Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Of Pottery and Gold

So opposed are these items yet each one is such a part of former Peru. The ancients of Peru, up to and including the Incas did not have the use of the wheel. So pottery was made in 2 ways, one was to hole out a lump of clay to make a small vase, vessel or pot and the other was making a cord, a long ribbon from clay and then adding the ribbons to form a wall, the 2nd technique was used for larger containers. On one tour Carol and I visited a small shop where the owner, an artist, makes copies of ancient vases for tourists to buy. He made a small tea pot kind of container for us while we were standing there. Before he started he showed us a glued together vase that was very old and was, without a doubt, ancient. It made me wonder where he got the old vessel from. Was he one of those grave robbers, or worse, a guy who paid someone to loot a grave? Carol understands from our guide that this ancient vase was brought in from a collector for repair of the several cracks and one hole in the side.
On principal I would not have bought a single piece from him even though his work was excellent. The technique he used to make a pot was simple yet elegant. With a lot of handwork, using only natural clays without additives, using pebbles to hone the finished pots, painting each object with fine brushes and finally firing them in a small kiln in the corner of his yard he produced a fine pot. He had a small gallery in a shed and would have taken Visa. Carol and I passed on his art. Later, thinking about it and discussing his shop I was under the impression that this was just a front for a larger atelier of artists that the man was not real, his props were all true, and his set up perfect but I had my doubts that he produced this art. Carol totally disagrees with me; she believes that only he produced all the articles we saw for sale.
The pottery of old Peru shows motifs that are all based on nature and spiritual belief. Having been isolated from Europe, having their own culture, their art is unique in the world. Whether one likes the art or the decorations of the pottery, the pots are made well and are quite beautiful.
Just across the street from the pottery is a very weird sight. We saw a sign that said gold prospecting, a guide, Orlando, told us about this place and we had a visit. Like most houses in Peru there is a wall around the property. You have to enter a gate to get access and the gate was open so we entered. Yes, it was a tourist trap too but what a weird picture was presented to us. In the beginning of the yard a man had an assortment of rocks collected in order to show us what kinds of minerals are available in Peru. In the backyard, however, we saw a 12 year old kid crushing rocks. He used a large rock on which was a board where he stood using a rocking motion (like standing on a teeter-totter), he made a powder of the smaller rocks beneath aided by lots of water. Another, older fellow added more water when needed. The whole place was very primitive, dirty and yet they worked steadily. They looked for gold. Using poisonous mercury, added to the water and the powdery sediments, they would extract some fine grains of gold that seemed to make up for their hardship. Now this was a sobering sight. The conditions of their surroundings screamed poverty yet they pursued their search for gold. I felt as if they had a fever, a gold fever. Hardly noticing me they worked like animals only to get more gold. Their clothing was caked with the mud, their workplace was filthy, I did not feel they cared about anything but gold. The place around them was dilapidated, run down, filthy, they did not care, all they wanted was gold. Gold above anything! Gold above comfort, hygiene, danger to their health! Gold above humanity! It was a fever, Gold Fever! It was a shock to me. To see such conditions of life in the middle of a city and yet… was it new? Was that kind of gold fever present when Francisco Pissarro landed in Peru? Maybe in a different form but I believe now that there is such a thing as gold fever.
Was that kind of greed present when robbers destroyed evidence of ancient civilizations just to gain some gold, destroying in the process anything that was in their way? Tangibles and intangibles were destroyed and the disease is still present today, right here in Nazca, Peru, I have seen it. There is still gold fever in Peru.

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