Mr. Alarcon is traveling in South America. Below you'll find una nota he sent to people recently. His story collection, War by Candlelight, comes out soon. An archive of links to previous notes is below. More notes will appear here every other
day for a while.
February 12, 2005
So this happened a week ago, ten days ago (?) but I wanted to write it down before the memories got too hazy. I was in Valparaíso, a town a few hours from Santiago, a dramatically beautiful place, a port city, built on these hills, overrun with wild dogs. Never in my life have I seen so many street dogs. Apparently there was a plan to kill them (because Valparaíso has been nominated as a UNESCO world heritage site and the UN folks weren’t happy about all the dogs) but folks protested and so the dogs were spared. Anyway, this is all tangential, but adds to the ambience: Valpo is sort of a gritty, salty old place.
I met an old timer named Marcial at this bar not far from the port.
He was drinking red wine when I sat down at the bar (there is no such thing
as bad wine in Chile, btw). We quickly fell into a conversation. He’d worked
as an electrician in the merchant marine for 30 years, had “traveled the
world,” a phrase he used with a jaded tone, as if it was all the same to
him. It was, I guess. He’d crossed the Panama Canal so many times it bored
him. He went about summarizing his travels and the impressions he had of
the different nations he’d seen. He knew Communism would collapse in 1984,
he said, because Romania was so poor. Turkey was boring because they kept
their women locked away.
Re: Los Barracones, there are many neighborhoods in Lima with bad reputations, places where people are afraid to go, none has a worse reputation than Los Barracones. This is surely alarmist, but I’ve never been, so I can’t say. It’s one of those places where Limeños say you won’t come out alive, etc. Anyway, Marcial had a story about this particular brothel. You`re Peruvian, you’ll like this, he said: in the late 80s, when the war was bad, his ship came into Callao. He had twelve hours, so of course he went off to visit his spot. It was evening, foggy. It wasn’t a long walk from the port. He whistled and was nervous and happy with anticipation. “When I got there, the door was kicked open and everyone was dead.” There were Communist slogans on the walls and bullet holes everywhere. Apparently, The Shining Path had come in minutes before he’d arrived, done their usual horrific worst, killing everyone: the girls, the waiters, the madam, and three unlucky Yugoslavian sailors (how Marcial knew they were Yugosalvian, I’m not sure . . .)
It was a horrible scene, which Marcial described to me in much more
detail than I will recount here. He sat down, stunned, too shocked to cry
or move or think rationally. The cops arrived in due course, saw the bloodbath,
saw Marcial, and dragged him in. They
We were quiet for long time, mostly because I couldn’t think of anything
to say. People are always telling me these outrageous things. That same
day, on the bus from Santiago, this dude told me about the affair he’d
had with a 52-year-old woman when he was 17, how he was ashamed to tell
people that he still liked older older women. He was my age or thereabouts.
This is not a long bus ride I’m talking about: maybe an hour and a half.
Anyway, it’s strange, but people like to talk, I suppose. I noticed Marcial
had finished his bottle of wine. I probably mumbled something about that,
just to break the silence, and he nodded. “When my wife died nine months
ago,” he said, “I told my children I
From the looks of him, he was a man who’d kept his pledge. He was grizzled and tired and bleary eyed. He had three months of drinking ahead of him. “Thirty years I was gone sailing,” he said, “I thought I would die first because no one would miss me. But now she’s gone, and no one can live without her.”
Now I really had nothing to say. I tried to talk sports, but he wasn’t interested. Politics? He was indifferent. When he left awhile later, there was a bit of a discussion because he didn’t leave a tip. Marcial argued that he couldn’t tip the bartender, because the bartender, as it turns out, was also the owner, and you don’t tip the owner, because that would be an insult. The bartender/owner wasn’t really impressed with this logic. Marcial tried to get me to weigh in, but I stayed out of it. It was clear that he was only looking for a dignified way to excuse the fact that he had no more money. At least not for that night.
Check back Tuesday for one more for now
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