"Rape is the only honest commerce." The entrepreneur smiles. He surveys his audience of three and gauges reactions.
"Rape." He looks past the gold sateen drapery and through the grime-encrusted plate glass window atop this fifteen storied, air-conditioned and concrete-slab constructed, internationally-financed co-op. And beyond, his vision penetrates several hazy miles, toward the indistinct gray mass of central Lima. "That sprawling, vigorous rash, that decaying mestizo boil on the skin of Peru down there was engendered in rape."
Ernest Brewer, exhibit designer, back muscles tensing, squirms against the plush sofa pillow. This brash young entrepreneur is a bit too crude for my taste. Yet Howard Casper seems to know exactly what he wants and how to get it. Disconcerting. Like back in New York museums those Ph.D.s in their twenties and early thirties gaining reputations and positions beyond my dreams and desires. He rubs his short brown beard. Wonders if this morning he had detected and thus managed to clip all of that recently increasing crop of white hairs. I'm only forty-two.
"Peru is a land of victims." Another smile. "They don't even properly exploit their own resources. We will prevail with our daring deeds." The entrepreneur smiles again. "We're all rapists of sorts. Who among us is pure enough to deny it!"
Brewer, leaving his clipboard behind, approaches the picture window. Squinting
and adjusting his view left and right, he blends the grainy foreground
streaks into his own subtle, well-composed gray cityscape. Howard is saying
that Lima is the brains and balls of Peru.
He's gross, Ernie thinks. Too high-pressure even for the modern museum world that has evolved over the last decade. Best available museum people in their fields, Howard must be thinking. Each with his expertise and weakness and price.
Howard is saying that all effective action, especially here in Peru, results from a trade-off between idealism and imperfect means. "Peru has been afflicted with more than its share of evil," he says. "All of us are good guys, but morality and practicality have to be kept in an operable balance."
"Why victims," says Ernie from the window, breaking into a Howard Casper monologue he has not been following, distracted by the memory of the flag-waving, chanting demonstrators he saw through his rolled up taxi window this morning on his way from the airport. He has no idea what they were protesting.
"They're losers," says Franklin O'Rourke, the young, dark-haired American anthropologist, from his easy chair. "Even before Pizarro arrived, Spanish smallpox had spread south killing the Inca and his court in Quito, leading to civil war between Atahualpa and his half brother Huascar. That's how a middle-aged Pizarro could defeat the Incas."
"Now don't get me wrong," says tall, slim, blond, young, Howard Casper, taking off his tan suit jacket and folding it neatly on a chair. "I love Peru, I really do. But their heroes are all defeated men. They're losers, like Dr. O'Rourke says."
"Call me Frank," says Dr. O'Rourke, "I'm not proud."
"We're all doctors here in Peru, Frank. Even those with only pretensions to be so."
"Part of it is that they stab each other in the back," says the white-haired man in the lone, straight-backed chair. "I've been in and out of this country dozens of times in my fifty-year career and I can tell you there isn't one of them wouldn't sell his grandmother's mummy if he had the chance."
"Janus," says Howard, "isn't that a bit strong?"
"Call me Doctor, I'm proud," booms Janus Bodkin.
"Well anyway," says Howard, "if rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it." He laughs.
Franklin O'Rourke also laughs. Ernie Brewer smiles, the inevitable polite compromise with discomfort.
"It's human nature to exploit available opportunities," says Howard. "And if this trip wasn't potentially profitable none of us would be here. I'm good at exciting other people's imagination," he continues nonstop, "organizing other people's talents and manipulating other people's money. Not for nothing was one of my business courses called, 'Principal Practices'; we called it 'Practical Pimping.' Rape, riches, and renown. Conquistadors didn't care how they achieved it, but nowadays nobody does things like that even if some lands seem just waiting to be reaped and raped of their charms."
Howard pauses, smiles. Obviously unable to resist, he continues the thought. "Who's to say it's rape and not seduction by the rapee? Sometimes they just ask for it-flutter their eyelids, sidle up to you and say, 'come on, it'll be good for both of us, exploit my resources.' A woman or a country can't enter into a business transaction and afterwards cry rape! How do you define rape anyway? Can a prostitute be raped?"
Howard looks indulgently at the expressions on the faces of his audience. "Nowadays we're more sophisticated, and really, what's good for our project is good for Peru. Don't take it so seriously, folks. Rape is just a metaphor."
"Much more sophisticated ways of screwing the world's foremost Peruvianist," says Dr. Bodkin, pulling a small, black-framed, folding magnifying glass from a worn leather pouch.
