Tuesday, June 30

a parasite on a parasite on a parasite

Here's an excerpt from a diary that Werner Herzog kept in 1980 during the time he spent in the Peruvian rainforest shooting "Fitzcarraldo", which I've never actually seen. But, coincidentally, I did just watch "My Best Fiend" which is a documentary Herzog did about his relationship with actor Klaus Kinski (who is insane) that concentrates mostly on the filming of "Fitzcarraldo", which kind of makes it a film about his own film. It's pretty good though and you can watch it in its entirety on youtube. I'll embed it under the passage.


I have a snake on my roof again. A little while ago I heard something rustling up there, and then something dark fell into the banana fronds with a thwack. I took a look, and it was a poisonous brownish snake that had caught a bird, which was still peeping. I tried hitting the snake with a stick, but it disappeared like lightning into the grass. Only now and then did a blade quiver, and from the piteous cries of the bird I could tell where the snake was. I did not follow it into the grass, because I discovered that another snake was on the thatched roof, and directly above me a third snake was trying to get from a banana frond onto the platform of my hut. I tried to strike it with the machete, but the snake was too fast for me.

The power is still out. Evening descended on the countryside. What would happen if the rainforest wilted like a bouquet of flowers? Around me insects are dying, for which they lie on their backs. A woman in the neighborhood is suckling a newborn puppy after her baby died from parasites; I have seen this done before with piglets. Outside a bright moon is floating now above the treetops. The frogs, thousands of them, suddenly pause, as if they were following an invisible conductor, and start up again all at the same time. Their conversations come and go in curious waves. Waxy moonlight, as bright as neon, is shimmering on the banana fronds. I was called to the telephone in the house and fell off the ladder that leads to my platform. It was one of very few phone calls that ever get through to us, and a stranger on the line was trying to make it clear to me that I was a madman, a menace to society.


At night I had first the feeling and then the certainty that I was caught in a twilit prehistoric age, without speech or time.

Nature has come to her senses again; only the forest is still menacing, motionless. The river rolls along without a sound, a monster. Night falls very fast, with the last birds scolding the evening, as always at this hour. Rough cawing, malevolent sounds, punctuated by the even chirping of the first cicadas. From all this working in the rain my fingers are wrinkly, like those of the laundresses. I must have a hundred bites on my back from some insect I never did see; all of me is rotting with moisture. I would be grateful if it were only dreams tormenting me. Across the table comes a strange primeval insect, with a thin, lancelike, excessively long proboscis and feelers on both sides. I cannot make out any eyes. It is dragging a dead insect of the same species, and it disappears through the cracks in the bark floor. Then caterpillars crawl toward me from all directions, brainless but unstoppable. I think intensely of the great moment when I showed my son, five at the time, the mountains of the moon through a telescope.


Yellow birds laid siege to me. Last night I had to combat a fresh invasion of army ants in my cabin; they overran me with their larvae, but they were easier to fight because they were so unusually large. First I tried spraying Baygon, but that did not work, and finally I swept the raving warriors off my platform into the swamp. Our work is not compatible with nature Amazon-style. The weather is bad, the chickens are not doing well, ditto the rabbit. The vermin in the earth are thriving. They are happy. The Chinese wok was filled with a jellylike, almost transparent mass, sticky and tough, and in its midst was a broken-off lizard tail, as if the poisonous bite of some nasty creature had melted the lizard into a tough, gluey mass. I set the wok to soak overnight, but even with scouring powder and a wooden stick for scraping I cannot get the disgusting stuff out. Tumors form on the trees. Roots writhe in the air. The jungle revels in debauched lewdness.


