Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Birthday Party and Advances by a Real Dog

July 26, 2011 – A Birthday Party and Advances by a Real Dog
As the burgeoning socialite that I am, I get invited to a birthday party. So Saturday early afternoon I walk up the hill to the market to buy some sweet potatoes and then catch the bus from there into Lima. Katrina, wonderful as always, says I can come to town anytime and hang out at her house until the hour we have to head over to the party. That way I don’t have to go a new route in the dark to a different part of town all by myself.

After I write that sentence, I envision myself as a frightened little child holding a security blanket and standing alone in a corner too id to pass through the door for fear of what’s on the other side. I am not that frightened child (just an imaginative thirty-three year old), but it’s nice to go to a party already in the company of friends.

I get to Katrina’s house just in time to watch Peru whoop Venezuela’s ass in fútbol (So sorry, Rafa). While I’m wondering just what has happened to Vega, Venezuela’s goalie, who is normally a ball-stopping, powerhouse fiend, I’m also oven-baking some sweet potatoes. Katrina’s apartment has it all (This includes a shower that has water pressure and hot water that defy the stereotypical standards of a third world bathroom. I’ll have to post my opinions on Peru’s third worldness at some other point).
Mid-game Katrina and I split a sweet potato for an afternoon snack. “I have a business proposition for you,” she says.
"Okay,” I say. “Tell me.”

“How would you feel about writing a few lesson plans for me? I’ll pay you for the work.”

I haven’t made any money since mid-May when I quit my job. And I hate that sometimes in my mind I associate my own worth to monetary gain. Granted, my house is being rented and eventually, at some point in time, maybe the next millennium, I’ll be making some money off of the rent. For now the funds pay my mortgages and associated homeowner’s costs and leave just enough to pay for the repairs that were made to make it truly a rentable place. When all that is settled I’ll receive a small pittance that, if I’m smart, I’ll set away for future home improvements. That aside, I don’t have any incoming monies.
Sometimes a woman with a baby in the shawl on her back will get on a bus I’m on and ask for money. In the back of my mind I always think, “You, my friend, are gainfully employed. I know I look like a rich American because of the color of my skin, but you might have more than me.” Well, maybe. There’s room for a lot of discussions in these blanket statements I’m making. The main issue here is that if I keep spending money at some point I won’t have any left.

So when Katrina says, “I’ll pay you for the work,” this sounds like a great idea to me.
She’s been overworked and says that if I can help her by writing a couple lesson plans for her English classes then it’d be well worth the expenditure for her. Done. We all but shake on the deal and go watch Avincula kick an assist to Guerrero for Peru’s fourth goal against Venezuela. I fall in love with Avincula for his name and Katrina crushes on Guerrero for his dimpled smile.

We can hear all of Peru rejoicing. Even Sergio Markarian, Peru’s dyspeptic coach, breaks into a full smile and does a raised fist victory dance.
I wasn’t sure he had it in him. But I saw it myself on television. Way to go, Peru! When Diego, Katrina’s student, arrives he says, “All of Peru will be drunk before 5:00.” From the fourth floor apartment where we are we can hear the joy. I don’t doubt it.

I join in on Diego’s class for some conversation. Then I sit and work on some lesson plans while they go on with the day’s assignments. Katrina plays a video clip about the horror in Norway and then preps Diego to write a short essay on arms control. Unable to contain myself I ask, “Do you know what Norway’s Prime Minister said?” I’m a little overcome with emotion. “He said, “We will retaliate with more democracy.” How I wish that had been the United States of America’s response to the 911 attacks. I admire Jens Stoltenberg immensely for this and I pray for the peace of the world.
(This person had many of the same thoughts as I had and also there are more great quotes from Jens Stoltenberg: http://cassandrafiles.com/2011/07/23/we-will-retaliate-with-more-democracy/)

I apologize for interrupting the lesson and return to my work.
When Diego’s class is finished Oswaldo comes over. We put on our coats and collect our things and head out the door.

The birthday party starts at six o’clock. Now this is Peru, and start times are more like guidelines (like the pirate code). Tonight we’re celebrating Juan Carlos’s birthday and Victoria (his wife) told us, “You don’t have to come on Peruvian time. You can show up right at six o’clock if you’d like.” It’s 6:20 now. And we have to travel about half an hour to get to their house in Callao. Also I hadn’t known what kind of gift to bring and Katrina hadn’t either. So we talk gifts and decide to go look for something to take along. There are some shops within walking distance of the apartment, but we don’t find anything in them that really says, “Happy Birthday, Juan Carlos!”
As my grandmother says and her grandmother said before her, “When in doubt, wear pearls.” My new birthday motto is, “When in doubt, bring food.” We find a cake, hail a cab and are driven through many dark and winding streets to finally arrive at our friends’ house.

