Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Something About Iquitos

Okay, so someone on a forum I occasionally write on posted something to the effect that Iquitos is a patriarchal society. I begged to differ. I think it's interesting, so here is what I wrote:
Slightly off topic but need to respond to Hazle-ra regarding the culture in Iquitos. He calls it patriarchal. I beg to differ. Very very matriarchal society. Women rule the roost. Even with sexual advances, at least among Peruvians. Enter gringas, or women of other cultures and yes, the men can seem grabby, and probably are. But then that is their culture and it is the women who let it happen and only on their own terms.
This culture, you've got to remember, didn't even exist 140 years ago. Iquitos was basically a trading post for the tribals that lived on different rivers. Many were fueding, and that was exacerbated a great deal with the advent of the rubber boom to the area--when large groups such as the Shipibo--I know we all love them, butttt--chose to offer a lot of other indigenous people to the slave trade at the time rather than be enslaved themselves.
So what you see is a city that grew up around the rubber boom, where forced slaves intermingled with one another, with Irish indentured servants, German fortune seekers, Black slaves who'd escaped eastern Brazil and even some Brazilian tribals who followed the rubber boom west from Manaus.
At the root of the culture of Iquitos is tribal life: Mostly hunting and gathering and fishing with a little agriculture thrown in during the rubber boom era. Births of girls severely outnumbered births of boys. To that, add that as hunters, men tended to die off in the jungle faster than women. Which made the disproportionate number of women even greater. As a result, men frequently had multiple wives. In Peru, a headman who had several--generally four or more--is called a curaka--a name still used by the women of Iquitos when talking about a playboy type.
It was important in tribal communities to have more than one wife. The simplest example I can give is my now-dead Matses headman friend, Pablo. He had four wives when I met him, though he had sons old enough to suggest he'd had earlier wives as well. Each of the four had their own duties: MaShe, the primary wife, ran the camp. Amelia breast fed all the babies of all the wives and kept the camp clean. Marta went hunting with Pablo and carried the meat back to camp (leaving him free to hunt any additional animals he saw along the way; the fourth, whose name escapese me, was the primary tender of the chacras, the yucca fields they had.
All of the women interchanged roles, but over several years, what I'm describing would best describe the situation.
MaShe couldn't have run the camp, taken care of babies, carried meat and tended fields alone. So she welcomed the other wives. And the wives, in turn, enjoyed each other's company. So much so that Pablo wasn't really needed. His job was to hunt, provide the food, then get out of the way. Not that the women didn't enjoy his company now and then--they did. But not all day, every day. That was women time when chores were done.
Now that model remains the model for Peruvian households in Iqiutos. Not the several wives, but the man's role. And any gringos married to Iquitenos will know what I'm talking about. Your role as the male is to hunt--these days that is probably a job, but still, it's to provide the food. After that you will be looked after, but you're not otherwise needed. The sisters, their mothers, the aunts, they will sit all day making food, washing clothes, doing their chores together; the man is not really included or invited into that circle very often.
And when you marry, chances are very good that your wife will pick your lover. Might be a sister of hers, a friend who has no man, but your lover will be given to you by your wife. And you are expected to take care of her, both intimately and financially--which might mean an entire second extended family. And if the man chooses more lovers, well, I've rarely known the women to care very much so long as the man continues to hunt--provide--for the primary family and extended primary family and the amante and extended family. If you can do all that and have more lovers, you are a curaka and that's admired by an awful lot of people. Means you can shoulder your burdens, take care of things. You're strong.
And while the hunter who cannot hunt any longer might well be fed poisoned soup by his wives--particularly if they are young enough to get new husbands--a man who cannot support his family will lose all respect of the women--from grandma to the aunts, to the wife, the amante and so forth. And if they can possibly move on to another man, particularly as a group, they will.
So I'm seeing that as a matriarchal society, not a patriarchal one. On the surface, men are allowed to walk around with their chests puffed out, but they know who runs the show. And they are so far outnumbered as a rule, that there's little they can do about it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Getting Ready to Go: Wonderful Day

Okay, I recognize that I've not been treating you fairly. And I'm sorry. My only defense for not posting more often in the three months since I've been back from Peru is that I've been under the deadline gun every stinking week. And I don't mean with six weeks to do a story. I mean, like last week, I was handed a story on Thursday afternoon that was 1,500 words long and told to turn it into a cover story by Sunday. Then this week, at my weekly meeting of my alternative weekly, I was asked to produce two 2,000 word stories in the next nine days. Can do it but it takes all I've got. Which means you get short shrift.
And, just for the heck of it, since I came back from Peru on Feb 20 or so, I've done three cover stories, five 1.500 word stories, 5 400 word stories, two columns for Skunk and a cover for MPI One+ mag. And I've still got 3 stories to finish before I leave town on May 30.
So I apologize and can only say I had nothing to say. The work has left me empty. Like a vacuum. I've not promoted my book for two seconds, not tried to finish the next book--nearly done, but so far away--and have not begun the third one.
