Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Day at the Beach

June 30, 2011 – A Day at the Beach

While on the bus on my way to attend the writers group meeting that occurs each Thursday morning I have a sudden and inexplicable urge to listen to mournful classical music. I can’t think up an exact melody I’d like to hear, but a chord chimes in my head and I want more. Sometimes the soul just needs something deep and melancholy to absorb. My soul anyway. I guard the idea in my head to act on later and tune in to the selection the Cobrador (that’s the conductor/money collector on the bus) has selected. It’s not at all lugubrious. Soon the feeling fades and I stare out the window watching the world go by.

I’m getting to know Lima, especially Mira Flores. Lima is made up of many districts or suburbs (if my understanding is correct); San Isidro, Mira Flores, Ate, San Luis, Callao, San Miguel and Magdalena Del Mar to name a few. Katrina loaned me a map and I’ve been studying it to get the visual lay of the land so I don’t feel so thrown out to the wild when I go exploring. I’m recognizing building landmarks and streets. It’s interesting how foreign, truly foreign a new place can feel. The first week I was here I thought I’d never get the hang of the streets or understand the flow of traffic. And now, one month in, I think I could give directions by billboards and KFCs like Walter does.

I make my stop and transfer like a pro. It’s a warm day and by the time I’ve walked the eight blocks down and three blocks over I’m sweating and warm. I’ve already stripped off my jacket and rolled up my sleeves. Good thing it’s winter here or I’d be a real mess. It’s been cold for about the past week and I’m glad for the warmth, I just wish I hadn’t inherited the White family sweat gene. TMI?
After Victoria and I parse Rodney’s fun, myth-provoking story, we bid each other adieu and part ways. I head south toward the beach. First stop is Vivanda to pick up a gallon of Vanish Liquid for Casa Del Gringo per Walter’s request per Jose’s request. It’s for the laundry. I know I’m going to be walking most of the day and that anything I buy I’ll have to carry. I also know a gallon of liquid weighs about eight pounds. However, even equipped with this knowledge I also know I don’t want to walk all the way back to the store after I leave that part of the district. There’s a Vivanda on the bus route back home, but I’m not feeling adventurous enough to get off there and try to flag a bus down after shopping and possibly in the dark. I also like to have my chores out of the way first. I buy the Vanish, a bunch of bananas and some chifles. Good thing I’m walking everywhere or I’d have to lay off the fried banana chips. Before I leave Vivanda I make a stop in the bathroom so that I don’t have to pay .50 centimos to use a public restroom or use any of the stash of toilet paper I take with me everywhere. I’d been warned about Peruvian bathrooms beforehand and have found them to be better than advertised. But still.

I walk past the places I’d lingered at yesterday in Mira Flores, wondering if Javier, the fortune teller is at his post in the plaza and what questions people want to have answered in the cards. I hover in a bookstore reading covers and the first pages of books in Spanish. There’s a fantastic piece of art on the wall and I ask the clerk if the artist is a local and if I can take a picture of the painting. She tells me the artist is Sonia Estrada and yes.

On a whim I stop at Larco Mar to see if my once-met friend Rodrigo is working. He’s already gone for the day. I hope I leave his coworkers wondering about what a gringa wants with him. My plan for the day is to follow the path that parallels the ocean and see the Park of Love and then go further down to the Lighthouse and make it back to Cieneguilla before dark.

The sun shines today in Lima. It’s gorgeous. There’s been about a week of overcast and rainy days and the sunshine recharges me. I’m solar powered. Heliocentrically thrilled as I am, I’m not paying attention to where I’m going and nearly collide with an older, American gentleman. “Oh sorry,” he says. “Excuse me,” I say. “Oh whoopsie,” his wife says. I swallow a guffaw at that word and turn my focus to the path.

El Parque Del Amor is beautifully maintained.

The love statue is strange, and wonderful, and odd, and I’m not even sure what. So I take pictures. The park is overrun with an assortment of love-languished couples and foreigners such as I. I don’t feel such a ghastly tourist with my camera out since there are so many others with their cameras out. The tourists here make up the majority.

“Where are you from?”

“Hi. How are you?”
These are the kinds of comments I get from the park bum fellows I pass.

A hang glider swoops down low. I look up. The two boys in the glider both say, “Hola. Hi.” I give them an exasperated smile, wipe some sweat off my brow and keep on.
In between the Park of Love and the lighthouse I pass a boy with a backpack. “You’re Canadian?” he asks me in Spanish.

“No, I’m from the United States.”
“Oh! Do you know Michigan?”

“Sure,” I say.

“It’s cold there,” he tells me.
“You’ve been? Did you go in winter?”

“Yes. What is your name?” he asks.
I tell him.

“I’m Tupac,” he says.

“Like the last Incan,” I say, having read just enough about the Incans to know this bit of info and thinking that’s more likely than him being named after Tupac Shakur. This Tupac tells me that he comes from Cusco and the Incans and that his native language was Quechua. I make him tell me some things in Quechua. We talk of shoes and ships and sealing wax and he tells me I speak good Spanish. I know I need to learn so much more of the language, but I still like the little pat on the back. “Falta mucho,” I tell him. “Poco a poco aprendo (I still lack a lot. Little by little I’m learning).”

“Tu tienes una buena energia (you have good energy),” he tells me. He digs in his pack and pulls out a handmade bracelet and proceeds to tie it around my wrist. “Something to remember me by. A gift for you. It’s the colors of the Incan flag.” He sells handmade jewelry, woven things and fancier stone necklaces, and does a good job of product pushing. One sales trick is to get a potential client to hold the merchandise. Somehow or other this increases the probability of a close. I think I learned that on a TV show or I made it up. I don’t know where Tupac learned it because I doubt he went to sales school. But he knows the techniques. He shows me several necklaces, one made of green stones and one of tigers eye, laying them in my hands, telling me how beautiful they are. They are pretty pieces of jewelry, but I’m not an impulse buyer and since I don’t have an income of my own yet I have to be careful of every sole I spend. I don’t go for it. I’m not entirely suckered in. Although he’s told me the bracelet he gave me was a gift, he mentions food for his family and I give him one sole, but I’ve had a good conversation and taken his picture which is worth the price for me. Sucker? Maybe. Or maybe not. We both have a good energy, I think.

