Deep into 'wonderfully weird' Peru

Included are sites that still exist as Warhol knew them.
Included are sites that still exist as Warhol knew them. (From book jacket)

Author explores Incan enigma of Machu Picchu, other extraordinary places in the land of the 107-hour delay.

Posted: July 31, 2011

By Mark Adams

Dutton. 352 pp. $26.95.

Reviewed by Jonathan Yardley
One hundred years ago, a young lecturer in history at Yale University named Hiram Bingham made what at the time was celebrated as a historic, indeed heroic, climb through the Peruvian Andes at the climax of which, as Mark Adams puts it in this entirely delightful book, "he stumbled across the geometric splendor of Machu Picchu." Honored at the time as one of the greatest explorers of the day - it was the day, mind you, of Peary and Scott and Amundsen - he has since lost a good deal of his luster, in part because Machu Picchu had been known for years to many Peruvians before his "discovery" and in part because of Yale's adamant refusal until late last year to return to Peru the hundreds of antiquities he carried away.

It occurred to Adams, a magazine editor in New York, that "the revised version of Bingham's tale had the makings of a great story: hero adventurer exposed as villainous fraud."

Poring over Bingham's voluminous papers at Yale, he realized that Bingham was a considerably more complex (and interesting) figure than "the revised version" had suggested and that he wanted to go to Peru and retrace Bingham's steps.

So Adams went to Peru and connected with John Leivers, an Australian in his 50s "who'd been recommended . . . as one of the best guides in South America." As Adams doubtless would be the first to admit, he couldn't have undertaken the project without an experienced guide. Though he was married to a Peruvian and had visited Lima often, he "had never hunted or fished, didn't own a mountain bike, and couldn't start a fire without matches if ordered to do so at gunpoint." His self-portrait is refreshingly candid:

"Have you ever seen Mr. Travel Guy? He's the fellow who strides through international airports dressed like he's flying off to hunt wildebeests - shirt with dozens of pockets, drip-dry pants that zip off into shorts, floppy hat with a cord pulled tight under the chin in case a twister blows through the baggage claim area. All of this describes exactly what I was wearing. Between my microfiber bwana costume and the bags of candy that (a Peruvian) kept foisting on me, I could have been trick-or-treating as Hemingway."

He was game, though, so he set off from Cusco with Leivers, accompanied as well by a Peruvian mule driver, a diminutive cook, a half-dozen mules, and a couple of guys to drive them. As outlined by Leivers over breakfast, the trek looked manageable: "About a hundred miles of walking, by my rough calculations. From the sound of what John had described, we'd go north, cut through the mountains, bear left toward the jungle, then double back toward Cusco. For the big finish, all we had to do was follow the river and turn right at Machu Picchu. This last part sounded like a pleasant afternoon stroll, something to kill a few hours and work up an appetite for dinner."

It turned out, needless to say, to be considerably more challenging than that, both because of the physical rigors entailed in walking - hiking and climbing were more like it - through some of the world's most beautiful but rugged terrain, and because, like countless others before him, Adams was trying to unravel the incredibly complex tangle that is Inca history. "Separating fact from fiction in Inca history is impossible," he writes, "because virtually all the sources available are Spanish accounts of stories that had already been vetted by the Inca emperors to highlight their own heroic roles. Imagine a history of modern Iraq, written by Dick Cheney and based on authorized biographies of Saddam Hussein published in Arabic, and you'll get some idea of the problem historians face."

Adams makes his way to a number of extraordinary places, all of them spectacular but pale by comparison with Machu Picchu. He has a few adventures and a scare or two, and gets a considerably deeper immersion in Peruvian life and culture than he'd previously been exposed to in Lima. "Peru is a wonderful place," he writes. "It is also wonderfully weird." He cites the strange behavior of its criminals, some of whom have held high elective office, and finally decides: "It's possible that all this craziness is just geography as destiny. Peru's borders contain some of the world's most varied topography and climate. Measured in square miles, the country is not especially large. On a globe it looks like a swollen California. Within that space, though, are twenty-thousand-foot peaks, the world's deepest canyon (twice as deep as the Grand Canyon), unmapped Amazon jungle and the driest desert on earth. . . . Scientists have calculated that there are thirty-four types of climatic zones on the face of the earth. Peru has twenty of them."

