City of Lambayeque:
During our new presentation tour for our latest short-film “The Peruvian Hairless Dog With Hair” I travel to northern Peru, all the way to Lambayeque, home of the Lord of Sipan and birthplace of the Peruvian Hairless Dog.
This time I’m meeting with none other than the poet and actress Nevenka Waltersdorfer Mendoza, who recited her poem “Viringo mi amigo” (Viringo My Friend) last year at the presentation of our first film at the Pedro Ruiz Gallo National University during our “Mother Earth Tour”. A lover of Hairless Dogs, Nevenka has known them all her life because, when she was little, her grandmother used to breed these dogs, especially the smaller variety. Nowadays, the Hairless Dog has become one of the most important elements to her inspiration. In this meeting, therefore, apart from sharing a moment together, we will discuss her new literary project, which revolves around the Peruvian Hairless Dog.
Its a cool afternoon in Lambayeque in early June and Nevenka on the phone tells me she’ll meet me at 5p.m. at La Cucarda (The Hibiscus), a café on Dos de Mayo street. Furthermore, she tells me she has a surprise for me, and I’m very intrigued to discover what it’s about. The beautiful Lambayeque sun produces some splendid days. The light bounces off the tanned earth and saturates the colors all around; and as the day draws to a close it projects dark shadows that contrast with the rustic ocher walls so typical to the place. It’s the sort of day one only finds down the Peruvian coast. The kind one misses when the city of Paris is rainy and gray. So I decide to go out early and take a stroll, go from activity to activity feeling that sensation of endlessness which comes from the silence of the Lambayeque streets: the city is mine, each facade, each wall has a story to tell, and I want them to tell it only to me as I enjoy the nice weather and arrive leisurely to my appointment.
I’ve still time until I have to meet Nevenka and I don’t want to arrive too early, so I loiter around the Center Square. It’s almost entirely deserted: all to myself, I can contemplate it, appreciate it, walk to and fro without interruption by passersby or the deafening roar of cars. The entrance to Saint Peter’s Church is open and I take the opportunity to step in to contemplate its vaulted ceilings with it celebrated murals, Baroque paintings and altarpieces. A couple of meters from Saint Peter’s is the famous Saint Catherine’s Ramada Chapel, National Monumental Heritage, with its altarpiece cover dating from the 17th century. Nostalgia momentarily invades me as I see how such a historical monument runs the risk of disappearing one of these days due to the negligence of a few. I sometimes feel in Peru it’s as if the past were less valuable than the present or the future; that in their eagerness to run forward, following the American premise of bigger-newer-better, they forget we do have a rich past—such a past as many other countries would love to have.
Anyways, I get over my nostalgia and, having decided not to linger any more, I continue toward my destination with a renewed interest to find out more about Nevenka’s project involving the Hairless Dog, as well as that surprise she has for me! Thus, I walk on toward La Cucarda. But as I walk I pass another unavoidable historical monument that’s just a few meters from where I am, at the corner of the Dos de Mayo and San Martin streets. It’s the mansion with the biggest balcony in the Americas: The Montjoy or Loge Manor. Another remnant of the rich Peruvian past we must protect. In addition to being known for having hosted the Masonic lodge, it is also known for having been the headquarter of meetings for the emancipatory spark in our country. And, as if this weren’t enough, it’s also the first place where Peru’s independence was proclaimed.
Suddenly, a thought inspired by these events comes to mind: We’re in the colonial Hispanic Lambayeque and not that of the Moche, Lambayeque or Chimu Prehispanic cultures, with their enigmatic ceremonial pottery representing the Hairless Dog… So I wonder: What happened to the Hairless Dog during colonial times? Where was he in all this? And with whom? How did he survive the Inquisition? What role did the Masons play toward the practices of the inhabitants of Lambayeque and what was their position in relation to the ancestral rites of the region which involved the Hairless Dog? Did the Hairless Dog perhaps survive due to a noble gesture made by certain peoples who managed to adapt to the local traditions? Or perhaps it was the tolerance practiced by liberal-minded and freedom-seeking peoples that allowed the Hairless Dog a future? Certainly, in Peru we know very little about all this. Was it ever a taboo to speak of such things? Such as the mention of the Peruvian Hairless Dog with hair still is, to this day, among certain circles, for example? And all this reminds me of the Hairless Dog of Martinique, that which the creoles recognized in a derogatory—but, I believe, sensible—manner with the name of Chien fer or Dog from hell—an enigmatic name applied to it by the first settlers that arrived to the island with Columbus, and that still endures to this day.
