I spent the night at Katrina’s after the film culture class yesterday. She and I stayed up until well past our bedtimes watching Willy Wonka clips on You Tube (which she’s never seen), listening to Jack Ross’s Spoonerism Cinderella “Rindercella” (which I’d never heard), and perusing other Roald Dahl stories. We’re up too early for South America. She’s off to breakfast with friend and I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do. I’m thinking a couple cups of coffee and a quiet place to sit and write is what I want. I’ve seen a little café close to Katrina’s apartment, but when Katrina and I part ways I’ve already walked past it and don’t feel like retracing my steps. Onward and upward. I decide to go to Mira Flores to the Beirut Café.My Timer friend is already at the bus stop even this early. (This is not a picture of my friend, but another Timer on the route I took on my way home.)
“Heading back to Cieneguilla?” he asks me. “Cieneguilla, right?”“Sí, Cieneguilla. But today I’m going to go to Mira Flores first. The 19 bus will get me there won’t it?”
“To Kennedy Park?”“Yes.”
“Sure, the 19 will get you there.” Then he tells me that the middle of Peru has the prettiest country in all Peru.“Prettier than Cusco?” I ask.
“Much prettier than Cusco,” he says. I’m not sure I believe him. Cusco was pretty fucking fantastic.A bus rolls up. It’s the 36. “This one will take you to Mira Flores,” he says. He ushers me up to the steps. “Parque Kennedy,” he tells the Cobrador.
“Chau,” I say. “Gracias.”At the ovalo in Mira Flores I get off. Down the street past the McDonalds, past the Haiti, a cut through a side street and then straight ahead is the Café Beirut. I sit outside and wait for the waiter. Eventually he comes and leaves me a menu. I decide on a Café Americano and some French Toast even though I’ve sworn off caffeine and bread. All the other breakfast options have meat and I need something this morning.
While I wait some more, I watch the people walk by. Mira Flores is a very touristy part of Lima and there’s plenty to see. Across the street are some men playing chess which reminds me both of the time I went to Washington Square Park in NYC and the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer. A boy with a pink banana seat bike sits and reads a paper at the table with the newspaper seller. People from many different countries pass me by. I spy on them and eavesdrop on their languages from my seat out in the open.
One guy steps into the street, catches my eye (not literally of course) and asks “Tienes un cigarillo (Do you have a cigarette)?”“No tengo (I don’t have one),” I tell him and he goes on his way.
My coffee arrives first and then after a little while the French Toast. I savor it all. I scribble a little in my notebook when I’m done with breakfast. A flicker of inspiration is short circuiting in my head and I write a couple sparks of electricity before I order another Café Americano.The waiter sets the new coffee on the table. “You’ve been here before haven’t you?” he asks. I nod. “You’re--” he wags a finger in the air. “You’re a writer.”
“Great memory,” I say. I mean it too; it’s been about two months since I was there last.“What are your plans this afternoon?” he asks.
This question if answered incorrectly usually leads to the other party inviting themself along to whatever it is you are or are not doing. So I answer wisely.“I’m going back to Cieneguilla.”
“To Australia?”That works too, so I don’t correct him. If and when I pay the Café Beirut another visit I can remedy the Continental misunderstanding if he remembers. I pay my bill and head off.
“Cuidate, linda (take care, pretty girl),” he says. “Come back and visit us again.”My hope for the morning is to sit and write without being talked to. Given the right amount of undisturbed time I might be able to rewire my thoughts and actually write a story. The fictional characters in my head are starting to crowd each other for elbow room. I need to get a few out and clean up after them. It’s a mess up in my mind. Across the street is a church and I figure I can sit in the back row and look pious while I wax creative. Neither angels nor demons should bother me there.
I’m about to climb the steps up to the church when I hear music. I’m drawn to it like the rats and the children were to the music of the Pied Piper’s flute. It’s salsa. My feet walk in time to the beat as an amplified male voice calls out the steps. I walk over and join the other bystanders who were also called by the music. Up on a stage in the middle of the closed off street is a fluffy haired guy dressed in a bright yellow shirt.
He’s dancing and talking into the microphone to the group of women (and two men) who are dancing along. Anyone can join in; it’s like a free dance class of sorts. I stand on the edge of the crowd. I know the Lee Ann Womack song about dancing when given the chance to sit out or dance. But this time I tell Lee Ann that watching is good enough. I don’t have anyone to watch my bag and my hips feel like a White girl’s hips for some reason this morning. The dance leader switches from Salsa to Cumbia and the ladies (and two guys) dance and dance and dance.
When the last song is over the dancers disperse and I head over to the church. Oh yeah, it’s Sunday. Mass is in full swing. The pews are packed out and the priest is praying over some sacraments. Plan B.
I meander over to Kennedy Park and find an empty bench about fifty feet away from a group doing Tai-Chi. I almost join in with them too, but they look like they really know what they’re doing and I’ve never done Tai-Chi so I sit down instead. Watching the slow movements is mesmerizing. The characters in my head seem mesmerized too because they’re suddenly silent. It’s peaceful.
