Thursday, 28 May 2009

Chapter 10

Two in one day! But this one is a short one. So what can I add to the cannons? Thunder on the plains, gander in the mountains, go for a goose, get a giraffe and end up with a garage the size of a hangover. Get outta here, this is higly unserius. Yep.




        Fed up with the intolerance, the baiting & jibes of should-be friends, Joe Louis and Julio went looking for pastures new. They first explored Palca keeping to the heights and then headed down over the Choro highway, approaching the fruitful dales of the Yungas.


But they finally choose the community of Achocalla, very close to La Paz, the alternative Chukiago canyon, underdeveloped for being criss-crossed by a raging meandering river, which in a way is its good fortune because even  though  the borough stretches down to the zona sewer, no through road has yet been opened, keeping Achocalla free from the encroachment of the rich suburbs down south. Perhaps its residents fear the peasants, the hard-core communards of Achocalla.




          There in this haven protected from the harsh winds of the Andean mountain range, nestling between the city and the high plain with its favourable climate, Achocalla had become a thriving agricultural centre. Amongst corn and beans waving in the breeze, Joe Louis and Julio had a certain confidence of discovering  a place apart in which to allow them to develop their intimacy.


          But, sad to report, agrarian paradises have small town mentalities. Our couples careless closeness and lingering looks give rise to unpleasant comments. Following the local saints-day festival, they were run out of town and decided to take a long hike to Ayma (incidentally Evos maternal name) pulled in by the lure of the chullpas off in the direction of Pacajes. These chullpas, pre-Incan funeral towers, formed from mortar and stone chips often on raised mounds, were usually ransacked by huaceros (in search of treasure) so that scattered bones desecrated sacred sites, nevertheless exerted a strong fascination over the couple. What were Julio and J.L. searching for? Intangible horizons where they could exist without prejudice. On their journey they were lured onwards by the plaintive chords of a strumming guitar. Eventually they encounter a solitary guitarist camped by a brush fire by the gloomy church of San Miguel who claims that the church has been constructed from the ruins of a complex of a chullpas set in a circle and invites them inside. They find themselves in a tunnel leading into a mysterious cavern opening out in a raging river, but are afraid to advance any further because the stepping stones across the torrent are too widely spaced. Even so, the guide urges them across - and within a flash Julio and J.L. are up on a hill with mounted horsemen approaching who cannot possibly be the representatives of Pacajes, Julio flashes, (no pre-Spanish horses) So who are you and where are we?


              All of which ties in with the Khazari dreams that Koff has been having and that he believes Jim has instigated, but Julio and Joe Louis are unaware of any such connection. Lets leave them be.



Chapter 9

Wibble, wibble; having arrived in incoherence, we'll stay there for a while, soaking up the warm rays of the dodo: not extinct but instinct with a dash of missing. As the hedgehog flies, it's only about three customs posts to coffee, one more for the road, sister. When will we meet a loss? Lost, clueless, wanderful and here. on?

Chapter  9– The Potato Fields


         Right lets sample the potato picking, then. Our leader has spoken.   


         Since they had been thrown out of their hotel, Geordie and Koff intended to give Mario a right earful for not protecting them, as Jims chosen friends, from the hassles of the management.


       Now youre going to have to find us a place to stay! Go find us a room, lad, pronto. Somewhere safe in the Alto, they wanted to say. But coaxing Mario out from the Hotel Turista for the interview was not a simple matter, not with Beto guarding the desk.


      So, in the end, they had to convince Sandy, who had unlimited access to the hotel, to arrange the meeting, likewise a complicated business.


        And why should I help you two out? snapped Sandy.


         And for want of any better answer, Koff chanced, Because were in this together, arent we? And this mild appeal had the effect of soothing Sandy, to the extent of dragging a reluctant Mario out onto the street, where he had to endure his roasting from the lads.


        Although Koffs command of Spanish was improving somewhat, it was Sandy who had to convey their needs to Mario, omitting their intense displeasure.


        OK, OK. I think Doña Martitas family has some space available.


        Just as well, not with Martita herself, Sandy explained to the boys.  Youd probably find her too prickly for your tastes. Hes offered to take Sunday afternoon off and accompany you up. Go with him and good luck. But please behave yourselves. Any news of Jim, let me know.


      Thus it was the next Sunday they went up to the Alto with Mario in tow and almost convinced him to talk about Jim. Es buena gente, nomas,  he hesitatingly mumbled. But why so?


     By nighttime, the boys had negotiated terms with the landlady and found themselves lodged in adjoining rooms of a typical Alto apartment block,


        Our legacy from leggo, joked Geordie in reference the plain style of architecture.