And I have not been lazy.
Apology accepted, I hope. I'm sorry I left you.
Tonight is Friday. Chepa, the wife/ex-wife (and much more the latter for those who just joined) picked up my Madeleina, 14 and going on 40, from school and was to take her to Academy Sports to buy sneakers. Instead, she took her to the mall, whatever that is, in north Dallas, a couple of hours from here. And evidently bought herself nice clothes but didn't find anything for my daughter, who leaves for Iquitos, Peru--middle of the Amazon--with me next week.
All okay. My daughter will get the clothes she needs. I'm guessing Chepa got what she needed. Tomorrow is another day, and Madeleina can take $100 or $200 and I'll drop her off wherever she wants for a couple of hours to shop without her mom, who happens to be a fantastic and sexy shopper (Okay, I fell in love with the girl 15 years ago, and even though the marriage didn't work out I used to love being invited into the fitting room to check out how the new jeans would look) using all the money or taking her to stores that are more suited to 40-year-olds than 14-year olds.
So right now I've got nice salmon, Chinese style, with sesame oil, sesame seeds, diced tomatoes, scallions, ginger, garlic and cilantro ready to do. I've also got bi-color corn, which I hope won't kill us, and fresh spinach, fresh broccoli and fresh asparagus (with a touch of balsamic vinegar) ready to go.
And Marco came by, and my son Italo came by to say he's ordered an oxygen sensor for my old green truck, and the goats are happy, and Boots the blind wonder dog is happy and the birds are happy and you know what? I'm happy. I'm thanking whatever god or powers that be that I woke up this morning breathing instead of dying in my sleep. Because this was a great day. And tomorrow will be another if they'll let me have it despite my cigarettes.
So that's my apology to you. I'm living, and living hard, working like a dog, barely making ends meet but who cares since there is a paper up on my wall that says I'm grateful that I have enough to pay my bills.
And I hope you can pay your bills. And if not, I hope you find new and better work that will let that happen.
Life is fantastic, even out on the edge. I'm hoping you're enjoying it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Madeleina's New Movie

Well, while you've all been missing me, I've been living large and hard. I've written three cover stories, four 1500 word pieces, six 200 word news stories and two columns since I last wrote, not including yesterday. I've had a clutch replaced in my old green truck, wrote three or four pieces for Huffington Post, of which they only put up two so far, unfreakingbelieveably. Oh, and Italo and Sarah decided to get married, at my place, with me presiding, under the watchful eyes of over 100 guests, all of whom I am supposed to feed--including Chepa's boyfriend--just 48-hours after I return from 50 days in Peru. Good luck with all that shit. I'm almost just hoping they'll break up for a week or 10 days to give me a little time to get the yard and house and food in order!
Oh, and yesterday, at Chepa's, when I went there to pick up Madeleina for school, she came bursting out of her room to say: "Don't even start with me!" to me. What? I know Italian guys in my neighborhood growing up who used that phrase, and it meant something, trust me, but my 14-year old daughter? Just trying to get her to school on time? What was she going to do if I started with her? I mean, com'on...that's a serious phrase where I grew up. It meant just what it said: Don't start with me or this will end very badly for you.
Now my daughter thinks she can say that to dad? Oy, vey!
And now this evening, in the midst of a torrential downpour and extreme lightning storm, she's in the midst of making a new Youtube.com video. She publishes under the name madeleinag, so look for her. She's pretty fantastic. But she hasn't made a new video in three weeks.
Tonight she got in the creative spirit and decided to involve me: I was supposed to be the meanest dad in the world and when she decided to play in water several inches deep, she had me coming out and screaming at her. We did about 10 takes. Each time she was like: "Dad, you have to be more mean..."; or "Dad, sound like you're going to kill me..."
And I finally did, screaming harshly as I walked into the ankle deep water and off she ran screaming.
"That was good, dad. You're going to jail for that one. You were an absolute psychopath...."
"Thanks, baby. Keep the outtakes so the department of social services can see that you were the one directing the film,
I had another scene where she took a soda, in total excitement, and I reached my hand in and scowled, "What are you doing? That's my soda!!!!"
I had a third scene but she cut me out of it.
So go to youtube.com tomorrow or the next day and check it out. My baby is one crazy woman when she decides to be. And she's a great director. I'll bet it's a good video.
She just said this one sucks. But who knows. Check it out anyway.
Me? I'm thinking of all of you and hoping you are having as much fun on the road to dying as I am. Which means living voraciously.
Oh, and Sierra, Alexa, and my granddaughter Taylor rain are all fine. So is Italo. So is Sara, my daughter in law, though I can never remember if she has an "h" at the end of her name or not. So is Chepa. So is Marco. We're all doing well. I think.
I hope.
And I hope you're all doing well, too.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Guy Asked Me for Advise...

