Published: June 30th 2010June 30th 2010
Hip and Glossy
A placard at a Miraflores restaurant...
Foreign tourists safely roam in the midst of the bright lights of Miraflores. They’re in a comfort zone. The posh coastal district of Lima calls them to what is achingly familiar. Need a pair of shoes? There is Payless. Don’t like the powdery dust that passes for instant coffee at your guesthouse? Then pick up a double mocha flat cinnamon decaffeinated latte with an imported caramel twist at Starbuck’s. Hungry? Kentucky Fried Chicken is right around the corner. Miraflores glistens with casinos, high rise apartments, and terribly beautiful women. It is where most non-Peruvian tourists come to enjoy the nightlife in Peru without having to plan for anything, including their safety. Circling the tastefully manicured centerpiece of the floral trimmed Parque Kennedy once, even I have let my guard down for the first time in Lima. Safety comes at a price, but it is one all are willing to pay whether they are aware of it or not.
An American businessman from North Carolina has made an afternoon of it at The Old Pub on the tawdry and flashy Pizza Alley. The pedestrian thoroughfare is the tackiest of traps, yet a goldmine for people watching. In a red and white checked
Finally, where I belong...
dress shirt, much like the type of tablecloths found at a mediocre Italian restaurant, he is feeling no pain. The well manicured man in his mid forties swings by himself to the rhythms of “Funkytown”, “YMCA”, and the B 52’s “Roam”. So full of drink, he spells out the Village People’s hit C-M-Y-A, but keeps the alphabetic lyrics in order. His date, an attractive and well put together Peruvian woman about his same age, examines her fingernails out of boredom, and pretends she doesn’t know him. He high fives waitresses who tolerate his innocent however annoying antics. The Pub plays a few more bubble gum tunes to which he claps out of beat and then Mr. North Carolina high fives one of the roof-to-ceiling support columns. Bill, from St. Louis, is sitting next to me. We take in the scene nonchalantly while he downs a very meager portion of Buffalo wings.
“Where is that guy from?”
“Sadly, he one of ours.” The Americans are only one of many nationalities that have taken inner refuge in this Anglophone alcove.
“How can you tell?”
“First of all, he’s loud and obnoxious.” Bill, on assignment to install emergency and rescue equipment in aircraft,
Have an opinion? This is where to express it...
sheepishly agrees with my assessment. “Second, look at the shoes. They’re Merrill’s. He could be from another country, but probably not.” We turned our heads simultaneously to see what move he could come up with next. He started to swing his belly to Greased Lightnin’. “Oh, no! There’s midriff visible. He’s a cross between the Michelin Man and Chewbacca!” Bill took to his wings. That last image miraculously didn’t quash his appetite.
“You know something?” I chimed in.
“What’s that?” I scanned Bill for his age. We weren’t that far apart. “I think that wannabe DJ over there is putting songs from Cyndi Lauper and Pat Benetar to make us recall our days in middle school.”
“Or just to make us feel old.”
“Pass the Geritol”, is all I could come up with.
Bill inquired, “When was the last time you were in middle school?”
“About six days ago.”
“Nothing, forget it. Let’s see what John Travolta over here has up for his next set of moves.” He had gone out and ordered a pizza for his perceived entourage of adoring fans. The waitresses made short work of the pie and then scattered to go about their business.
Late Night Snack
The perfect end to a delightful evening...
discotheques blare from the park guarded by bulky doormen, pumping techno trash into the night. Neon signs gleam behind arched streams of crystalline water from the park’s fountains. Boys play soccer on a softly illuminated carpet of fairway lawn. Park benches are constructed as chess boards. One man has his opponent cornered in a very aggressive position with his rook and bishop. A young woman with supermodel looks struts by, purposefully gyrating her hips with each accentuated step. It takes much imagination to envision how she gets those jeans on. Are they simply a few layers of denim latex? I’m not saying they’re overly tight, but not only can I easily tell there is a coin in her back pocket, but I am pretty sure I know in which year it was minted. As she swaggers out of sight, she is holding in one hand her lap dog, the kind you kick when you come home from work at the end of a bad day. No matter, she is paying the pooch little attention as she is too busy fingering through some new application on her iPhone in the other hand.
While sipping a cold drink in a Brazilian bar, I purposefully listened in on a conversation between two guys from San Diego. Pleasant enough, I had nothing in common with them. Then I looked out to the patio; there were more of the same hip customers dividing their attention between some electronic device and their entourages.
I finished my last drink, delivered a properly enunciated obrigado to my server, and walk past the parade of taxis to hop a local micro for the less refined and recusant Barranco.
