The Salesian Nuns & The PriestSaturday, September 30, 2006
We were sitting on a stone bench by the imposing aqueduct in Morelia, Michoacán in Mexico last August, when these two nuns passed by. To see a nun almost dressed like a nun in Mexico is a treat since in the 60s and before, nuns, brothers and priests could not wear anything but civilian attire on the streets. I stopped them and asked them from what order they were. They told me they were from the Salesians, originally from Italy. They posed with Rebecca and I asked the older nun to bless her.
As they walked away I remembered a Salesian priest I had photographed back in 1990 in La Escuela de los Salesianos, a Catholic school in Lima where Mario Vargas Llosa had gone as a young boy. I had asked Padre Francisco if he could tell me anything about the novelist who was soon to be president. He was very diplomatic and unforthcoming, "He was a good boy." He turned around and walked away with his bunch of flowers.
The soon-to-be president wasn't. One morning , the morning he returned from campaigning in Piura, he was very sick. Piura is a city in Northern Peru which was the first city in Peru, founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1532. Llosa had eaten a ceviche that had given him stomach poisoning. He was in pain when he posed for me. That evening he was to give a talk at the Japanese Peruvian Club. I went to it but he stayed home. The Japanese/Peruvian community felt ignored. The rest is history as Fujimori came from nowhere and won the election. For those of us who love his books this has meant that Vargas Llosas literary output was never interrupted.
For me Vargas Llosa's loss was a bittersweet experience. I love his books but I will never know what would have happened if Condé Nast Traveller had published my essay and photographs, Mario Vargas Llosa's Lima. It all hinged, the travel editor told me, "If he wins."