The lighthouse is tall. It’s cylindrical. It’s delightful. I take a picture of it while a man stands in front of it having some local boy take his picture and trying to get all of the lighthouse in the photo. After he’s done with his photo op he picks up and his bike and heads my way.
“Would you like me to take your picture?” he asks me in Spanish. I take him up on the offer and he takes several photos. “Check them to see if they’re okay,” he says before getting on his bike and pedaling away.
My coastal adventure comes to a close. I mark the descent of the sun as I walk to the Via Expresa and eventually get back to the bus stop. I’ve never gone this way home before and have to ask one of the bus keepers if I’m on the right side of the road to get home to Cieneguilla. He tells me no and points me the correct way. I take my life into my hands along with a crowd of others as we cross the street. This is standard for Lima. Street crossing is treacherous. Once again I defy death and go to stand on the edge of the curb peering into the distance to see if my bus is coming. I’m tired after perspiring out at least a gallon of sweat and carting around that gallon jug of Vanish Liquid all day. I don’t want to wait all night for a bus.

I’m in luck. I flag down the Molinero 49 with a double wave of my hand and get on board. It’s a crowded bus. Standing room only, and just barely that. I clutch the bag that has the Vanish Liquid so as not to clobber the girl I’m leaning over. I brace my feet and hang on to the bar above my head to keep from falling when the bus jars to a halt and when it shutters back to a start.

It’s all the clichés; a tin of sardines, a can of worms, a mess of humanity. Up close and very personal. The Cobrador eels in and out between bodies to collect fares. When one person gets off, two more come on. The law of the bus says if a seat empties the person closest gets it. There is one reserved bench seat on each bus for senior citizens, pregnant women, injured people or a parent with children. If it’s filled and all the other seats are filled, it’s first come first serve. Often riders will defer their right to the close seat to an older person or a mother and child. In the short time I’ve been here I’ve seen great kindnesses here in Peru. Tonight I experience one.

I think I might have to stand the whole way to Cieneguilla. The other day when I took this trip it lasted close to two hours. Now I’m willing my muscles to hold their positions for the long haul. I give the Cobrador my fare and switch hands on the rail. Twenty minutes go by. I’m staring abstractly out the window when I feel a soft touch on my elbow. I turn my head. A lady stands. “I’m getting off, would you like my seat?” she asks me. The other passengers standing near her are all men. Maybe she doesn’t think they deserve first come first serve policy. I wonder if it’s because I’m a girl that I get offered the seat. Or because I’m a gringa. Or because I’ve got a lot in my hands. Whatever the reason, it’s nice. I gladly take the chair and say, “Muchas gracias, señora, gracias.”

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dia de Los Pescadores

June 29, 2011 – Dia de Los Pescadores

Last night Walter drove into Lima to have dinner with Mary and friends. I was content to stay in Cieneguilla and actually relished the time alone. At about 7:00 he calls. “I’m having a guilty conscience,” he says. I rack my brains trying to think of something he’d have to feel guilty about with regard to me. Maybe he told someone my hair was always frizzy? Well, it’s true. I’m coming up with nothing. I wait with the phone to my ear. “I feel bad not inviting you to come along for spaghetti. I know it’s hard not to have friends. So I was thinking maybe you could come into town tomorrow morning and I’ll take you to the oldest hotel in Lima for some wine, to Barranco, and to see the sea again.”
“That sounds like fun.” Why the heck not?  I do have friends, by the way. Really good ones. Also I made a slew of new ones last week here in Peru all on my own. Mis amigos.  
“How about meeting around 11:00 or 11:30 in front of our spot The Haiti?” he asks. “After all, this is Peru.”

“Sounds good.” I confirm directions and hang up.
In the morning I eat breakfast, pack my snacks, gossip some with Geraldine about some of the Casa de Gringo guests, make sure I have some soles to pay for the bus fare and walk down to the bus stop. It’s a holiday. The Dia de los Pescadores. Which I finally get someone to say is in celebration of Peter and Paul. I guess James and John, those Sons of Thunder, and the other fishermen don’t count. Too bad. Maybe they have their own holiday some other time in the year. You don’t want to use up all your saints on one day, I suppose. I shrug. Good enough for me. I’m always down with days off work. For everyone.

Along the roadway through Cieneguilla people have set up stands decked out with kites. I don’t know if this is a special tradition for this particular holiday or if all holidays are a good reason to sell kites. I love kites.  I think back to the time my dad and mom took all us kids to the park and we flew this great and tricky box kite and another fancy long tailed kite which I might actually still have unless I threw it away because it smelled like mothballs.
There’s something really magical about kites. Maybe it’s just because of Mary Poppins, but I almost get off the bus to buy a kite and go stand in some open space to fly it.

I make it to the meet up spot just as Walter calls to find out where I am. Perfect timing. I jump in the back seat of his Mercedes and we drive down to the market, which is a street of shops. They’re looking for a potato masher to take to a friend in the States. The rule here is never buy from the first place first. The price must be compared and possibly bargained down. The quality of the masher needs to be evaluated. Finally a purchase is made. Walter and Mary have scheduled a tanning session so that when they go to Miami next week they don’t look too white. I leave my sleeves down and think if Mary thinks she’s too white then I must be Caspar. Good lord. What was it that Solomon said in Ecclesiastes, “All is vanity?” I think of the sun against my skin and sigh a little for my abandoned summer.

I get the option to wander the streets of Mira Flores alone or go to wait for an hour while they tan. I opt for wandering. I go by the Flying Dog Hostal. I’m supposed to find some adventurous souls to take a trip with Walter and me sometime at the beginning of August by car. I’m scouting out the tourists spots to see if I can find some fun travel companions who have money to split costs with us. I get buzzed inside the locked gate of the Flying Dog and wander through the Hostal and then sit and talk with a girl from Holland. I also pick up some information about some places to stay in Cusco since I’m leaving for there next week.  
I’ve been staying up too late and have a headache. I buy a bottle of water and then decide to go against my usual no caffeine stance and find a place to have an espresso. I’d walked by the Beirut Café before and liked it for the danger the word Beirut elicits in my mind. Silly sure, but there you have it. I scan the menu and feel a surge of delight when I see Hummus. The ingredients listed are all on my Good to Eat list. So I sit and order some hummus and an espresso.
The waiter is friendly. He brings me my headache thwarter and asks, “De que parte eres? (Where are you from?)"

