A few months ago, around my thirty-fourth birthday, I decided what I really needed was a smaller guitar. A man reaches a certain age, I guess, and after spending most of my life figuring out tunes on a classical guitar, I figured I’d gotten as good at “Wayfaring Stranger” as I was going to get. I thought something smaller might enliven the mix.
There aren’t really any standard guitars more diminutive than my Yamaha classical—I toyed with the idea of a Martin 000-series like Woody Guthrie painted up and played (\“This Machine Kills Fascists”). But I realized that my desire to tweak Guthrie’s proto-punk motto into something more comfortably charitable (“This Machine Loves Fascists”? Wait, that doesn’t sound right) would probably make the 000 a not-quite-satisfying axe. Besides, other musical cultures—and more importantly, more-fun-to-say instrument names—beckoned.
“Fitzcarraldo” — which Herzog did indeed finish — has endured long and well in the hearts not only of movie lovers but of connoisseurs of production disasters, partly because the film itself seems to mirror the story of its making. It’s a half masterpiece, half folly about a gesture both grand and grandiose — an attempt by a would-be impresario (Kinski) to build an opera house in the wilds of Peru, a venue he imagines might someday showcase Enrico Caruso. This desire necessitates the deployment of hundreds of Indians to haul an immense ship up a steep mountain ridge, a Sisyphean metaphor that’s no less effective for being so explicit.
The movie and its making are both fables of daft aspiration, investigations of the blurry border between having a dream and losing one’s mind. So it’s no surprise that in some ways, the back story has lingered longer than the story.
Steam rises into air thick with the scent of garlic as women prepare lunch for 120 of Peru’s neediest.
But this is no charity. Obaldina Quilca and Veronica Zelaya – who are on cooking duty today – are also beneficiaries of one of the estimated 5,000 community kitchens run by women in Peru’s capital, Lima.
The kitchens started in the 1970s and persisted through the ‘80s and ‘90s, through dictatorship, terrorism, and hyperinflation that brought Peru to its knees. And now that global food prices have put basic staples out of reach for families across the region, the kitchens that feed an estimated half million residents of metropolitan Lima every day are again providing a refuge.
But their work goes well beyond survival; the kitchens have become a vehicle for collective action, giving women the self-esteem to denounce government shortcomings and demand change. They have risen as one of the most significant women’s organizations in Latin America, and today are on the forefront of protests demanding solutions to a cost of living that many say is reversing recent progress in reducing poverty.