I’ve no doubt I’m walking in a place with many different histories, where even the ghosts of the past, and the past-before-past, cohabit in parallel.
As if in response to my lucubrations, at that precise moment, and about 100 meters in front of me, I see an unlikely silhouette, different from the others, which suddenly catches my attention and, as sudden as it appears, disappears. I look again to make sure what is the nature of this optical illusion. Without a doubt, it’s something that has to do with that play of light and shadow that dominates the Lambayecan streets under this sun in early June, and at this time when it’s not yet night but it is not so much day anymore—i.e. magic hour, as it is sometimes called. All of a sudden, in the blink of an eye, the shadow appears once again and now I see it really is different from the shadows in the streets—and it’s no ineffable fatamorgana! It’s a slender, dark silhouette, opaque enough to rule out a ghostly appearance—or is it? Immediately, a flashback of images comes to mind: stories of mystery like those I read as a child, or that omnipresent mysterious image in Paul Gaugin’s paintings, that is always there without truly being there…
I got the feeling it was something supernatural and fantastic and, at the same time, endowed with incredible and inexplicable beauty.
For the next few moments I observed a gentle movement of the silhouette and then, from one moment to the next, what I was observing quickly took shape and incorporated into none other than the slender and graceful body of a real, live Hairless Dog that now peeked through the bars of the café with a welcoming bark for the one who now approached down the sidewalk.
Its gaze from between the bars seemed lost in the void, and I wasn’t able able to distinguish if it focused on the landscape that was behind me or if he was actually reading my aura… In any case, what was clear to me was that its gaze reminded me of one of those silent, wise characters that possess a lot of knowledge of the kind that is transmitted from a parent to a child. I think that perhaps in its eyes I’m like those men who had protected its ancestors and the dog senses it. Or perhaps I remind it of one of those outsiders of which one must be wary—I don’t know. In any case, its gaze tells me there’s something supernatural about it, and that it know how to recognize people, even before meeting them. I then remember I’m not in just any colonial Hispanic city of shiny ocher walls:
I’m in the birthplace of different pre-Columbian cultures, I’m in the birthplace of the Peruvian Hairless Dog. If there is such a place where the magic of the Hairless Dog is justified, it’s here.
Its calm snooping movements and its gaze fixed in the distance gives me a sense of security. There’s no doubt it knows I’m heading to his house. Presently, it makes a gesture of joy and, wagging its tail, I understand that I’m welcome, so I’m assuming I remind him of someone worthy of his trust, and not a foreigner—I’m satisfied. Of course, this must be the pleasant surprise that awaited me at La Cucarda: not only an affectionate dog, but also one of a simple beauty that makes him very attractive to any lover of Hairless Dogs.
From behind the dog Nevenka smilingly appears to greet me with a warm hug almost a year to the day since we last met for the first time. And she says: “Allqu is café’s pet and host. He’s much loved by the people who come here and, especially, by his owner, the woman who owns the place, and who adores him”. She tells me Allqu was a present from Mr. Panchito, the local glazier of many years who lives in front of the local market. As if to corroborate the esoteric thoughts I’ve just been having about the Hairless Dog and this place she tells me this man had a vision one day in which someone told him he should bring a Hairless Dog to La Cucarda, and that’s how Allqu arrived there. From that moment on, this little dog has brought peace and joy to its owner’s family. Nevenka then tells me that many people have said that they’ve never seen such a human dog as the one that now flutters about around me as we find a table.
After the introduction I observe the café is situated within a beautiful house of true colonial style. Once we’re comfortably around a café table in the place’s patio Nevenka explains the owner is called Milagros and she’s a true, 100% Lambayecan woman. In my mind I understand she means to say that Milagros loves her homeland and its customs—I’ve no doubt I’m at the heart of the colonial Hispanic Lambayeque, where the traditions of yesteryear manifest themselves with absolute naturalness. This place is perfect for a meeting with a writer who’s literary oeuvre revolves around the Hairless Dog; not only because of Allqu’s presence in the place but also because of the place itself: its style, its carob-tree columns that frame a door that reveals the ancient family heirlooms that have been very carefully set in a place of proud display, the beautiful hibiscus flowers that decorate the patio, etc., all creating a perfect environment that places the Hairless Dog in a very auspicious setting and time.
