New Year’s Day (II)

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“Do you think the blessing will protect them?” Jacobs asks, looking at the procession.

“Are you asking me again if I believe in God?” I ask back, trying to sound neutral.

He shrugs: “ … I’m just very interested in religion.”

“So I noticed.” I give him a non-commital smile.

We’re still in Copacabana, Bolivia – not its colorful cousin in Rio. This is the cold and austere version. The one where you have trouble breathing, because you are almost 13,000 feet up in the mountains.

The Copacabana cathedral spire is standing out like white cardboard against the blazing blue sky. Two dozen or so bulky Bolivian drivers waiting patiently to get their trucks sprinkled with holy water by the priest.

The Benedicion de Movilidades occurs daily and Jacob insisted that we went to see it, before crossing over to Isla del Sol out in the Lake Titicaca, which is where everybody is going.

But right now here we are in front of the cathedral looking at all the cars, trucks and buses lined up to receive a cha’lla, a ritual blessing – some odd combo of the local Pachamama-worship and reluctant Catholicism. And so they spray booze on the cars (that’s the holy water if you sacrifice to Pachamama), but they do it in front of the Church of the Holy Virgin.

Jacob snaps one pic after another with his tiny but very pro-looking camera.

I just gawk – fascinated.

I mean, when this is all over the vehicles and their drivers should be protected against driving on some of the world’s most dangerous roads, all of which are here in Bolivia … I wonder if they are protected against their own thirst for strong liquor?

“Look,” Jacob says, after snapping three more pictures: “I’m not religious as in ‘fanatical Jew’-religious.”

“Never said you were fanatic about anything.” I try to concentrate about the ritual. I really try.

But Jacob keeps it up: “However, I’ve taken my Bar Mitzvah, read my Torah and all the things you’re supposed to.”

Okay, now I have to look at him: “That … doesn’t sound very heartfelt.”

“It wasn’t,” he agrees and nods, “but I do believe – just in my own way I guess.”

“And what way is that?” I ask, already beginning to regret that we are talking about this again. Or rather, that I’m trying to be nice by indulging him and pretending I want to talk.

“Well, take these rituals – ” Jacob explains, frowning as if he is concentrating, “I’m not sure they’ll work. I think it depends a lot on what goes on in the drivers’ minds and hearts and the way they themselves believe.”

“You’re saying,” the nice part of me keeps on, ” that God or the Earth Mother – Mrs. Pachamama – only hears the prayers of those who believe they will be heard?”

“No, not exactly … ” Jacob shakes his head. “Maybe ‘God’ is not the right word,” Jacob tries. “Have … you heard about the new interpretations of quantum physics?”

Who-boy. I think I could need some holy protection myself now.

“No. Can’t say that I have. Jacob.”

He doesn’t catch my drift. Maybe he is tone-deaf?

Jacob clears his throat, then sloughs on:

“There are quite a few different interpretations of what the, shall we say, manifestations of quantum physics mean – for example the fact there appears to be a way of subatomic particles to communicate that is faster than light. Maybe it means that they are part of some … universal wholeness, something that links everything and everyone together across time and space.”

Oh, for fuck’s sake …

I mean I had the whole day in my mind’s eye. It was easy to see how it should play out. We started last night by checking in at the cheap but friendly hostel. We got a room each. We slept beneath 10 blankets to keep the mountain cold out of the unheated rooms and while shivering we tried to divert ourselves thinking up all the nice touristy stuff we could do when day came. But I guess Jacob was thinking about something else.

“Are you doing this on purpose?” I ask sharply.

“Uh … ” Jacob starts, but I don’t let him explain.

“I told you yesterday I wasn’t really big on talking religion and stuff, because my friend had just died.”

“Okay,” he mutters. “I’m sorry. I was just thinking about this ritual. Sorry.”

“You think a lot about this stuff. Can’t you just watch and take some photos?” I ask, knowing that I sound like a class A jerk now.

But every time I try not to feel annoyed by this, it’s like it’s having the opposite effect on me. I just get more angry.

We stand in silence for awhile, but it’s like the spectacle in front of us has lost its power.

We come here secretly snickering about how stupid it is to believe that you are blessed by booze and then drink more booze and drive. We come here and think we have it all figured out and they – the Bolivians – haven’t.

Which is why we hate to be reminded of all the shit we haven’t figured out ourselves.

“Look …” I say, doing my best to get this day back to the plan I had imagined, “I’m going to get a tougher sun-screen. The sun’s really hitting hard now.”

I make as if I want to head back to the crowded main street with all the tourists shops.

“I could use some sunscreen, too,” he says and my shoulders drop. A lot.

“Cold and sunburn,” Jacob says trying a faint smile, “what a combination.”

“Yeah,” I say, “only in the Andes. Or mountains, I guess.”

So we walk and talk about those things I had planned. The things that don’t have you think too much. Or not at all.

I hope we can keep it up.


Last edited: 4 Oct 2019

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