Recollection

I have to write 500 words a day, or I’ll die.

Writing to a writer is like breathing–an essential part of life. It’s not so dramatic as I made it sound in the lede, but I was taught in English class to start strong so the reader would be hooked.

I developed a routine. I would write about my day’s exploration in the evening. Taking Stephen King’s advice, I let the words flow; I focused on getting words on paper, not so much on narrative structure. The following morning, I edited the rambling into something coherent. Relatively speaking.

This pattern worked well in Argentina, where the late dinner hours and difference in time allowed me to publish blog posts before my friend’s morning constitutional. Peru has proved a challenge to this arrangement. Sunrise happens before 6:00 AM. By 6:00 PM, it’s getting dark. Dinner is cutting into my writing time.

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Arequipa is famous for its nuns. The Santa Catalina Convent has been called a city within a city. It’s an apt description; with its colorful walls and arched passages, the convent kept the nuns isolated and free to practice a life of contemplation.

Occasionally, the convent held public dinners. A nun would read scripture from a lectern in the dining hall; she was required to fast that day. I practice fasting for my health–usually on travel days when the bus food is unappealing–but it must be so much harder in a room full of people enjoying a meal.

La Recoleta is another convent that was converted into a museum. Inside its walls are pre-Columbian artifacts, Amazonian animals (dead and stuffed), religious art, toys, and model cars. The bell tower holds the best views of Arequipa.

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A UNESCO world heritage site, Arequipa is an attractive place. The city is set at the base of volcán El Misti. Next to it is the three-peaked Chachani–the mountain that appears on the label of Arequipeña beer. These two volcanoes could erupt and wipe Arequipa off the map. Or an earthquake could wreck everything–the Santa Catalina convent had to be rebuilt after a particularly nasty quake, hence the arches.

I heard there was an earthquake a week ago. My luck continues to keep me away from any natural disasters. Or maybe it would be lucky to go through one.

Recoleta translates to “recollect” in English. Several cities I’ve visited contain a Recoleta neighborhood, always with religious overtones. Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires is where Evita is buried, for example.

It seems odd for me to say I like cemeteries and convents. But I enjoy the quiet time to reflect. It’s not always easy to hear my own thoughts with the constant din of modern life. Cemeteries and convents are nothing if not quiet.

Of course, I had to dodge loud group tours in the ones I visited if I wanted to find any peace or quiet. I suppose I was a similar nuisance to the people who lived and worked there.

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