Wanders and Wonders
The streets are full of kids with guns and bombs. Water guns and water bombs. Since Carneval falls during the wettest time of year here, and since Carneval is essentially about mischief, you can see why the car windscreen got involuntarily washed so regularly driving back to Cochabamba yesterday. We had been in Tortora, a picturesque town of traditional adobe and old colonial buildings, all with Spanish-style red tiles – as well as brand new-looking schools and a large hospital that presumably serves communities for many miles around.
My housemate and I spent most of the weekend driving and talking, eating and drinking and talking. Quite a lot about religion (we are both atheist), and quite a lot about the Middle East; she is Israeli and I lived for a year in Lebanon. They say Syria is sliding to civil war; Libya also an increasingly chaotic scene of violence. The papers are full of possible military strikes on Iran. My friend points out the absurdity of Israel bothering – and managing – to get fighter planes to Iran. But the world is absurd; we live in the age of overconsumption and related resource conflicts, ever-increasingly about energy rather than the land itself. There is a geopolitical and transfinancial matrix behind the heated rhetoric on Iran that politicians and most of the media are complicit in not encouraging us to understand. Peter Oborne wrote in Monday’s Telegraph how the UK’s foreign policy interests have become remarkably aligned with the goals of Al-Qaeda of late. “We’d” both like to see Syria’s government replaced in order to break it’s alliance with Iran. Elsewhere it’s pointed out that squishing Iran halts the threat that their oil poses to our buddies the Saudis and postwar economic investments in Iraq. As my friend points out, once we find a widely applicable source of renewable energy, we can look forward to living in a better and more peaceful world. It is the possibility of peace, much more than the threat of climate change, which motivates her engagement with that search. In the meantime the spectre is raised of a new cold war in the Middle East, and Iran is posting soldiers around it’s nuclear facilities.
After an all-out flirtation assault from the local young men at a Tortora chichería on Sunday afternoon, we retreat to the large, musty attractive house where we are staying. Someone is playing the piano rather nicely downstairs – not a common sound here (nor are there many pianos around). Someone turns out to be a fascinating man, perhaps in his mid-fifties, who starts speaking fluent Hebrew to my companion as we pass the reception room. Later, as we eat dinner, he has both of us spellbound as he describes his life on a kibbutz in the late 1960s; the radical leftists he met and conversed with; the renowned musicians he played guitar with. His role as translator during the first ‘Millionaire’s Conference’ in Israel in 1968. He speaks eight languages and also lived in Turkey and Switzerland in his youth. He went to Israel for love, without a clue about its history or geography, but now, as a restaurant owner in the Chapare, takes it upon himself to talk into the night with young Israeli travellers about the corruption of their country’s ideals. Over breakfast he mentions in passing seeing nuclear missiles passing through the Bosphorus on their way to Cuba in 1962, and then returning again.
Sitting by a river having lunch on the way home my friend and I discuss Britain’s role in the Second World War and postwar German literature. Later that day I read that Hitler had a son who fought for France against the Nazis. The world was an insanely destructive place in the twentieth century. But – despite the harmless fun of water pistols in Bolivia on the drive home – it feels a highly dangerous one yet, still full of prejudice and grand imperial designs. As we admire the valley rolling out before us we listen to a track by Pablo Lefio, a Chilean musician we recently saw play in Cochabamba. The words come from young Mexican poet Rogelio Dueñas. It’s a devastating and beautiful anti-war song.