“Tejas.” I tell him.

“Te gusta los caballos? (Do you like the horses?)"
It’s funny, but even in the States when I’ve told people I was from Texas they all assume I grew up on a ranch, wore cowboy boots, chaps and a Stetson and rode to school on a horse. Or if I say I’m from Dallas they get this crazy look and ask, “Do you know who shot J.R.?” I’ve never seen the show, but I have driven by Southfork Ranch plenty of times. Sorry kids, that’s as good as it gets from me.

When I pay my bill and get up to leave the waiter asks when he’ll see me again. I smile and just tell him, “Chau” (which I think is the way to spell Ciao here in Peru) and make my escape.
Across the street at the park, after I wander for a time, I find a seat and people watch.

A guy crosses in front of me, stops and asks, “You speak English, right?”
“Yes,” I tell him.

Percy’s an artistic type with tattoos and a leather bracelet on his wrist. He speaks very good English and makes himself right at home beside me. He asks all the usual questions. Where are you from? Why are you here? What do you do? How old are you? He writes poetry and puts it to music, “Like Jim Morrison,” he tells me. “I lead trips in the jungle,” he goes on, changing the subject.

“Sure, if you want me to be your guide, you speak Spanish?”

“I get by,” I say.

“I could translate for you and show you around Peru.”

I don’t find him to be good guide material, but that’s just me.

Percy asks me more about my writing and then says, “We could go out some time, get some drinks.”

I shrug, “I don’t drink much.”

“You smoke some weed?”

“I don’t smoke,” I say, with a wry smile.
“That’s weird, right? Writers drink and smoke to get their stories.”
A good majority of them do, I’m sure, but I don’t get into all that with him. He finally stands after offering his jungle guide services once again and walks away. He leaves the little plaza and heads down the steps where he immediately begins talking to another foreign looking guy. I’m sure his first words are, “You speak English?”

I inch around the circular bench to take a covert picture of Percy with his new English speaking victim. This moves me closer to a man who’d offered to read my fortune when I first stepped on the platform to sit. His mustache is nicotine stained and I unfairly assume he’ll smell like booze if I’m near enough to catch an odor off his body. While I’m settling back to resume my people watching an orange cat walks behind me, stops a moment to bat my hair and then moves on past. The cat heads over to the fortune teller and I try to catch a picture of the cat rubbing up against him.
The fortune teller looks over at me.
“El gato (the cat),” I tell him to account for me taking the picture.

He nods, smiles and scoots over near me. I look at his deck of cards and ask him if he does card tricks or fortunes.

“Fortunes,” he tells me in very good English.
“How much do you charge?” I’m sincerely curious.

“Five soles for three questions,” he says. He has fortune telling packages for up to 150 soles which he tells me is straight Tarot. I spin the idea of giving him five soles for three questions but I can’t think of anything I’d want to know from cards. To quote a character in my own book, “We make our own fate.”
His name is Javier. He spent five years studying and working in Houston, Texas. He tells me he once drove from New York to California and that when he was in St. Paul, Minnesota all the girls said, “Wow!” because of his dark hair and his black eyes. “They were all very white there.” He comes to the Mira Flores park every day to read fortunes. “I have nothing else to do and I don’t like TV.”

“Look at the cat now,” Javier tells me, pointing. That yellow cat eases down into a crouch and stalks some pigeons that are oblivious to danger and eating their afternoon snack of popcorn. “You should take a picture of that.” So I do.
A man on the bench opposite us stands and goes to shoo the cat away before he can get near enough to even try a pounce.
“Ah, a man who loves the birds,” Javier says. Even though his hair has turned from black to gray and his eyes may not be as black as they once were, I’m kind of in love with Javier. Just for being human.
That’s life, right?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

An Avocado Tree Climbing Adventure

June 28, 2011 – Avocados

It’s warmer today and for a brief while I unzip my jacket and hope the sun does manage to break through the cloud cover. It doesn’t. I stayed up too late for several nights in a row and I can’t keep on task. I read for a while. I put down 44 words of a short story I’ve been mulling over in my head. Then I erase half of them and write another couple sentences to bring my word count up to 45 words. I don’t normally keep such exact count of the words I write, but a one word advance in a story seems a small thing. Today I’m just not seeing clearly into the world of my imagination. I go to get some tea and by the time I get back to my computer I forget I wanted to look up information on the Nazca Lines. I stare at my computer thinking, “What was I going to do?”

Rats are dying in the roof of the main house. I think one is already dead because I can smell the poor little carcass as it decomposes. I’m not going to make an ethical stand about this for now; all I can say is that they’re killing off the rats to keep the roof and in the meantime the little victim is stinking up my office.
Tea in hand, I abandon my computer and the dead rat and take my book and go sit at the table by the pool, willing the sun to come out. Winter has a greater power than I, and the sun stays concealed.

I’m reading Steinbeck’s The Winter of Our Discontent (fittingly enough with regard to winter). The book starts out in a more or less omniscient point of view and then about chapter four it switches to a first person narrative. I’m curious to see if the story comes full circle and ends again in the first point of view. Maybe Steinbeck is going to kill off the main character Ethan. I’m ashamed to say I have no clue what this story is about. I’m learning the tale as I go from page to page.
There is one avocado left from the last Great Avocado Harvest and I’m planning on eating it for my afternoon snack. Now seems a great time to climb the tree again and get some more paltas (that’s Peruvian for avocado) down.

