Mario Vargas Llosa, The Storyteller & The GourdTuesday, October 31, 2006
In 1989 I read Mario Vargas Llosa's whimsical The Story Teller about a long lost classmate by the narrator of the novel. Raúl Zuritas (the long lost classmate) is a red haired Jew, terribly scarred last seen in Israel. But in a small gallery in Florence, our protagonist (fleeing the political turmoil of Peru) happens on an exhibition of photographs from the Amazon jungle. One of the photographs shows a tribal storyteller seated in the middle of a circle of Machiguenga Indians. This tribe, until the late 80s, had been completely isolated from civilization. That the tribal storyteller is a dead ringer for Mascarita, is the mystery that opens this fascinatingly easy to read Llosa novel. Perhaps it was easy after having read the serpentine Conversation in the Cathedral.
"Florentines are famous, in Italy, for their arrogance and for their hatred of the tourists that innundate them each summer, like an Amazonian river. At the moment, it is hard to deterimine whether this is true, since there are virtually no natives left in Firenze. They have been leaving, little by little, as the temperature rose, the evening breeze stopped blowing, the waters of the Arno dwindled to a trickle, and mosquitoes took over the city. They are veritable flying hordes that successfully resist repellents and insecticides an gorge on their victims' blood day and night, particularly in museums. Are the zanzare of Firenze the totem animals, the guardian angels of Leonardos, Cellinis, Botticellis, Fillipo Lippis, Fra Angelicos? It would seem so. Because it is while I am contemplating their statues, frescoes, and paintings that I have gotten most of the bites that have raised lumps in my arms and legs neither more nor less ugly than the ones I've gotten every time I've visited the Peruvian jungle." The Storyteller, Mario Vargas Llosa
Later in 1990 I bought three intricately carved gourds (mates berillados) in a market near Callao in Peru. The smallest is called: Historia: El Hechicero Curandero, (The Story: The Wizard Healer). The gourd brought from Chiclayo or Piura and carved in Cochas Grandes and Cochas Chico (near Huancayo) is signed by Silvia Alanya Vo. When I look at this 7cm long gourd I can imagine Mascarita weaving stories of the fabled and magical Macheguengas before men started walking. "There was no evil, there was no wind, there was no rain."