       Not comfortable but bearable,confirmed Koff.


         And immediately they were visited out of curiosity by one of the daughters, who turned out to have an interesting professional sideline, that of a star Cholita wrestler.


       The next morning they dutifully march over to the nearest potato patch, where a squad is hard at work and proudly present themselves to the supervisor, who just happens to be an uncle from their household. He takes them on eager volunteers being in short supply today. But its now early March, so theyre mistaken to believe that the potato harvest is around the corner, though there is plenty of work available ridging up the growing plants which are just beginning to flower in a marvellous assortment of purple and white blooms. The potatoes are scattered among various vacant plots, not always aligned to the new houses being constructed, but often planted crossways.


      Uncle Miguel sets them to work after warning them to be on guard against marauders, especially mother pigs and her hungry brood of rummaging piglets, all too capable of digging up the treasured spuds, whether or not at maximum harvestable size. And watch out for kids kicking footballs crushing the precious sprouting plants, he cautions. And crazy cyclists zigzagging their way across the plants. Be alert. Im relying on you. But then he takes time to the lore and tradition the potatoes, explaining how the original Andean inhabitants used to plant to fool invaders, letting the potatoes go to seed, which are poisonous and letting them mistake the fruit for food. Then the invaders got sick, so it is said, and abandoned the harvesting forever to the indigenous owners. These potatoes are tough but tricky, like us, boasted the Uncle as he beckoned to one of the ambulant ice-cream vendors who was wandering among the labourers, and invited cool sweet cones to the sweaty youngsters.


      Koff has caught enough of the explanation to repeat the gist to a disgruntled Geordie, who complains wiping his brow, Bloody hard work this. And I dont see the uncle getting his hands dirty. Fair enough. They were later to learn that Uncle Miguel was indeed a rogue trader who gathered seed potatoes cheaply from poor communities and then hived off various parcels to friends, going half and half on the eventual harvest, hiring migrant labour from the countryside to complete the shady deals. Sure, youd never see him bending down to the uncomfortable back-breaking work.  Sure, he just provided the tools, the hoes, rakes and shovels and took his cut for the privilege. So much for the democracy of the Andean potato crop.


            Koff shrugged and pointed to the array of abundant greenery. Imagine if Jim had sown some dope here. Would be well hidden.


             Too cold here. Wouldnt survive the nights, replied Geordie shivering as the shadows of the approaching evening encroached. Home dont know about you, but Im totally fucked.


           So, exhausted and shattered and starving, they hobbled back to their empty rooms, where fortunately the ancient grannie took pity on these inept gringos and directed one of a bevy of young señoritas to heat up the leftovers from lunch. Against a battery of resident sarcasm from the older generation, the boys gratefully limped past the kitchen, clutching their steaming bowls of the spicy stew, assuming they had retired for the night.

        However, one by one, the young ladies popped by, if only to satisfy their curiosity and observe the gringos gobbling up several helpings of their suppers. None of them were non-plussed by the presence of these odd intruders in their household and all of them would answer questions to a certain degree. So the boys assumed that they had met Jim in the past, though they appeared reluctant to provide further details of the experience. Most surprisingly, all the girls in the household seemed to have first names that begin with the letter M Miriam, Mercedes, Maria, Martita, Monica, Mona, Mimi, even the younger brother was called Mauricio.


               Geordie was the first to catch on: Remember that last email from Jim. Tell the boys to watch out for the Magnificas.  The Magnificent Seven.  Well, we must have found them Whoopee, he chortled and winked at Koff.


               And to cement the occasion, Mauricio surprises them when he lays a bag what looks like good grass on the table, pulling a pipe out of his pocket. Jims  legacy, wonders Koff.  Eventually they summon up enough courage to question Mauricio, but his English is even more basic than their Spanish, and so they are forced to wait until Mona appears. She has spent two years at art school in Bradford, and so in her delightful Yorkshire/Bolivian brogue is able to clear up some of the mysteries of the household. 


          The evening is taking shape, the grass is super, not mixed with the ground oregano they had endured in downtown La Paz, but on the question of Jim they are all respectful but evasive.  Sure he used to be one of tia Martitas lodgers - oh hes not here now - hes probably travelling somewhere else. Mona repeats that hes a great guy,  that he organised the shoe-shiners into a union and devised entertainments of an unspecified sort for the older schoolkids. Maria comes in uninvited as theyre skinning up,  Yes we learnt that from him too. Give us a hit.


         It turns out that the Magnificas all have different skills, some musical, others in modern dance, still others artistic, but their forte is the tag Cholita wrestling team theyve developed at the mulifunctional show in the Ceja. Becoming more interesting by the minute, thinks Geordie.