I go grab my bag, braid my hair (which is extra frizzy today), put on my Vibrams and go evaluate the tree. I look for just the right spot to work from. When I was a kid I climbed trees all the time. My sibs and I climbed everything really; trees, fences, rocks, family members. We scaled the inside brick wall of our den with our dad after we watched Spiderman. Dad was always coming up with the greatest games. The Spiderman game tested our agility, strength, grip, and bravery. The point was to scale the entire length of the wall to the door, cross the door’s opening by clinging and inching the way across the jamb to the other side of bricks where the staircase was and then worm from brick to brick until you reached the stairway ledge (which was halfway up the wall between floor and ceiling). If you stood up on the ledge you won the game.
All that to say, I have some climbing experience. I usually climb barefoot for better toe grips, but today I want to test out my Vibram Five Fingers.
More or less ready with my hair pulled back and my shoes on, I tuck in my shirt and zip my jacket up all the way. The tree itself is pretty dirty. I’m notsure exactly what is all over it. I see some parrot poop here and there, some spider webs. Then! There up above my head are some terrific bunches of avocados. Some of them hang way out from the main limbs and I’m not sure my weight will be light enough to inch that far out. I find a spot I think I can reach and using the old Three Point of Contact advice I learned from my eavesdropping on Boy Scout rock climbing tips, I make my way up the tree.

The first time I went up this tree it was a little scary. I hadn’t climbed since I was a kid. Not much anyway. I just haven’t had a lot of tree or gate climbing opportunities in the past, oh shall I say, fifteen years or so. But by now I’m accustomed to the height and know better how much weight these limbs can handle. I find a good branch and scoot out as far out as I can. Then I reach up to grasp a leaf. I pull in the branch and snap the stems that hold the avocados to the tree and toss my catch into the bag.

I’ve got about eight good ones and I’m contemplating getting down. But then I see it. A fat one. I want that avocado bad (Or badly, if I’m thinking more grammatically). I lean out, I adjust my spot on the branch. I lean out a little more. I’ve almost got it. Don’t tell my mother, or my grandmother, but perhaps I’m being just a little more daring than I should be. It’s a really tremendous avocado. The branch doesn’t let me down, literally, and I do get that much coveted avocado. I place it in my bag, string the straps over both shoulders like a backpack and make my way, using three points of contact at all times (at least 8 times out of 10), down the tree.
Now the trick will be waiting for the avocados to hurry up and ripen so that I can eat them.

I love you avocados.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Big Bad City Part 2

6/26/11 – The BBC Part 2

Remember how recently I had a minor freak out about money and jobs and life and “Oh my god, what have I done by selling all my things, renting my house, quitting my job and moving out of the country?”
Well, I’d almost decided that when my three month self-imposed trial period was over I’d use my return ticket and fly back to the States for a mo, maybe go see a friend in Sweden for a month and then figure out what to do with the rest of my life. Not that I was giving up here. I just wasn’t seeing how things were going to fall into place.

That’s the prologue.

Friday my unlimited internet became active and my World Wide Web drought ended. I email a query to an agent about my first novel and read about 14 of the many entries in Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “Freelancers Survival Guide.”
I have this dream about making my living with words. I love them. I love working with them, I love using them, I love turning them over and looking at them, finding how to refresh them, hearing the sound of them as they scratch across a page from the tip of my pen... So yeah, I know I’m weird, but words are pretty darn special to me.

There’s nothing wrong with
Wanting to be a full time writer
I am a writer
That’s who I am
That’s what I do

 I sometimes feel I have to justify this desire. I don’t know why I think this. Writing is hard work. It’s not a lesser kind of occupation. Writing is a craft, an art, a skill, a device, a fire lit road of torture and delight. The agent I queried sends me a prompt reply saying she’s received my email and will respond more in depth in two months after she reads the chapter portions and synopsis I sent. I cross my fingers.

Friday evening Walter and I work on his book for a while. I go to get my computer and when I come back into the office he has his mini-disco lights on and the music blaring. At first I’m a little leery. What the heck is this? I ain’t here for a party, bro, I’m here to do a bit of stenographing and that’s it. I sit down, open up a Word doc and act businesslike.
The lights are mesmerizing. The pattern reminds me of the time my younger sis and I watched the meteor shower together over the phone; she was in Texas and I was in Colorado. Watching those shooting stars flash across the dark Colorado night sky was one of the neatest things I’ve seen and sharing it with her made it even more fun. I think I nearly froze to death since it was the dead of winter and she’d called right after I’d gone to bed to tell me to go outside and watch with her. So I’d thrown a coat on over my PJs and stood with the phone up to my ear, my head cranked back to watch space and my teeth chattering.

Walter tells me the story about his trip to China with his daughters and their crazy friends when he bought the disco device. When I’ve typed all I can stand to type, he takes the disco-lights outside and we watch the kaleidoscope swirling of the green and red lights against the trees and grass and sky.
It’s like Christmas lights and fireflies and shooting stars. I remember my dad telling me that “drugs are fun, but dangerous,” and I think this would probably be even to watch cooler if I was tripping on acid. And it’s pretty cool already. Don’t worry, kids, I don’t have any intentions of doing drugs. Just say No!

Saturday morning I pack my bag with snacks, make sure I have some cash money, put on my tennis shoes and go to catch a bus to Lima to go to Katrina’s BBQ. This bus stuff is so old hat by now. At the bus stop, there’s a lady sitting on the bench next to me. A combi-taxi comes by and she gets up to ask how much it’ll cost for her to go to La Molina. She shakes her head at the driver after he tells her and comes to sit back down. Curious, I ask her, “How much did he say?”
Four soles,” she says.

“A lot,” I reply. It’ll only cost me 2.80 soles to get all the way to where I’m going and it’s a stop much farther along the route than La Molina. We fall silent. Then she asks me where I’m from and a conversation gets going. It just so happens we’re going on the same bus, the Molinero Express #49 towards Lima.
She asks me about the United States. I ask her what things I should be sure to see while I’m in Peru. She shows me a picture of her niece and nephew who live in Utah and/or California. I ask her where she’s traveled and where else she’d like to go. She asks me why I came to Peru and tells me about a European boyfriend she’d had and how she kind of regrets not leaving her family to go be with him. I tell her, it’s sometimes hard to know how to live so that you don’t have regrets and that we just do the best we can. After we’ve paid our fares and received our little ticket stubs she reaches over the seat back and hands me her stub. It has her name and phone number written on it. “If you ever need anything, just call.” I think she’d be someone fun to hang out with, to talk to, so I give her my number and she says she’ll call sometime so we can get together. I like these connections. I like the sincerity.
Cecilia gets off the bus at La Molina and I read the rest of the way to my stop. Katrina’s directions are good. The Saturday traffic is much less than weekday traffic and I’ve gotten to my destination nearly an hour earlier than I’d anticipated. Fortunately, the Metro Grocery store is at my stop so I go buy some things to take to the BBQ that I’ll be able to eat and also pick up some shampoo and conditioner while I’m there. Maybe I can tame the frizz that the humidity plagues my hair with. Maybe.

