Saturday, 30 April 2011

Ugly Stories are human stories ...

This morning a package arrived addressed to Dr B but containing a present for me of the book Ugly Stories by Enrique Mayer. It was a wonderful surprise to get the book because I had been looking at another book of Enrique's online in recent weeks but hadn't even spoken to Stephen about that. I'd been looking at a book called "The articulated Peasant" and wondering about how a similar sort of title could work in urban and semi urban settings. The subtitle "Household economics in the Andes" triggered some passing thoughts on oikos, oikoumene and economics - how might economics or ecumenics be articulated in our different secular and ecclesial contexts? Perhaps I'll even have a chance to return to these passing thoughts one day.
Mayer is professor of anthropology at Yale University where the site says he:
cializes in Andean agricultural systems and Latin American peasantries. His work has shown that regions characterized by diversity (such as mountainous environments, small islands, and "marginal" lands), not suitable for agribusiness, are exploited by peasants in strikingly similar ways. Worldwide, peasant forms of production predominate and persist in these environments. These agricultural systems are important to those concerned about world genetic resources, or about environmental conservation, and to scholars who seek an understanding of ancient and yet also very contemporary Non Western rural life-ways.

I have never travelled to Peru nor have I ever met Enrique Mayer (yet), though it did make me smile that in some of the reviews of "Ugly Stories" he's described as "of Peruvian ancestry". I grew up looking at pictures of my parents wedding and being shown a good looking young man on my father's side of the family, someone I never saw at family parties, "that's Enrique" I would be told and his name always sounded splendidly exotic compared to the other members of the family. I suppose he is my second or third cousin and I did manage to engineer a meeting between Stephen and this part of my family when Dr B was travelling to Peru in 1996. By chance Enrique was also there, in part researching for what would eventually become "ugly stories". Over the years news of my family in Peru would reach me through both expected and unexpected routes - an Oxfam worker lodging with my landlady in Oxford who had worked with Maria Scurrah née Mayer - their aunt Lotte Carrive telling me my own mistakes in German mirrored those of Renate Millones née Mayer - and also regaling us with exploits of buying handbags when visiting (and embarassing) the family in South America.
Anyway it is wonderful to have a copy of Enrique's book for so many reasons. I've already devoured the introduction, acknowledgements and first chapter over breakfast. I was moved by his desciption of the painstaking way the book finally came into being - discarding much that was written more than a decade ago and then finally writing approximately a chapter a year each summer, relying on the encouragement of others, feedbook from those he read some of the stories to. It spoke to me of how things can come to fruition even after a long germination and growing time. Ugly stories are both human and deeply political, the book meshes together oral stories with scholarship. I'm looking forward to devouring more of it on my travels in coming weeks. And through reading I in some way get to meet the young man on my parents wedding photos as well as discover new areas of history.
I do also have to admit that the gift of a book at breakfast did not stop me buying further books from the Librairie Centrale at our trip round the market this morning.