EntertainmentAnniversary of Lima: What was traffic, security and customs...

Anniversary of Lima: What was traffic, security and customs like in the capital before the war with Chile?

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In the last third of the 19th century, from the Portada del Callao you could see Lima in its entirety. You could see the ocean two leagues away and, on the other side, the first rung of the mountain range, the great granite wall that separated the city from the rest of the country. This is how Camille Pradier-Fodéré, a French citizen who came to live in Lima at the age of 19, described her together with her family. He studied at the University of San Marcos and stayed in the Peruvian capital for six years, until well into the year 1880, when the catastrophe generated by the war with Chile was already in sight. In 1897 this character published in France “Lima and its surroundings. Pictures of Peruvian customs ”. There he described the geography of Lima, the customs of its inhabitants, the monuments and daily life in a city that was beginning to transform.

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“Seen from Lima, the Pacific Ocean looks imposing. It stretches quiet, majestic, from the hills near Ancón, in the north, to the Chorrillos hill, in the south. In front of Callao, the main port of Peru, stands with all its majesty, in the middle of branches of foam, a few leagues from the coast, an immense rock that has an elongated shape. It is the island of San Lorenzo. This island is only inhabited by a few fishermen, but it serves as a refuge for huge groups of seals, sea lions and seabirds. […] Then the regular line of the coast is not interrupted […] except, from time to time, for a three-masted sailboat that is seeking entry into the wide inlet, and whose sails, driven by the wind from the coast, appear under the rays of the sun a castle advancing in the middle of the waters “.

This description of the Lima bay appears in the first pages of a book that is now recovered and published for the first time in Spanish by the Editorial Fund of the University of San Marcos, with a preliminary study by the historian Víctor Arrambide. , comments the researcher.

Morning and night

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But how is the Lima that sees and breathes Pradier-Fodere? It is a bustling city in the mornings, silent at noon, and it picks up a bit of frenzy at night. “One is particularly attracted, in Lima, during the morning hours,” writes the Frenchman, “by the multiple images that parade before our eyes and by the unique people who appear at every step. The traffic then is the most intense. The streets are full of horsemen; doctors go to see their patients on horseback; cars cross, people crowd and stumble. Over here a herd of cows creeps on, slowly […]. You have to stop and give way to that raging torrent that makes its way through the narrow streets with difficulty. And here, suddenly, an avalanche forces them to step aside. Two donkeys led by a muleteer and loaded with alfalfa trot past “.

This traffic is disappearing as the hours pass and the movement is located only in the center of the city, where the establishments that are open until late at night are located. “Activity and life have been centralized in the Plaza de Armas – describes Camille -, under its two portals, in front of the Ribera and in the other seven main avenues that begin there: the streets of the Mercaderes, de las Mantas, del Mail, the Palace, the Archbishop, Melchormalo and Bodegones ”. Then he gives a traditional brushstroke, with the racial flaws of the time: “The Calle del Palacio leads to the Puente de Piedra, where you can regularly see a multitude of blacks, zambos and cholos gather, during the warm summer nights, in search of a bit of freshness that the waters of Rímac are unable to provide ”.

The night lighting in that nineteenth-century city is powered by gas, but something happens on nights with a full moon. The municipality does not light the lanterns because “the streets, the squares, are so clear that the objects can be distinguished at considerable distances and one could even read without fatigue,” says the chronicler.

Yes, the safety in Lima is surprising, something we miss a century and a half later: “What makes up for the sadness of Lima at night is that you can walk through its most remote streets, and at any time, with the greatest security. The security service is organized in a great way […] You can’t take a hundred steps without running into an orderly ”.

Covered and hair

Like other European travelers, the French also drew attention to the covered ones. “What contributes to giving Lima a particular aspect, which is somewhat reminiscent of the cities of the East, is the dress that the women wear. The morning dress, for the Lima woman, is the blanket, an elongated piece of cloth that covers the head and wraps the body. From the black nougat to the high society woman, all Peruvians go through the streets with that dress. “

Spicy.  Lima characters.  Source: Manuel Atanasio Fuentes (1867).  "Lima. Historical, descriptive, statistical and customs notes".  In: "Lima and its surroundings", Editorial Fund of the University of San Marcos.

And something that this chronicler highlights are the different shades of skins that have already inhabited the capital since then. “In no other city do you see such a varied number of human types. […] They will see abundant, thick hair, of a black color that is almost blue […]. Other less abundant hairs, which reveal the forehead and project backwards, are frizzy and matte black in color. We see others curly and shiny and, later, others straight and silky ”.

Critical gaze

Among what Pradier-Fodéré de Lima observes, criticizes or praises, there are not only physical spaces such as the old and disappeared Government Palace building (“Can a more ugly, flat and sad construction be conceived?”), Or the new Palace of the Exhibition (“whose construction responds to everything that can be desired such as luxury and volume”), but also certain customs such as hanging clothes on the rooftops; or that the burials of the infants were festive acts in the belief that they would become little angels; or the laziness for physical activity that leads him to say that almost the people of Lima do not practice sports (“only horsemanship enjoys their favors, but not because of art, but because it avoids the fatigue of walking”); or the endless speeches at mealtime or the taste for sea bass, sole, guinea pig, anticuchos and empanadas. Likewise, the hospitality of the people of Lima stands out.

But his look also has a colonial slant. “He is very contemptuous of Afro-Peruvians and Chinese,” says Arrambide. He describes the former as unpleasant and blames women of African origin for leading the looting and inciting the gangs; he accuses the seconds of being furious and bloodthirsty. “It is very crude with that – adds the historian – and perhaps it is due to a problem that he had in Amancaes when they wanted to invite him an olive and he did not want to, and that caused them to get upset with him, since he was unaware of the Peruvian tradition that establishes that when They invite you something, you have to eat ”.

Afro-Peruvians dancing zamacueca, in Historical, descriptive, statistical and customs notes "(1867), by Manuel Atanasio Fuentes. This dance was practiced at the funerals of children in Lima. In:" Lima and its surroundings ", Editorial Fund of the University of San Marcos.

Another place in Lima that contrasts in its description is Chorrillos, although it praises the boardwalk, it highlights the unsanitary conditions. “Camille married a Peruvian (Dominga Molina Torres), in 1877, but she died at the beginning of 1879 in Chorrillos, perhaps that caused him to adopt that somber attitude towards this place,” adds Arrambide. The young Frenchman also lost his grandmother in Lima and, together with his father, left for Paris in 1880. He did not return to Peru again, but Lima remained in his memories. And he evoked it in a book that is a valuable testimony of that rural and urban city that was beginning to modernize, but had to endure the insanity of war and occupation.

Who was Camille Pradier-Fodéré?

In this edition of “Lima and its surroundings”, Víctor Arrambide traces a biography of the French author: he was born in Paris on November 24, 1854. He came to Lima at the age of 19, on October 9, 1874, along with his father, who had been hired by the government of Manuel Pardo to organize the Faculty of Political and Administrative Sciences of the University of San Marcos. He also arrived accompanied by his mother and grandmother. Camille studied at San Marcos and graduated in 1877. She wrote “Lima and its surroundings” in 1897 in French, where he recounted his experiences in Peru. He died in 1935, at the age of 81. The book is now republished in Spanish by the Editorial Fund of the Universidad de San Marcos.

Historian Víctor Arrambide, editor of “Lima and its surroundings”, by Camille Pradier-Fodéré.  Book translated by José Gabriel Castellanos and published by the Editorial Fund of the University of San Marcos.  Photo: Elias Alfajema.

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