Flight of the Condor
Recently I encountered a Quechua Indian playing his CDs and busking in a pedestrian street in Hove. What was his journey from the mountains across the oceans of time? I was fascinated and felt compelled to speak to him in Spanish. He was in fact from Northern Argentina. "Jujuy?" I asked tentatively. He nearly collapsed. Not only had I heard of the town but actually had visited it in 1970 and been to the famous market where all the Bolivian woman with big hats come from over the border to sell their wares. I had been based in nearby Salta the capital of the province.
He motioned me to sit on his uncomfortable collapsible seat. He even gave me a large banana for sustenance as it was lunch time and I was starving. Excitedly I asked him all kinds of questions. He was a musician and busker travelling, not sure where in the summer, but based in Rottingdean a village along the coast from Brighton. Obviously with a woman? Yes, I was right. She was German. The word mujer in Spanish can be wife or woman so I had no idea which.
He was in his 50s although hard to tell with beautiful olive brownish skin and an aquiline nose. I was annoyed I did not have my camera to take his portrait. He had long brown hair in a pony tail. A poor man with a hole in his sweater but I am sure he was rich in other departments. I later looked him up on the internet and saw his photo staring at me advertising his CDs. I could see he was very photogenic. How I would have loved to have had his face in my portrait gallery on my travel photographic website. I was not into his type of Pan's Pipes music even though two foreigners bought his CDs at £10 each. That must be how he made a living.
He asked to see me again and insisted on coming over to me the next day, the excuse being to walk in my private park. I told him I was going out of town and then would be abroad. He gave me his mobile number and even an email. Strike while the bow and arrow is hot! Then he said looking right into my eyes. "quiero casar con tigo"- I want to marry you! Now does that mean in other words "I want to fuck you?". When I asked a male friend who spoke fluent Latin American Spanish, he replied "of course".
He was obviously self educated because he told me that back in Argentina he had worked in a factory painting cars and had to leave because of the paint fumes.
But what of the years in between? That was of interest to me. He described himself as a Kolla, another name for Quechua. In 1985 they officially got their land back from the Government but never the ownership of their land. So he could have been involved in the political movement in Buenos Aires before he left to travel the world. Well I will never know because the condor has flown.
Meeting him triggered off past memories.
The first was Roman a Quechua Bolivian Indian who was an artisan in the Rio de Janeiro crafts market. I bought a repousse tin hanging of the Inca Sun God from him. We had an affair. He was an artist and a photographer - self taught of course with long black hair and a wonderful South American Indian face - gentle and sensitive looking. He told me he had been born high up in the Yungas mountains where people didn't not have birth certificates and had no idea they lived in a country called Bolivia. They only knew life in their village and that was it.
Somehow Roman had ventured down the mountain to Cochabamba and ended up in the police cells as he had no other place to sleep until he discovered the local cinema. There he saw that there was a life outside Bolivia like Cowboys and Indians in the Wild West of America. This inspired him to ride a donkey around South America until he finally settled in Rio. He told me about Salvador da Bahia and even gave me an introduction to a woman with the room where he had lived on the famous Largo do Pelhorino with flowing white robes. I was later to meet her and agreed to take the same room he had slept in with cross breeses in a spiritual environment. But it was not to be. Mario Cravo Junior, the famous Brazilian sculptor, forbade it. Roman told me that Quechuas did not kiss on the mouth. When I asked my new found musician friend about this, he just laughed and said it was not true! Maybe that gave him the idea to "marry me". I remembered I had tacky British key rings to give Brazilians as gifts. Something from the "New World". Roman in turn had something from the "Old World", a handcrafted humble leather thong key ring. We exchanged gifts and cultures. I cherished his useful and thoughtful gift for many years to come.
Next in the line up was dark long haired Rodolfo Azaro from Buenos Aires who was a Spanish teacher with his brother Daniel my colleagues when I taught English at the St. Giles School of Languages in Oxford Street, London in the early 1970s. I really secretly lusted after his brother who also had long black flowing hair. Every year I was invited to a special Polish Arts Midsummer Party held in June and wanted to take a guest. Daniel was not around but his brother was so I asked Rodolfo to come with me. He did and we eventually became lovers. A talented man who had originally trained as a dentist but created funky jewellery with characters such as Tarzan. I recall a photo of him in the newspaper with an article about him and his unique jewellery. Over the years I was to keep vaguely in touch with Daniel who is today a talented creative jeweller at Great Western Studios, Notting Hill, London. Last time I saw him in the 90s he told me that tragically his brother had returned to BA, become depressed and taken to his bed where he died. An article I have just found on the internet states he died of a virus in 1987. Either way it was a tragic end to a talented individual.
Next in the Ethnic department I met Roberto Ayala in the famous Café Trieste on Vallejo, North Beach, San Francisco where I was living. He too had flowing black long hair and was perhaps in his forties. He was a photographer and had been the official photographer with the Beat novelist Jerry Kamstra travelling and working with him under the name Eugene Anthony. Together they produced the famous book "Weed - adventures of a dope smuggler" in 1974. Roberto gave me a copy of the hardback book with its black and white secretly shot photographs. Roberto was a Shaman and was a very spiritual man. Half Mexican Indian and half Tarascan Indian. What a wonderful face which is engraved on my mind forever. Alas I was not into portrait photography in those days. He never touched me bodily unfortunately because he was too spiritual and unobtainable for the desires of the flesh. He was a higher being and I have not met another Mentor to equal him. He was like a rare bird in another sphere. The year was 1975 and Hippy Time in California.
My next native Indian was a young Mexican oceanographer who had studied at the university of Vera Cruz. We met on the beach when I stayed in a straw hut in Puerta Vallarta. He too was self educated having been fascinated by the tides, waves and the sea where he had grown up. I forget his name but he was a beautiful bird with long brown hair. The year was 1976.
My last native Indian connection was a genuine Amaru Peruvian Indian called Fernando Caceres. I had put up a language exchange notice at SOAS, London in the late 80s. The next day I received a call from an art restorer at the Courtauld Institute. He was from Puna, Peru. Our cultural and art conversational exchanges lasted two hours each time and I was exhausted afterwards. He arrived at my house by bicycle and I later found out he lived in Cambridge. He had married an Englishwoman who had been working at the British Embassy in Lima presumably when he had had one of his art exhibitions. I gathered he was known in Lima for his wonderful paintings depicting the spirit of the mountain. I also found out he had married a member of the famous Cadbury family. So he was 'all right Jack'. He brought over a book of Amaru poetry but it was too intellectual for me to understand. He also took me behind the scenes at the Courtauld Institute explaining the paintings he had restored in great detail.He was the last of the condors in my life.
So the Kolla was the condor who flew away!
Brighton December, 2014.