On June 19, 2010, Annamaria Alfieri was the guest poster on Murder is Everywhere. In an introduction to the following post, Leighton Gage wrote, “
Today we’re pleased to welcome Annamaria Alfieri.
Deadly Pleasures Magazine called her book, City of Silver, one of the best first novels of the year.
The Washington Post said, “As both history and mystery, City of Silver glitters.”
And I couldn’t agree more.”
As a history teacher and someone who knows very little about the colonial period in Latin America, I was delighted to find CITY OF SILVER. On July 14, I posted a review of the book on this blog. It is a satisfying mystery wrapped around a window into lives centuries past in a country, Bolivia, about which we are taught little.
Enjoy the author’s insights and then find CITY OF SILVER and enjoy this wonderful book.
Patricia King writes for Murder is Everywhere:
“Picture the most powerful city in the Western Hemisphere, the same size as London, a place that has dominated the economic life of the planet for a century. Its upper classes are mostly white, consumed with displaying their wealth in the form of the latest in luxury goods and sumptuous parties. The thankless or dangerous work is done by a brown underclass of people largely of South American Indian or mixed Indian and Spanish blood. At the moment, the city is on the brink of economic ruin, because its dominant men have manipulated the financial system in a way that will affect the economies of countries around the world. The troubled among its citizens console themselves with strong drink or fundamentalist religion.
Sound familiar? New York City in 2010, right?
Well, yes, but it is also Potosi, in the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru in 1650.
The most fundamental thing about Potosi is its position. At 13,500 feet, it was then and is now the highest city on earth. What could possibly have brought 160,000 souls—noblemen and beggars, the covetous and zealous—to live in a remote and desolate land where not a blade of grass grew, in thin, icy air, buffeted by awesome storms and bitter winds? Only one thing: Money. Literally, tons of it.
In April of 1545, the Spanish arrived and claimed a red canonical mountain that turned out to be the richest silver lode ever discovered. Despite the hostile natural environment, over the next century, the city attracted Indian and Spanish miners from all over the Altiplano and western South America.
At first, silver was so close to the surface that it had been exposed by erosion, and so pure that it hardly required refining. And the riches were shared among all—Indian or Spanish—who worked the Cerro Rico (rich mountain). Twenty percent of all that was taken was loaded on mules and llamas to make the three-week trip to the coast at Arica, where it was sent to the King of Spain.
The city that grew up at the base of the mountain became a lovely Spanish place with a cathedral, monasteries and convents, palaces of noble (actual or pretended) Spaniards and their wives, a theater, and a mint to stamp coins, which came to be known as doubloons in the pirate adventure stories of our childhoods.
The buildings were decorated by native artisans in a style called Mestizo Baroque: as ornate, complex and beautiful as Baroque churches in Rome or Vienna, but with motifs of jungle animals, exotic plants, and Indian faces.
By 1650, however, the veins being exploited were deep in the mountain, and the mine owners required mercury to purify the silver. To maintain the flow of wealth, the Spanish instituted a system of enforced labor called the mita, little different from, some say with no difference from slavery. The work was so dangerous that tradition says, in the villages where men were impressed into the mita, their relatives played dirges for them as they marched away.
Potosí still exists as a city of 105,000. In 1986, UNESCO declared it part of the Patrimony of Humanity. Its architectural masterpieces have largely been restored and can be enjoyed by visitors.
Miners still work the Cerro Rico. Until recently, they have taken mostly tin and copper from the mountain. But the media have reported that lithium, perhaps the metal of the Twenty-first Century , has been discovered there.
The life of Potosí is about to change again.”