We’re two hours late. But we’re not empty handed. This feels important.
I’m not as Type A about the time as I’d have been a handful of years ago, but I do feel a little bad. “Please forgive us for being so very late,” I tell Victoria as I kiss her on the cheek hello. I turn to greet the celebrated one, “Happy birthday, Juan Carlos! Felicidades!”

Only one other partier is there already. A former coworker of Juan Carlos’s. She speaks very precisely; her words each finely enunciated and clear, as if she’s teaching a class. I ask her some questions (to get to know her, of course) and also so I can keep on hearing her talk. She also has a delightful way of pushing her red framed glasses back up to the top of her nose with the middle finger of her right hand. I’m mesmerized by this motion. She reminds me of a windup toy with her exact movements; something like a mix between a music box ballerina and a Barbie Teacher Doll with glasses included.
Caption reads: Where's Oswaldo
There is a veritable feast laid out on the table. A real banquet. What food! Victoria and Juan Carlos had assured me there’d be plenty of fruits and veggies and that I wouldn’t have to worry about vegetarian fare. And there is and I don’t. I’d brought along a sweet potato or two, just in case. But I don’t even have to break them out. My friends are always very thoughtful and worried that I won’t have enough to eat. Sweet friends. At this party they stuff me to the gills.
We eat and talk and eat and take pictures and eat and drink some champagne and eat and listen to the background music.

At a previous party (remember, I’m a socialite!) Juan Carlos and I had discovered that we both love the music of Jean Jacques Goldman, an award winning song writer who is hugely popular in the French-speaking world. Juan Carlos lived in France for six years (I think) and is an avid music lover, so how could he not have come to a point of admiration for Jean Jacques Goldman? I mean really. When I was nine or ten years old we’d had a French Exchange student live with our family and at the same time another exchange student lived with the family of our friend. The following year our friend went to visit his and our exchange students in France and got turned on to the musical world of Jean Jacques Goldman. Our friend then passed on this music to my dad. And through my dad I too came to love Jean Jacques Goldman.

The J.J. Goldman cassettes I stole when I left my folks’ house survived the Great Possession Purge of 2011. These cassettes are probably at this moment melting in my parents’ attic. Fortunately, Juan Carlos has the entire J.J. Goldman collection on CD. I covet it. And Juan Carlos offers to make me a compilation of what he feels is Goldman’s best.

We talk music for a while there in the corner of the house next to the stack of French hits. We talk of powerful, emotive lyrics. Of melodies that can break your heart. Of beats so strong they nearly leave a bruise. Of the passion of harmony. Maybe not in so many words, but the gist of it is there.
Then we go back to the table and eat some more food. About 10:30 another partier arrives. Where the first partier’s language was clear and precise, this partier’s speech is quick and bubbly like a mountain stream. She’s energetic and expressive. Listening to her is like listening to a song; melodic and often with incomprehensible lyrics.

Cake cutting time arrives and we all sing and Juan Carlos makes a wish and blows out his candle. Happy Birthday!

For a bit we retire into the living room and look at the pictures of Victoria and Juan Carlos’s wedding. While I’m sitting there, Junior, the family dog makes his big move. He must have been eyeing me. He sidles up to me. “Hey baby,” he says in the International Language of Love. “You here alone?”
Then he bites at my hair and jumps up against my arm. It’s not precisely humping, but it’s close enough.

“Um,” I say, “Do you mind getting off my arm? We’ve really only just met.”

He doesn’t move away.
“What’s your name, sweetheart? You are so beautiful.”

I think he’s had a little too much champagne.

“Before we continue,” he says, still jumping against my arm. “Tell me how old you are.”

I pull my arm in closer to my side. “Junior, you seem like a really nice dog and all, but you know, I’m just not interested. So sorry.”
This hurts his feelings and he goes to hide under my chair. Occasionally he scratches the boards as if to say, “Won’t you reconsider?”

I won’t. I’m just not into dogs.
Midnight rolls around and we wish Juan Carlos his true birthday joy. We’ve partied through the night and welcomed in a new day; his birthday. It's been a perfect party and I feel honored to have been invited. We say our farewells and then the five of us squeeze together into a single cab and one at a time, until Katrina and I get dropped off together, the cabbie leaves us at our respective homes.

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