Nevenka continues telling me that Lambayeque “is a magical place, it’s like a bridge between today and yesterday, between the world of the living and the world of the dead; its walls speak and are filled with energy.” And I agree with her. It’s something that can be immediately felt when one strolls down its streets. And as she continues speaking to me, her stories and tales that touch upon the supernatural and the mysterious, and that I’ve had the pleasure of reading, run through my mind: “Cerro Negro” (Black Hill), “Huaco” (Ancient Ceremonial Pot), “Nocturno número nueve” (Nocturne Number Nine), to name a few, in which I begin to recognize places and characteristics that come into view. I begin to comprehend why I’m in such a magical place and with a gaze of my surrounding so quick to find magic in everything.
Allqu sits beside Nevenka as she tells me she has always been particularly fond of medium- and large-sized Hairless Dogs.
She especially admires their grace, nobleness and intelligence, she tells me; as well as their slender body and that complexion, like that of a greyhound.
Indeed, through two of her unpublished poems that, however, she has been good enough as to share with me, “Julieta” and “Ojos Brujos” (Bewitching Eyes), one can appreciate her vision of the Hairless Dog and how the aesthetics of the dog remains closely linked to its native and pure environment, transforming it into an icon of the natural culture of the North of Peru. But I perceive her vision transcends the plane of beauty to become mingled with purer emotional planes, emotions that are cultivated during an entire life of cohabitation and complicity with those we love: she is a true lover of the Peruvian Hairless Dog because it has always been and intrinsic part of her life.
With this in mind, Nevenka tells me of an approaching new era for the Hairless Dog in her art: “They’re enigmatic, and that’s why I include them in my new production. I imagine them as beings that live between the earthly realm and that of the souls, the ether, the diaspora and, at the same time, they’re connected to the underworld. They’re protective beings.” At that very moment that same flashback comes to mind, where images of the mystery tales I read as a boy come alive in my minds eye, those fantastic stories one can’t help but paying attention to or reading them to the end.
And then Nevenka, who had only promised me one present, produces a second: she tells me the best way to understand what awaits the Hairless Dog in her art would be to read her most recent unpublished text, which she then proceeds to hand over to me at our table in La Cucarda. I now have some stapled pieces of paper in front of me: the manuscript of her next mystery tale, which boasts of having the Hairless Dog as an essential character. And I also have in front of me its author, who eggs me on to read it.
Four corners, four street lamps, one dark night and Allqu, ambassador to La Cucarda. A majestic shadow walking under a half-light, between the main porch and the hallway, at intervals lit by that full moon the shows its elegant, slender shape. The moonlight washes the room indigo, every tile. And mingled with the mist, the aroma of freshly-pressed coffee.
Every night I walk from the Plaza de la Independencia, through the main park, then through the 50s of Dos de Mayo street and I stop at La Cucarda café. The same time, always. To my right she stands, pale, even paler these nights under the full moon, silent and sad.
Walking these streets brings back the same feelings of the first time. Their houses with large wooden doors, high ceilings, wrought iron windows and ample balconies that give a glimpse of the splendor they once enjoyed. All of this automatically transports me to other dimensions. Their adobe walls speak, tell tales of flirtatious young girls peeking out from them with furtive gaze, delivering messages to their young lovers; they tell tales of strife, of songs of freedom and torment. In the distance, Allqu awaits. I arrive at the doors of La Cucarda but she does not come in. His presence intimidates her. Only those of us who are still can enter these doors. Allqu, a beautiful Hairless Dog, furls his in euphoria as he welcomes me.”
It is remarkable how historical places such as Lambayque and historical icons such as the Peruvian Hairless Dog can produce in us similar sensations. I couldn’t help but see-ing in these lines of her text a reflection of my own introspections: the same shapes, the same colors, the same ghost from the past playing in my imagination.
Each time I come to Lambayeque my wonderment is renewed; it’s because of the way its history and its present meet and cohabit in a magical and improbable dance. It’s a place where modernity arrives in with a short and paused step; where that very Peruvian eagerness to get rid of “the old” in order to flatten the terrain for that which is novel takes a break. Here, the same streets that see Chinese and Japanese cars transit through them protect in an uncertain way ancient Peruvian treasures such as a colonial balcony with over two-and-a-half centuries of history, or and altarpiece with over three.
I find it sad when I think of a time when these things will only be available to us in the pages of books and stories of people who, like Nevenka, insist on writing them down. But I find a certain comfort in knowing we’re at least happily saving on of our national historic treasure from that uncertain future that loomed over it only some years ago. Because today Peru is waking from its lethargic attitude toward the Peruvian Hairless Dog and, through cultural initiatives like that of Nevenka and her stories of mystery that present it to the world, the historic magic and beautiful mystery of the very important Peruvian breed is being preserved for the future.