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This story was written for an anthology edited by Peter Laufer. He had some kind of disagreement with his publisher and is looking for a new publisher for the anthology. In the meanwhile, here it is, but please don't reproduce it as I don't want to compromise Peter's efforts to find a publisher.
Let me know
whether you find it interesting, funny, dull, whatever.)

. . . . . . . . . .

WHEN WE WENT TO LIVE IN THE ANDES, I was young and stupid, but I knew Latin America, I thought. Carol and I had recently spent more than a year in Guatemala. From there we had returned to Madison, where we found a snow shovel waiting for us in the driveway, and within weeks we were on our way to South America.
Carol had more sense than I did, but one can fairly wonder about a woman who sets off for unknown lands in the company of someone who launches their adventure by falling down a flight of stairs and breaking a tooth on the way to the airport. Then again, those were vertiginous times in Madtown, and few remained upright all the way through them.
We had left Madison because the living was just too easy there—which provides some insight into our reasoning processes. We saw the drunks and potheads hanging out at the Green Lantern and the 602 Club, content in the certainty that there was no hipper and looser and more radical place to be in the entire Midwest. But we aspired to higher echelons of hipness.
So we had found ourselves in Guate, which was a new beginning for us in several ways. Before setting off, we had made our marriage official. The judge, having asked what I was getting my doctorate in and been told comparative literature, offered without hesitation: "Sounds like one of those fields where you can't get a job." But it didn't take us long, in Guatemala, to get our distinguished translation careers off on the right foot with Frozen Coagulated Cultures in Wine, Cheese, and Sauerkraut Production, which you've probably read.
We were living outside the U.S. for the first time.
So Guatemala colored our expectations about life in Latin America. I remember that, on our way from the airport to our new home by the police checkpoint on the road to Antigua, we saw men driving oxcarts through drifting rainbows of blue, lavender, magenta, and red petals. A guacamayo greeted us with a raucous squawk as loud as its plumage when we crossed the barranca and made our way up the dusty hill and through the bamboo barrier to our ancient adobe casita, where roof rats scampered gaily over a dense maze of vines, and small green lizards sunned benignly on weathered fenceposts. This adobe was a duplex, and our days would soon be punctuated by the slap slap slap of María preparing tortillas for Leonardo, the gardener, beside their yawning chthonic hearth, which surely dated from the days of Tecúm-Umán.
It was the eye of the storm in Guatemala, and comparatively few people, it seemed, were being killed. We heard reports of the cultish right-wing Mano Blanca, or White Hand (not to be confused with Monja Blanca, or White Nun, which is the national flower); we were nearby when a leading politico was killed in his car near the city center; we were shocked when a member of a colleague's softball team was found murdered execution-style, with bullet tracks up and down his spine. (Not having got the position at the University of San Marcos that I had expected, I had taken a job teaching high school at the Colegio Americano de Guatemala.) Urban sprawl was also taking its toll on the native and ladino populations, and on the environment. But despite all that, Guatemala delighted us with its abundance of fruits and vegetables that we had never imagined in Wisconsin; its beautiful huipiles and other "típica" (the country is still mostly Indian, for unlike their northern neighbors the Aztecs, the Maya were never completely conquered); its churrigueresque colonial architecture (never mind that it represents the spoils of bloody conquest); its unbelievably diverse minicultures and microclimates; its cheerful marimbas; and its colorful markets—at once rich and cheap—where shopping was a game of barter that became genuine social exchange.
    Our delight in Guatemala is the more poignant because of its long-standing civil war. You can read about it in Victor Perera's excellent Unfinished Conquest: The Guatemalan Tragedy.
    Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, where, frightened by the apparition of the snow shovel, we arrived one our second Latin American expedition, did not greatly alter our expectations of Latin America. It is a grand historical city that is blessed with warm, sandy beaches. From its overhanging balconies you relax with a cool drink, whenever the nights are warm, and watch the couples stroll hand-in-hand over the toasty cobbles of the narrow streets below. The nights in Cartagena are always warm.
    In Quito (a stone's throw from the equator, but very high—9,348 feet) the nights can be cold indeed.
I'm not sure we fully appreciated that fact as we basked in the sun of Cartagena. There, as our money was running out, we had, in good, democratic, North American fashion, voted on our next destination. For forgotten reasons, I voted Costa Rica, but Carol had set her sights on the fabulous lost city of Macchu Pichu in the Peruvian Andes.