        The denouement, as one temptation inevitably leads to another. Each sister becomes an evening visitor, and some will perform tricks for the offer of a good smoke. Geordie takes to Mona as his favorite (claiming that her dominance of the language has nothing to do with it). When he insists on a demonstration of wrestling tricks in fair exchange for the evening smoke he soon regrets his brashness when ending up tied in knots. A regular relation develops. In bed Geordies  Friar Tuck figure is revealed as a try-a-fuck persona and how Mona moans.


       Even Koff adopts a favoured sister, in his case, young Mimi who makes him content while nurturing his Spanish. But even acknowledged eccentrics such as las Magnificas cannot keep such behaviour secret in cramped living quarters like those encountered in the Alto and ugly rumours begin to fly. Rather than official denunciations, luckily word is conveyed back to Sandy who decides that for their personal safety the time has come for the crew to assume the role of traditional tourists and set off travelling.



Friday, 22 May 2009

Chapter 8

Where was I? Lost in translation, forgotten by bees, stuck under a feather and obliterated in an oil-drum. O yes, to dance between the sky and the sea, only to come unstuck at the sound of the first snowflake. If a thought is faster than smoke, can we smell the sound of an ant's thoughts?
When the still sea perspires an armadillo... 

Ok, ok, I'll shut up. Here's...

Chapter 8: – Goni at Work and Play


                    Goni is not usually to be found in the Plaza Murillo, where there are altogether too many prying eyes and journalists on the lookout, though he will sometimes grant an official interview to national newspapers from his desk in the Burnt Palace.

              No, to track him to his chosen lair youll need to go hunting past the new American Embassy (only a short distance away, for Goni psychologically needs proximity to his protectors). Continue to the next curve leading down to the zona Sewer and youll probably find him in the new presidential residence. On the same curve, for additional security, is located the headquarters of the Military Police. And there, under the watchful gaze of a lifesize statue of Confucius (the venerable philosopher giving a sense of stability to the proceedings), squats Gonis preferred retreat; in reality a fortified bunker, where he can hide well out of the public view, with family and very few friends and his select body of trusted advisors.

                 For the inside story we are indebted to the reports of the privately engaged English teacher who had somehow managed to worm his way into this charmed inner circle. Lets assume it isnt Jim. And if not Jim in person (and allowing him access would be another one of those lapses of judgement to which Goni was prone), the individual in question passed on his information to Jim who gleefully relayed details to his friends and hence the magazines for which he wrote.

              And thus we have been treated to a full description of the supporting cast.


Let us commence with the wife, who fulfilling an essential role in this traditional family, gave Goni his solid respectability.  Always available for dinner parties and receptions, she played the hospitable hostess, dutifully accompanying  her distinguished husband. She was capable of keeping the conversation light, entertaining and directed to non-controversial issues. In addition, her family connections had provided a useful hoist whereby Goni ascended the ladder of MNR hierarchy. She assumed her share of charitable duties, opening hospitals and orphanages, attending masses at the Cathedral as required. She always backed the policies of her husband in public and even in private. Not a whisper of scandal could be attributed to her diverse social life. A real asset, doubtless. She would even provide a shoulder for Goni to cry on in his times of woe, eventually accompanying him into exile, as was appropriate. She certainly appreciated the material benefits of his ambitions. But did she ever understand his vision or share his philosophy? A social asset, certainly, but the one member of the inner family circle who possessed the drive that endeared her to Goni and fully shared his view of the world was the oldest daughter.


      The daughter was a tactician after Gonis heart, super-capable of running the show. In retrospect one wonders if she didnt actually have a negative effect, bolstering his pride when it would have been more advisable to temper his enthusiasm and focus strategies. Indeed, Goni already had marked her as the dynastic heir(ess) which was hardly surprising as the eldest son was another kettle of fish.


         They say that Mother constantly sprayed perfumed aerosols around the residence to combat the plague of mosquitos rising from the rogue rivers meandering from the city centre. True enough, but what if she were also trying to mask the smell of illegal substances wafting from her sons den. Lets just say that the elder son was a rock n roller, the sound of the Doors and the Dead blaring at full volume from his quarters. And therefore useless in the current crisis.                             


 Beyond this intimate family circle, who else could Goni confide in? No cabinet ministers had access to the private quarters, except for the swashbuckling Defence Minister Sanchez Berzain, the one remaining political ally posing as the Fox (of his part in the climax of the saga, much more later) though it can already be stated that the beleaguered President would have been better served by mellower counsel.