I dally and then I dilly a little and walk slowly the several blocks down and the few blocks over to Katrina’s apartment. The doorman asks my name and rings up to the apartment. I wait outside the gate. After a small passing of time he tells me, “Señorita Amanda, she didn’t answer.”

“I’m a little early,” I tell him, “I’ll just wait.” I turn away, prepared to wait outside there. He asks me if I’d like to come sit in the lobby and I say, sure, so he buzzes me in and I go inside.
South America and Peru and Peruvians have a more lax sense of time. Katrina had told me that she’d set the BBQ start time for 2:00 but didn’t really anticipate anyone showing up until probably 4:00. And here I am, startlingly early at a quarter to two.

I text her a few minutes after two o’clock to let her know I’m there and several minutes later she comes in from her excursion to the store and takes me up and we get working on cutting and slicing and boiling and cooking and prepping for the party.
I love this. I like the meditative rhythm of knife work (Ha! That sounds rather alarming). I like the way she and I can talk like we’ve been friends for a long long time. I like how she, and I, and her boyfriend Oswaldo make room around each other in the kitchen space as if we’d rehearsed this dance a million times before.

Katrina likes to cook and she has her weekly recipes to try on the refrigerator. She posts her recipes and the cooking results on her blog which unfortunately I don’t have the link to yet. While Oswaldo and I are cutting veggies she brings out aprons, “Who wants one?” she asks and I take one. I can be messy. I tell her she reminds me of Julie in the movie “Julia and Julie” or is it, “Julie and Julia”? Because she does.

After a while, some of the other guests show up and Oswaldo goes to play host. Katrina’s roommate Colleen comes in and we talk about home remedies (I hope I don’t bore them endlessly with ginger tea and green smoothie recipes) and prepare yucca, sweet potatoes, cole slaw, potato salad, and slew of other dishes. More people show up. Each introduction calls for a round of cheek kissing and handshakes. I meet a bunch of people all at once and know that their names are lost on me in the rush of greetings. I’ll have to catch up later.

Over the course of the night about twenty or twenty-five people filter through the apartment. The food is eaten and enjoyed. Dishes are dirtied and washed. Conversations in many languages play through the air. Spanish, English, and even French. I, a fourth generation Texas, feel immensely cosmopolitan as I’m leaning up against a door frame talking in Spanish to Victoria, who is originally from Moscow, and to Fabian who is French.
Later I sum it up like this:

At one point
A Russian
An American
And a Frenchman who says, “No Ingles, no me gusta. Mejor Español. Español es mas bonita.”
All stand talking together
In Spanish.

 I’m living an amazing life.

I feel like I’m living a life I’d
Once read about
Wondered about
And here I am
Really living

Around 12:30 two more people show up. One is a girl that has taken English lessons from Katrina and she’s brought a British guy with her who is traveling the world. He’s the same age as I am and over the course of the night and well into the morning we all talk of life, travel, politics, psychology, cultural differences and dialects among other things. At one point he says he’s looking for the line between, “Brash and blasé.” At one point I try to imitate his accent and he asks me, “Do I really sound like that?”

“No, not exactly” I reply. “But it’s the best I could do.”
“You have a less highbrow accent, more to the such and such part of London,” he tells me, “like the accents you hear in the movies.”

“That makes sense. That’s where I’ve learned my English accents,” I say, “but sometimes if I’m not careful my English accent turns into Australian.”
At another point he’s again talking about English the language and I get a twinkle in my eye as I ask, “You mean proper English then, don’t you, not American English?”

“You could see me thinking that?” he asks, somewhat abashed.
“Sure,” I say. I totally forget to tell him I know about Eddie Izzard and all about how to “talk British.”

I feel like a lifetime of experiences are given to me in one night. Oddly enough, a quote from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory comes to mind, the one where Charlie’s mother tells Charlie, “There are a hundred million people in the world.” It’s like I’ve met a portion of the most interesting of that hundred million (and yes, I do know that’s not really an accurate number) in one evening and feel like friends to them as well. How strange human connection is.
Earlier in the evening, and at the risk of being an imposition, I ask Katrina if it’d be okay if I stay the night. Taking a potentially three hour bus ride home doesn’t seem like a really good idea to me and she agrees with that. She is super gracious and makes me feel at home and very welcome.   

At one point she tells me, “My roommate is moving back to the States at the end of August. You should think about moving to Lima and being my roommate. I bet you could teach English classes like I do. I know several people who I could refer you to.” In the blink of an eye, in the uttering of a few sentences, an ovalo (a roundabout) appears in my mind, spinning out new directions to choose from; a Robert Frost Road Not Taken kind of moment.