Carl Jung might have been on to something with his ideas about synchronicity. In the book I am currently editing, I encounter this anecdote:

A man and woman have stayed happily married for years. Nobody can understand how they do it. Everybody else is getting divorced or separated—suffering the agonies of marital estrangement. A friend asks the husband of the lucky pair how they have been able to make a go of it. What's the secret of their success? "Oh," answers the husband, "it's very simple. We simply divide up the household problems. My wife makes all the minor decisions and I make all the major decisions. No friction!" "I see," says the friend, and what are the minor decisions your wife makes, for example; and the major decisions, which are they?" "Well," answers the husband, "my wife makes all the little decisions like where shall we send our son to college, shall we sell the house, should we renew our medical insurance, and, uh . . . and then I take the big ones: like Should Red China Join the United Nations, Should the United States Disarm Unilaterally, Is Peace Possible . . . ?"

    So we were in the Andean highlands when our money finally ran out.
The Inca empire (in contrast to the other great American empires, the Aztec and the Maya) was short-lived. It first developed in the fifteenth century, as leaders from the little highland town of Cuzco (the setting-off point to Macchu Pichu) began to conquer neighboring people. By 1450 the Incas had expanded as far as Lake Titicaca, and by the end of the century they had extended their control into parts of current Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina—an impressive accomplishment. But the empire rapidly began to crumble with the death in 1525 of the Inca Huayna Capac while on a campaign in Ecuador. A fierce struggle for power ensued between his sons, Atahualpa and Huascar, who split the empire into northern and southern kingdoms based in Quito and Cuzco respectively. Perhaps this division could have been temporary, and the empire restored, since Atahualpa, moving south from Quito, finally succeeded in conquering (and executing) his half brother. But on his way to his coronation following this triumph, the proud but unfortunate Atahualpa encountered the conquistador Francisco Pizarro, who, not overburdened with scruples (but appreciative of the value of gold), imprisoned him, demanded a seemingly impossible ransom, and, when riches beyond reason were delivered, put an end to the matter. This he did by threatening to burn Atahualpa to death, and then, when some of his advisors objected to this injustice, simply strangling him. Soon the conquistadors would reenact the brothers' conflict, as they too would struggle for power from the same bases of Quito in the north and Cuzco in the south.
    We hadn't made it to Cuzco, capital of the southern kingdom, but we had at least reached Quito, the northern capital. From there, following in Atahualpa's footsteps, we would begin our campaign south to Macchu Pichu.
    There was, however, one obstacle—we were underarmed. Some months later, an Ecuadorian friend would generously offer us one of his llamas, which would have vastly increased our net worth, but at the moment we had neither friend nor llama. To be a flat-broke and homeless gringo in the Andean altiplano shows a certain devil-may-care insouciance ("I love to go a-wandering, my knapsack on my back, fa-la-la"), a certain disdain for bourgeois convention ("Survival? Pah! I spit on your survival!"), a certain . . . It sometimes seems there is a benevolent fortune that smiles on the young and foolish. When I called the American School in Quito, it turned out an English teacher had just left, for some unspecified reason (hmmmm), and there was an immediate vacancy, for which, with my qualifications and experience, I would obviously be perfect. So began my second and final stint as a high school teacher. With this new gig, we were back in command of our destinies.
    It's a pity that Evelyn Waugh's first novel, Decline and Fall, is not much read in the U.S. these days, because if you had read that book with its horrifying and hilarious depiction of a British boy's school, you would already have a pretty good picture of the Colegio Americano de Ecuador.
    The American School System in Latin America remains something of a mystery (someone should do a study), but the way I think it works is that in the years preceding the second world war, Nazi Germany started setting up schools in Latin America as a way of spreading the word about its special worldview, and the U.S. responded with its own system, which has endured, more or less, to this day. These American Schools, or Colegios Americanos, pop up here and there through Latin America, and they cater to a mix of North Americans, citizens of the country in which the school is located, and embassy brats from around the world. But as far as I can tell there no longer is any governing body overseeing the schools. Each one is different, and the educational philosophy and mix of students vary from one to the next.
