I had a house once, a beautiful 6-story house in Arequipa, Peru. It had a garden all round, part of it was a wild miniature hill, and a brown with black legs lama called Bibo would graze there. When he first arrived he was accompanied by a white lama, called Biba, but she died, unfortunately.
I had a dog, called Churro, who was black with white paws. I remember him being very big, but perhaps he wasn’t bigger than my present dog, Zoom.
I had a woman who worked for us and lived with us, her name was Gladys. My mother had a small room at the bottom of the house, where she would teach English… or study for teaching. The house was usually mostly empty, or at least I remember it so, except of course for the animals (there was also a cat who often had kittens), and Gladys, and me.
I used to love being dirty, most of the time. I would sit and explore every inch of the garden, between the blades of grass. I would sit on the tree, there was a very beautiful tree, perhaps like a willow, except not a weeping one. It was above the driveway to the house. The tree was very easy to climb and I would gladly sit there. Sheltered, and getting sticky with all the sap. It was always an incredibly peaceful place for me, up in the trees.
I would sometimes go for long walks with Churro. Sometimes we’d go out into some unknown countryside. Sometimes we’d go out into town. Sometimes we’d head down to the country club where other kids from my school would gather and play in the pool, or play sports, and I would watch, occasionally try to join in, but would soon move away from their loud and boisterous presence. More often I would go there with Churro, be unseen, hide and climb all over the cypresses round the tennis courts, or go into the wild part of the park, and go close to the horses. Sometimes they’d let me pet them, sometimes they’d bite. Nevertheless, I never got afraid of horses.
I was never sure where my parents were. And I had some vague idea that my sister was either at school or with her friends, and wasn’t quite sure about my brother but probably something similar. My brother was in fact sometimes home, but I would know this mostly cause I’d creep into his bedroom to explore, and he’d be there, so I’d go out. Sometimes I would sit with Gladys and watch her telenovelas.
I quite liked going up to the roof sometimes, but mostly, I liked to go out and walk and get lost, be invisible, well I didn’t want to per se, I just was, and enjoyed it as well as didn’t quite understand it, at the same time.
Sometimes we’d go on tours with the car. More often it would be me and my brother and my dad, probably that was when my mother and sister left for Italy, and I was left behind with my brother. I didn’t know where exactly or why they had gone. They told me later it was so that I could finish my school, and I suppose my brother had to finish school too. And that it was because my mum and my dad had separated, but that also wasn’t clear to me at all at the time. I don’t recall missing my mother, she was never really there even when she was, if you see what I mean.
I would get boxes from Italy, from my mum I suppose mostly. Once a box contained a beautiful yellow dress, I loved it. It felt good, the cotton was lovely, I still remember all the millions of little creases, and the little tiny flowers. It felt nice on me too. There was nutella, usually, which I adored and seemed a bit of heaven. And “Topolino”, the Italian Donald Duck magazine except the name was dedicated to Mickey Mouse.
Those boxes were such a party.
I loved going on trips with the car. Sometimes they were far and we’d sleep out, we’d sleep in the car or sleep in movable homes of some engineering project site, or in crappy hotels with cockroaches abounding on possibly flea-ridden mattresses. They felt unsafe and I knew they were. Even the people, who knew what they could do during the night. But it was always a passing thought, which left me straight away. I trusted my dad implicitly, I never worried.
I loved our trips on desolate mountain sides, lonely rocky towns in the middle of nowhere, herds of lamas and vicuñas running free, cold and very high altitudes. I loved will deserts, cold, or sometimes hot. The hot ones had dead lizards that were burnt in the sun, the cold ones had horses frozen in the act of getting up, and a dried salty lake, on which pink flamingo feathers were found once. In a surreal walk where I was then met by my brother from one direction and my dad from another, I found them and loved them and they felt so magical.
Sometimes we’d end up in lush green countryside, green mountaintops where people dressed in amazing multicolour would hold markets full of chicha morada and purple sweetcorn. Women had long black tresses and huge colourful blankets in which they wrapped and carried their babies, and they invariably smiled, they looked fat and well fed, the lot of them. The towns were quite literally breathtaking on the sides of mountains, and they looked beautiful too. Also, sometimes the deserts would be very very hot and with sand dunes. Those were the most boring ones I didn’t quite fancy those, but they fun occasionally, running up the dunes after my sister once, I remember. I loved the rocky deserts most. You never knew what you’d find: a skull, a lizard, bits of humans who’d passed before.
We went to many places.
I loved that place. I loved seeing the volcano just so close, the Misti who often trembled and smoked and made our houses shudder. And the Chachani nearby. I loved climbing quite a way on it once and I loved the green green fertile countryside that surrounded it, that it created. I loved that wild nature, so strong and healthy and vibrant it would speak to me constantly. I saw a pale recollection of it in Andalucia, but it was only a pale one, and yet Andalucia is strong.
I can still make nature talk to me, but I have to sit in it, and stop, and pause. It doesn’t happen often these days.
Everyday, every day of my life since I left that place, I’ve been wanting to go back.
That is many years now, many things have happened, many people I have met, many things I have done, many countries have I visited and lived in and every day, every day I longed to go back. Every day I waited for the day I’d go back and, later, I waited to create a place that would be a bit like it, without having to be in Peru. Because of course I realised how getting back to Peru and living the way I wanted there wouldn’t be quite as easy as I envisaged when I was thirteen.
I realise people move on, change, grow out of stuff and think of other stuff. I realise I am still there, so much of me is always pulling in that direction, wanting to go back and find that place, I suppose one could call it a spiritual place as well, but that’s always where I’m heading back to.
I try to surround myself with as much as is possible to either distract me from it, positively, or bring me to feel echoes of those feelings in other places. But in the end, I realise everything I do, as much as I love everything I do and everyone I do it with, is just a side thing to what is my true ambition ad it hasn’t changed.
I wonder how sad is that?
I don’t know, when I see people get worked up and giving importance to stuff that is meaningless to me, meaningless. Seriousness, working, cars, objects, functions, rituals. All meaningless. The only thing that matters are people, and for me to go back to that spiritual place.
I had a driver there. He was always dressed in black and was very dark himself with typical Inca features, dark dark hair and often we sat on the wild miniature hill in our garden and looked out towards Arequipa. He was always quiet, mostly sad, but rich, so rich in his presence. He had lost his wife, he finally told me one day. He was mourning her, every day. That’s what he was: a man in mourning, and nothing else.
I am what I am but it’s not enough. you have to be so many things these days. You have to have a role, a function, a name, an activity. Got to keep busy!
I cannot understand it anymore than you can understand what goes on in my head. I do know there are many people who feel out of place, out of sync… who might sometimes get confused about what they want or who they are. I am never really confused. I just keep swapping to things that will keep me busy and stop me from just spending the day longing to go back to that place. I try to remain useful and productive and sociable and happy and yet, I want to go back to that place and that’s all that I am.
As my driver was the mourning, so am I, I am the longing.