Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Time and Distance

Last night, for the first time since it was purchased for me, I finally removed the Eye of Horus pendant that Violet bought for me in London (to protect me on my travels) and exchanged it for another pendant that I had purchased in Peru.

As I donned this new adornment, a lovely silverwork and stone llama purchased in Aguas Calientes, I thought back to the man from whom it was purchased.  I was on my way down from the hot springs, in no particular hurry as there were still several hours to kill before my train departed, and I happened to glance into a jewelry shop near the top of the hill, just past the hawkers renting towels and bathing suits.

It looked like any other jewelry store in town, though perhaps in a slightly more low-rent location, but something caught my attention about it.  In retrospect, I believe it was the proprietor.  He was of native descent (though they do still use the word "Indian" there, so I can say it without the PC Car Alarm going off in my head), and something about him was magnetic.  I can only describe it as a sense of supreme spiritual stillness.

I browsed his jewlery and found the llama pendant--which was not just a llama, but a green llama, and therefore clearly meant to be in my possession.  As I inquired as to the cost and decided to buy it, we began to talk (in Spanish, of course).  He asked my name, and when I told him he looked taken-aback for a moment--almost reverent.  It turns out that my name (with a very slight--and common--spelling variation) is a very important word in Quechua, the native Inca language.

He asked if I believed in spirits, and I told him that I did.

"Come here," he said.  "I want to show you something.  Just you."  He indicated a few other browsers wandering on the fringes of the shop.

He took me to a small photograph pinned to the wall behind his work table.  It was the back of a man--I think it was him--standing in front of a waterfall.  He pointed to an area of plant-covered rock beside the waterfall and asked "What do you see here?"

I looked for a moment, and then gasped.

"Oh wow!  It's a face!" I whispered.

He smiled.

"Yes, and here?"  He pointed again, and there was another.  He pointed out several more, all innocuously hiding in the rock face, like those old photos from the 70s where people claim to have seen faeries.  He went on to tell me that in that place there are many other figures in the rocks as well, including figures of Pumas, which are a sacred animal to the Inca culture.

He wanted me to go there.  Unfortunately, I was headed back down the mountain that night, and back to Cusco the following day. 

Then the power went out in the upper half of the town.  In the dark, he kissed me on both cheeks and we said goodbye.

If, as I hope to, I ever make it back that way, I will find him, and find that place.

I don't know what made him choose me over the others in the store.  I don't know what drew me into the store in the first place.  But last night as I put on this necklace it all came flooding back to me and it seemed so long ago, as if it had happened in another life.

Then I thought about it and realized that, actually, it had only been 16 days ago.

Time is nothing if not subjective.  Just as a sound or a smell can bring the distant past crashing back into your brain as though it were yesterday, a distance of a thousand miles can send yesterday reeling to the recesses of your mind, like a childhood toy discarded for bigger and better things.

What is it about distance that stretches time in such a distorted fashion?  Why is it that something that occurred only a few days ago somewhere far away, seems as though it actually happened and year ago?  Or a lifetime?

How can we hold onto something that happened in another world, once we've returned to this one?

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