    The school in Guatemala, for example, had a three-track system: one group of students took courses mostly in Spanish, one group mostly in English, and one group was pretty much half and half. This buffered system worked tolerably well. But the school in Ecuador used a two-track system: gringos on this side, Ecuadorians over there, and everybody keep your distance. As you might expect, this institutionalized line in the sand resulted in a general, pervasive polarization throughout the school, where a mixture of tension, despair, and resignation always hung in the ambiente. Needless to say, the polarization extended to the faculty and administration, and it was in this climate that I fell afoul of one of the Ecuadorian administrators, a certain Sucre (perhaps a descendent of Antonio José de Sucre, Bolívar's lieutenant, for whom Ecuador's basic unit of currency is named), who seemed suspicious that my presence at the school did not reflect a genuine dedication to the improvement of young Ecuadorians. Soon a full-fledged network of espionage was in place. Spies would sneak into my classes and then propagate disinformation among the masses as well as those in power. From time to time, I would receive urgent summons to the office. "We have received reports!" they would darkly declare, "that you are barely teaching your students anything! but are only! playing! games with them!"
(This accusation—I can now at last confess—was not entirely without merit. But, I mean, my classes were huge—forty-five, fifty students. You try holding forty-five squirming, oozing teenagers in thrall with the enchantments of conjugation alone.)
    I had, however, a powerful ally, Mr. Metz. This was the man I had spoken with when I was hired, and he was a curious character who bore a resemblance to Charlie McCarthy (but without the hair). I don't think he actually wore a monocle, but one would not have looked out of place on his puffy, sixty-something face. The main thing about Bernard Metz was that he was rich. He lived, off and on, in an opulent downtown apartment, which was furnished in Louis XV antiques and pre-Columbian artifacts. He also kept homes in New York, Paris, and London. And he was somehow the titular head of the American School, though he was never actually at the school. How he happened to take my call I cannot fathom, and who he really was, why he was in Ecuador, and why he cared about the American School I never discovered.
Metz was a good fellow who generously allowed us to stay in his apartment while we looked for a place to live, and he never complained, even though in the course of our adventures we had become so flea-ridden that we were covered head to toe in little bloody bites and left dense constellations of red blots all over his previously perfect sheets.
Metz was generous with the wisdom of his years. In my most indelible memory of him he is sitting before a priceless tapestry in one of his high-backed antique chairs, complacently sipping a fine sherry, and assuring us, "Money problems, you know, are the best kinds of problems to have."
    Before long we found an apartment in the little Quechua village of Guapalo, not far outside the city. This was a spanking two-story building that an enterprising Quechua wheat farmer had built as a source of supplemental income. It was the only new building in town, which we would get to by descending a steep, narrow road that switchbacked past the sprawling hillside brothel with its flashing neon lights to arrive at the charming town center with its gleaming historic church and pleasant, tree-lined plaza. If our apartment building was an anomaly if not an affront in that rustic Indian village, then we must have been even more so, as we sat grading papers on the brand-new hardwood floors (the boards not flush but amply spaced, apparently to provide shelter for our thriving colony of fierce Ecuadorian fleas) and looked down on villagers walking their pigs on leashes or across the hillside to the slashed-and-burnt fields that periodically exuded a thick, gray haze—or, from our frost-covered rooftop, we would gaze down the precipitous valley with its dramatically cascading climatic zones, looking for all the world like a live diorama of natural history, almost as far as the steamy bamboo plains of the equatorial coast.
    Guapalo lay within Quito's power utility grid, which meant that we could work into the night if we wished—except on Fridays, when there would be a blackout. Someone in Quito had determined that since the power blacked out every week anyway, they might as well manage the blackouts. Each day of the week a different quadrant of the city would go dark.
    Remember, I was young and stupid. I thought of the blackouts, "Welcome to the third world." Now I find myself in California, where rolling blackouts are almost as common but not as well managed. What world is this?
    Then again, I read that my nemesis Mr. Sucre also got a comeupance, since Ecuador is abolishing its Sucre currency and replacing it with, of all things, the U.S. dollar.
