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Dispatches

News and notes from around the world

Illustration Peter Oumanski

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An Egg and a Prayer

A spiritual healer works her magic in a Lima market / James Dorsey

LIMA, PERU – Doña Yessy listens intently to the guinea pig in her hand, wrinkling her nose as the rodent writhes and squeaks. The woman is short and plump, her dark hair tucked under a bowler hat. Satisfied with what she’s heard, she flattens her voluminous petticoats, stuffs a wad of coca leaves into her cheek and then delivers the diagnosis to her patient.

La Doña is a curandera, a spiritual healer who operates from the Witches Market in Lima. She performs her rituals at a rickety stall, one of scores set up beneath the market’s big tent. Each stall holds a small altar, where incense burns next to magnets whose purpose is to draw evil spirits out of the body. If that doesn’t work, there is special paper money one can pay them to leave. Some of the stalls have banners advertising websites.

A small, unkempt, tired-looking woman enters La Doña’s stall and, after being beckoned to do so, lies down on the operating table. The woman has been very ill and has traveled for days from her mountain village to visit a curandera, which is as close to medical help as she is likely to get.

La Doña places her hand on the woman’s breast, nods and pulls out the guinea pig. For a minute or so, she moves the critter up and down her patient’s body, as if conducting a kind of CAT scan. Next, she holds the animal to her ear in order to discern whether she needs to place a broken chicken egg under the table beneath the woman’s heart or bring in an armadillo, whose long snout will help root out evil spirits.  

The guinea pig squeaks. An egg is produced. The woman on the table seems relieved. Armadillos are expensive.

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Minor Works

Paris has the Louvre, New York has the Guggenheim, Somerville has … this / Phil Primack

MASSACHUSETTS – Sitting in a café in Somerville, Mass., just outside Boston, Judith Klausner stares at bits of orange scone on the table before her, wondering whether to eat them or put them on display. “I’ve always played with my food,” Klausner says, still eyeing the crumbs. “My parents’ rule was that I could sculpt my mashed potatoes as much as I wanted, as long as I ate them.”

Other childhood preoccupations, the 28-year-old artist continues, were “museums and tiny things.” Not long ago, Klausner acted on these interests, opening what she believes to be the world’s smallest freestanding museum. “The mayor gave us an honorary, itty-bitty business license,” she says, smiling.

Wedged between a sandwich shop and a pub in the city’s Union Square, this micro gallery—16 inches high, 10 inches wide and simply called The Museum—has a neo-classical facade and solar-powered mini-track lighting. Currently on display are nine two-inch circular oil paintings. And while Klausner, as founding curator, feels uncomfortable putting her own work in the museum, there is plenty that would fit right in.

Klausner’s art tends to be made from things like food scraps and insects. Her portfolio includes a moth in a lightbulb, a praying mantis in a music box that twirls to a tune from “Swan Lake” (the bugs are dead when she finds them, she stresses) and a series of Victorian-style cameos carved into the icing of Oreo cookies.

“The trend right now in major art is bigger and bigger,” Klausner says. “But we’re thinking small to think big.”

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Udder Catastrophes

When Hinduism’s revered animals get injured, help is at hand / Leslie Patrick

JAIPUR, INDIA – A siren blares and lights flash as an ambulance shoots through Jaipur’s twisted, congested streets. Crowds part to let the fuchsia-colored vehicle pass, aware that it and the patient within are headed for the Help In Suffering hospital, which is where most of the city’s sick cows end up.  

There are 280 million of these sacred animals roaming India. Most of the time, the careening tuk-tuks, trucks and taxis miraculously avoid them, but now and then a cow’s luck runs out. Then there are the animals that fall down wells, or become ill from the plastic they consume on India’s trash-strewn streets. For such occasions, the country employs a vast network of cow ambulances.

