The Capital Of Peru
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
MAGNIFICENT CITY MADE OF MUD AND FISHING-POLES-HOW LIMA HOUSES ARE BUILT'- CHICKENS THAT LIVE ON THE HOUSETOPS-THE STORES AND THE GREAT CATHEDRAL-THE PRETTY GIRLS OF LIMA-THEIR ODD CUSTOMS AND COSTUMES - LIMA ON HORSEBACK -WOMEN WHO RIDE ASTRIDE-A CITY WHERE MULES TAKE THE PLACE OF THE HUCKSTER CART.
LET US take a walk together through the quaintest city of this hemisphere. We are in Lima, the capital of Peru. The streets on which we stand were laid out more than three hundred years ago. Lima was a city when Boston was in its swaddling clothes, when Philadelphia was a baby, and all to the west and south of it was an unbroken wilderness. There are houses in Lima which are two hundred years older than Chicago or Cincinnati, and I can even introduce you to one of the oldest citizens, the founder of the town, who, dried and pickled by the pure Peruvian air, has for over three centuries stayed here with his property. I refer to the Spanish freebooter, the robber and butcher of the Indians, Pizarro, who laid out Lima in 1535. He was assassinated on the spot where the President of Peru now lives, and his skeleton and his brains are kept in a glass case in a cathedral across the way. The skin is dried, and it sticks to the bones, but, with the exception of patches here and there which have been cut off for relic-hunters, the hide is intact, though decidedly leathery and the worse for the wear.
In Lima everything lasts long, except money. Where else in the world will you find a city three hundred years old built of mud? Lima has more than 100,000 people; it is about six miles around it, and two miles from one side to the other. It has a network of narrow streets, that cross one another at right angles, with spaces clipped out here and there for parks or plazas.
The houses are of one and two stories, flush with the sidewalks and in the business sections cage-like balconies hang out from the second stories, so that you are shielded from the sun as you pass along the streets.
Still, Lima looks very substantial; you might easily imagine it to be made of massive stone, here and there wonderfully carved. Some of its walls look like marble; others imitate granite. The houses are of all the colours of the rainbow, and they line the streets with solid walls. About the chief square there are enclosed balconies walled with glass extending out from the second stories, and under these are imitation massive stone pillars, forming an arcade, or cloister, around two sides of the-square in front of the stores. These pillars are of mud, the polished walls of the houses are made of sun-dried brick, coated with plaster of paris, and the second stories are a combination of mud and bamboo cane. The whole city is built of mud and fishing-poles. Here some of the finest churches of the continent are made of mud. The great cathedral, which cost millions, is a mud structure, and could you take a sharpened rail and thrust it against one of its massive towers, it would go through it as it would through a birdcage.
But let us go up to the roof of our hotel and take a bird's-eye view of Lima before we begin to explore it. We are in a vast field of flat roofs, above which here and there rise the massive towers of great churches. At the back of us, at the edge of this field, are the bleak foothills of the Andes, gray and forbidding; their tops in a smoky sky, and white clouds rushing here and there over their sides. On the edge of the city we see the green crops of the valley of the Rimac, and we can readily make out the three bridges which cross the river as it flows through Lima.
Look down on the roofs all about us. They are more like garden beds than the coverings of houses. Do not stamp your feet or step heavily as you walk to and fro. The roof trembles beneath us and with little effort we could push our feet through. The supports of many of the roofs are merely cane poles on which dirt is spread. On some matting is first put and then a layer of earth, sand or ashes.
It is supposed rarely to rain here; almost from year's end to year's end Lima has not a shower. Waterproofs are unknown, and the umbrella-mender's cry is unheard. It is on this account that these mud walls stand throughout the generations. It is indeed only through lack of rain that Lima exists. A big shower would reduce the town to a mud heap, while a two-weeks' pour would wipe it out of existence. Even here, however, nature sometimes varies her course. Last year the people were horrified by hearing the raindrops pattering on the roofs. The water which fell would hardly have been called a sprinkle in some parts of the world, but it did more damage than an earthquake.
Much of the light of the Lima houses comes from the roofs. Each house has a court in the centre, around which the rooms run. Many of the larger buildings have several courts. When there is a double row of rooms the inner ones are lighted by little dormer windows, which extend up through the fiat roofs, and from where we are standing look like chicken-coops. It is difficult, in fact, to tell the dormers from the real chicken-coops. Thousands of chickens are born, lay their eggs, and grow fat on the roofs. Over there a hen is cackling. I am awakened every night by the crowing of the roosters above me, and even in the heart of the city the noises of the early morning make one imagine one's self in a barnyard. There is one asthmatic old rooster that crows me awake regularly at five A. M., and another that sometimes makes the air shake at midnight. I have not yet seen a cow on the roofs, though I am told that some families have their stalls so located, the cattle not being taken down until they are ready for killing.
