One of the great Peruvian poets of the 20th century, Sebastián Salazar Bondy, met the young American poet Allen Ginsberg in Chile.
Both had been invited to an international congress organized by the Chilean University of Concepción.
It was the first months of 1960. The Lima intellectual, writer, literary critic, journalist and playwright, at the time director of the Institute of Contemporary Art (IAC), invited the now famous author of
to a recital in the Peruvian capital in May.
The IAC was a private institution founded in 1947 that, in those days, had its headquarters in Calle de Ocoña, 174, near Plaza San Martín, in the historic center.
Sebastián Salazar Bondy was 36 years old, and Allen Ginsberg, 33. The latter gladly accepted the invitation to go to Lima.
It was planted there weeks later after traveling through Chile, Argentina and Bolivia on public transport.
In Peru it entered through Cuzco.
He visited Machu Picchu, where he lived for several days in a hut provided by one of the guards.
From Cuzco he traveled on a bus to Lima.
Ginsberg, one of the essential poets of the beat generation, was thus following the path taken by his great friend and ex-lover William Burroughs.
The two writers were looking for ayahuasca, the mythical hallucinogenic plant that, they said, served as a bridge between this world and the hereafter of the pre-Hispanic gods.
When he arrived in the city, he had just published
, being accused of obscenity;
, a litany of love for his mother Naomi, who died in a mental hospital.
Burroughs had confessed to him that Lima was very similar to Mexico City, and that it was disturbing (as it still is) to see that species of large black vultures swarming through a sky of violet tones.
Ginsberg stayed at the Hotel Comercio, on Calle Pescadería, the first block from Jiron Carabaya.
It encompassed the heights of the Cordano restaurant today, in front of the old Desamparados train station built in 1912 on precisely the old Desamparados church.
From the hotel, abandoned for some time, you could also see one of the sides of the Government House.
Interior of the Cordano restaurant, in Lima (Peru).
El Cordano, which is still active with a lot of tradition and prestige, was founded in 1905 by the Genoese émigré brothers Fortunato and Andrés Cordano.
In its long history it has received writers, artists, travelers and the closest neighbors: the different presidents of the Republic.
You do not enter through Pescadería street, the one that used to be the Comercio hotel, but through the one that overlooks the Rastro de San Francisco, which ends at the basilica and convent of San Francisco de Lima, one of the most beautiful historical and artistic places in the town historical.
The old Desamparados station maintains its large clock on the neoclassical façade and, inside, it has been converted into the Casa de la Literatura Peruana cultural center, with an important library named after the Nobel Prize for Literature Mario Vargas Llosa.
In addition, there are numerous exhibition halls dedicated to remembering the life and work of the most outstanding national writers.
If the exterior of this property is beautiful, the interior increases it with a grand staircase protected and guarded by white columns spread over several floors.
In what used to be the platforms and the train tracks, and facing the Rímac River, the terrace of a cafeteria awaits.
While Allen Ginsberg spent his first hours in Lima at the hotel, also next to the cathedral and the Plaza de Armas, Jorge Capriata, a young law student, went to the Tingo María airport to carry out an assignment: to collect a bottle of ayahuasca to deliver it to Ginsberg, whom he did not know.
The writer Peter Matthiessen was returning from the Peruvian jungle, where he had been working on botanical issues, and he was handing him a bottle of Dimple whiskey filled with this hallucinogen.
Back in the city, Capriata managed to find out the poet's address through the bookseller Juan Mejía Baca and Salazar Bondy.
Ginsberg's poetic reading was held on May 12, 1960 at the IAC.
He began by reciting
The Red Wheelbarrow
, by William Carlos Williams.
The room was cozy and tiny, and it was full of young people.
Among them Capriata, who, in the end, approached him, handed him the bottle and they agreed to see each other days later.
Ginsberg commented in his resounding speech that he had just arrived from the hospital where he had gone to burn his piles "because I'm a fag."
Also that, in order to give that recital, he had taken bencedrine in the absence of chuchuhuasi, of aphrodisiac properties.
The truth is that he spent his stay in Lima visiting pharmacies in search of ether.
title of the last poem in his book
The conservative newspaper
reviewed the event saying that the poet was surrounded by local avant-garde bards, snobs "and other specimens of the same fauna."
A chance meeting under the clock
enlarge photo The clock on the facade of the old Desamparados train station in Lima, today the House of Peruvian Literature.
ZOLTAN BAGOSI ALAMY
A few days later, Capriata went to see Ginsberg at the hotel.
He was found lying on the bed, in the middle of a great mess.
Ginsberg, always true to himself (or to the legend that was being made), told his visitor about all the drugs he had taken and the hallucinations he had had.
After that long and curious conversation, he got dressed and they went out to the street when it was time to eat dinner.
Under the large clock on the facade of the Desamparados station they found themselves walking aimlessly at Martín Adán.