This morning I woke up to terror such as I have never experienced before: I was entirely stripped of feeling. Everything was gone; it was as if I had lost something that had been entrusted to me the previous evening, something I was supposed to take special care of overnight. I was in the position of someone who has been assigned to guard an entire sleeping army but suddenly finds himself mysteriously blinded, deaf, and effaced. Everything was gone. I was completely empty, without pain, without pleasure, without longing, without love, without warmth and friendship, without anger, without hate. Nothing, nothing was there anymore, and I was left like a suit of armor with no knight inside. It took a long time before I even felt alarmed.


Hunters had gone out and brought back rodents the size of guinea pigs, which the women roasted on a wooden spit, fur and all. They looked like rats but were tasty. During shooting yesterday the Campas were distracted, shooting with arrows at something on the slope. I ran over and saw that they had shot a snake. It was pinned to the ground by several arrows, which it snapped at. We quickly filmed the scene, and once the poisonous animal had been killed we went back to work.

A Japanese doctor operated on his own appendix.


Walter arrived yesterday, bringing word that the Huallaga was stuck even worse than before. His plane was loaded almost to capacity with two hogs, which I assume were brought alive, but I did not ask for details because I did not want to have my mental image taken away: of the little Cessna with two massive hogs belted into the passenger seats. The freight also included three large turkeys, one of which keeps spreading its tail for me, gobbling, and putting on a great show of agitation. This turkey, this bird of ill omen, is a pure albino, so it is quite a sight when it fans its great white wheel, spreads its wings with tips trailing on the ground, and puffs up its feathers. Snorting in bursts, it launched several feigned attacks on me and gazed at me with such intense stupidity emanating from its ugly face, which took on a bluish purple coloration and had tumorlike wattles, that without more ado I pulled a feather out of its spreading rear end. Now the turkey’s sulking.


Little Michaela was riding the albino turkey today,with her mother, Gloria, holding her on, and the turkey played along good-naturedly. In a tree near me there is a spiderweb, so sturdy and closemeshed that it is filled up with heavy rotting leaves like a shopping net, and all the time I have been here it has not been torn off, even by wind and rain. In the woods I found a fleshy plant that keeps its upper leaves rolled up and pointing skyward, as if praying. There is a delicate vine, resembling a fern, that spreads so flat over the bark of the trees up which it climbs, wafer-thin, lovely, and deadly, that I often thought it was only painted on in dull enamel. Moss grows on lianas, and in the knobby places where the moss is thicker, a leafy plant like slender hare’s ear grows out of the moss: a parasite on a parasite on a parasite.


An old man, who had been the last person living on a windswept island far from the stormy coast, with the mail boat bringing him onions and flour only now and then, died one evening with the natural casualness of all things out here. Days later a very large fish was caught on the dead man’s fishing pole, still in the water.


Last night Kinski got little sleep because on the big, swaying liana suspension bridge near his cabina lot of fornicating was going on. One of the ladies from Iquitos had selected the swinging bridge as a particularly suitable spot, where she laughed and joked with her suitors before the panting and groaning began, and the bridge swayed and creaked an accompaniment. Apparently she promptly gave H.P. a social disease. Reverend Father, my fat Dominican, thou who so firmly vouched for these ladies, I would gladly do without the globs of fat in my soup and without the bread for breaking, but please restore my lack of faith! I did not see God today. According to the statistics, 85 percent of all existing species are beetles and insects of various sorts, so where are we on the scale of God’s favorites?


Something must be said about the majestic misery of the jungle. I was awakened by a strange, cackling bird I had never heard before and was annoyed that Dagoberto had not recorded it, even though I had no way of knowing whether he might not have done so after all. Our kitchen crew slaughtered our last four ducks. While they were still alive, Julian plucked their neck feathers, before chopping off their heads on the execution block. The white turkey, that vain creature, the survivor of so many roast chickens and ducks transformed into soup, came over to inspect, gobbling and displaying, and used his ugly feet to push one of the beheaded ducks, as it lay there on the ground bleeding and flapping its wings, into what he thought was a proper position and, making gurgling sounds while his bluish-red wattles swelled, he mounted the dying duck and copulated with it.

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