From this one might think the houses of Lima would be al-ways tumbling down, and that the city would be in constant danger from fires. This is not the case. The houses are almost earthquake prof, the first-story walls of the larger buildings being often from four to six feet thick, although those of the second story are thin. The mud walls never take fire. The furniture may go up in smoke, but as soon as the roof is ablaze it falls in, and the mud which covers it puts out the fire. There are, indeed, but few losses from fires here ; and even out in the country, away from the fire companies, houses like these are insured for one-half of one per cent. Such a thing as a block or square burning down is unknown in Lima.
From the hotel roof we get some idea of how compactly the city is built. There are no gardens, and but few back-yards.
The larger houses cover a great deal of space, as they are con-fined to one, or at most two, floors. The smaller ones are so small that it is hard to imagine they are houses at all. There nre hundreds of little blind alleys, which are reached through doors in the walls along the main streets. The alleys are walled with cell-like rooms, each not more than ten feet square. Each of these rooms is a house. In one alley which I visited I was told that there were on the average about eight people to each tenement. Such houses have yards about six feet square sur-rounded by high walls. They have no windows, and the light comes in through the front and back doors. None of the houses have chimneys. Most of the cooking is done over charcoal fires. Even the best houses have few windows on the ground floor; as a rule the light comes from the interior courts or the roof. In the two-story houses of the better class, galleries run around the courts, and the rooms opening out into these are large and airy. All outside windows and doors are barred with iron, and the better streets of the city look like long rows of prisons. Many fine homes are entered through iron-barred gates—palatial mansions surrounding courts filled with flowers.
In the business sections the people live in the second stories, which are divided into flats, or apartments. Many rooms are rented, and only the wealthy have large houses. On the ground floors are stores and shops open to the street. The stores have no windows, and the doors run the full width, so that the whole front is pushed back or taken away during business hours. The light is usually from the front, though the larger establishments have courts, and extend a long distance to the rear. Many of the shops are like caves. They are cells separated only by thin walls. Indeed, a walk along the Mercadores is like a journey through a museum or one of our large department stores. The business streets are from twenty to thirty feet wide, more often the former; and the sidewalks are not over four feet in width. Four people cannot well walk abreast, and a party must go along double file. A donkey with panniers took the right of way from me this morning, for I was forced to step out into the road to let him go by.
The street scenes of Lima are interesting. Let us stop under the arcade, which runs about the plaza, and watch the crowds, We are among some of the best shops of the city. They are full of fine goods, and here between four and five o'clock every after-noon the people come to buy and do business. These hours are the gayest of the day, when the crowd is as dense as that of lower Broadway' at noon.
The crowd in the Lima arcades, however, is far different from that on Broadway. No one hurries. The men saunter along or stand on the street and chat with their friends. We see little knots of them every few yards, and the messengers, the merchants, and the clerks seem to have time and to spare. Almost everyone is well dressed. There are tall hats and kid gloves; and nearly everyone, old and young, carries a cane. All are very polite. They bow, smile, shake hands, and lift their hats when they meet; and bow, smile, and tip their hats when about to de-part. So far as form goes, they are the pink of perfection, and you would imagine them gentlemen of leisure rolling in wealth. The truth is, most of them are poor. Peru has for years been playing a losing gaine with fortune, and the day of her enormous riches has long gone by. If you look closely, you will see that many a coat is shiny at the seams, and that the silk hats are fast losing their nap. There are, perhaps, more reduced gentlemen in Lima than in any other city in the world. They have been patronizing the pawnbrokers and the foreign bond-buyers until the people, nationally and individually, are comparatively poor. They are not a business people, and, having fallen, do not know how to get up. The business of the country is in the hands of foreigners; there are not two big Peruvian business houses in the Peruvian capital. The young Peruvians are clerks in the stores or in the government offices, while their fathers, as a rule, are skimping along on the remains of their once great estates.
But we must not forget where we are. We are in the main shopping section of Lima at 4.30 P. NI., and some of the prettiest women south of the equator are going to and fro past us. The young ladies of Lima are famous for beauty. They are straight and well-rounded, and their soft oval faces, with their luxuriant hair combed high up from the forehead, are lighted by eyes which seem to shine with the over-soul of their owners.