Bal Chand has driven these vehicles in Jaipur for three decades—he started out as a boy, he says, mostly because he needed the money. “Back then we used a rickshaw. Now we have a modern ambulance with a hydraulic lift.” Even with such amenities, the job isn’t easy. “It’s very frustrating to shift a cow into the ambulance,” he says. “You need five or six strong men.”

On a typical day, Chand will respond to as many as 20 calls, dispensing painkillers, dressing wounds and transporting seriously injured animals to a bovine ER. He relies a lot on the assistance of strangers, but, even in cow-friendly India, finding volunteers for this arduous and dangerous work can be hard. “Some people help,” Chand says. And then he shrugs, “some people don’t.”

When asked why he continues to subject himself to the physical and mental strain of the job, Chand responds with a broad smile. “I love animals,” he says, “and animals love me.”

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Quiet Riot

Making a racket at an improv show for the deaf / Marcia Adair

HAMBURG – Six black-clad improv artists are acting out a series of scenarios in various film genres. As they lurch from noir to pulp to Western, chip packets rustle, chairs scrape, glasses clatter and noses are blown, but nobody seems to mind. As one audience member points out, theaters tend to get noisy when everyone in the room is deaf.

Among the more popular bits at Hamburg’s Sprechwerk tonight is a sign-language adaptation of the telephone game, in which a whispered phrase gets increasingly mangled as it is passed along a chain. The initial message in this one has a well-proportioned woman suggesting to her companion at a bar that it may be too warm for her to remain fully clothed. The conclusion, let’s say, is a triumph of creative gesturing.

At the end of the skit, the room erupts with roars of laughter, wagging fingers and stamping feet. “A lot of people think the deaf world is completely silent,” signs Louisa Pethke, a 28-year-old teacher. “But it’s never that.”

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Life in the Slow Lane

In the atlanta suburb of Peachtree City, the hottest set of wheels goes 19 mph / Allison Entrekin

ATLANTA – After the final bell rings on a Friday afternoon at McIntosh High, there’s a traffic jam in the parking lot as hundreds of golf carts wait to merge onto the narrow path leading away from the school. “There’s a golf cart crash once a day,” says Emily Bunker, a 16-year-old junior driving a beige cart with a disco ball hanging from the rearview mirror.
In Peachtree City, a suburb 40 minutes south of Atlanta, it’s legal for teens with learners’ permits to drive golf carts unsupervised, hence the thousands of whirring vehicles in the town. To Bunker, it matters not that her wheels top out at 19 mph, or that the police heavily patrol the city’s 90 miles of paths. “It feels so good to not have to take the bus,” she says.

Bunker wears her brown hair in a tight bun and says she wants to go to Duke. Some of the carts around her are kitted out with giant speakers, sliding doors and even undercarriage lights that change colors. “We all call golf carts ‘G-whips’—golf carts we whip around in,” Bunker says, waving to a guy with “Seniors” scribbled in shoe polish on his window. When the golf-cart logjam eases up, Bunker presses the accelerator and noses out of the lot. And while it wouldn’t be quite right to say the wind ruffles her hair, she’s at least moving faster than the unhappy few forced to make their way on foot.

Ten minutes later, at the fast food joint Chick-fil-A, Bunker swings into a golf cart parking spot (almost every place in town has a few) and cuts the motor. Inside, Bunker’s fellow junior Nancy Mullen sips a milkshake and ponders the question of why so many parents are willing to let their kids drive these things. “I guess they think golf carts are good practice for real cars,” Mullen says, dipping a nugget into barbecue sauce. “Kind of like bumper cars.”

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My cruddy valentine

By Matt Terry

Few days inspire such a befuddling cocktail of joy and dread as February 14. For the romantically involved, a day of grand gestures and intimate celebration awaits. For singletons, the outlook can seem somewhat bleaker, involving a combination of frozen dinners and lowly rom-coms. That being said, finding yourself alone on the most romantic day of the year might not be as bad as it sounds, as the following facts make clear.

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