IN THE TRACES OF THE MULE DANCERS. TRAVEL NOTES, PERU. JULY/AUGUST, 2019. Post 1 of 6

By Iain Sinclair

It was a long-held ambition to follow the journey mapped and described, with picaresque vigour (and a degree of latitude), by my Scottish great-grandfather, Arthur Sinclair. He published his version of the 1891 expedition, undertaken with fellow planter Alexander Ross and ‘practical botanist’ P. D. G. Clark, in 1895. These men were on commission from the Peruvian Corporation of London to survey a vast tranche of land, more than 500,000 square miles, to assess its potential as an economic resource: exploitation by way of coffee estates and forestry. The journey, involving mules, bounty-hunting priests, encounters with indigenous people and a river adventure on balsa rafts, had serious and long-lasting consequences. 

 

The push to make the trip in July 2019 came from my daughter Farne, who was determined to record a series of podcasts and to satisfy her own curiosity about her distant relative’s motives and experiences. She was returning to a country she had previously visited in her gap year before university, earning the money required by working for the printers who had published all my early books. We were accompanied by the filmmaker Grant Gee, who had his own agenda, gathering material for a piece entitled The Gold Machine. My brief diary jottings are framed by quotations from Arthur’s book, In Tropical Lands: Recent Travels to the Sources of the Amazon… 

 

DAY ONE. THURSDAY July 27th. LIMA.

 

Arthur Sinclair: ‘And now, when in the capital, I am afraid I shall disappoint you, for I am not fond of cities; my heart always longs for the quiet country beyond. A simple man, my tastes lie among the simple people on the mountains, or in culling the common weeds by the wayside. I cannot, therefore, enter here into any detailed description of Lima, which at one time, we are told, was considered the gem of South America, and though now somewhat sullied, is still beautiful; picturesquely situated, with a climate almost perfect, the sun rarely scorching, and the rains never bedraggling the inhabitants.’ 

 

Dust. Haze. Horns. Arbitrary cab jumps: we learn, by experience, the more battered the better. The wrecks operate in wild, improvisatory spins and surges, down streets they have never before attempted, patron saint swinging as you corner, taking off on speed bumps, avoiding the main, permanently stalled boulevards with their Cola hoardings, cancelled hotels and new narco banks. The smarter vehicles, addicted to airport runs, have blind faith in the oracular pronouncements of sat-nav, robotic voices that always land them in the same twilight waste ground, by a perimeter fence, near a discontinued railway. With dogs.

 

With Farne, I set off, at her suggestion, to find the South American Explorers Club. A nice metaphor for what followed. Time is provisional. ‘Twenty minutes, comfortably’ becomes an hour of traffic dodging and shade chasing. The given address is a locked gate and shuttered windows. Enquiries at the Brazilian/Peruvian Cultural Institute carry us back to another dead building. The Explorers Club is just a Borgesian test: we fail, until we appreciate that the thing to be explored is our own incompetence. The Club is long gone (exploration rebranded as Adventure Tourism) – although, as we learn later, it was once operated by Lucho Hurtado, the man who will be our guide through the cloud jungle.

 

Arthur Sinclair: ‘Here I was shown the remains of the “Gran Conquistador”, a fit relic for this holy of holies. Pizarro, the pitiless tool of priestcraft and the conqueror for covetous Spain, had, like the last Napoleon, one redeeming trait in his character, viz., a taste for architecture, of which this cathedral is an example… It was on the 26th June, 1891, the 350th anniversary of Pizarro’s violent and bloody death, that the coffin was opened… On removing the lid the body was found almost in its entirety and completely mummified, still partially covered by rags of silk… and the remains of a finely embroidered shirt. The body was quite desiccated, and of a dingy white colour. On close examination it was found that certain portions were amissing, viz., the fingers, toes, and certain other parts, having been cut off and removed. From the appearance, the committee were satisfied that these mutilations had taken place immediately after death…’ 

 

Access to Plaza Major and La Cathedral is denied by a line of black uniformed police in baseball caps. We were told that they were anticipating a gay/lesbian protest action. Passage to the cathedral and the remains of Pizarro might be possible in one hour or two. Honouring Arthur’s taste for Chinese enterprise, we lunched on a platter of rice and bits with compulsory litre of sweet Cola. And delirious TV news reports shot raw on phones and surveillance cameras,  ferociously edited: motorbike thefts, looped corruption trials (often lasting for decades), street killings and chases.