        Which only leaves the team of foreign advisors that Goni had imported to guide him to his narrow victory in last years presidential election. This was the crew who had engineered (squeaked) the 22% electoral triumph and had lingered to overstay their welcome. Those who remained were a sneaky, simpering bunch, much given to secretly filming cabinet meetings through false mirrors and ridiculing the resultant conversations. Their feedback from the February disasters ran on the line of  crisis what crisis? Our brand is crisis; we thrive on it. The main part of the bunch answered interchangeably to the names of Tad and Jeremy and specialised in administering unsound opinions such as of course Goni was disliked because the public perceived him as being arrogant. But, never mind, Mr. President. Stick with the globalization strategy. Make Bolivia a center for world investment. Use your natural resources to tempt foreign capital into the country, and unemployment will vanish by itself... and the like the kind of neo-liberal tripe that theyd picked up from the focus groups theyd also been feeding and then clandestinely filming in order to buttress Gonis monstrous ego.


        When it would have been healthier to slap him around the mouth and impress on him the concepts that were circulating the streets - of national pride and dignity. Bolivia had served for too long as a free lunch for foreign corporations eager to combine fast bucks with cheap labour. This was the sentiment of the dispossessed masses in the Alto and already a force was emerging that could give voice to this position an expression that was seen as humble, incorruptible and authentic the sound of Gonis nemesis Evo.




          The concept of Goni at play raises more difficulty, for in truth, weighed down by what he perceived as his responsibilities, he had little time for leisure activities, unless one includes the exercise  and fitness regime of weights and devices which he had installed below the conference room to control his bodys tendency to swell. Goni could quite enjoy gathering his confederates around like a bunch of kids in the locker-room if only because it so reminded him of the good old days back in the States. Beyond that, Goni’s chief time of sedate contemplation was spent in the comfortable armchair beside his desk, studying stuffy reports on Bolivias progress towards globalisation targets under his presidency or basking in reading reports from the Wall Street Journal about his growing reputation as a leader who has orchestrated a  tremendous rise of investment opportunities in mining operations. Dry, very dry. And a somewhat myopic investment- -


Monday, 11 May 2009

Chapter 7

Ok, here's a wheeze. The 1000th reader will receive a signed copy of Nameless Street, FOR FREE! Just as soon as we install a counter... Meantime, here's the next chapter.

Chapter Seven - the UMSA Scene


             Go join the dancers, Jim had instructed in his latest email.  Youll find them most interesting. Still in a state of shock following the February massacres (latest deathcount  23 and rising) the Krew found no reasons to ignore their friends instructions. Important events were in the air and Jim obviously knew what was up. Who could deny the propensities of the man himself?

            So, all three of them found themselves, midmorning, outside the beer factory at the exit to the city just at the point where the motorway began. Sandy regaled them with the sight of the inviting windows, surprisingly still intact despite the recent disturbances.  As usual, it was the inquisitive Koff who had conducted the basic research and uncovered the reason why so many university students (over 500 of them, would you believe?), many of them nursing hang-overs from the night before, had volunteered to practice these dance steps.


             The answer apparently lay with the original neo-liberal President Victor Paz Estensorro, who in the 1980s had conceived the brilliant idea of getting students with their excess energy involved in dancing instead of political activities such as protesting. Whether it was obligatory or competitive, Koff had yet to discover - he presumed a combination of the two elements, reasoning that students would probably forfeit academic grades for failing to attend the sessions and gain bonuses allied to tempting scholarship opportunities for outstanding performances. At a stroke, if not taking the students off the streets ( here they were again, blocking traffic), Estensorro had managed to decoy them into harmless and irrelevant past-times. How Victor Paz then solved the prickly problem of hyperinflation is another story whose consequences Goni was still confronting (oh indeed!).


                When Geordie finally comprehended the artifice behind these tactics, naturally he disapproved. But, in contrast Geordie was by nature a sociable soul and as he went along chatting in his limited Spanish to the various participants of the rehearsal, he discovered they were organized around the faculties they studied in. When he reached the troupe representing the Department of Social Anthropology he suddenly remembered a piece of information that Jim had casually dropped his way in one of those intrusive emails. In fact, nothing was random about any of Jims actions, especially in the present circumstances. Anyhow, Geordie recalled that Jim had told him that his old flame and unwilling midnight partner was now enrolled as a first year student at the State University (UMSA) and that his field of study was (youve got it) Social Anthropology and as a gratuitous tit-bit, Jim mentioned that Julio had come out openly gay, his partner being a gorgeous hulk by the name of Jose Luis. No, there was nothing accidental about Jim, beyond his sexual exploits, and the motives behind the invitation to join the university dancers now became that much clearer. A provocation, if nought else. A red rag to a raging bull. Could Geordie resist the challenge? Of course not.