This was already a poet of recognized prestige in life, but that did not prevent him from being marginalized, melancholy and alcoholic;
which made him self-admitted numerous times to psychiatric hospitals.
The author of
The cardboard house
(1928) moved like the shadow of a deeply wounded man, under that even more imposing shadow of the station.
The fact is that Capriata, surprised by such a random encounter and acting as a translator, stopped the Peruvian poet and introduced him to Ginsberg.
Then something happened that Ginsberg later used in the first poem he wrote to her.
Martín Adán wore a crumpled felt hat in which a spider seemed to have nested.
On being warned by the young interlocutor, he quickly took off his hat, threw it away and began to step on the insect.
Ginsberg, witnessing all this, howled with rage, and interpreted the pain that this defenseless being must suffer.
Things did not start well.
Both authors were unknown, although the Peruvian at least was familiar with the scandals that the North American was promoting wherever he passed.
And Martin Adán did not like this at all, a man of order despite his disorderly life.
Ginsberg, Capriata and Martín Adán, after the little incident, decided to go into the Cordano bar.
Martín Adán did not eat dinner, but only drank alcohol.
There they talked animatedly about their concepts of poetry, their favorite authors and the American's trip to Lima.
Ginsberg must have found this rickety, poor but dignified old man pathetic and emotional.
And after the meeting he must have asked his young guide for more information about that poet beset by poverty and alcoholism, whose desperate situation had led him to live in pensions and hospitals.
From all this intricacy of data emerged three of his best poems, dated May 19, 1960, included in
: 'An old poet in Peru', 'Die with greatness in your solitude' and 'The dazzling intelligence'.
Three poems or a single one divided into three parts.
The first verses go like this: "Because we meet at sunset / under the shadow of the railway station, of its watch / While my shadow was visiting Lima / And your spirit was dying in Lima / old face in need of a shave ...".
Ginsberg recognized himself in it, it was a foretaste of his own old age.
Detail of the Plaza de Armas in Lima.
ANDREW WATSON AWL
Two guides in the city
Until July 8, when he returned to his country, he was walking through old Lima.
Sometimes alone and other times accompanied by young people who had come to listen to him.
Two of those young people were Raquel Jodorowsky and Walter Curonisy.
Raquel, a descendant of Ukrainian Jews like Ginsberg himself, was dedicated to theater and puppets.
They made good friends.
She dedicated 'Ode to Allen Ginsberg', included in her book of poems Salt Candy.
Walter Curonisy (1941-2012), younger than all of them, a poet and actor, helped Ginsberg get to know Lima.
Ginsberg asked him to take him to the dirtiest and most disgusting place in the city, and this brought him closer to the Montón, the great garbage dump of Lima.
In the poem
quotes this couple of friends in the final verses: “in this Hell of Birth & Death / I am approaching 34 - I suddenly felt / old - sitting with Walter & Raquel in a Restaurant / Chinese - they kissed - —I just — Burroughs's age / when we first met. "
Signed at the Comercio hotel on May 28, 1960,
is a long poem focused on the search for this liquid in the pharmacies of the historic center of Lima, in addition to reflecting the encounters with his new friends.
The last poems of
are dedicated to "narrating" his stay in the city.
The previous ones speak of New York, Cuba or Mexico.
Alfonso de la Torre, one of the most famous journalists of those years and a theater critic, interviewed him for the
Allen Ginsberg, among many other striking things, told him: "The dirty hands of society cannot touch my soul."
And that he was very amused that, especially in the Andean countryside and in the jungle, he was mistaken for Fidel Castro.
There is no political poetry.
Poetry comes from the soul, and politics never reaches there.
Poetry cannot be used as propaganda ”, he replied when asked about social poetry.
From his experience with ayahuasca and the encounter with a shaman he wrote
Ginsberg carried a small brown-lined notebook, the pages of which were filled with tight little writing mixed with pictures.
In that notebook, its owner made his notes on ayahuasca, which would later be published in the book
The Yage Letters
as part of his correspondence with Burroughs.
Ginsberg returned to his country leaving a halo of melancholy to the few who treated him.
The following year he would travel to India.
The Plaza de Armas, which he crossed so many times, is the same, although perhaps he still saw the equestrian statue of Pizarro there.
The cathedral is the same, and the Franciscan and Dominican convents.
Perhaps he was able to contemplate more balconies than there are now in Lima, but the most important, beautiful and significant are still there, such as the Casa del Oidor.
The Cordano continues with its dark brown doors and a multitude of photos inside.
Capriata, 34 years after that meeting and three years before Ginsberg's death in 1997, went to visit him in New York.
The poet welcomed him into his Lower East Side apartment, showed him his library, and they remembered those times.
César Antonio Molina, former Minister of Culture, is the author of
Everything is fixed walking
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