The faded labels of aged bottles are covered in cobwebs on the shelves behind the bar. Some read Stolichnaya, others are old French anis receptacles, the kind that Sean Connery would have opened in a ‘60’s James Bond film set in Monte Carlo. Towards the back a small grey television monitor dating back to the Reagan (or Fujimori) administration is bolted to the wall, but it is easy to dismiss it. Foot traffic has worn away the print design on most of the cracked ceramic floor tiles. The ivory colored analog clock is ripped at its frame, but still tells the proper time…for now. Torn posters promoting film premieres dating back several years are haphazardly glued to the walls. Excerpts from university poetry readings are plastered all over the place. This is the type of establishment where the likes of Llosa and Márquez would feel at home. It is not a stretch to imagine them scribbling a few verses of prose with a fountain on a paper napkin.
People do not come to Juanito to watch soap operas. Aimless intellects, they instead are here to debate, share, and uselessly philosophize on the meaning of life. The woolen knit scarves protect their beards from the humid chill of the night. They light cigarettes and sip spirits from small glasses. The tone at each table and even at the bar where the stools are secured into the floor is hushed; there is no reason to project opinions that no one wants to hear.
Black leather guitar cases rest against the walls. I write in my Moleskine notebook and play my part. An artist arrives with an over-the-shoulder tubular case of drawings. The clientele at Juantio’s strikes the outsider as learned people of useless information and masters of nothing practical. Professional students filter in and out; Juanito’s is an obligatory stop before their next destination. Two of them are intent on extending their perpetual adolescence as far as it or their parents’ bank account will take them. I poke the one to my immediate left sporting the pork chop sideburns and thick plastic eyeglasses. “How was your day today? I assume you didn’t have to work because it is a national holiday, right.” Peruvians refer to it as San Pedro.
“Good, no work today.” He took a sip of his beer.
“So do you have to work tomorrow?”
He flinched as if I had just asked him to kiss Mick Jagger. “Work?” he quipped and scrunched his eyebrows. “I don’t think so.” That ended any contact with him for the rest of the evening.
A late twenty-nothing in a knit cap has clenched his guitar and broken out in song. As I am twenty or so feet away, I labor to determine the song and even in which language. “You just call out my name….and you know wherever I am…”
I joined in, “I’ll come running…to see you again…” Fortunately his voice is more powerful than mine and drowns me out as I make a sound similar to when a cat is run over by a vacuum runs over a vacuum. “Winter, spring, summer, or fall…” And on we went. Of all the music that would perfectly fit Juanito’s, it would be James Taylor. I cancelled the check and ordered another drink.
Adults in mid life and beyond usually mull over two regrets. Many never learn to speak a foreign language or proficiently play an instrument. In my case I have overcompensated. As my eyes fixed upon the guitar player now in the second verse of “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens, I so wanted to be him. It has little do with his being the exclusive center of attention, rather for one brief moment in time, he had everyone around him entranced in a world of escape, swaying to every chord for the better part of four minutes at a clip. His intrinsic power and ability is poignant, even soul-stirring. If I could do that just once, I might be willing to give up Dutch and a good deal of my Portuguese vocabulary to know what it feels like. I envy him.
The last I heard from him before he came over to greet me, we were singing from Paul McCartney…”Michelle, ma belle, sont des mots qui vont très bien ensemble…”
Simply put, Juanito is a piece of Lima.
“Señor, ¿una cerveza?”
“Sí, a Cristal, please.”
Juan drew my drink from the cold tap. His assistant providing table service in a Miami Dolphins hooded sweatshirt came over to greet me. The pub was named after Juan’s father. He had just passed away in February at the age of ninety-seven. An easygoing man in an olive striped polo shirt, Juan showed me a business card with his dad’s face emblazoned on it. “Everyone loved him.” The son was simply a thirty year younger version of his old man. Liking him was an easy.
“Then he did very well. You should be very happy for him and his life.”
“Indeed. But he is still here.” Juan’s eyes looked toward the woodwork, the flaking laminate countertop, and the sandwich station. Juan caught my intense stare at the carving station.
“What do you serve?”
“Sandwiches. We have two types, jamón, and jamón del norte. Everything is fresh. We use no preservatives, not even salt.” I tried one. Before the night was over, I had downed another in addition to a dish of wrinkled marinated olives. One drink blended into another until my internal watchman warned me it was time to retire.
“You have been in Barranco all this time?”
“No, Juan. I spent part of the evening earlier in Miraflores.”
Juan scowled and then gathered himself. “Well, Ricardo…welcome home.”