Two weeks before flying home to Hungary for the summer I got an email inviting me as a performer to Nespresso's unveiling of a new, Peruvian coffee flavor. Even though the gig was set for the day after I land (with a 6 hour jet lag), it was too intriguing to pass up.
The event took place in the Budapest central library that used to be a palace back in the day, and some of the reading rooms still look like they are out of Harry Potter. I love that building, and used to go to the
archive.org to find Hiram Bingham's journals on the discovery.
Plot twist: Bingham was not the first person to find Machu Picchu. Not even the first European. Also, being a white dude at the turn of the last century, his journal was peppered with off-hand comments on the "Indian race," and at one point he called the Conquest of Peru a "charming classic." I really had no love for the guy, but a gig is a gig, and the journal did contain some nuggets that I could work with.
So I did this: I painted the image everyone (including me) usually has in their mind about the discovery of a "lost city" - and then I structured the story around disassembling it. Ad one: Hiram Bingham wasn't the first explorer to find the city. Ad two: He wasn't even looking for Machu Picchu. He was looking for Uiticos, the last capitol of the Incas. (Here I also added a bit about the fall of the Inca empire and the Spanish conquest - another interesting rabbit hole I went down, browsing some of the chronicles that have been published in Spanish and English. It balanced out the eurocentric tone of the journals). Ad three: He didn't exactly cut himself through the jungle to get there. There was a road, and the locals also knew the way to the ruins (they just cared more for the terraces that were still great for cultivation).
I rounded off the story with the part of Bingham's journals that I could appreciate: His deep admiration and respect for the beauty of nature. I lifted his description of the first time he saw Machu Picchu, and the way he recognized that the world needs to find out about the place, and learn about the history. The moral of the story was not that the explorer was perfect or heroic; it was that sometimes the right person at the right place is the one that sees beauty in hidden places.
Also, coffee. Definitely coffee.
Piecing this story together was an interesting challenge. I like working with historical stories, and you don't get gigs like this very often: The client knows exactly what they are looking for and gives you clear instructions, but also allows enough flexibility for the story to really take shape, and fit with your own storytelling style. Arrangements like this are ideal for both parties, and if you are as research-inclined as me, they are also tremendously fun.