 

When, eventually, we are allowed into the grand square, it is deserted. Pizarro’s remains seem to have been classified and reclassified on numerous occasions. Real flesh, fake bones.

 This is the right setting, without question, for Grant to record a brief reading I’ve been asked to do, to promote an anthology edited by Chris Kelso. ‘Death’s charnel house and every stage in the process of mortality, the unrobing of flesh from bone, is made visible…Churches are large buildings, in which, after the concept of sanctuary lost its force, nobody chose to live. And only marbled duplicates are permitted to sleep and wait.’

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Iain’s comments on the new edition of Lud Heat

I was pleased to receive the new edition of ‘Lud Heat’ from Skylight Press. They’ve done a lovely job of blending the original eccentricities (photos, drawings, prose journals, riffs, lyrics) with contemporary commentaries by Allen Fisher and Andrew Crozier, and Moorcock’s generous afterword from 1995. The whole production has more breathing space than any of the earlier editions. I think this is the sixth version since Albion Village Press launched the frail craft in 1975.

 But the most unexpected aspect of the reissue was the discovery of how oddly prophetic the final section, ‘Running the Oracle’, actually was. It predicts, by nutty and occulted means, back in 1974, the exact position of the future Olympic Stadium.
‘The point is sited on the Northern Sewage Outflow, raised Ridgeway, slanting south-east… But the shrine is at the price spot where this secret route passes above the River Lea… That crossing place… The invasion path… From this platform we look across water and waste and nomansland to Stratford… He knew it had to be RUN.’
Iain

Buy the new edition of Lud Heat clicking on this link:

On Rebecca E Marshall’s short film: Glitter and Storm

With what magic of witness Rebecca Marshall has captured the marine process of reverse evolution: how citizens of Hastings long to become one with their neighbour ocean; how they twirl and twist in eroticised tumbles, feeling for gills, stroking salt-smoothed dolphin skins. Conversation is redundant, but they willingly squawk and squeal, attempting to articulate what they have already proved, so effortlessly, as their somersault, strip, micturate and moonworship. Artists and humans are made joyful in this banded horizontal world, where the camera, democratically, plunges beneath the rippling petroleum-jelly surface. Delightfully complemented with sounds alchemised by Susan Stenger, the fortunate amphibians crawl and cramp between transcendent glitter and the wild energies of advancing storm systems. This film is a delight, a drench, a dream: as reviving as the thing it depicts, the elective rinse in the English Channel.

Iain Sinclair

Rebecca E Marshall’s website

TITLE:                                                GLITTER AND STORM

 

Featuring:

Andrew Kotting

Christopher Chasey

Sarah Evans

Savannah Karr

Laetitia Yhap

Nick Snelling

Hilary Spencer

Ivor Thomas

Berry White

         

Director:                        Rebecca E Marshall

Associate Producer:      Polly Stokes

Camera:                        Alasdair Beckett-King

Sound Recordist:          Aristotelis Maragkos

Editor:                           Daniel Passes

Sound editor:                Mauricio D’Orey

Composer:                    Susan Stenger

Country of Origin:            UK
Duration:                         15mins
Completion date:             March 2012
Screening History            None

Synopsis:

Water, sunlight, breathing and skin – this is a submersion into the joy of sea swimming by night and by day.

A series of moving portraits and interviews filmed exclusively in the sea off the coast of Hastings in the South East

Steve Dilworth- A Portrait by Paul Cox

It feels that Steve Dilworth – a substantial presence in Robert McFarlane’s new book – is coming into his time. Or: time, slower and deeper in the terrain in which Dilworth is embedded, is letting him swim free. Paul Cox has delivered a clean, sharp report. Watch Steve’s gunpowder eyebrows move. They are still quizzical, but they don’t flinch from intrusion as they did when I arrived with a BBC Late Show crew in the Nineties. Here is the true shaman of intent.

Iain

Steve Dilworth- A Portrait from Paul Cox on Vimeo.

SWANLOG DIARY, Tuesday, 27 September 2011, Rye.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011, Rye.