"Now, Janus, you promised to cooperate," Howard snarls politely. "Mutual advantages: yours, mine, Peru's. Tolerate me."
Ernest watches Dr. Bodkin squinting one-eyed through the magnifier at a small faded brown tatter of cloth, his lips counting silently.
Howard picks up a document. "Official description of our mission." He reads, "Investigations leading to important anthropological discoveries and research regarding the national patrimony, with the purpose of exhibiting materials relevant to the cultural and aesthetic importance of the national heritage. New Treasures of the Peruvian Highlands, Coast, and Jungle. Listen to this," he continues. "We have commitments to travel the material to Munich, London, Toronto, Los Angeles, Tokyo."
Ernie Brewer returns to the sofa and looks at the clipboard Howard had given him. "PAN-PERUVIAN EXPEDITION" on the metal clasp in transfer letters, not quite evenly spaced, nor in a straight line. His grant contract with the letterhead of the Instituto Nacional de Cultura-the bottom half a profusion of red, blue, and black official stamps and signatures.
He thumbs through the brochure Howard wrote and produced "Peru's Treasures-Major Expeditions-A Major Exhibition." Photos of Howard in pinstripe behind an executive's desk signing documents, Howard with Peruvian dignitaries, pointing toward infinite horizons. Pages describing proposed expeditions and permanent exhibits. A one-sentence description of each participant, each name, including Ernest's, preceded by "Dr.," just as his photo I.D. says "Dr. Ernest Brewer, Exhibit Design Specialist." Doctor this and doctor that. The lone woman is described as "Scenarist/Coordinator," and Howard with his masters degree in museology and in international business practices, has the project title of "Facilitator."
A sharp rap on the door and in strides a movie star, curly blond hair, deep tan, square jaw, wearing a brilliant white shirt open to his navel, sports jacket hung by the hook of a finger over his shoulder. Jeffrey Fortune, Amazonian ethnologist, shakes everyone's hands in a forceful grip.
"Well," says Howard. "Now all that's missing is Dr. Agosto Felipe Peralta-Pardo, our self-proclaimed Marxist from the National Institute of Culture, and Darci Denby, our exhibits coordinator. She's a good catalyst, effecting change, affecting other people, serenely untouched herself." Howard smiles. "A woman after my own heart."
Ernest wonders what kind of problems having a woman along will entail. He remembers what Margaret had done when they had their argument the week before he had come to Peru. His New Guinea mask ripped to pieces, Ashante doll dismembered, Mexican ceramics now shards in a shoebox, the early Peruvian textile a fragment of burnt threads. She had never understood my love of art, he thinks. We hang on out of-what?-habit, fear, residual affection. I'm weak.
The door swings open again and Peralta-Pardo enters, swarthy, looking like Ricardo Montelban, smiling his two even rows of perlas blancas.
Darci Denby enters next, in plaid blouse and blue jeans, shoulder-length light brown hair, slight-of-build yet feminine, with natural grace and seeming, to Ernie, by her delicate, soft and pretty face, adolescent body, her casualness, to contain an inkling of possibilities. But of course, he thinks, that's impossible, she'll be committed to someone else, wouldn't find me attractive and turn out to be another emotional oddball. A fantasy never to be tested (he does not even wonder now if she is much younger than he).
She seems a bit nervous and sits on the sofa. Peralta-Pardo sits between her and Ernest.
Howard clears his throat. "At great expense," he says, reciting his pre-arranged speech, "the Council for Cultural Interchange, which administers the Educational Alliance Trust, funded by Interplex and various other monies, has brought you to Lima." For Howard, cash flow problems are merely a temporary annoyance. "Remember what Pizarro said on his way toward victory: 'There lies Peru with its riches. For my part, I go to the south.'"
"Within a few years," says Janus Bodkin, "the conqueror of Peru was assassinated by his former buddies."
"Nothing ventured, nothing gained," says Howard.
Howard talks about the highlands. How Franklin as archeologist in charge will penetrate the Vilcabamba area near Machu Picchu and how they will find Inca gold. Howard explains that he has a map he got from a major collector who got it from a grave robber. Janus Bodkin growls that anthropology, "just ain't that goddamn simple." Howard explains that he has merely been applying his favorite Murphy's Law: "An easily understood, workable falsehood is more useful than a complex incomprehensible truth." Howard talks of the coast. "Dr. Bodkin's found some interesting old hunks of cloth."
