photography and text by Lina Vergara Huilcamán

pelicans in the street stopping the heavy traffic. calm. looking around. cleaning their feathers with their long beaks. not one. ten pelicans. sometimes twenty. sometimes only two. sitting on the roofs of parked cars. they wandered around among the cars completely indifferent to the horn blasts. completely indifferent, they stopped in the middle of the road as to think over. before they took off with their enormous wings. a real traffic jam. a mess. on that street that separates the harbour from a little fish market in Arica, Chile. -every now and then a pelican dies- my mother says as she drives. -run over by a tourist, for sure. you know they are always here. everybody knows it. you only have to drive slowly.-
I came back on foot. with my camera. to understand. to get in that small madness that here seemed to be everyday life. in that place stained with white liquid shit fallen from the sky. with a strong smell of fish. a scent, if compared to the intense and carnal smell of the sea-lions at the harbour on the other side of the street. undisturbed, I photographed them. without drawing too near, otherwise they would have run away.
those enormous birds wandered quietly in the fish market’s passage. and nobody chased them away or seemed to notice them. -they are stealing. they are thieves.- a man says behind my back while I continue to take pictures -as soon as the fishmonger is distracted they get in and steal the fish- I laugh.
a winged animal -one metre tall, with a wingspan of at least two metres and a beak that seems a long spear- walking undisturbed and looking careless as it waits for the right time to steal the fish. a daily game in which everybody participate without doing anything to stop it. I turn towards the man that has spoken. a shoeshine sitting on a wooden box. light blue. I draw near. he invites me to take a seat by his side. on another box. white. a bit dirty. I can’t help noticing it. I sit down. -I have a good time with them- he continues -but sometimes I give them a good brushing. no. they don’t bite. they open their beaks. sometimes people are frightened. but they don’t do anything. they are smart. look how they wait for a moment of distraction. they call each other with a radar. when there is some good fish. look. look now. it is trying to steal.- I look at him as he smiles and chronicles the actions of our friends the thieves. -sometimes fishmongers give them some fish. so that they go away- we hear a loud honk behind our back. I turn around and see a couple of pelicans stopping the traffic. in the middle of the street. impassive. while cars nearly brush against them swearing at the wind -pelicans are deaf- he tells me -this is why they don’t move when cars honk. they can’t hear them.- I realize that I don’t know anything about pelicans. and about many other things. I only have the basic notions. those that anybody who watches television and has visited a couple of zoos may have. I look at the man sitting by my side that continues to polish a very old shoe.