    On Fridays, rather than cook in the dark over our portable propane burner, we would go out for dinner where the current still flowed. We enjoyed our time in Quito. Really. But I don't think you have to worry about a chain of Ecuadorian restaurants moving into your neighborhood any time soon. Latin America for us was colorful Guatemalan markets filled to overflowing with wonderful fruits and vegetables. But we were now high—very high—in the mountains. That austere gray landscape is best known for its wealth of potatoes, arduously grown in steep terrace patches (see for example, Wendell Berry's "An Agricultural Journey in Peru," with its praise of the "rich genetic diversity of potatoes in the Andes"). Alpacas, highland flute music, flawless stonework, coca tea—those things it offers, but a really good sapote or chirimoya or even an aguacate para hoy—I don't think so. Instead, we would wander past smoky spits where charred-black chickens and guinea pigs rotated gruesomely in thick clouds of hephaistian smoke. Once, on a class excursion, we sampled a dish called chuchucaras ("dog-faces," in our malicious translation), one of the main ingredients of which appeared to be unpopped popcorn. Another time, we were on a bus crossing some impossibly high pass when Carol began to suffer from soroche, or altitude sickness. The bus driver stopped and we all filed into a little stone hut for a hearty serving of llama stew, which for Carol pretty much completed the job the soroche had begun. Most Fridays we ended up at a Chinese restaurant where a few coarse ingredients were served up in great crude chunks.
Not that I would complain. But with the end of the school year drawing closer with each blackout, we began more and more vividly to visualize ourselves upon the winding road to the fabled city of Macchu Pichu, which still stood like a glimmering grail at the end of our quest. Which brought up the matter of our passports. As educators of the youth of Ecuador, we were not, it seems, completely legal. That didn't bother us. As the other teachers picked up their checks from the office, I would take my under-the-table sucres and stuff them into my boot (to disappoint the ubiquitous pickpockets, I also carried an old empy billfold), just as I had done in Guatemala.
Once when I picked up my pay I got a surprise. The school had asked if I would consider doubling my classload from three to six classes, and I had agreed to this not as a way of further financing our travels but to improve more youthful minds. Honest. The surprise was that I now received fewer sucres than before. This was not, the school patiently explained, a mistake. Previously, I had been paid on a special per-class rate for visiting profesores, but with a six-class load I was now a regular full-time teacher, and they receive a standard flat fee, which is, yes, a little lower than the amount I had been getting.
Because we had overstayed our tourist visas but had not obtained work visas, our passports were invalid and, moreover, not in our possession. They had been taken from us and were languishing in an office downtown, but we weren't to worry, because the school would take care of everything, tomorrow. Except that the end of the school year was drawing nearer and nearer, until finally Carol began visiting the office weekly to try to goad the bureaucracy into some semblance of action.
Each week, she would enter the nondescript federal building and deferentially approach the desk of the bureaucrat who was "processing" our visas. He was a plump, bland, and not unfriendly man, who almost seemed to look forward to her regular visits. But no progress was made on our visa application, despite the school's long experience in this arena and its purported leverage. The day of departure was drawing ever closer.
The story of our passports may seem funny but at the time it really was a cause for concern. (Always remembering that while our situation was serious, it was still privileged and transitory—Ecuador's large population of the poor face lifetimes of graver hardships and difficulties than ours.) While we were fortunate in having made some contacts that ultimately helped us to resolve the problem, the bleakness of our prospects brought home the powerlessness that anyone must feel within the meshes of a third-world bureaucracy (or one in the first or second world for that matter, but there does exist a difference of style—and style, as we know since the New Critics, is content). As an editor, I routinely delete the overworked and devalued word Kafkaesque, but ... Carol made her way from building to building and from office to office, always referred somewhere else, never in the right place to find a resolution or even to make any progress—she always returned to the same nondescript man in the same nondescript office, where the same nothing had been accomplished. All the while we had little money, and obviously we possessed no passports—even if we had, they wouldn't have been valid—and if we were stopped for any reason we could have been arrested. The school year ended without a change in our visa status, and everyone who worked at the school vanished overnight. We were on our own. We tried to get help from the U.S. embassy but there too we struck a blank wall.
Finally Carol steeled herself and marched down to the familiar man in the familiar office and demanded our passports. Our work at the school was over, she insisted, and we absolutely had to leave Quito—now! He looked at her with a combination of bemusement, reluctance, and sorrow. The processing had not been completed. "Are you sure that you want your passports," he asked. "Absolutely," she insisted. "You're sure?" he repeated, and again she affirmed our immediate need for our passports. And he opened a drawer and handed them to her! Effusive in thanks, Carol turned to leave. She was stopped. "Where are you going?" she was asked. "Those passports are illegal!" They were taken from her. And put in jail.
    We were free (though trapped in Ecuador) but our passports were prisoners. I don't mean that figuratively—they were transferred from the bland bureaucratic office where they had for so long resided to the scary intendencia, a forbidding structure that seemed unchanged since the days of the inquisition. We would have to find someone with the influence to obtain their release, and convince him to exercise it.
