After the archivist tried to sell me a document that day in Cuzco’s archives,
a drama started to unfold, or something that had the potential for drama.
His immediate superior (over whom the mantle of political protection did
not extend) began to worry about his job. If things went missing, he could
be held responsible for what the other man had done. We came up with a
solution that both put his mind at ease and made me very excited: I would
draw up a constancia explaining exactly what had happened that day in the
archives, in case it was ever needed. Then I would get it notarized.
The thought of entering a twenty-first-century Cuzco notaría got me up
early the next day, with my one-page document—my best stab at a concise,
formal explanation. ‘‘To whom it may concern: Let the record show the
following, so that responsibility will not be attributed to other people who
perform their duties in the Archivo Regional with all honesty. Atenta-
mente,’’ and my signature. Then I went o√ to see the notary, an elderly
gentleman who had been in business for over fifty years. Behind the front
counter, the large, golden number ‘‘50’’ was still a≈xed to the wall from
what must have been the big fiftieth anniversary o≈ce party. People were
coming in and out with various kinds of papers to be notarized: parental
permission slips, and so on. Various assistants were attending to the cli-
ents: three (sometimes four) men and women with work tunics over their
clothes and a reassuring air of professional competence, moving back and
forth between two old, clattering typewriters and the large front counter
that dominated the room. Sometimes they slipped into the back o≈ce for
a signature. I’m sure I must have sighed with contentment as I settled into
a chair to take it all in.
Eventually I made bold to approach the counter myself and express my
desire to meet the notary. This must have struck the notary’s assistants as
novel—foreigners didn’t usually ask to see a notary—but they politely
relayed my request to the inner o≈ce. I did not have long to sit musing on
the similarities between notaries’ o≈ces and convent visitors’ parlors be-
fore I was escorted to the back, where the notary greeted me kindly. And
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