Peru also has "la hora peruana, Peruvian Time." Anyone who has ever made an appointment with a Peruvian plumber or delivery service knows all about it: "This is the code, indecipherable to North Americans, by which Peruvians determine the latest possible moment that it is acceptable to arrive for an appointment. The statement "I'll be right back" can mean just that, or it can mean that the speaker is about to depart via steamship for Cairo. . . . By one estimate, each Peruvian arrives a total of 107 hours late each year, a number that is shocking only because it seems so low. My friend Esteban, an Ivy League-trained businessman living in Lima, needed to lie to his mother in order to get her to his wedding on time. He told her the ceremony began at noon when it actually started at 4 p.m. She arrived at ten minutes to four, red-faced and puffing."

On This Page

Aug. 7: Senior Traveler

Aug. 14: Travel Insider

Aug. 21: Game Traveler

Washington Post Book World Service

By Thomas Kiedrowski

The Little Bookroom. 144 pp. $14.95

Reviewed by Jim Higgins
Andy Warhol was born in Pittsburgh, but he made New York his home. A celebrity-worshipper who became a celebrity, he must be one of the New Yorkiest New Yorkers ever.

Thomas Kiedrowski, who leads tours to Warhol sites in New York, has written an excellent new guidebook to the pale one's haunts, Andy Warhol's New York City: Four Walks Uptown to Downtown.

In the book, Kiedrowski, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee alumnus with a degree in film, gives the published equivalent of a smart docent's last tour of the day, a little gossipy with plenty of entertaining digressions.

Kiedrowski has divided his survey of 80 Warhol sites into four walks: the Upper East Side above East 70th Street, the Upper East Side between East 57th and East 68th, Midtown, and Downtown (including Greenwich Village). Suitably enough, in a book designed to encourage gawking, he opens with Truman Capote's early-1950s residence at 1060 Park Ave.; the young, unknown Warhol hung around the building in the hope of meeting Capote.

The guidebook includes sites that still exist in the identities that Warhol knew them, such as the Guggenheim Museum at 1071 Fifth Ave. and the Chelsea Hotel at 222 W. 23d St.; buildings that still stand but have changed, including homes where he and his friends lived and galleries where they showed work; and structures that have since been razed.

In one of the most tantalizing entries, Kiedrowski describes the Andy-Mat, the first in a proposed chain of Andy Warhol fast-food restaurants, which had been planned to open in 1977 at 933 Madison Ave. (at 74th Street). Inspired by their visits to Schrafft's years earlier, Warhol and business partner Geoffrey Leeds conceived a joint that served comfort foods such as shepherd's pie, Irish lamb stew, mashed potatoes, and the like. Kiedrowski quotes Warhol:

"I really like to eat alone. I want to start a chain of restaurants for other people who are like me called Andy-Mats - 'The Restaurant for the Lonely Person.' You get your food and then you take your tray into a booth and watch television." The Andy-Mat didn't come to fruition, but what a vision the man had.

A guidebook is not a biography, but this sturdy paperback is rich with details about Warhol, some surprising. He liked to visit churches - Catholic, Byzantine Rite, and Episcopal. He also shopped compulsively for art and antiques, and in high-end department stores, particularly Bloomingdale's at 1000 Third Ave. His famed work space was dubbed the Factory, but there were actually four Factories, starting with the Silver Factory (1964-67) at 231 E. 47th St., and ending with the Last Factory (1984-94) in an art deco former electrical substation. Both of those Factories, alas, have been razed.

Kiedrowski provides a detailed index and several appendixes with information on the people and the art exhibitions mentioned in the book. Of all this book's many grace notes, the most exquisite are photographs of the young and youngish Warhol, in the years before Valerie Solanas shot and wounded him in 1968. Duane Michals' extraordinary photograph of Warhol in 1958, his hands pressed up against the windowpane door of 242 Lexington Ave., seems to encapsulate the young artist's personality.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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