Monday, September 17, 2018

The Road to My Debut Novel

Annamaria on Monday


We left La Paz early in the morning, in a land rover, carrying our drinking water for a week.


We were supposedly on the Pan-American Highway.  In many places, it was nothing more than a dry riverbed.


For the first full day, as we climbed from nine thousand to ten thousand to eleven thousand feet, we saw the land around us become more and more barren, until it resembled no place on earth that I had known.  The surface of the moon is what it brought to mind.




We occasionally saw a llama, or three.  And a settlement.  In that wasteland, living off the animals was the only choice.  Though we saw no other human beings, we saw the places they had built and inhabited.  At the lower (if you can call them that) elevations there were a few plants that might keep the beasts alive.  After a while there was nothing--not a blade of grass, not an insect, not a reptile.


Along the way, we stopped to eat our lunch.  A llama came and stuck her head between Naty and me, turning to look from one to the other as our conversation bounced back and forth. 

Portrait of Barbara Ann
 After lunch, it was my turn to drive.  That meant I got to choose the music.   My playlist was a selection of lively songs to keep me alert after eating. Just before I put the car in gear, the llama came to the driver’s side, stuck her head in the window, and stared at the car radio.  I observed that that might have been the very first time on earth that a llama heard the Beach Boys singing “Barbara Ann.”


By dusk that first day, we arrived in Oruru—elevation 3709 meters (12K feet), where we checked into the Hotel Terminal.  Which by the way, was not heated.  Maybe a hot shower would help?  No, maybe not.  My guidebook said that the water was heated instantaneously by electricity, and there was danger of electrocution.

We kept on our clothing, piled on all the blankets we could find, and shivered anyway.  Soon the whole building was throbbing with the music and dancing from a wedding on the ground floor.  I wanted to go down and see it, but David declared that it would be rude for a foreigner to go and gawk at the locals on their wedding day.  I guessed he was right.  But to this day, I am sorry I didn’t see it when I had the chance.


The next day offered only an endless moonscape, until we passed a dip in the altitude and saw a few trees.  That fleeting greenery disappeared as we climbed again—to thirteen thousand feet, where I was astonished to see a huge sign, welcoming us to Potosi’, declared by UNESCO in 1987 as part of the patrimony of humanity.

What?  What was a part of the patrimony of humanity doing on the surface of the moon?


When we entered the city, we found the answer:  A Seventeenth Century Spanish city, with splendid baroque architecture.  But not in the style of the European baroque with cherubs and rose garlands.  Mestizo baroque has as its motifs the faces and nature of South America.  What a knock out!  I remain astonished to this day.







After learning about the history from the guides and locals, I hungered for more.  Then on Day2 of our stay, we were touring a cloistered convent—still in use.  

The convent on which my imaginary one is based.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the docent told us, it was a place only for Spanish noblewomen.  “Why would a noblewoman lock herself up in place like this?” David wanted to know. But I was translating the information for him, and by then, the guide had taken us into another room and resumed her tale.  Since I depend on what I know of Latin, Italian, and French to understand Spanish, I needed to concentrate on her talk and couldn’t answer him. 

But that night at dinner I had several answers to David’s question.  A convent school educated woman like me would have no trouble imaging such reasons.  I told him—and Steve and Naty—six.

When I was back home in New York, reading everything I could find on that fascinating place, those reasons turned into women in my head.  And their lives turned into a story: a locked-room mystery in which one of them is threatened by the Inquisition.  Therefore, a mysterious death in the convent must be accounted for.  Otherwise, my imaginary abbess will die at the stake.

City of Silver was a story that would not let me go until I wrote it.

Happy me
David Jay Clark, who made all these photos except this not very good, but happy one.



15 comments:

  1. I love your smile!! And I love this story!! Thank you so much for sharing it.

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    1. Thank you, Susan. You know how I love being on the road!

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  2. It's a tale I love to tell. Potosi' is so remote and isolated. It's a pity more people can't get to see it. But at least the monuments are being preserved. The life of the people who there is as harsh as ever, though. That is very sad.

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  3. Your post brought back a long lost memory. A few years before your fascinating trip south, I took one into the wilds of Canada. Okay, only a hundred miles or so north of Toronto, but for a high school senior out of Pittsburgh it was exotic. At the hotel where we stayed I met and was smitten by the lounge singer, a college sophomore (yes, even then I had that propensity). But how--you might ask--does your trip back into history trigger my adolescent reminiscence? Well, aside from your radiating beauty, Sis, it was your episode with the llama.

    Quizzical look noted.

    Yes, the Llama. As we were leaving the hotel, the singer leaned into the car to bid me a fair adieu, one that left me smiling all the way back across the border. I still smile at the mention of her name...Lauma.

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    1. I beg your pardon, my brother. I take enormous exception to the phrase "a few years before." How many are a few. I always think three or four. I fully admit that I am older than you, but by only a few years. I was fifty when I went to Potosi'. If you are telling a story that took place when you were an adolescent, it must have been MANY year bef..... Oh, I take it all back. I almost forgot how very long your adolescence has lasted.

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    2. My oh my, you looked so youthful in that photo, that when I said a "few years" I assumed you were in your early twenties. I stand corrected. :)

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  4. Amazing story, the photos are stunning!

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  5. Well, my writer's head is spinning with Jeff and Lauma! But somehow 'Anna and the Lama' has a lovely ring to it.

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    1. You have invented the title for my first children's story, Caro!!!

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  6. Lizzie, Your Uncle David gets all the credit for the photos.

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  7. Awesome and congrats!

    www.ftstsp.com

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  9. Loved seeing photos of this amazing place after enjoying City of Silver so much!

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    1. There are a few more of David’s pictures on my website, Cathy. Thank you so much for your kind words about the book.

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