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LIMA OF TWO ASPECTS
THE valley of the Rimac, where glisten the towers of Lima, is only one of the river-ways which cross the desert. The river of the ancient oracle Rimac, "he who speaks," has given its name in perverted form to Lima — the Spanish city. The temple of the speaker was in ruins long before Spanish days.
Like other streams of the west coast, the great river Rimac has run through the gamut of all zones. Hurrying down from the cordillera, it spreads fertility far and wide over the dry shore-valley. As far away as Chorillos, "little water jets," the water of the Rimac filters through, led astray for irrigation. But its own journey to the sea is vain. The mountain water is so precious to the desert that by the time the stream has reached the shore, it has not force enough left to make an outlet across the beach into the ocean.
Irrigating ditches and crumbling mud walls divide gardens and vineyards and orchards of wind-blown olive trees. Ruins of mud accumulate dust. Luxuriant nasturtiums drape every dusty bank. Vestiges of fortresses, temples, and grave-mounds of the three ancient cities of the Rimac valley still terrify owners of the sugar-fields, for the inhabitants of the sepulchers sometimes return at night to sit beneath the grape-arbors and listen to the murmur of irrigation streams which they made. Cajamarquilla, Armatambo, and Huadca were the names of these cities, and the whirlwind was their most distinguished god. His white-robed priests ate neither salt nor pepper, and tore out the hearts of men and of animals to offer them to the gods on the platforms of temples.
Sometimes, too, the Huguenot hermit who lived near the site of Huadca and who was burned by the Inquisition returns to his little caves at nightfall.
Lima is in the tropics. Its fruits and flowers are those of the tropics. Yet it is neither hot nor cold. There is no rain and not too much sun, a pleasant monotony interrupted only by earthquakes. An umbrella merchant once tried to set up business in Lima. His act brought forth an article in a local paper on rain, and how on one occasion when it came suddenly people had to get out of bed to find secure places. Editorials on umbrellas followed.
No, there is little to fear from changes of weather, not even thunder and lightning. There is an endless summer, with streets under a continuous awning; yet, after all, only a summer. The rainless desert is soaked in mist all winter long. It falls suddenly like a veil over the bare mountains and drenches the sunlight. A glimpse through it shows a faint sheen, sharp cliffs hazy with hues of light-green velvet, enameled on closer inspection with multitudes of differing flowers. Amancaes spring up dew-laden, those queer, greenish-yellow lilies hanging on smooth, leafless stems, giving their name to whole valleys which they fill. One such lies beyond the gardens of the Barefoot Friars. A favorite retreat for Limaneans, it is called the National Garden. But scorpions lie under the stones.
"A suggestive kind of picture used to hang in many a mediaeval church. It was painted on both sides of a board. On one side were a pair of lovers walking hand in hand in a meadow gay with spring. Flowers blossomed about their feet; birds sang in the trees above their heads.
"On the reverse was the grim figure of Death, hour-glass and scythe in hand. The thing, pendent from a single cord, hung free in a draughty place, and the air twisted it about hither and thither, so that one side and the other was seen in swift interchange."
The Alameda, flanked with Norfolk Island pines and marble benches, had in other days rows upon rows of orange trees, stone fountains, and basins as well. At five in the afternoon gilded carriages streamed from palace gardens, driving about so that their fair occupants could greet their friends. Four thousand brocade-lined, gold-trimmed carriages and innumerable chaises shimmered through the heavy odor of orange blossoms.
A traveler of the seventeenth century has described the lady of Lima, clad not in linen, but in the most expensive lace of Flanders, slipped over an underdress of cloth of gold.
Grapes raised by the Barefoot Friars (los Descalzos), Lima
She glittered with jewels from head to foot, her shoes were fastened with diamond buckles, aigrettes of diamonds were in her hair — "a splendor still the more astonishing as it is so very common," he said. Nay, she even scattered perfume through her nosegays. On great fête days she tiptoed to church, enveloped all but one eye in a silk-lace shawl. Beneath it glinted a flower-embroidered dress of rarest stuff, fluttering a multitude of ribbons; under a petticoat of heavy brocade, miniature golden feet peeped out, or slippers of peach-colored velvet. The lady of Lima was famed for her wit, entrancing the visitor as she sipped her Paraguay tea from a silver-mounted gourd.
Little is left of former splendor. The statues, the five rows of orange trees, the sweet smells are gone. At the end of the long Alameda, bordered with wind-blown trees and wrecks of marble benches, is a fountain under palms and Norfolk Island pines. Across a shady space and above a high, yellow plaster wall, is the monastery tower, where hangs a clear-toned bell. Rugged hills rise abruptly. This is the home of the Barefoot Friars. A labyrinth of paths leads to their orchards and gardens and cells. Going every morning in pairs to the markets to beg for food, they own nothing. They live entirely on alms.
Just before two o'clock each day, the lame, halt, and blind begin to gather from all the town wards, each carrying a receptacle. One poor woman with three or four babies seats herself upon the plaster shelf skirting the wall, setting down her pottery jar by the brook to wait.
The bell strikes two long, clear tones. The whole space is filled. The great monastery gate is flung open, and two brown-clad monks, sleeves rolled up, bring out between them a steaming, copper cauldron. The famished multitude fall to their knees, many with difficulty, and a prayer is intoned.
Then the procession begins: men, women, and children in various stages of decrepitude. Beggars with old tin cans totter forward as to the Mecca of a long, hard journey. Decent-looking women, very haughty, conceal their pails under black mantas. Each receives two ladlefuls of meat, soup, and vegetables. The kettle is filled again and refilled, till all are served. After the little groups of people have finished their cazuela, the heavy door clashes together.
Beyond the turn of the wall, far down the avenue of palms, the Mendicant Friars emerge, four by four, and swing off across country for their daily walk.