A 1997 trip to deep Peru retracing the Shining Path.

A 1997 trip to deep Peru retracing the Shining Path.

[Huaraz, Peru; Marianne Gillet and myself [Photo: Bruce Kay] August, 1997]

With great pleasure, we introduce Talker’s new foreign correspondent, Dr. Bruce Howard Kay, Brighton High School ‘81.

The “Brighton Globetrotter,” Bruce has easily surpassed us all. As a foreign service officer, holding a PhD in Political Science from the University of North Carolina, B.K. has worked on four continents in: Washington D.C, Peru, Albania and Iraq, along with lengthy posts in Tunisia, Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala, and the Republic of Georgia.

Many a Holiday season he has entertained and educated us with tales from abroad. This week, we looked backward to 1997 when I had the good fortune to visit Bruce in Peru. Bruce now lives in suburban Maryland with his wife and two children.


me (standing) and Bruce (sitting), college days, Rochester from Providence and Ann Arbor

At the time, Bruce was completing a post-doc on Peruvian politics, having just finished his dissertation on the Shining Path, the Maoist guerilla organization that in 1980 began a long campaign to bring communist revolution to the people of Peru. In 1997, remnants of the Shining Path still operated in the Peruvian countryside.


the lagoons of the Cordillera Blanca (left to right), Patricia, Marianne, me, Bruce

Then living in Rhode Island, in August I left for Lima. A charming young Frenchwoman, Marianne Gillet joined us from graduate school in California. Amongst other things, she and I spent August 1997 walking amid the lagoons of the Cordillera Blanca talking about Flaubert and Madame Bovary  and el amor.

While most of our time was spent in “tourist activities,” such as seeing the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, Bruce and I—leaving the group—also partially retraced the terrain of his research: the path of the Shining Path where three years earlier Bruce had witnessed government commandos “pacifying” territory in which Shining Path guerillas were active.


Bruce and me, Machu Picchu [Photo: Leslie Kramer who would join Bruce and I for part of our Peruvian adventure]

Sister and brother Leslie and David Kramer [Photo: Bruce]

August 1997, deep Peru

ShiningPat, Five Years Poster

Shining Path, Five Years Poster

I had the opportunity to literally retrace Bruce’s thesis starting with the Shining Path’s birthplace in the central Andes to the dark forested Amazon to the outskirts of the capital city, Lima.

First, we had to climb the Andes into deep Peru. I remember Bruce carefully inspecting the wear on the tires of each potential bus—like a master dentist probing teeth. One faulty tire and a bus could careen over the mountainside edge.

After a harrowing ride up the Andes on a night in which our bus driver played chicken with oncoming drivers, we arrived in the Andean city of Ayacucho where Shining Path militants in the 1980s strung dog carcasses from lamp posts, auguring the coming class war.

There we encountered a Holy Week procession. Bruce said participation was encouraged. So we took a place as pallbearers in the resurrection float, Bruce flanking the float amid an escort of campesinas (female peasants). I distinctly recall peering into the float at a spring-activated Christ figure. Bruce waved at me not to get too close. When the spring released and Jesus rose, I realized had I stayed put, a blow on my forehead surely would have knocked me cold.  What an odd way to find God.


Ayacucho, Holy Week

We moved into the Amazon where Shining Path was still present. Although there were checkpoints and garrisons, I was struck by how normal life seemed. Having been exposed to propaganda about the guerrillas’ viciousness, I expected the killing fields of Kampuchea.

Bruce explained that the Shining Path had settled down into making some serious cash protecting coca farmers, jettisoning their Maosim like an ugly sweater. Early on, the movement worked in indigenous communities with the aim of “strangulating the cities,” and did garner peasant support. Seventeen years later, however, its dream of revolution had evaporated in a cocaine fueled haze.

Given the Shining Path’s ideology that framed religion as the opiate of the masses, I didn’t anticipate such effusive Holy Week processions. As Bruce explained, the Shining Path rejected religion in favor of “scientific revolution,” and Peruvians had rejected them.


Female soldiers, Shining Path [date unknown] From a website called Hotties in History whose sexism patronizes the seriousness felt by the women in their cause

In the small country town, we were free to wander. I did see a few armed men and women, but they were self-defense militia organized to fight guerrillas. (At some points, the Shining Path had recruited female soldiers.) The overall atmosphere was peaceful.


Shining Path leader Comrade Artemio, 2012

A local festival or carnival was taking place. I watched as Bruce mingled with the pueblo, speaking in Spanish or sometimes the indigenous language.  I could see how Bruce was able to gain so many authentic stories as he collected fieldwork evidence for his thesis.

At one point, townspeople invited us to drink with them. Bruce said it would be impolite to refrain but warned me about their unusually strong fermented beverage made of roots. Apparently, for men, the drink was a staple (maybe for centuries), possibly having aphrodisiac effects. I only took a couple of sips but was overwhelmed by its power — as if hit by the spring-activated Christ figure–and astounded by how much those around me consumed.

on the path of the Shining Path

Cuzco [Photo: Robert Kay who along with wife Barb joined Bruce and I for part of the Peruvian adventure]

On our way back to Lima, we ate in a restaurant where years earlier Bruce had been stranded during a nationwide “armed strike” called by Shining Path during the peak of the troubles. In these nationwide prohibitions against mass transit, working bus and taxi drivers were sentenced to death. He was sitting at an outside table when a taxi exploded on the other side of the square, sending fragments of glass and twisted metal everywhere. That day we saw people taking afternoon strolls and selling chicklets.


tunnels of Chavin de Huantar (Callejon de Huallas) Marianne, Patricia, and me [Photo: Bruce]

Back in Lima, we returned to our tourist indulgences but I viewed our pleasure seeking with a new perspective.  Incidentally, while the statute of limitations is well up, we are not at liberty to reveal everything  that happened in Peru, August 1997.

Two replica Incan erotic sculptures I bought in Peru. (left) Ceramic vessel, erotic art Moche culture 100 AC – 800 AC; (right) a gay orgy.

Peru 2

On the plane trip back from Peru, the vessel to the left was shattered.  My then girlfriend Deborah Goldberg worked at the Metropolitan Museum. She asked a Met restorationist if the vessel could be repaired. Almost miraculously, it could, and he did. I offered to pay, but the restorationist said the restoration was a labor of love. [Photo: Metropolitan Museum restorationist]

Approaching twenty years later, Bruce — who has been back to Peru on several occasion — says the Shining Path still does have a presence in the jungle but one growing dimmer by the year.

On another thesis (made into cinematic fiction):




From Tirana with love. And a dash of Pristina.


On Clinton era nostalgia, Rhode Island style

About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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