"Hunks of cloth!" explodes Janus Bodkin, looking up from his cloth fragment. "Just the biggest Paracas Culture textile deposit since Julio C. Tello unearthed the 'Necropolis'. Nay, it's bigger, better! Goddammit, nobody's taking it away from me. Nobody's going to spill the beans before I excavate, study, and publish!" Dr. Bodkin shakes a finger at Howard, his face reddens, white hair and white mustache gleaming. "If you spill the beans, if you upset my applecart, I'll thrash every ounce of flesh off your skinny bones. And my project comes first."
"Can't, Janus. Everything's inked in on the calendar. Truck, horses, bearers in the mountains, publicity, INC-approved schedule. We take the Inca gold-the easy, spectacular stuff first. Then they can't hassle us on the illegal digs."
"Got to be me first. Damn Peruvian airforce'll see that dome in the desert and spill my beans."
"No choice in the matter. Think of it this way. Gold's the seduction and foreplay. Withhold immediate gratification to arouse the woman. What civilization's all about, right? Besides, the INC knows about your so-called 'test pit.' If you hadn't begun excavation without permits you wouldn't have dug yourself into a hole." He sniggers. "Pardo's as interested in our success as you are."
"I told you I don't trust that Peruvian. He'll double cross me and steal my glory. He'd sell his grandmother's mummy."
Howard and Janus Bodkin speak as though Peralta-Pardo is not in the room. Pardo does not look at them.
"Don't worry," says Howard. "He won't spill the garbonzos."
"Bullshit," says Bodkin. "I shall not be bamboozled."
"Janus, I'm glad you don't write the way you talk."
Ernie looks at his grant contract again. Wonders if he had been right to let Margaret goad him into this trip. "If you don't take a chance," she'd said, "what kind of man are you?" He writes on a ruled pad.Dear Diary: Day one. Peru.
Howard introduces Dr. Jeffrey Fortune, who wears the same kind of pre-faded, tailored blue jeans as Franklin and even Janus Bodkin. Ernest wonders if it is the anthropological uniform. In slacks, sports jacket and tie, he feels an uneasy kinship with Howard in his suit.
Jeffrey talks of the Amazon. Ernie Brewer imagines heat, sweat, insects, turbulent waters, smothering vegetation, and no decent artwork to compensate for the discomfort and dangers.
Jeffrey talks of his recent interest in body decoration, and pulling open his unbuttoned shirt reveals a tanned, hairless chest covered by a green and red tattoo of sinuous leafy vines curled around each nipple and co-mingling on his muscular stomach in a thick mass, disappearing below his belt. "Amazonians use their bodies as an art form," says Jeffrey, "applying red achiote paste in wild concentrations of design and color."
"I've been wondering," Ernie Brewer says, "what Amazonian artworks we could possibly show in our exhibit. If they'd give us some mounted torsos as colorful as yours, maybe we'd have something."
cultures manifest their artistic impulse through dance, music, bodily
adornment, customs-aspects that can't easily be seen and appreciated by
the mere museum eye," says Jeffrey, stuffing shirt back in pants. "Masterpieces
to put on a pedestal and hang on the wall there aren't. But that's a problem
of your limited way of thinking about art."
And just at this moment Peralta-Pardo hands her a piece of paper, his name embossed on top. Ernest peeks unobtrusively and reads, 'I would very much like to make passionate, violent love to you.' She writes, 'Some other time,' across his writing and returns it. She goes into the bedroom and softly shuts the door.
"Sex is in the air," says Janus Bodkin, eyeing Peralta-Pardo. "As always."
"Lust," says Franklin. "I brought a gross of condoms on this trip. Know why women have pussies?" Pauses. "So men will talk to them. Ha, ha," he says.
"Never use condoms," says Jeffrey Fortune. "You have got to have skin against skin."
"Sex," says Peralta-Pardo, stating quietly, yet dramatically. "One could say that rape is the envious response of the waning middle-aged toward the perceived vitality of unattainable commodities. Of course, I, as a pure Spanish blood in this Indian land, do not exempt myself."
Pardo continues more forcefully. "You are here with your approved documents, ready to begin another legal rape. This scientific intrusion by foreign entities, this modern colonialism so subtle you may not even be conscious of it yourselves. Peru, a land of great potential, of great accomplishment, of heroes betrayed and worlds lost; beset by conquerors, exploiters, excavators, users; ravaged, ravished. First the Spanish-at least they were straightforward about it. Then the English. Now American multi-nationals running out of campos to conquer. To say nothing of Peruvians doing it to Peruvians, incestuously, brother to brother, spilling our seed into non-fertile ground and going blind and mad."
His voice rises. "All Americans are multi-nationals," he says. "You people don't seem to have come from anywhere." He stares at them. "I cannot specify you. You are homogenized and I cannot taste any distinctive juice. Faceless multi-nationals avoid the moral constraints of traditional social orders."