Now I’m in the hut, watching the rain, on the far side of the Atlantic, wondering if the sea will allow us out on the lobster boat. Did the swan thing really happen? The mother of all swan pedalos (a legendary 12-seater) is to be found on a pond in Boston. EB White wrote a story about it, The Trumpet of the Swan. Or so I’ve been told. The swan pedalos in Boston are old, older than most of the people – who are recent immigrants drifted in over the last four or five hundred years. ‘Man in America was late,’ said Charles Olson. Who promoted ‘archaic postmodernism’. Swan pedalos were the originals, the first settlers, passerines who stayed.

As we drive out of town on a road that stretches from Maine to Key West, my informant, the bookseller/novelist Greg Gibson tells me that his ambition is to eat his way to Florida, trying a new off-highway speed-gourmet experience every night. The smart Portuguese fisher folk, island people who came from the Azores not the mainland, don’t bother to blame it all on Obama. They have diversified very successfully into the Dunkin Doughnut franchise. The big oil companies, who run everything (or would if they thought it was worth the hassle), are the ones peddling eco politics and tame greenery. I am convinced, after the long voyage from Hastings, that swan pedalos are the economic solution to the energy crisis: no fossil fuel, gentle exercise, walking-speed travel allowing you to know precisely where you are, to hold conversations as you move gently along. No built-in obsolescence. Excellent stability. Two-seaters for dialogue. Six-seaters for family. Twelve-seaters to cross the Channel.

I left the pedalo, Andrew and the crew, at Trinity Buoy Wharf. I was salt-burnt, drenched to the skin after our final passage up the choppy Thames on a rising tide. I could safely leave the farce of the Olympic Park infiltration to them: the challenges, arrests, duckweed, surveillance and paranoia would be in good hands. Andrew would turn the whole affair into a Carry On film made by headlong subversives, with dropped trousers, funny voices and regular dips in the thorium-enhanced sludge. But I was away: what I couldn’t take, after all those blameless miles of English topography, all those libertarians hugging the river bank between Tonbridge and Maidstone, hermits in woods and tattoo-enhanced anarchists on narrowboats, was the sloganeering of the Olympic zone. The boasts. The absurd announcements of feats that would never be achieved. Making life better, brighter, louder with Westfield.

Coming ashore, I rode three-hundred yards on the DLR before it stopped, hanging on its high rail. Nick, who gave me a lift, dripping and shivering, to the station, shouted up that the West Ham bid had been chucked out and the stadium fiasco was cast into Athenian limbo, as a useless charge on the public purse and Lord Coe’s vulpine vanity.

So I’ve spoiled the story. You know that we made it and that my memories are unreliable flashbacks channelled in Gloucester, Mass., while I wait for the rain to stop. There is a big blackboard in the Writers Center on East Main Street. It says: ‘Iain Sinclair 3pm.’ And below this: “the devil awakens”. The room is full of ghosts, Gloucester poets, Olson and Vincent Ferrini. Above the desk as I type is Ferrini’s black cowboy hat. Check it out in Henry Ferrini’s film about Olson, Polis is This.

When I returned to the swan, which Andrew floated from its drunken mooring, close to the Rye bridge, I heard how he had spent most of a day bailing and drying the plastic bird out, after being swamped by the health-and-safety dinghy. Young Tom patched a couple of holes, after Edith had been bumped and dragged too fast. But sinkings are good drama. Once we decided to steer well away from the support vessel, there was never another hitch.

Peddling in gentle reverie, one with the water, we relished the Rother. Sun shone. The dinghy kept well out of the way. We were alone in the riparian world, adjusting to a speed a little less than a brisk hike. Cows were curious, but not very, despite Kötting’s orgasmic moos and taunts. He fell into a near-catatonic rhythm, until two young women hiked along with a strutting dog. ‘Ahoy! Is this right for London? Are you lesbians?’ They smiled and saluted, they’d heard it all before.

A certain amount of friction, as is to be expected, was generated by the conflicted demands of photography and sound, production and talent. Boom shadows were in shot. No dialogue was taken clean. We weren’t wearing regulation life-jackets, hard hats, gooseberry waistcoats. Native swans puffed themselves up to defend their turf, then thought better of it and scooted on ahead, in the direction of Bodiam. Tomorrow would take us to the castle, an early start (by their standards) would give the mist shot. Travel was narrowing the mind quite effectively. I would be happy to go on with this for months, years, dissolving into the reeds and meadows.