There is beauty everywhere, of course. It’s a truism; everyone knows it and many say it. From the time I was small my father had a subscription to Arizona Highways, and I would sit on his lap and look at the pictures with him. I wasn’t much older when I started collecting postcards, but I have to admit that they were mostly of horses, or the many postcards from my Aunt Fran of the little cats dressed as people portraying Norman Rockwell-type scenes. It wasn’t until I was older that I experienced post card moments, and, although I have enjoyed many examples of natural and man-made beauty, there have been only been a few of those moments in my life.
My first postcard was the quintessential American cliché. I was in my early twenties, had lived in Arizona since I was sixteen and had never been to the Grand Canyon. My boyfriend, who had lived in Arizona his entire life without ever visiting the state’s biggest tourist attraction, reluctantly allowed me to persuade him that he needed to see it. He had to be back at work in two days, however, so we drove up to Flagstaff with a couple of sleeping bags and a few basic supplies. We went to the West Rim and it was as though I had stepped into an Arizona Highways photo spread. The afternoon light on the rocks, the purples and pinks and terra cotta, the Colorado River below… It simply took my breath away. I kept saying over and over that I felt as though I were in a postcard. I took a lot of pictures, none of which I can find today. This was long before the Skywalk was built; in fact I don’t remember much development at all other than lookout points. There was just the sky, the light, those incredibly sculpted and striated canyon walls and the river below. Franklin didn’t share my sense of awe; the canyon barely held his interest. That afternoon and evening were all the time I ever spent there; we drove back to Tucson in the morning and I never returned. I wonder now that my father, who had years and years of back issues of AH, never went in the forty years he lived in Arizona. I should have suggested that we go together.
I stepped into another postal (postcard in Spanish) in 2008, when I led a small tour group of students and adults to Peru. After spending a couple of days in Lima we took a plane to Cusco, and from there a train and a bus to Aguas Calientes, the small town near Machupicchu. (I’m not misspelling; this is the way they spell it in Peru, although the tendency now is to use either Ks or Qs in place of Cs for the quechua words). After dropping off our bags to be taken to the hotel we took yet another bus to the “Lost City” of the Inkas. That is, lost to the gringos; the Andean peoples in the area never misplaced it. As we passed through the entrance (getting special little visas in our passports) it was, again, like stepping into, what, Inca Highways? And again, I was breathless at the sight. I do have all my pics from that trip, and my views of the ancient ruins look very much like photographs in glossy travel magazines.
But it was not just the grandeur of the place that knocked my socks off. Even more was the realization that this architectural wonder was the product of a civilization that had never developed a written language. The sheer size of many of the rocks used in the construction, rocks that had to be transported through difficult terrain to a site on a mountain ridge in one of the wettest parts of the Andean jungle, all without benefit of the wheel or animals such as cattle or oxen, simply boggles the mind. These rocks were then carved and placed together in such a way as to form walls and doorways that stand today after centuries of horrific earthquakes. It isn’t possible to get even a credit card between the boulders forming the walls, the carving is so exact. In Cusco itself, as throughout the New World, the Spanish destroyed as many of the native structures as they could and then used the materials to build their own palaces and cathedrals. Many of these were destroyed by subsequent earthquakes and had to be rebuilt, sometimes more than once, while any remaining Inka structures remained intact. I guess the Spanish architects never asked themselves why the Indians constructed trapezoidal doors and windows.
At one point in our tour of Machupicchu one of the guides, who was quechua, complimented me by saying I spoke Spanish like Pizarro. I am pretty sure that he was not implying that I was just another white conquistadora. He claimed, at least, that he thought I was a Spaniard until he heard me speaking English and asked if I was American. Nevertheless, it did make me feel a bit like an imperialista gringa.
My most recent postal (postcard in Portuguese) moment occurred a couple of weeks ago when I visited Iguaçu Falls with my husband and good friends, Hamner and Peggy Hill. I lived in Brazil thirty-five years ago but never had the money to go that far from Rio; however, I had always wanted to see the falls. Hamner also was anxious to go. We walked to the park gates (yes walked; our hotel was about 300 meters from the entrance to the Cataratas do Iguaçu Parque Nacional) and took the minibus up to the start of the falls. Walked down a pathway, took a turn and BAM! Spread out in front of us in kind of a semi-circle the falls poured their water into the torrent below.
We stood there a long time, with Allen taking pictures of the falls and the rainbows in the spray. I counted to establish how many separate falls we could see, eleven or thirteen, I think. I tried to figure out where they filmed the man going down the falls tied to a cross in the movie The Mission, but none seemed quite right. Then, regretfully, we walked on as the pathway took us beyond the promontory of land marking the end of the falls, and BAM! More falls! Wide, narrow, higher, lower. And as we proceeded down the pathway and it happened again and again our sense of wonder grew and grew; it seemed the falls would never end. When we donned our rain ponchos and descended the walkway to the metal viewing platform with falls coming down on three sides around us I was literally breathless as the wind caused by the water and air pressure buffeted me. Seen this way from a progression of perspectives, the falls produced a cumulative sense of astonishment and reverence in me. When we finally climbed back out of the gorge created by the falls and the river, we went to the restaurant and sat on the deck extending out over the remarkably placid Iguaçu River. To revert back to my hippie youth, the whole experience was simply mind-blowing.