                Among the contingent he readily recognised the pair, exchanging knowing glances, openly touching even, and so Geordie settled in behind them. Julio was a supple, elegant wisp of a youth all that Geordie expected given Jims fervid tastes. And Joe Louis, a veritable mesomorph, built like the famous boxer of that name, his biceps generously flexing under the thin sweat-shirt he wore. Right, if Jim wanted to incite his jealousy, Geordie was game to the challenge.


               None of this made any impression on Sandy who was too busy showing off her knowledge of central La Paz. The route chosen by the dance organizers followed the main thoroughfare through the downtown area. The single street, popularly known as the Prado, keeps on changing identity along its course. It becomes the Mariscal Santa Cruz then the 16 de Julio, and even Avenida Arce before heading into the grounds of the University. For some reason, probably based on her insecurity, Sandy delighted in reeling off this variety of names, distracting Koff who was fully occupied surveying the wreckage wrought by the February riots along the way. He observed the burnt shells of the Ministries, the ransacked shops, the trash gathered into half-smoking bonfires and wondered where all this was leading.


                   Whatever its current name, the Prado was proving too narrow to digest the constant flow of traffic and hundreds of prancing dancers. To the extent that the Mariscal Santa Cruz, in particular, was blocked. This is when Koff, alert to all phenomena, heard for the first time the chorus which he eventually traced to the popular rock group, Black Jack:


           el pueblo esta caliente y la banda igual..................     


           la Mariscal, Mariscal , Mariscal Santa Cruz               


           esta bloqueada  por las manifestaciones


           de la Perez hasta la U........


and wondered where the hell the loudspeakers were hidden. This he adds to his list of La Paz memorabilia which he is sending off to Sarah whom he considers the hidden controller behind their activities, the puppeteer-in-chief.


               Now the dancers skirt a real demonstration occurring outside the Comibol building which has been surrounded by riot police (freshly returned to their duties). A crowd of protesters has gathered to complain because according the letter of the law the Bolivian Mining Corporation should be promoting State mining operations, but is its assets are, in effect, in the process of being hived off  piecemeal by  Gonis own company, Inti Raymi, to foreign businesses on the lookout for rich ore deposits. Meanwhile, safely hidden among the upper storeys of a nearby multistorey office block, grandly termed the Palace of Communication, which dwarfs the only post office operating in town from a basement ..... high up in this so-called Palace, Gonis lackeys and associates are orchestrating the auction of the countrys natural resources. This, then, is the true face of Gonis revolution, as Jim well knows, for he is actively occupied in writing up the details for certain national magazines - which is presumably why he doesnt have time to attend to his friends or so he claims.


          Meanwhile Geordie and Koff revelling in their status of outsider-dom, are accompanying the merry dancers down all the way to the State University.  Both dog-tired but animated for they have been gifted a wad of coca leaves to chew and shown the appropriate manner of doing so. So they are quite content, Koff because he feels accepted and especially Geordie, who is now certain of having identified Jims special friend and his bulky, muscular partner, Jose Luis.


         Therefore, when the various troupes disperse, Geordie makes sure of leading his friends into the Monobloc (as this leading example of fascist architecture is known), behind his quarry.


         The Monobloc is poor, evidently starved of funds in these neo-liberal days when State education is losing out to private universities. The returning dancers hurry past a series of cramped offices where the underpaid, overworked staff struggle to maintain a modicum of standards for admission procedures and the official  records for thousands of exam results, reshuffling files across shelves already top-heavy from the weight of paperwork.


           In their hunger, the dancers crowd into the already packed central canteen, joining a long line of students waiting to sample the subsidised fare available. The queue takes an infinite time to advance and Koff and Sandy do not have the infinite patience required to await the refilling of the enormous kettle or the replacement of the portable gas tank. They pull Geordie away, so that he loses sight of Julio and J.L. and he cant or wont explain the frustration he feels. They compel him to eat a hasty egg sandwich from a señora in a kiosk positioned just beyond the universitys protective adobe wall. (No ambulant vendors allowed within such academic purity.)


                  Whats got into you all of sudden, Geordie? snaps Sandy. They have entered once again the ample courtyard that surrounds the central block and sat down on a section of turf. Scattered about the yard these tiny pieces of lawn are available, and being used by students who relish fresh air, rather than the cluttered interior during this spell of good weather.


                  There they are! Geordie shouts, as he spots his pair of fugitives wandering back out.


                    Who? asks Koff.


                      Aah! exclaims Sandy, suddenly all too aware of whats going on.