"Agosto!" laughs Howard. "A fine way for a Communist to talk! What you have to realize is that money like art is not really ours to own-we're only its temporary custodians."
Peralta-Pardo ignores Howard. "Tourists, professional observers, classifiers, exhibitors, thieves of our past and present vitality. Peru needs a national chastity belt."
Howard smiles his most diplomatic, conciliatory smile. "I like you, Agosto. You're ballsy. But must self-serving acts, per se, diminish someone else?" He sits back, fingertips of one hand flexing against those of the other, like a spider reflected in a mirror.
"Peru is ignorant," says Peralta-Pardo, "but not stupid."
Ernest wants to say that art is pure and his love of art is pure and he is addicted to it, but he does not want to start an argument. He wonders if he should leave the art museum in New York and switch to natural history. He wonders how he would like dealing with bugs and birds and furry little things. Would he get to work on anthropology exhibits? "I'm not political or here to exploit," says Ernest, who finds politics boring. "I'm a designer. I interpret information from experts and create the vehicle that provides maximum understanding and comprehension. This project is concerned with eternal values, with art. Not politics."
Peralta-Pardo speaks ever so softly. "The poor cannot afford your luxury of art when they need your money for bread. Your statement is political." He smiles. "Where there are primitive art lovers, there are anthropologists, where there are anthropologists, there are collectors. As you say in English, they hold hands. They copulate with each other, and collaboratively with the supine body of Peru."
"Designers in museums," says Franklin, "just frame other peoples' masterpieces."
"De mi punto de vista," says Peralta-Pardo, "Peru's masterpieces should not be excavated now. Or let Peruvians do it. But then I am not the minister in charge any more. Internal politics. But there reside in me conflicts. We require your money, so we sell our past for bread. You give petrodollars to possess what we have and your country lacks-the tradition and vigor of our arts."
"We're neutral," says Howard. "Are we not to spend our tourist dollars, not help you with scientific investigation? When your country needs investment and technological aid and asks for it are other countries to say no to mutually agreed-upon contracts?"
rises, goes to the door, opens it, steps out, and before closing the door
behind him, leans back and whispers, "Exactly."
San Isidro pension. Howard has brought them all by city bus from the Miraflores high rise suite he described as a one-night-stand to impress Peralta-Pardo, "and other interested parties." Ernest at night propped up in bed. He expects to have extraordinary esthetic experiences and to use Peru in an article on exhibit-making and for a chapter of a work in progress he has tentatively titled, "Contemplative Encounter With Primitive Art." He writes his journal. Dear Diary: Day one. Peru.
Well I've certainly gotten away from it all.
Will he be pressured to design the exhibit to emphasize art or archeological context? What about political pressures? Peralta-Pardo's words have disturbed him. He has always felt a twinge of guilt about owning even minor artifacts. Now he cannot avoid the conflict between conscience and desire. How can he buy some good pre-Columbian pieces? Would he still be able to rationalize it?
He writes about their pension that looks like a motel anywhere in the world, like the hotel suite and the Lima airport.
He notes that Darci shares a room with the entrepreneur. He wonders if she knows Howard's attitudes toward women. "When a man wants something," Howard had said, Pardo gone, Darci in the hotel suite bedroom, "he wants it now. It's having to wait an hour or half or quarter till the woman lets him that's worst. They call it civilization. Putting off satisfactions until other people get theirs. Why do you think men hate women? When a real man thinks he can get away with it he plunders. He goes for it. As always," Howard had added, "I exaggerate a bit."
Later at the pension: "I've just got to tell someone," Darci had whispered to Ernest as they trailed behind the others going upstairs to bed. "Promise you'll keep your mouth shut. One of those pigs tried to rape me. God, was that intense."
Ernest knows that many feminist books claim rape is not a sexual act but only one of hostility and power. Howard had said, "Men are endowed with undifferentiated lust, but we don't all rape." Rape is a sexual act, Ernest thinks. He knows it is a commonplace fantasy. What's acceptable fantasy, Ernest thinks, is quite different from reality. He wonders if right now Darci and Howard are making love. He shakes his head. He can almost understand people's recent interest in androgyny.
Putting down his journal, he loosens his pajama bottoms and opens his Portuguese language edition of Playboy. He hardly thinks at all of Darci Denby. He wants to survive this trip with the minimum of complications that dealing with other people inevitably causes. Why'd she choose me to tell? How can she keep so cool? "Rape is the only honest commerce." It sounds so cynical, and so profound. But what do the words really mean? If I can understand that, maybe I could decide if it were true.
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