I’m using my best Limeña “don’t make eye contact with anyone” technique and I’ve gone at least fifteen minutes without anybody trying to strike up a conversation with me. Then three men go by. I stare through them as they pass. Uninterested. Ignoring. I’m invisible.“Porque estas solita (Why are you alone)? Porque estas tan triste (Why do you look so sad)?” one of the men asks.
I don’t answer, but against my Peru training a half laugh and an “oh my god seriously” smile escape me. These guys are incorrigible. I know that small smile might get me in trouble. Latin men (sorry for the generalization) take any response, however small, as encouragement. I know this. Come back small laugh, don’t betray me smile. I don’t make eye contact and I don’t look after them. They keep on and I think I’m safe in my solitude. No such luck. I’m not invisible. Damn.
A shadow in the shape of a man blocks my view of the Tai-Chiers. That smile, that misunderstood smile of mine, brings him back. I look up.“Do you mind if I sit?” he asks as he sits.
“Why are you here alone?” he asks. But he doesn’t really give me time to respond. He streams a bunch of questions and finally when he asks, “Do you work in tourism?” I have a chance to answer.
“No, I’m a writer.”He looks at me. “A writer?” He nods his head. “A writer.” He settles back against the bench. “Let me tell you something.” His voice implies that this is going to be the story of a lifetime. “When I go to sleep at night, I have dreams, I’m visited by something.”
My eyebrows go up.His name is Emilio. He gets writing inspiration in dreams from aliens. He believes there is an Absolute Universal Energy. He talks to me of quantum physics and metaphysics and of the extraterrestrials who came down to earth at the beginning of time and left parts of their DNA (or something) scattered around which is why we have so many different races and languages.
“Neil Armstrong knew this,” he says. “When he came back from the moon he wrote a book about what had happened there.” I lose the trail of conversation here. He tells me that Neil Armstrong had encountered something that he ended up using telepathy with. But I can’t get a word in to ask him who (so I look it up what I get home).
He’s already gone on to cite more proof. “Hitler had contact with Extraterrestrials.”“Hitler?!” I do get an incredulous word in.
“Yes, Hitler. And there are places like Machu Picchu where there is evidence of that great Absolute Universal Energy. And the lines of Nasca? Do you think humans drew those lines? There are so many other places that have a tangible energy. In Chilca you can go and watch the aliens land and take off every day at three in the afternoon. You look in the distance at the clear blue sky and you can watch the speck of their ship get bigger and then watch it land.”“En serio (Really)? I ask. With a more “This is really crazy talk, but I’m actually kind of glad you sat down here and we’re having this conversation because it’s rather delightfully insane and I had no idea you’d know anything about metaphysics or aliens” tone than gullibility.
He shrugs. “You can go there and see it for yourself. That’d give you something great to write about.”Yes it would.
|Erich von Daniken|
“Do you know the writing of Erich von Daniken?”“I’ve never heard of him,” I say. “Write his name down for me.”
I hand over a receipt I’ve been making notes and to do lists on for the past week and he writes down the name along with three others for me to go home and do research on.“I’ve got to go to work,” he says. “I work right across the street at that café with the yellow canopy. You should come over in a little while and get a coffee and we can continue talking and getting to know each other.”
“Okay,” I say. I have no intention of going. Sorry, Emilio. “May I take your picture?”
He poses, kisses me on the cheek and leaves.
I’m processing the Absolute Universal Energy and wishing I could replay the entire conversation just for kicks. I’m staring into the trees not seeing any landing or taking off of aliens when I voice breaks my concentration. Not a dream voice like the one that visits Emilio, a real one.“Americana (American)?”
If I don’t look maybe he’ll go away. I just have such a hard time totally ignoring people. He’s not going away. What the heck, let’s see if this guy can top the fact that Hitler had contact with ETs.“Sí (Yes).”
“En serio (Really)? You look like you’re German or from Europe. You don’t look American.”I’m wondering why he asked me if I was American then, but I don’t say this. I’m oddly flattered that people don’t always think I’m from the USA. I like my country, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of American tourists are rather awful and I’m grateful that I seem to appear more cosmopolitan.
“You’re from the United States?”I nod.
“I have a friend who lives in California,” he tells me. “He’s been there five years now.” He gives me all the details about his friend and friend’s work and when he’s coming back to Peru, his friend’s marital status, how many kids he has and his latest health update. I’m only being slightly facetious.“Have you been to visit him?” I ask.
“Oh no, I’ve never been to the United States, it’s hard for us to go. It’s really hard to get a visa. They think we all want to come over and work because we’re from poor countries. We can’t just go visit any country like you can.”He comes over and sits down on my bench. His name is Julio and in a shocking and refreshing manner he deviates a little from the traditional first question of, “Are you alone?” and/or “Are you single?” by asking, “What part of the States are you from?”
