11 September 2007


This condition is related to deep vein thrombophlebitis, which kills people who spend too much time sitting in airplane seats. In my case, I have it in my left hand, because the Peruvian doctors into whose arms I collapsed last week administered an anti-convulsive drug intravenously, and it had the predictable effect of causing the veins in my hand to become inflamed. I am writing about it today, because nothing else is going on, and today the phlebitis has been exceptionally painful. Even after a week of antibiotics and the application of a German hand cream, the swelling and pain haven´t disappeared. So far, this has been the only effect of all the expensive medical treatment I have received. Thousands of dollars of tests later, and the doctors still don´t know why I had seizures, but at least they´ve managed to cause me pain and discomfort and prescribe me drugs that make me dizzy and disoriented, all in the true tradition of the medical profession. Actually, I did have to go in for one further test today. One of my neurologists wanted to check my magnesium levels and whatnot. I´ll be discussing the results with him later, and hopefully he won´t be telling me I have to return to America for further treatment or, even worse, avoid high altitudes for the next 6 months. Yesterday, he asked me if I urinated myself or bit my tongue during my seizures, and that wasn´t the first time I´ve been asked those questions this week. The answer to at least one of them, unfortunately, is yes.

I am starting to grow fond of Lima. Every day, I have to take several taxi trips across the city to San Borja, which is apparently the health care ghetto. Today, I also wandered into a bourgeois-level shopping center which featured the usual international brands. I guess McDonald´s is considered gourmet American food in the developing world, because a Big Mac value meal is like $4 here, and that´s not cheap for food in Peru (as a comparison, I was able to buy a giant bag of oranges for a dollar, what would have cost me more than ten in Japan). I had a nice hot chocolate at a non-chain cafe, instead--my usual solace drink.

I wasn´t at all prepared for what I saw at the other end of the shopping center: enormous, intimidating, the United States Embassy. It´s almost like it was anchoring the sprawl of mediocre consumer culture flowing out of it. You really can´t picture the size of this building easily, but it´s easily the biggest building in Lima, a giant double-Titanic-sized box dominating the entire neighborhood. Actually, it sort of looked like an ugly shopping mall, and I wondered why it was necessary that it be so huge. I´ve seen imposing American embassies before, too. The new embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia is like a palace at the center of the city. The embassy in Seoul, South Korea is the size of an entire neighborhood. But this embassy, in Peru, was so big, I was scared of it.

I wonder if this is one of the reasons the embassies are so big and if this is one of the effects of the imposition of American power on the world. I think it must be difficult for Americans to appreciate this sort of perspective. But imagine living in the shadow of such a building, built in your country by another government as an expression of its influence and prestige. The fact that it´s surrounded by the detritus of its culture´s perverse commercialism--Starbuck´s, McDonald´s, and Dunkin´ Donuts represent the best of what America has to offer the world in its promise of freedom and prosperity--only adds emphasis to the message. This is what the world wants, and here it is for those who can afford it, for those who play by the rules, or, really, for those who make the rules for their own benefit. Because Peru is not America, and not everybody has a chance to enjoy a Frappuccino no matter how hard they work. And that´s why the Frapps have to be locked down, put behind protective glass, surrounded by gun-toting rent-a-cops, so the poor can´t get at them. I know I sound like a crank, but I think we underestimate the cultural and cognitive effect that globalization has had on the world. As I have indicated, bourgeois culture around the world--and I´ve seen it almost everywhere--has become largely homogenized. And bland, and stultifying, and boring. It´s as though we should learn that the primary goal of life everywhere around the world is consumption, the consumption of a rather uninteresting array of mass-produced goods, generically made, non-distinctive, and with added sugar. Is the idea that the best life is the imitation American life, if you can´t actually be American (or live near the embassy building)? This, I feel, is a genuine threat to humanity and particularly to the proponents of the humanities and the arts, those nobler disciplines that, if they can´t credibly put themselves necessarily above money, at least they´re about something else. Lima has beauty, but most of it is faded beauty, a beauty that is obviously becoming more derelict every year. What´s replacing it is the garish color wheel of the modern American cafe, those hideous and ubiquitous purples and maroons that everywhere show up on things that are new and fashionable. The money swirls toward these things and away from the centers of tradition, like Cuzco, Peru´s other pole, which just become poorer and less relevant, objects of fascination or curiosity for moneyed tourists from rich countries seeking, for reasons they can´t explain to themselves, antiquity and authenticity. Maybe Peru and countries like it are suffering from phlebitis of a different sort. Like mine, the cure might be considered worse than the disease.

The flag was at half-mast today, I suppose in honor of 9/11.

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