If you could drop Lima down into New York, the men would think the city had been captured by widows or female orphans who had just gone into mourning. When the women in Lima go out to walk they dress in black. They do not wear bonnets, but they wrap fine shawls of black goods about their heads, pinning them fast to their shoulders, so that the face alone shows.
The background adds to their beauty, and the" costume on the whole is becoming. It saves the buying of new hats or bonnets, and is easy to put on and take off. Doubtless many a seedy waist and frowsy head arc hidden under those black shawls.
The Peruvian woman needs to wash only her face for the streets, for the rest of her per-son is hidden. I was told that she often dispenses even with washing her face, for she thinks that cold water brings fevers, and that frequent bathing is productive of all kinds of disease.
A good deal of face-powder is used, and Lima has as many perfumery shops as any city of its size in the world. Both men and women are fond of sweet smells, and at carnival time they go about with squirt-guns and atomizers, with which they drench their friends of the opposite sex. The girls throw powder on the men, and boys and women dash water into each other's face. A crowd of Lima belles will sometimes catch hold of one of the beaux and souse him in a bath-tub full of water. Yesterday I came across a young man who was suffering with fever from a cold which he had taken from a recent similar ducking.
The Lima women are very devout. Almost every one we meet carries a prayer-book, and we seldom enter a church without finding a score or more of them on their knees. No woman is allowed to enter a church wearing a hat or bonnet; those who attempt to do so are touched with a long stick by the sexton and told to uncover their heads. A church congregation is indeed one of the curious sights of Lima. The people are Catholics, and the ceremonies are impressive, the costumes of the priests being resplendent with gold and silver braid. The men and women sit apart, and the women and girls, with their black headgear, make you think of a congregation of nuns, dead to the world.
At their own homes, however, Peruvian ladies dress much like their sisters in other parts of Christendom. They are fond of gay dresses, and talk much of the fashions. In conversation they are vivacious, and quite able to hold their own with the men. They are interested in politics, and do much to create public sentiment. The women of the better classes are well educated ; many of them speak French. All are fond of music, and not a few play the piano, mandolin, and guitar exceedingly well. None of them has any woman's-rights tendencies: so far the new woman has not yet appeared in Peru.
Lima on horseback is quite as interesting as Lima afoot. There are few private carriages. The streets are paved with cobbles; and all sorts of vehicles jolt you terribly as you ride over the stones. For this reason the people prefer to ride in the street-cars or on horses.
The horses of the Pacific coast of South America are small but spirited, and they have a delightful gait — a cross between a pace and the gait of a high-stepping hackney, which carries the rider along as easily as though he were in a rubber-tired carriage. One is coming down the street now. The rider, were it not for the big silver spurs on his boots, would not be out of place in Hyde Park. He is in full riding costume, and his horse is magnificently apparelled. Notice his bridle ! It is trimmed with silver, and the stirrups and bit are of the same shining white metal. His saddle is plated with silver, and rests upon a heavy saddle-blanket of fur. How the horse prances as his master touches him with the spur! and how those demure, sombre-clad maidens who are passing by steal sly glances at the rider out of the corners of their eyes! He has stopped and dis-mounted, and is stooping at his horse's front feet, buckling a short strap about the forelegs, to hobble the animal. He leaves him thus, without tying, and goes into a store. That is the way all Peruvian horses are fastened. There are no hitching-posts, rings, or horse weights, and it is a police regulation that every horse left alone on the street must be hobbled. The straps used are so short that they can be easily carried in the pocket. The drivers of carts hobble their mules by tying the lines about their fore-feet.
Much of the peddling of Lima is done on horseback, and in many cases the peddlers are Indian women who ride astride. The milk of the city is carried about in cans tied to the sides of a horse, on the back of which, with her legs straddling its neck, sits a bronze-faced woman dressed in bright calico, and wearing a broad-brimmed Panama hat. When the milk-woman reaches the house of a customer, she slides down over the horse's neck and lifts one of the cans out of the pocket in which it is fastened, and carries it into the house. The bread-waggon of Lima is a horse with two panniers full of loaves. Vegetables are also peddled by women. All sorts of things are peddled on donkeys ridden by men or boys, who sit just in front of the tails of the beasts, with their backs against the loads of goods they are peddling. There are no huckster waggons; and the drays are long two-wheeled carts drawn by three mules abreast.