Now, after all these words, I can go back to what I was saying in my prologue. All at once, I can see myself staying here longer. I can see myself teaching English to bring in some money even while still keeping my writing as the main priority in my life. It may not be adventure trips right off the money, but this is an adventure already for me, no matter what I do. Diverging roads? Sure, I think,  

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The Big Bad City Part 1

6/26/11 – The Big Bad City Part 1

Thursday morning I pack up my messenger bag with some snacks and walk down to the bus stop to take my first solo trip to Lima. I had found the Peru Writers Group!/pages/Peru-Writers-Group/124675254241703 online and was invited to attend their weekly Thursday meeting. I figure this is the perfect time to try out my transit skills. The trip by bus from Cieneguilla to Mira Flores takes me two and half hours. Walter had given me directions. “You’ll see the big sign for Sodimac to your right and you’ll go through the ditch. Go past that then get off the bus. You’ll have to walk back half a block to the aluminum bridge and buy a ticket for the metro and then take it to Ricardo Palma.” I get out at the correct stop and walk my half a block. I give grateful thoughts to the time I spent buying transit tickets in NYC, DC and Dallas which make it easy for me to buy my Metro card from the kiosk. I wander down the corridor and ask a guy if I am on the right side of the platform to go to Ricardo Palma. At first he thinks I mean the Ricardo Palma Medical Center. I tell him I mean the Avenida and he sends me to the train that goes the opposite way. He doesn’t lead me astray. I get off on Ricardo Palma and see the Banco del Credito and the Luz del Sur buildings Walter told me would be there as landmarks.
Eight blocks down Ricardo Palma later I turn right on Commandante Espinar. I think I’m headed the right way towards Chiclayo Street which should be three blocks away. This is where Madre Natura--a health food store--is. The group meets on the patio in back of the store. After what seems like three blocks to me, I ask a lady who is standing at the corner next to me waiting to cross the street if she knows if Chiclayo is up ahead. She thinks for a minute and then takes me under her wing and escorts me personally to the entrance of the store. All the while she practices her English while I respond to her in Spanish. She wishes me luck and I say, “Gracias.”

I’ve given myself just the correct amount of travel time and am only four minutes late to the meeting. Two writers are already there. We introduce ourselves and chat while we wait for the other three to show up.
Their group reminds me very much of the critique group I was a part of in Colorado Springs and the Expats include me in their meeting as if I am a longtime friend. I feel right at home. After the meeting one of the girls, Katrina, invites me to her house for a BBQ. She draws me out a detailed map and says she hopes I can come.
My return directions seem a little more complicated and I ask my new friends to point me toward the right bus for home. While we’re sitting still, they exchange some stories about adventures they’ve had on buses. Ben says that one time some guy stood next to him on a bus and played a three string violin—badly—for 45 minutes. They tell a few more stories and I can just imagine the kinds of adventures I’ll have by bus myself. I just don’t think it’ll happen as soon as it does. When we all get set to leave and say our goodbyes, Katrina walks me to the bus stop and waits to make sure I get on safely before heading on her way. After I take a route that seems to go in a complete circle, I have to transfer to another bus and successfully get on the right one to Cieneguilla.

The buses all have a driver and a person who opens the door, yells out the stops to get riders to climb aboard, and collects fares. This particular driver looks a little rough around the edges. The door person isn’t so bad, but he seems a little boisterous. I settle in a seat and prepare for a several hour trip home. The driver takes his time through Lima. Stopping extra long at each stop, which makes the passengers angry and many of them begin to slap the palms of their hands against the windows while yelling, “Avance, señor, avance.” Which basically mean, “Get a move on, dude. We don’t have all day to waste in this bus.”

It seems like the more the passengers get riled up the more the driver slows. Any minute I expect we’re going to have a bus riot against the driver. He takes a right hand turn and one lady stands and yells at him to pull over. He does and the doorman opens the door. She berates him and the driver. “You said you stopped at such and such a corner,” she yells, “this is several blocks past and on the wrong street to boot, you lying dogs. You’re both drunks and you are a god-awful driver and it’s a pity your mother didn’t raise you better.” That’s a paraphrase of what she said, but she was angry as all get out for sure.

The door closes against her words and we take our slow voyage on. “Avance, avance,” the backseaters yell. I’m starting to agree with them. This driver doesn’t seem to have any kind of concern for his passengers or for road safety. We’re through the main streets of Lima and hit the road through the mountains to Cieneguilla. Suddenly, as if to make up for his slowness in the city, the driver pounds the accelerator to the floor and gets the bus moving in a frenzy of speed.
 He passes vehicles on the right hand dirt shoulder (if it can even be called a shoulder) as if all road laws are at that second revoked. When we reach an intersection an SUV inches close to pass. The driver cuts the SUV off. A street later, the SUV tries again and gets around the bus. Personally insulted, the driver speeds up, and nearly causing an accident, gets in front of the SUV. He maneuvers the bus to block the two lanes and leans out the window to yell back. “You think you can pass me now? Do it. Try it now. You too scared to get around? Come on!”
Holy smokes. This guy is freaking loco, I think. I once watched a movie where one of the characters says, “It’s a good day to die.” This dude must have woken up with that thought on his mind and unfortunately for all of us in his bus he didn’t just expect the phrase to apply to himself.  

Somehow, three hours later, by some miracle, not really any worse for the wear, the bus manages to make it to my stop without crashing or burning or the people rioting. I step off and walk the rest of the way back home. Now I have my own bus story to tell and I’m sure it won’t be the last one.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Winter of My Discontent.

June 21, 2011 – Birthdays and the Winter Solstice

The days are darkening quicker and quicker. The winter solstice hurries in. By six o’clock the sky gives over completely to night and I feel as if it’s midnight. I want to curl up in bed and sleep. It feels to me as if I just got through winter. Oh right, because I did, somewhere on the other side of the equator. I already had my winter solstice once before. I think, “The winter of my discontent happened the summer I lived in Peru.” I’m not discontent; I just like the sound of the poetry. It’s raining a lot these past few days. Rain here in Cieneguilla is a drizzling softing of moisture. The cold seeps under your skin and lays a blanket of shivers around your bones. I put on an extra jacket and wear socks with my sandals—I don’t feel the shame I probably should for committing this horrible fashion faux pas.
I really should apologize

One of Walter’s longtime friends, Edwin, comes over on Sunday afternoon to shoot the breeze with Walter. He’s one of those guys who likes to have a lot of girls around him. Walter tells him, “Don’t try anything with her. She’s a world champion in Judo and she’ll hurt you.” I don’t deny it, though I was never a world champion, never even a national champion, but sometimes a little lie serves a greater good. Edwin doesn’t come on to me directly. He does, however, try to get me to agree to go away and come back with two of my friends for him. “Tell them I’ll give them Spanish lessons. They’ll learn Spanish in six months, no, better they stay for a year,” he says, his eyes twinkling with mischief. I laugh. “And do they need to know how to cook and clean?” I ask. “Oh no,” he says, “I’ll serve them on a silver platter, like this,” he takes the ash tray off the table and demonstrates, “breakfast in bed every day.” I can only shake my head at him.
“Have you finished your career?” he asks me, meaning my college education. I tell him yes and he says, “So you’re what, twenty-five?” It’s a nice compliment and he can tell I think so when I say, “I’ll be thirty-three tomorrow.” I’m glad about my age, I like where I am, but isn’t there always something nice about being thought you look younger than what you are? I guess not always, I didn’t really appreciate it the time the cashier at Tom Thumb thought I was twelve years old when I was seventeen. “Did you ride your bike to the store?” she asked me.  
“Your birthday is tomorrow?” Walter asks from the other room. “Really? I guess I’d better take you into Lima tomorrow after all to fix your internet then since it’s your birthday.”

