Opinion – Josimar Melo: The delusions that rarefied air causes


You have to choose: you can walk or talk. One or another. Because doing both things at the same time becomes a risky, asphyxiating activity. Almost an extreme sport, when you’re at 4,000 meters high and lack oxygen.

I found this feeling a few weeks ago, traveling to the Sacred Valley of the Incas, in Peru. Leaving Lima, at sea level, in a few minutes by plane I was in Cusco (3,400 meters above); and from there to the archaeological site of Moray (where I would visit the Mil restaurant, by Pía León and Virgílio Martínez), even higher, 3,600 meters above our city of origin.

Guided by the chefs and co-director Malena Martínez, we still climb the slopes with local members of the Mater project, which they lead there. Long and incredible story, to be told right here at Folha. But for the moment, I take a deep breath to remember another aspect — the thin air, perhaps an inspiring component (with the irony of the term) of the creative civilization that once flourished there.

If you’ve never been there, imagine how revealing it is that there are oxygen tanks for new arrivals at the airport in Cusco. I noticed this on my first (and late) trip to the region. In 2011, from Cusco I went to Machu Picchu, descending a thousand meters, which does not relieve anyone who is not acclimated to the rarefied air.

Already on that trip I thought about the effects of hypoventilation on the imagination. I had raised the subject years before, drinking ayahuasca in the Amazon — unfortunately, not in an indigenous community, but in a Christian group that subverted the original telluric rituals by dressing them up in ceremonies defiled by rampant puritanism and boring “hymns”, mediocre tunes repeated to exhaustion. , glorifying biblical characters alien to forest beliefs.

All this with dances that resembled more a European polka than Amazonian rites. The tea produced hallucinogenic effects (in addition to seasickness worthy of a tidal wave), but I didn’t see any Jesus-Joseph-Mary in the singing of the believers.

Claiming that I was sick, I sat silently, despite the harassment of the ritual inspectors. He imagined that, dancing for hours on end and singing nonstop, the oxygenation of those people was impaired, which, added to the action of the ayahuasca, should produce the hallucination that was wanted, even of the foreign biblical characters.

And at the height of the Andes? What would naturally rarefied air produce in this case? Apparently, for millennia it has led our ancestors there to save energy, use it sparingly and wisely, to the point of creating, in inhospitable situations, extremely sophisticated agricultural research systems, of which Machu Picchu or Moray are witnesses.

And, of course, they also fueled myths and religions, but that are not a privilege of altitude, only testimonies of human ignorance (and rich imagination).

I myself, leaving Machu Picchu, thought I saw things from beyond. After a long visit, escaping the rain that was starting, I was called by two figures that seemed to have come out of some space dystopia, or a hallucinogenic dream.

Up close, I saw then that they belonged to a strange but not alien tribe—the chefs. Dressed in colorful raincoats that covered their faces, there was the Peruvian Gastón Acúrio, who for his work as a cook, researcher, aggregator of all aspects of gastronomy, is by far the most important chef in Latin America; and the Spaniard Ferran Adrià, the main chef of this century until now.

They were there in the flesh. So it wasn’t a rarefied air prank. But it did.

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