Friday, 16 January 2015

Saved by the name

 Who was the inspiration for Indiana Jones?

George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg are said to have modelled him on their childhood action heroes: matinee idols like Charlton Heston playing Harry Steele in Secret of the Incas, and pulp fiction adventurers like Doc Savage.  

There are some real life candidates too: British explorer Percy Fawcett who disappeared in 1925 searching for El Dorado in the uncharted jungles of Brazil, or Hiram Bingham, famous for rediscovering and excavating the lost city of Machu Picchu.

Wherever he came from, Indy´s look is now iconic, and I like to think that someone, somewhere was channeling tio Hernan - especially when I see photos like this one.

The fedora, the battered leather jacket, it’s all here and something tells me our young artist relished the sartorial aspect of being a roving archaeologist. The only thing that’s missing is the bullwhip.

But the bohemian adventurer look is not to everyone’s taste. Tello and his team garnered a certain amount of fame and were held in high esteem throughout Peru. But when travelling incognito, as was often the case, they sometimes drew disapproving looks from the more conservative members of provincial communities.

In these smaller towns and villages, with their entrenched social hierarchies, appearances mattered. What´s more, some people reveled in their role as big fish in small ponds, and took full advantage of their position -  as you will see in this story.

 fig 1

Saved by the name
 In which our adventurers ruffle the feathers of the local powers that be

When we arrived in Abancay it was already after three in the afternoon and lunch was no longer being served at the Chifa Hotel. Nevertheless, the owner very kindly sent for some food to be prepared for us.

Meanwhile, an energetic drinking competition was in full swing in the hotel bar, with much brotherly shouting and slapping of backs. And judging by the rosy hue on the faces of the participants, a very cordial time indeed was being had by all.

It was plain to see that the group was being waited upon attentively. I’m sure that had nothing to do with the fact that among them was a local police official. (I can’t remember now if it was a captain or a major). It was certainly more due to the kindness of the hotel’s owner, Julio Santos.

Don Julio was a very hospitable chap who, among other talents, played the violin and the piano very well. Right now, he was busying himself around the hotel and keeping a watchful eye on his guests who were smoking and chatting boisterously. He made sure that their glasses were kept full. It was always a good idea to keep a police officer happy, especially in a business which depended on the sale of alcohol, and where all kinds of messy situations were easily apt to arise.

We were eight for dinner, and as everything had to be freshly prepared, our host began to issue orders to the cook and arrange our table for us. I should say at this point that Don Julio was completely unaware that his guest was none other than the famous archaeologist Julio C Tello, but even if he had been, his hospitality could hardly have been more warm and considerate. We could not have asked for better service in spite of the singular appearance of our leader which did little to signal that he was any person of note. 

He was wearing his old, worn boots and a small cashmere hat, patched over with squares, that he had found in the market in Ayacucho. In fact our appearance as a group left a lot to be desired with our well-worn jackets , the hats and the long hair. Not to mention the persistent attempts of some colleagues to grow stubbly beards.

fig 2

The police official seemed a little put out to see that the owner of the establishment was diverting his attention somewhat from himself and his friends. These new arrivals hardly seemed worthy of such consideration. They were strangers and, what’s more, looked like nothing more than common traders or country folk. Unless of course … No impossible! As if these ruffians could possibly be the members of the scientific expedition that was rumoured to be coming to Abancay?

Whoever we were, the official, despite his visible distaste, managed to ignore our intrusion. Until a few minutes later when, finding his glass empty, there was no one there, standing to attention, ready to refill it. 

Thankfully Don Julio rushed to serve him just in time, but by now the captain's face was rapidly losing its former expression of bonhomie 

A few minutes later and the glasses and bottles were empty again. Damn it all, this was intolerable! He threw us a disdainful glance, rather as you might expect from the Lord God himself on the final Day of Judgement. 

It was obvious that he blamed us for the disgraceful neglect of his host. His expression was ominous and although we couldn't really give a fig, it made for rather an unpleasant meal. 

There was no other solution than to pretend not to notice.

If Tello had been of another nature, he could've announced his impending arrival to the local prefect and been splendidly received, not only by the the local politicians, but by academics and intellectuals alike. But he preferred to travel as much as possible incognito. All the publicitty surrounding his archaeological discoveries, which may be milk and honey to some, was repellent to him. He actively disliked public functions and receptions which he saw as a waste of his valuable time. 

Don Julio, meantime, had to go out to get some provisions. By the time he hurried back the police official’s face was thunderous. His peevish voice reached us from across the dining room.

“Right. We are not being looked after here. We’re leaving!”

Don Julio, in his anxiety to please his important guest, tried all kinds of reassuring apologies, but nothing could sooth the captain’s fevered brow.

“No sir, I repeat, we are not being served here. We are leaving now this minute!” And with that he paid his bill and left.Top of Form
Bottom of Form

 To be honest we all breathed a sigh of relief. There’s nothing quite so disagreeable as to be sat under the gaze of a person who pulls rank on you when you’re not even in the army!

More or less ten minutes had gone by since the police captain and his companions had made their dramatic exit, when another officer arrived.
“Hey you,” he approached the owner,  “the police chief wants to see you.”

It was pretty clear to all of us what this was about. Don Julio was indignant, but not wanting to make a bad situation worse, he calmly replied that he would come along to the station directly and began to gather his things.

Now it was Tello’s turn to be furious. He stopped the owner as he was about to leave: “Listen, you tell the police chief that you have been attending to Doctor Julio C Tello.”

“Thank you doctor.”

Don Julio left. But only a few minutes later he was back wearing a triumphant expression. It wasn’t long before another police official arrived. He had been sent by the head of police to offer an apology to Tello and all our party. Not only that, he wished us to know that he and the whole force were at our complete disposal for the duration of our stay.

One wonders how differently things may have turned out had Don Julio been serving another customer, who unlike Tello did not have the weight of a famous name behind him. Who knows, maybe he would have had the dubious pleasure of spending a night in the cells.

fig 1 and 2 
stills taken from Sucedió en el Perú: Julio Cesar Tello broadcast by TVPerú - Televisión Peruana

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