My unlimited internet access had turned out to be a controlled plan and for whatever reason, one that completely confounds me, it isn’t possible to upgrade a plan over the phone. I’ve been using Walter’s mobile internet chip to check my emails and scurry around online when I can. I didn’t realize how much I like to be linked in on my own, how I like my independence and how I like reaching through cyber space to stay in touch.

On Monday June 20th I do indeed turn 33. My sister calls it “Your Jesus birthday.” I like that, though I hope for my sake I don’t end up on Golgotha. When we cross paths in the kitchen Walter says, “Happy birthday” and gives me a fatherly hug. Jose and Geraldine smile big and tell me, “Felicidades.” It’s Monday (as if that means anything bad to me here in Peru), it’s raining, it’s cold, it’s winter, but none of that matters. It’s funny how celebrating your own life can be so satisfying.

About 11:30 Walter and I catch the bus that takes us to Lima. It’s crowded and as people get off and on at the many stops there’s a constant shuffling of seats like the game fruit basket turnover. I take pictures in my mind of all this but not with my camera because today I don’t want to feel like a tourist.
 The street cleaners wear masks as they sweep the dirt sand dust out of the street and back onto the medians or into a trash container. Is it human nature that drives us to make order of the places where we live? Here in Peru the people make order of the dirt, sweeping it, taming it, even while it settles down on everything and everyone.

At Movistar it only takes the girl a few keystrokes and clicks of her mouse to alter my internet plan. Walter had to go with me to do this because the plan is under his phone number and his Peruvian DNI (which is like a social security number) and his signature is required on the papers she prints up for us. I ask her twice to make sure this new plan is really one with unlimited internet access and repeat the amount (which is less than what I thought I’d be paying per month for the original plan I had) per month a few times. She must think I’m stupid, but she reassures me. Although we’ve got things squared away the new plan won’t activate until Friday the 24th. I can handle a week without constant internet access, I tell myself, even as I plot to use Walter’s device when I can.
We have to wait a long time on the corner of the street to flag down the right bus to take us home. Half of the buses that go to Cieneguilla don’t stop at the roundabout. “They leave you in the middle of nowhere,” Walter says. “You have to be sure to ask them if they go to the Ovalo.” Thirty minutes goes by. Maybe an hour. I’m a little tired of waiting and getting hungry so I pull out an apple. “You came prepared,” Walter says. I smile and keep on munching. You don’t want me to get too hungry, I think. Always be prepared, my motto intones in my head. I should have offered him an apple too. A birthday gift apple to him. Now I wish I had. I won’t be that rude again I tell myself now.

Eventually we get on a bus. Right away Walter starts talking to the man next to him about Peruvian politics. I listen with half my mind and with the other I daydream, staring out the windows, watching the people in the bus around me, and listening to the chatter.
Humidity + hair = frizz
Somehow Walter and his new friend have brought their conversation around to food. Walter points over to me and says, “She doesn’t eat meat. Can you believe she only eats fruits and vegetables? I don’t understand how she can stay in such good condition.” Despite his disbelief, when we near the Cieneguilla market he asks if I need any food. I’m grateful for the chance not to have to climb the hill that goes from the house to the market so I get out of the bus and call back, “See you at the house.” I get enough fruits and vegetables to last me several days, a half kilo of quinoa, and some Chifles as a birthday treat.
With a drizzling mist descending on me, I walk home, grateful for the time to myself and for the exercise. It’s a good day to be alive. It’s a good day to be me.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pisco Sour

June 18, 2011 – My first Pisco Sour

Late Friday afternoon Walter asks if I’d like to go to one of his favorite spots in Cieneguilla to get a Pisco Sour. The idea is agreeable to me so off we go.

Peru’s national drink is the Pisco Sour. It has rum, lemon, egg white, pisco, and who knows what else. Since I don’t eat meat and therefore choose not to try many of the Peruvian foods I decided that I’d have a Pisco Sour one time and in that way experience a Peru specialty. I know it’s not vegan and I usually practice great care in not drinking alcohol (for health reasons) except for the occasional glass of organic red wine – but nevertheless.

The restaurant is beautiful. We sit at a great stone table that reminds me of the stone table that Aslan was sacrificed on in the Narnian Series by C.S. Lewis. A waterfall cascades over itself next to us. Walter hassles the staff who he knows by name.  “Two Pisco Sours, Edgar,” he says. “The way I like them.”

Pisco Sours in hand, we toast. I take a sip. It’s strong. Rum, lemon, nutmeg.  I like the subtle taste of the nutmeg. Does nutmeg count as a garnish?

Making small talk, Walter asks me what my first impression of him was when I met him at the airport. Sometimes these kinds of questions can be so awkward. I tell him that he was shorter than I expected and then quickly waffle out of my end of the conversation. I’m not sure what information he’s fishing for. Maybe, like a guy, he just wants to hear “Sure, I’d do you.” But I can’t say that. And I don’t. He tells me that Mary had been really angry when she heard I was coming. And Walter feared that I’d be some Marilyn Monroe type and he’d be in a world of trouble forever after.  “Not that you’re not attractive,” he back peddles, “but you’re just so wholesome. Mary knows I like girls that are trouble. So she was relieved when she met you.”

It’s nice to know that I’m not a threat.  I also like knowing what people’s impressions of me are.  It’s fun to contrast those images with what I imagine of myself or don’t imagine.