I tell him.He’s from Cusco and he’s in Lima selling key chains and earrings and necklaces and woven bracelets. He gets emotional when he talks about Cusco, putting a fist to his heart and smiling big. All his family is still there and he plans to go back. “Cusco is known all over the world for Machu Picchu. For the Incans. For the food.” For now he’s traveling and selling his wares where he can. He shows me an old coin with a llama engraved on it. “Cheapy-cheapy for you,” he says. “Cheapy-cheap. If you buy something I’ll throw in the coin as a special gift.”
For me a special price? I squelch the question as it enters my mind.“I can’t buy anything today. Sorry. I left my money at home.”
It doesn’t bother him. “You like Latino men, don’t you? So many girls come to South America to find a husband and so many men come to find a wife. El hombre Americano esta frio (The American man is so cold). You want a man that cries, one that treats you good, a good people not a bad people, a man that is romantico, a latin man. Sí o no (Yes or no)? You like darker skinned chicos better than white ones, sí o no? You need a man that is funny, happy, romantico.” He says funny and happy in English and romantico in Spanish.He tells me that he’s been to Colombia and to Brazil and to many parts of Peru. He even spent a year in Mendoza, Argentina stomping grapes.
“Are you staying here all day?” he asks.“No, I’m going to catch a bus in just a while to go home.”
There’s a two second pause and then he gets going again. “How old are you?” he asks. Now he’s falling into the normal question routine.“Thirty-three.”
“No!” he says. “Thirty-three? I thought you were maybe twenty-five. I’m only three years older than you. I’ll be thirty-seven in December. Four years older than you. You have a baby face.”I politely tell him thank you and that I’m sure looking young will really pay off when I’m old.
“You look Cubana (Cuban),” he says. I don’t know if my expression has changed so that I no longer look German, but okay. “Tu necessitas un chico Inca, Peruano, Latino (You need an Incan, Peruvian, Latin man), sí o no?”It doesn’t feel like he’s even volunteering himself for the job. He’s stating facts for what I need. It’s apparent. Sí o no? But maybe he’s testing me out first before he suggests himself. He’s friendly. He talks and talks. About every third sentence he assures me that I need someone funny, happy and romantico.
He’s impressed that I’m vegetarian, “You don’t eat beef or chicken,” he says. “But you eat fish.” He says it as such a fact that I don’t have the heart to correct him. It’s easier to let that assumption go on by. He’s the first Peruvian I’ve met who isn’t kind of freaked out that I don’t eat meat. “Do you drink beer?” he asks.“Every now and then but I like red wine better.”
“That’s great. Red wine is good and an occasional Cusqueña.”He talks about some girls that smoke marijuana. “Do you smoke?”
“No, not me.”His smile is like a sunburst. “Que chica sana (What a healthy girl)!” I feel like I just passed an exam with a clean bill of health. Praise be.
“Do you like Salsa or Cumbia better?”“Cumbia,” I say.
“I like salsa,” he says. “If you come back to Mira Flores you should hang out with me. We can talk of the world. You can tell me of places you’ve been and I can tell you of the places I’ve been like we’re doing now. And then we can have some red wine as friends and I can teach you to dance salsa.”I watch a stream of people walk by.
“There are two kinds of salsa,” Julio explains. “Salsa fuerte y salsa romantic (strong salsa and romantic salsa). You need to dance the salsa fuerte.” He puts his fists out to each side and shakes his shoulders and chest when he says, “salsa fuerte.” His tone doesn’t come out bossy, just matter of fact, as if he can intuit what is best for me.“I’m going to sit here and rest for two more minutes and then I’m going to go try and sell more of my things.” He leans back against the bench and crosses his arms over his chest.
“How much do you have to sell per day?” I ask. He’d already told me that he was living at a friend’s and paying ten soles a night for a bed, some blankets, and the space to store his suitcase of trinkets.“Twenty soles. Ten for my room and ten for food.”
“Do you do okay?” I ask.“Some days are good and some days not so good.”
We’re in Mira Flores and it doesn’t feel quite as awkward to ask people for a photo. “Can I take your picture?” I ask Julio.He straightens up and smiles. “Can I see?” he asks after I take a shot. “This is the first time an American girl has asked to take my picture. Most American girls are so cold. I’m going to be famous around the world!”
He talks more about people with a buena onda (a good vibe) and tells me that I fit in that category. “You’re a person with a buena onda, a happy, funny. It almost seems like you have the Pachamama energy, a Cusceño energy.”I put the cap on my pen.
“You’re going to catch your bus now?” he asks me.“Yes.” I hadn’t exactly decided to leave, but it’s a good idea.
“I’ll walk you over to the stop,” he says.We cross the street together. “Take care,” I say. We exchange a goodbye cheek kiss. Instead of stepping right away he turns his head a bit. His lips are awfully close to mine. I back off and push him just a little. “No, no,” he says. “The other cheek too.”
Funny, happy, romantico.
“Chau,” we say, and that’s that.