                       Geordie is on his feet now and pursuing his prey back in to the Monobloc.  He follows them into the so-called Student Common  Room a large minimally furnished  sitting room of sorts, basically a bare shambles of broken furniture and grimy cushions. At the entrance, he grabs Sandys arm and whispers, Jim warns not to reveal ourselves. But Sandy is up to here with these petty games and, feeling quite cantankerous now, approaches Julio with her hand extended, declaring in passable Spanish, So, you must be the famous Julio. Julio nods lamely. Jaime asked me to find you and introduce myself, Sandy continues. An embarrassed silence, Joe Louis, distancing himself to one side, blushes, and Julio neither accepting nor rejecting the offered hand, stares awkwardly at his shoes.


                Koff and  Geordie brush their cushions, sit and settle down to observing the encounter. And Sandys bold move pays dividends. After a halting start, Joe Louis especially, seems to accept her presence and the conversation turns to their situation.


                The others wont accept our relationship, JL says. That much is obvious. In this packed, chaotic sitting room a space has mysteriously cleared around their circle. Hostile glances bounce off their scene of intense conversation. Active gay-baiting? Sandy hazards, but her basic Spanish doesnt get her meaning across. Trouble in the faculty? ... violence even? The boys understand, nod, but explain, Hasnt come to that yet. But were definitely excluded. Today was the exception because the university has a reputation to keep. Were not included usually in anything. So were considering a move to find a special space of our own.


                 Finally Sandy ventured the question she had been holding in reserve. And our friend Jim?


                 Julio joined the conversation. An inspiration. Have you read the stuff hes been writing? and reached into his satchel and pulled out a sheaf of articles he had carefully cut out. On top were copies of a magazine entitled El Juguete Rabioso.


                Most of them I took from here, added Julio with enthusiasm, handing over a magazine to Sandy.


                 What a strange name, said Sandy conjuring with the English translation The Rabid Toy.


                Its taken from the work of an Argentinian surrealist from the early part of the 20th century. The title of one of his novels. He eventually committed suicide.


                Sandy took the opening. And how is our Jaime?


                 Without any tell-tale hesitation Julio answered Fine, I believe. There are examples of his industry here - under the by-line j.j.


                   Again Sandy was stumped until Julio explained j.j. identified joven jaime.


                   Naturally, responded Sandy and flicked through her copy of the magazine, which appeared well-produced, not glossy but professionally laid out.


                      And what is this Joven Jaime writing about?           


                      An analysis of everything. But mostly these days denouncing Gonis poor administration.


                       Is that safe?


                        Then Joe Louis surprised her by joining the conversation. Before Jaime took over the editorship this was just a pseudo-intellectual literary rag now its relevant. Its essential reading


                        But with the light failing and evening descending that wasnt the only surprise in store for Sandy. She turned around only to discover that Geordie, excluded from the Spanish conversation which clearly involved Jim, his writings and possibly his exploits, had grown bored, and had scarpered, taking Koff with him.


                       It was getting dark, so Geordie made tracks for the Perez. To cut the sordid tale short, there he unwisely selected and picked up a pair of likely lads from the reserves of those not yet playing in the football game.  And in his ignorance of the citys mores he confused their seeming innocence with the feral knowingness they actually possessed. To be fair his desire and also his jealousy had been roused by contact with Julio and Jose Luis, so he thought what the hell.


                       So he took them back to the hotel and tried to secrete them through a back entrance to his isolated quarters up in the rafters. But he was intercepted by a vigilant Mario on night duty who denounced the guests to the manager/owner Beto who, in an ugly scene witnessed by Sandy, promptly threw Geordie out. In solidarity, Koff joined him in his banishment. So they wandered the night streets of downtown La Paz and shared squally rain showers amid the drunks and glue-sniffers (cleferos). Finally they hunched together under a doorway after scoring some low-quality rip-off grass in a smarmy discotheque by the Prado, now called Av. 20 de Octubre.


               And Sandy once and for all grasped the amoral leanings that united Jim and all his clan. In the morning, theres an e-mail from Jim suggesting, given the new circumstances, that now might be an appropriate moment for the pair to sample the delights of the potato harvest up in the Alto.


        But its still late February.   Owing to a lack of persistent rain, still not time for any harvest.



