“When you shoot an elephant, it stays on its feet for ten days before it falls over” (Werner Herzog)

Iquitos, 29 June 1979

When you shoot an elephant, it stays on its feet for ten days before it falls over. When I got back on the ice after two minutes in the penalty box, a puck struck hard from a short distance away smashed into my head. There was a pulsing flash of light before my eyes, and I became weightless. On the boat to Belén: roast alligator was served. Women delousing children, children carrying much too heavy burdens held by forehead straps.

Boats passing, everything in slow motion. A large pile of empty tortoise shells. Chickens tied by the legs, swinging in an empty-looking radius. At night the cooking fires glow. Enormous fish at the market, fruit juices surrounded by swarms of flies, filth. Children playing marbles between the houses’ stilts. Vultures that spread their wings like Christ on the Cross and remain in that statuelike position, presumably to cool off or to drive away itching mites. In early times it was interpreted as the posture for prayer, and because of the mites the eagle became the favorite heraldic bird for coats of arms. Cattle heads, skinned and bloody, on a hand cart. The women crouch in the brownish water, doing their laundry. In a bar a man was lying on the floor unconscious, dead drunk. By fifteen most of the girls already have one or two children. This city seems to be inhabited exclusively by children. Today is a holiday. In the evening up the Río Momón by boat.

An entry from Werner Herzog’s journal Conquest of the Useless, which records the difficulties he faced while making Fitzcarraldo.