Imagine a mathematical set of Venn diagrammatical circles or a stream of soapy bubbles drifting through the gentle shade of the plaza. A square of tall, concrete Saints and plinthed heroes, knuckle-bolled pepper trees and incongruous date palms, resplendent at over 3,000 m altitude. An iglesia on one side that’s toll belling in a gathering of the Sunday faithful, on the other, the dull whump of floor hammers and a squad who will have taken Mass last night; and this morning are laying the new gas main, entirely by hand. In the first bubbled circle is the convened ‘sewing bee’, the bangle pleaters in their Asian cottons and dusty feet, tie-dyes and tattoos, guitars and dreadlocks. Lotus sat, plaiting wire and composing songs. A genre of youth that bemuses and amuses the two Bolivañas who sway through between them, the swinging layers of skirts, black plaited pigtails and short thick stockings, bowler hats and poly-prop bags.
Now to this equation, add the gringo trail. A phalanx of the Saxon fair and pale skinned, the girls in short shorts, the males no better screened against the glare rising off the part-broken open pavements, the Brits cooking from crustaceous blue to lobster pink. A troop of lost souls searching for a cambio to raise funds to pay for a horse ride up the ’quebrada’ today and a jeep ride to the ’salars’ tomorrow. A company of young professionals, individuals who’ve only just met on the train down or the bus up, their sole common interest to find a quorum of four, for a five day tour of southern Bolivia. A salt lake and a stone tree, a rock salt hotel and a train graveyard, a smoking volcano and a Dali desert, a mantra of corrugated roads and endless driving. Some here to tick off a set of natural superlatives, others at the behest of their ‘round the world’ ticket and an accident of happenstance. Yet I envy and sympathise with these lost souls. I can still remember the bewilderment and chastisement by a severe Doña of Franco’s Spain, for the affront of wearing shorts and of eating a pear in public. I envy them their near-anonymity of numbers, the chance to hide within the herd, for today we are ‘sin bici’, for once below the radar, no longer a centre of attention.
Just four of many sub-sets, that can only merge and meld their spheres for a few moments in the close confines of the covered market place, or the stall-strewn pavements. Amongst the plethora of goods, and the exchange of Bolivars. The hardwares and the clothwares, the fruit and the vegetables, the bloodbath of llama and goat, the tiny dark alimentacions, the hot empanadas and the cold heladerias, the boiled humitas and the fried rellenos. Where we and all life are a floor show, for the dressed up baptismal party leaving the church, the triple generational family sitting, supping on a luminous confection from the ice cream shop and the wheelchair bound granny who’s determined to assist me with this entry.