The Grotesquerie

One of my favorite parts of going to Peru was wandering through all the little markets in Iquitos and Lima. It was exactly how you might imagine it: a small, dusty storefront. A man sitting lazily behind the counter with a cigarette watching soccer as you wander to the back of the store. The back, seeming to stretch out before you as if by magic, revealing oddities and strange items choking under a layer of dust.

I felt like Indy in search of ancient artifacts. They had a knife that I would never use yet I really wanted solely for the cool aspect: the hilt had a leather anaconda and various local animal figures worked into the leather. Unfortunately, the top of the hilt had some weird embedded fish skull with teeth in it that just took it to the “weird” level so I couldn’t justify it- and I doubt it would make it through customs anyway- but man, they don’t have that at the flea market down this way.

I ended up sticking to the usual tourist items- textiles, some jewelry trinkets, that sort of thing. But it was amazing to see how pervasive and how casually animal bits and parts made their way into tourist wares.

Remember that scene from Gremlins where the guy grabs some random mogwai in a strange and sinister shop of mystery and enchantment? It was kind of like that. Maybe those are gremlin vertebrae in that necklace.

Snakeskin also a popular choice, it seems. You pick one up, then put it back.

You think to yourself, yes, ย I am going to get this for my dad to match his singing bass for Father’s Day. You ask the mysterious shopkeeper if it sings, and he says no. You sigh, and keep looking.

The mysterious shopkeeper tells you, you can’t forget Mom, either. Perhaps she would enjoy a sculpture honoring childbirth. Though you do give the artist credit for a realistic expression of agony, it doesn’t seem to fit her Victorian garden pixie style.

You pass the section reserved for biologic specimens for budding entomologists. This reminds you too much of your college lab tests.

“What, you don’t like anything?” asks the mysterious shopkeeper. You shake your head. Too pedestrian. So he brings out a rare treasure: a toucan beak pipe. Made of a real toucan beak. You shrink back, appalled. “No animal parts, senor.”

So he returns bearing the his rarest of treasures, one last shot at tempting you into a purchase:

As you can see, he does have gremlins after all. What the heck?

This was all from the local market places. I didn’t even get into Belen yet, the famous floating market. I’ll have to tell you all how we, despite all the warnings, still fell victim to a clever thief while we were there.

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  • Tamara

    ๐Ÿ™ Sad that the Toucan became a pipe ๐Ÿ™

  • I, too, have an amazing photo of the “joy of childbirth” statue, which will soon be featured on
    We sure saw some unpleasant animal carcasses in Iquitos.