Someone wrote to me asking for advise on how to become an investigative journalist. I really don't have any, so instead I told him the story of how it happened and I hope it helps him somehow. Here it is:
Dear X: I'm not sure what to tell you here. That's because I didn't start out as an investigative reporter. I started out writing plays, poetry and finally short stories. I got a book called the Writer's Market (I think) about 30 years ago and went through the listings of journals and such to figure out who might print my stories and such. I used to send out 5 every week. They were often the same story, just photocopied and sent out. And the first year, I averaged about 1 sale for every 50 stories I sent out. And that sale was usually for either nothing or $25.
The second year I sold about 2 for every 50 stories I sent out.
Then I had a breakthrough: I was normally taking about a month to write a story. Way too long. So I made a deal with myself: I was going to write one story a day for 30 days, and that meant write it completely so that I could send it out at the end of the week with the other stories I'd written that week.
It was crazy impossible but I did it: At the end of the month I had 12 short stories, three or four opinion pieces and a 160 page novella. Amazing. And armed with that supply I was able to start getting sales about 1 out of every 10 places I sent stories to. And one of those places, a non-paying music weekly paper in the Village in New York, had an editor who called me to ask me to write him a non-fiction piece. He'd already printed four or five of my stories and wanted to try me at non-fiction. So I did. And it was okay.
About a year later, I was headed down to the Amazon for the first time and I told him I'd write a report every week on what happened that week. Which I did. I spent a lot of time on those reports.
Unfortunately, I discovered when I got home that he hadn't printed them. All of the hand-written stories were in my apartment mailbox. Seems he'd gone out of business while I was away.
But I looked at those stories and thought they were good. So I went to the Writer's Market and looked at the non-fiction category of magazines and papers. And then I started sending those stories out. And damn if High Times didn't buy one, then a magazine called Overseas Living bought one, and then Walking Magazine bought one and someone else bought one. Of the seven pieces, I think I sold 4 or 5. Better yet, I earned about $1,700, from those sales, which pretty much paid for the whole trip.
So I decided to concentrate on non-fiction--since it apparently paid so much better. And High Times asked me to do another story on the Amazon, which I did, and then another. And then finally the bosses called me into their offices one day and asked if I could do an investigative piece. I said I'd never done one but that I would try.
They said they wanted me to get an interview with Dave Foreman, the head of a group called Earth First!, a great environmental action group. The problem was that the FBI had put the key members of Earth First! on their most wanted list and so nobody knew where to find them or how to get in touch with them.
So there I was being asked to find this guy whom the FBI couldn't find. Sure.
I thought about it for maybe a week. How the hell could I find Foreman? I read anything I could about him from before he was on the list and then got this: He came from either Montana or Wyoming, or at least had lived in those places. And he looked big. So I suddenly got the idea that he probably played high school football, since most big kids in the midwest do, and I thought I might call all the schools in those states to find out if he had ever gone there. That didn't go anywhere because schools wouldn't give me the information. So I thought about it again and it hit me that maybe he liked to have a beer and watch football...
So I decided to call every bar in both states to see if I could find him. I picked Wyoming first and I don't know why. I call information--this was long before computers--and asked the telephone operator for the names and phone numbers of the first three bars listed in alphabetical order in Wyoming. I would have asked for more but three was the limit per call. So I called information again and got three more numbers, then again, and again until I had some two hundred or so drinking joints in Wyoming. Took about two weeks to collect that information.
Then I began making calls, in alphabetical order. At each I would say: Hello, this is Peter Gorman, and I'm with High Times magazine. I'm trying to reach Dave Forman of Earth First! and if you know him can I give you my number for him to call me?" Or something like that. Of course no one admitted knowing him. That went on for a couple of weeks.
And then, while I was working somewhere in the middle of my list, I got a call one day. "Hello, is this Peter Gorman?"
That happened again the next day. And then the next day and maybe two more times until one day when I said "Yes," the person at the other end said: "This is Dave Foreman. You want to talk with me?"
And I did and I got the interview and right then, I knew I was going to try to be an investigative journalist. All it took was coming up with a way to get information that no one had thought of. Imagine how I felt knowing that the FBI had Foreman on their most wanted list and couldn't find him and here I was in my little apartment in New York City and I got to him. Incredible feeling.
After that, I took every hard story--and tried to come up with some of my own--that I coudl get my hands on for High Times. And then other magazines started calling me, sometimes for regular stories, sometimes for investigative pieces.
So what advise can I give you on becoming an investigative journalist? None, really. Just keep your eyes open, keep trying to sell stories somewhere, anywhere, and sooner or later an editor will cal you and you go from there and see where it leads. And if you can get in with a weekly alternative paper--I'm with the Fort Worth Weekly here in Texas--there is plenty of investigative stuff to work on. How to do that? Just keep trying, even when you're only selling one story out of 50. The key is to keep sending material out. I was sending out 250 pieces a year for four or five years before enough editors knew me that I didn't have to do that anymore.
I hope that helps.
Peter G