Friday, 1 May 2009

Chapter 6

Hooray chapesses and chaps: here's the next one. If you've been sitting on your hands, hardly able to contain your impatience, relief is about to come your way. If you're new here, you may feel like Dylan's Mr. Jones; in this case, I would recommend a healthy dose ( or not so healthy overdose...depends on your energy) of "A Nameless Street", the original Jim story. Follow the link: 
A Nameless Street, chapter 1

Chapter 6 – Black February


                     Over breakfast, Sandy made the inspired decision that would shape this fateful day for her. She already knew there was trouble brewing. She hadnt needed Marios outburst, Take care today, señorita, warning her not to venture out. But obstinate Sandy wanted to read a morning paper, a service that Beto failed to provide early enough, if at all, to his guests. Since theyre foreigners, why should they require local news? Tourists should just do the rounds and spend their money regardless…

                        So, it was first thing, when Sandy surprised herself by strolling, on impulse, into the Club La Paz, a nearby spot she had made a point of not frequenting.  It was located beside a war memorial, a phallic column, on the Prado, the main thoroughfare that snaked along the centre of the city. This place, apart from serving the worst coffee in town (too strong, overbrewed, adulterated with corn husks), also had a reputation for being a Fascist hangout (hadnt the criminal Klaus Barbie made it his centre of operation when he served under the late tyrant Banzer, regaling his cronies with tales of exploits in the last War in Lyon?) The stigma attached to his atrocities echoed in the exalted air.

              But Sandy knew the Club La Paz prided itself on providing a full selection of daily newspapers. So, holding her breath, and attempting to disregard the haughty stares of the waiters (not normally used to serving tourists ) she positioned herself at a table by the door and grabbing a copy of Presencia, the official Catholic rag, tried to order a fruit juice.


              We only serve coffee this early, maam. the obsequious waiter lied, pouring the viscous liquid from a metal urn. But you can have a cinnamon roll or a slice of rye bread to accompany it. Right, she thought. What a strange, Germanic combination. Sandy toyed with her breakfast, wondering if she could really stomach it. She glanced across the august room where frenetic waiters buzzed around like gnats. The newspaper mentioned that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund had joined ranks in demanding that the Bolivian government address the problem of the debt to these bodies that it had accumulated over the years. The President had announced emergency measures last night. Goni bowing down to the WB and IMF  - to an extent that would explain the tension in the air.


                Someone had turned on the TV; Goni was addressing the nation. In a gringo accent that grated even on Sandys ears, he announced a new tax on incomes to offset the debt accrued during the years combating hyper-inflation. No sector would be exempted not even the armed forces which served the country so nobly.


             A gasp ran through the room. No exemptions. That includes us! His awful accent droned on. Even Sandy could pick up on the cruel distortion of vowel sounds that murdered the Spanish language, on a par with those Yanks shed met at the American School no wonder the public ridiculed him as Goni the Gringo. Jim would later send her an article describing how Goni had accompanied his father into exile to the States and picked up his accent there, staying from his formative infant years until he graduated from university in Chicago, thereafter hauling his Yankee accented Spanish around like a badge of pride. Not only that, but he became a notable politician in what he chose to call his home country, fashioning the details of the new neo-liberal policies for his mentor Victor Paz Estensorro until taking over the reins of the party MNR and becoming President. All of it subjected to that atrocious drawl and his phoney economic philosophy. Capitalization hed coined it. No wonder the assembled ranks of early morning coffee slurpers were shuddering with distaste. The man couldnt even speak, let alone pronounce, their respectable brand of Spanish properly.


             Sandy glanced about the august tables of the room. Her attention was caught by a familiar face which she recognized, that of Waldo Ventura (who fortunately had no reason to suspect her interest). Not that Waldo was a sluggard. Sandy wasnt to know this, but usually he would enjoy a leisurely breakfast at his mansion in the zona sewer. But last night he had been celebrating until dawn his promotion to the rank of Coronel, and for this reason he had yet to reach his home. He was now reading the sports page about the latest exploits of his football club, the Strongest, who still failed to live up to their overarching name. Anyway, Waldo was already annoyed by the sports report as a junior police officer entered (in February 2003 cell phones had not yet entered into universal use) and uttered a fateful message into his ear. Trouble flaring in the Plaza Murillo, sir. Waldo spilled his morning coffee over the sports pages, sat bolt upright, straightened his tie, gathering his jacket which had been somewhat crumpled by the nights drinking and strode out, dragging the junior officer in his wake.


            Sandy, alert, instinctively followed  them out, nay, automatically, and so was granted a grandstand view of the fateful days events not exactly from Waldos perspective but from a point of view distinctly her own. As well as caring for the environment she was, at heart, a hard-core activist, a veteran of militant demonstrations from Seattle to Davos, an anti neo-liberal who recognized her true calling.  When she picked certain signals indicating that confrontation beckoned on the street, she was already activated.


            Koff and Geordie awoke late as usual but from the frantic bustle to clear the breakfast tables gathered that something odd was afoot.  Koff in his amateur fashion considered himself a popular history buff, meaning that he had amassed an intuitive collection of interesting examples of the oddities of human behaviour in the way an aficionado adds extra items  to his collection of prized butterfly specimens. Now he felt something tweaking his antennae. He didnt know yet what, but those antennae were unmistakeably roused.


