic adversaries and eating them raw.
The Christian historians don’t mention this, but despite their viciousness and economic and technological power, there are places they didn’t get to. “Uncontacted” tribes in Brazil, Baltic pagans, and a lot of redoubts in Bolivia. La Paz itself was divided between Spanish and Native controlled areas. And the guidebooks tell you that it’s not done to mention Christian gods in the mines of Potosí — that’s El Tío’s territory.
Tarabuco was such a place. Trade is still largely by barter.
Julio had retained two local guides for the trip to the hacienda. He was friends with the grandmother of the driver; the guide was a student majoring in tourism. When the conversation turned to barter, I asked the driver — as a humanizing gesture — how many generations it had been, since his family had conducted trade by barter. I can certainly give the answer for my family. Five matrilineal generations back, we were trading furs by the shores of Gitchi Gumee.
This effort at bonding failed. Nicolas was offended I should even say such a thing. Nicolas is a direct descendant of the couple who was granted the hacienda, married by the pope, given the title Prince and Princess (apparently without portfolio; nobody ever said what they were prince and princess OF) and here he is driving a car to show impertinent tourists the ruins of the weedy estate Candelaria, where the old blind caretaker (his grandmother’s babysitter) and her granddaughter totter around the courtyard with spiders and pigeons, keeping a couple of rooms habitable for overnight youth hostellers and preparing soup for day trippers, dusting off the family portraits, occasionally editing the Wikipedia entry.
After lunch, we looked at a room of old farm implements, which must be part of some “How to Write about Africa”-style handbook of small town tourism worldwide. We walked into the nearby town where we watched a woman making a weaving on a hand loom. We hope she will get paid handsomely for it since it will have taken her days and days to complete. The dyes are made from petrochemicals and come from China.
The guide’s father’s family was from Poland, before the war. I got Henri’s WhatsApp contact info, and wrote to him afterwards, that having a conversation with somebody about how his family came to Bolivia is worth visiting ten museums.
On the way back to the main road, we gave two boys a ride from their school to a football match. They were hitchhiking as a joke, I think. People here are used to walking. However, since Nicolas is technically from the village of Candelaria, it wasn’t that far-fetched a gesture. I am always fond of uncomfortable relationships. Let them feel what I feel around everyone.
After driving back to town, we returned to the museum which was now open, and saw its collections of paintings, colonial and “contemporary”, in other words, before and after 1900. There was a gallery of paintings of presidents of the republic; for some reason there wasn’t one of the current president (since 2006) Evo Morales. One item available in the gift shop was a deck of cards, showing a different painting from their Contemporary collection on each card, one of the best deals ever for getting a museum’s catalog.
The Classical museum had examples of criminal sexual perversion of the sort usually found in Catholic art. The virgin nursing St. Bernard and the Christ Child was one, and also the cockroot of the Baby Jesus. This manifestation of sagging — totally an attention-getting device — is usually found in bathroom mirror selfies by men who still think they might still run for office one day, or Paco Rabanne models doing testicular cancer awareness campaigns. I was in the middle of a meandering thread with Kent about the latter manifestation, and here it was in religious art.
Dinner was at a little place near the hotel called Azafran.