We get a second Pisco Sour. I’m already feeling it. I’m a little more lightheaded than I’d usually like to be. But the stress of my other world problems (having to do with internet access and an outstanding mortgage payment on my home in Colorado) lighten too and I don’t think that’s all bad. I put myself there in the moment and enjoy it for what it is. Something like happy hour on a Friday evening in Cieneguilla, Peru.

Walter eavesdrops on the conversation of the table next to us and then stands up to go join in their conversation in order to get some insider tips for me on what I can do and see when I go to Barranco (the hotspot for musicians and bohemians in Lima). I join him there at the edge of their table. They’re slightly tipsy and are soon calling us all by first names as if we’re the best of friends. Perhaps we are.

“Mary doesn’t like that I talk to everyone,” Walter says. “She thinks she loses hold of me when I do that.”
Some relationships are like that, I guess. Always contrary.

We go back to our table. And then from his seat Walter starts talking politics to the world at large. He does this a lot too. With anyone he comes into contact with in fact. To the guy on the bus, to the lady on the street corner, to me, to the taxi driver, “What about Alan Garcia? And can you believe this stuff about Keiko and Humala? What is going on with Peru?” The political stance he takes now makes our new friends and another table happy. So happy in fact that they both try to order us another round of drinks. The waiter brings the drinks and I’m not exactly sure which table pays for them. When our new friends get up to leave they give us their phone numbers, “Call us when you go to Barranco. We’ll meet you there,” they shake Walter’s hand, kiss me on the cheek, “Ciao.”

Three Pisco Sours for me. I’m feeling more than a little tipsy and laugh at myself as I take the effort to speak carefully, and when we get up to leave, to walk carefully, straight. My youngest brother used to say, “All the Whites know how to hold their liquor well.” I’m not sure if I do or not, at least it’s inside.

On the way home we stop at another restaurant on Walter’s whim. His friend Pietro Tremendo, an Italian who runs a restaurant in Cieneguilla, welcomes us in and shows us all around. He’s very Italian, very friendly and I like him right away. He used to do Judo and we talk Judo a little. Those old glory days. He pulls out a bottle of “The best drink,” and takes us into the restaurant where he sits us down, pours us shots and he and Walter talk and talk.
Whatever he gives us is strong with lemon and maybe tequila. I’m having quite a night out on the town. I sip very very slowly.

When we get back to the house, I place my feet one in front of the other and head carefully to my room. I go straight to sleep and eleven hours later wake up, surprisingly enough, without a headache.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Day in Mira Flores

June 18, 2011 –

On Wednesday I went into Lima with Walter. We were going to go by bus so I could learn the way on my own, but we ended up taking a taxi the whole way. The taxi driver drove like a race car driver. Fast and furious and effectively. The speedometer needle flickered spasmodically between 40 and 60 mph as if it didn’t know quite how to handle the variances of speed it was always subjected to. At one point, when we arrived to the city, the driver leaned out the window and folded his side mirror in to enable his car to squeeze through a tiny space so he could advance in the lane. “The way Peruvians make more lanes than what are on the road is just like how Jesus fed all those people with the loaves and fishes,” Walter told me. And it’s true, these drivers will make five lanes out of three. The queues of cars uneven and each one trying to find an opening to keep moving forward.

 Walter had to go to the Dentist so I walked around Mira Flores on my own. I’d been looking for a good ticket to get to Cusco. I’d found some spectacular deals online but they were prices only for Peruvians. I was beginning to think I’d have to hitchhike. Walter suggested I go to a few of the travel stores in Mira Flores and check out their rates. So I did. I went to three different ones and got quotes. They were all fairly similar. I’d found a good deal online for foreigners with Peruvian Airlines. As I wandered I saw a Peruvian Airlines office and went in. The quote was about 20 dollars cheaper than the other places I’d been that morning so I went ahead and bought a ticket to Cusco from them. I’ll go for a week in July.

After taking care of my point of business I wandered the streets. I stopped at The Haiti, a restaurant I’d heard was a hot spot. I sat and drank an espresso and watched the people walk by. Like a tourist, I asked the maître de if he’d mind taking my picture. “Why would I?” he demurred. “It’d be my pleasure.” One of the waiters stood behind him telling him to raise the camera just so to get the best composition for the photograph.

I walked to Larco Mar stopping to look at old buildings and fun stores along the way. Once at Larco Mar I sat and watched the waves crash up onto the rocks, listened to the sound of the sea that blended in to the sounds of the city. Some time passed and then a group of Peruvians in native garb marched in to the front of the platform and performed several dances. After they finished their dances they posed for pictures for all the tourists. I had mine taken with some of them.

 I blend in, right? Okay. Okay. So I don't blend in that much. How about now?

I stopped at a couple of the stores inside the Larco Mar center. With my Cusco ticket in my bag I decided to look through some books about Cusco and also one of Lima. The boy tending the store stopped to answer a couple of my questions. I asked him if the Museum of the Inquisition was near enough to where I was to walk to. He said, no, and that it’d be better to take a taxi since I was alone and I’d have to pass through a little bit rougher part of town. He gave me some other advice about taxis to take and ones not to take.
When I got ready to leave he said he was just getting off work and would walk with me back to where I was going to meet Walter. His name was Rodrigo. He’s studying Political Science at the University and talked my ear off as we walked. I told him I was interested in going to Barranco at some point. Barranco is a spot for musicians and bohemians with lots of live music and parties. He gave me his number and said he’d love to go along with me if I did decide to go.

I caught up with Walter and we grabbed another taxi. We’d gone a little ways when Walter tells the driver to pull over. He got out of the cab and went down the street to talk to someone. A while later he brought over a character of a man with an old lamppost. Walter was going to buy it but had to go to the bank to get some money. So we packed in the man and the lamppost and all went together to the bank.

 The man told me the lamppost was 400 years old, to be sure and not let Walter paint it, all he needed to do was clean it and it’d be beautiful. He bared his shoulder to show me how he’d been hurt from carrying it all across town. He told me of the twenty years he’d been out collecting antiques and how wonderful everything that he had was.
When Walter got out and went to the bank, the character had me take a picture of him and his lamppost as a reminder.