           Geordie was always on the lookout for movement in the streets. So, right from the first tinkle of broken glass and echoes of gunshot volleys, they both knew some kind of shit was going down and ran out, despite or because of the inherent danger, in search of the action.


            Meanwhile, events were centred on the Plaza Murillo. The first sight that Sandy took in was of a bunch of students from the nearby Ayacucho school, (hooligans thought Waldo) gaily smashing windows at the Presidential Palace. And where was the palace security? The problem was that the police, feeling their basic salaries threatened by Gonis recently announced Impuestazo, had declared themselves on strike. The elite corps, the GES, who should have been protecting government property,  were in full-scale revolt and had barricaded themselves in their barracks, just up from the Plaza Murillo.


            Foolish Goni, commented the bystanders who had congregated to watch the show, submitting to IMF pressure to the extent of including his own special troops in the tax hike. What the hell did he expect?


            Now in open revolt, the police had voluntarily withdrawn from their duties. But we still have the ever-faithful Armed Forces, reasoned Waldo. As a newly promoted Colonel, he presumed himself to be the most senior military officer in the vicinity at the moment. It was clearly his responsibility to summon emergency reinforcements. So he ordered the officer (still in tow, though semi-paralysed with shock) to go find a functioning telephone and call HQ, and bring some loyal troops in.


           Unfortunately all the top brass could come up with in an hour were inexperienced recruits still in basic training, resplendent in their freshly issued fatigues, under the command of an over-enthusiastic officer who ordered his men/boys to storm the barracks of the GES and compel the police locked inside to complete their sworn duty.


             As the commanding officer should have anticipated, the GES swarmed out heavily armed (as an elite force they had access to the latest weaponry) and firing. The army recruits responded as they had been trained to do and before long various uniformed young men lay dead on the venerable cobblestones of the Plaza Murillo.




             That police and soldiers should confront each other shocked Waldo. His universe built on established order was collapsing before his eyes. Even Sandy was bemused. She was used to being on the receiving end of police batons and whips and tear-gas. To see the pigs setting on each other was a novel, even unsettling, experience.


           As the news of the occurrences in the Plaza reached the general population, the disturbances gradually radiated outwards. The general anger and mistrust of authority sparked by the new measures did not spread randomly but seemed to choose selective targets. For example the new shopping mall 5to Centenario` (named to commemorate the five hundredth anniversary of Columbus annexation of the continent, if that is actually what he did) was ransacked, looting being the dish of the day. And who could blame the down-trodden consumers? reasoned Sandy. The residence of the Vice-Presidency went up in flames. (The fire this time).


          Casual onlookers dispersed at the first sign of bloodshed. Thus when snipers hidden in the Cathedral turrets (experienced army sharp shooters, on this occasion) aimed at those fleeing towards the Perez, where the battle had moved (stones against rifles intuitive outrage against calculated killing by trained soldier corps hardly a fair fight, one might think), Sandy was appalled.


              Taking as much care as possible in the chaotic circumstances, Sandy followed the fray, mingling with the crowds round the Perez. At the corner of the tourist street of Sagarnaga where handicraft souvenirs are usually sold, she saw a nurse and doctor shot before her eyes while they were coming to the aid of a bricklayer who had been picked off  randomnly by the military snipers aiming at anyone in their sights. This game is getting far too serious for my kind of universe, flashed Sandy in sudden panic as she crashed into Geordie and Koff. They had been following the action, had witnessed the city put to flames by mobs incensed by news of the random slaughter being perpetrated in the name of this incompetent government of Goni.


                So this is what happens when those in power lose control, jests Geordie as a brick whistles past his ear.


                Id rather face a bunch of drunk skinheads any time. Theyre predictable, this is not, added Koff hastily.


                And as for Waldos reaction, those that have the doubtful privilege of wading through the memoirs he dictated to his grandchildren upon retirement will know that it was on this sad February afternoon when it dawned on Colonel Ventura that Goni was doomed.


          Comparing Goni to Banzer, Ventura writes: The General would have known what to do with these so-called police officers who went on strike. Those that he didnt execute immediately, he would have sent to one of his camps in the countryside and taught them a lesson over a length of time at his leisure. Sanchez de Lozada just continued studying the IMF report and consulted his team of advisors. They told him nothing unusual had happened. One must expect some limited local reaction.


             Meanwhile the discontent had spread up to the Alto. That afternoon the Coca-Cola bottling plant up in Rio Seco was set alight. The anger of the forgotten alteños would ferment until it descended like a shower of acid on Gonis plans.