    Perhaps Metz would have helped, but like the others at the school, he had disappeared. Instead we turned to the friend with the llama (who was not, as you may have assumed, a serape-covered indigène but rather the Jewish owner of a company that harvested the sort of chrysanthemum called pyrethrum out of the upper Amazon and extracted an environmentally correct pesticide from it; the llamas grazed on the grounds of his plant). The next phase of this story took a long time in the doing, but it can be shortened in the telling: from our friend we got an introduction to an army colonel, whom we regaled with our tale of woe. The colonel was not himself able to help, but from him we got an introduction to another colonel, with whom we again shared our woes. This second colonel was also not himself able to help, but from him we got an introduction to still a third colonel, to whom we once more repeated our woeful tale. And that third colonel was able to help, sort of. While he didn't free our passports, he did obtain for us visitation rights.
    Now let us take a moment to flash forward a few decades. Carol, having finally read this just as I'm about to send it off to Peter Laufer, my editor, reminds me of the system of communication that was employed in our efforts to free our passports. At each step along the way, each of the colonels gave us sealed letters to deliver to the next one. We would deliver the letter, and the colonel would rip it open and read it in silence as we anxiously waited. We never knew what the letters said.
Carol also says that she does not recognize me in this story because I seem more irresponsible than I really was (I'm not entirely sure how to take that). As for the tone, she thinks I have somehow resurrected a kind of cheesy breeziness characteristic of the Madison of the sixties and seventies. Overall, she says, "the good parts were good in different ways than you say, and the bad parts were bad in different ways too." I do not fully convey the feeling of isolation of being stranded high in the Andes. There are also specific problems—as a matter of fact, my account is riddled with errors: it was not the pyrethrum manufacturer but someone from the school (of whom I have absolutely no memory) who got us our first introduction to the series of colonels, and as far as that goes, I've put in one too many or maybe it was one too few colonels, or perhaps I have promoted or demoted one or more of them. Metz's houses were in Paris and New York, but not London; or perhaps Paris and London, but not New York. Plus (she is warming to her subject) I didn't get paid in sucres, so I didn't put them in my boot: that was Guatemala. I got paid with checks just like everyone else, and we would always dash downtown to cash them, because the exchange rate worsened with each passing minute.
What can I say? You can be pretty sure Carol is right, which is one of the more aggravating things about living with her all these years. But this all took place a quarter century ago, and I have tried to stay true to my recollections of the events, the way they felt to me. I get the feeling Carol could go on, but she simply concludes by saying mildly that, despite all of this, she "likes the piece." Though she doesn't elaborate on its presumed virtues, at least in this she has done her duty, just as she did in freeing the passports all those years before.
    Back in the mid-seventies, having obtained visitation rights, we went to see our passports in the intendencia. You will think I'm exaggerating, but it is little short of socialist realism, I insist (despite my spotty memory), when I say that the intendencia was straight out of The Persecution and Assassination of Marat Sade. Its centerpiece was a dusty, trodden courtyard in which hapless wretches cringed, slobbered, and moaned. Sadistic-looking soldiers paraded with pomp about the periphery and stiffly guarded the labyrinthine corridors and the narrow winding stairways. Up one of these we were led, gazing through slits at pitiful prisoners whose blank-eyed faces expressed a lack of hope so absolute that it was as chilling as the swirling, howling clouds of dust that chased after us like avenging furies. Finally we reached the office of an army colonel, who brought out the hostages and demonstrated that they had not been harmed. With that, we went away.
    Through this process we came at last to an interview with a grim-faced army general, who was (and here I am being quite serious) intensely frightening. He was such a stereotype that I am embarrassed to describe him: stony expression, cold eyes, pencil moustache, aviator glasses, rigid posture, clipped speech, medals up and down his chest—the whole package. He was clearly uncharmed by the story of our criminal residence in his country. Uncomfortable as we were in our interview with him, he did turn out to be the right person to talk to, for after toying with us for a time—a cat with mice—he seemed to weary of the sport, snapped his fingers, and within minutes reunited us with our passports.
    Which still had to be processed. And so we returned a final time to the nondescript office where the nondescript bureaucrat, following the general's instructions, briskly validated and stamped the passports and returned them to us with the single stipulation that we be out of the country within twenty-four hours, a condition to which we assented without demurral. We were on a bus to the border in record time.
    Macchu Pichu, Carol agrees, was marvelous.



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