4) Wardrobe Malfunction, from Under the Influence of Altitude

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June 30th 2010
Published: July 3rd 2010
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“Wh-What are those?” Rosalinda’s tone was one of shock and extreme disapproval. She pointed at the region around my thighs. I bent over to look for a creepy crawly or perhaps an embarrassing stain left over from lunch. Nothing. I bent around and took a gander down my backside. The coast was clear. I was relieved. It couldn’t be anything too humiliating..
“What are you talking about, Rosalinda?”
“My pants?”
Even louder, “Your”, it was the pause that got to me, “jeans!”
“What’s wrong with them? They look fine to me.” The fact is they weren’t fine, especially not for a Peruvian woman.
“They’re all wrinkled and saggy. They don’t fit you.” Rosalinda, much to my amusement, was becoming visibly upset over the cultural perception on how jeans are to be worn in public.
“No, I don’t agree. They fit great”, I retorted with a hint of one-upmanship. OK, perhaps I could get a few squirrels in there to play around for a while before escaping, but I like them loose fitting. At least the waistline wasn’t down to the upper thigh as many teenagers have them nowadays. The problem is Peruvians don’t do loose fitting clothing on much of anything. Rosalinda puffed and pouted like a four-year-old who was just told to clean her room. I stood my ground, for the moment at least.
“Do you have anything else?”
“Sure, a pair of pants. I’ll show you.” I knew what was about to happen. I took the rolled up cotton pair of cotton Dockers-style trousers, my “good” pair of pants for Peru, held them at eye level, and let them unravel to the floor like a scroll. Rosalinda was horrified at the sight of all the wrinkles.
“No, let me have them.” She left the room and found the guesthouse receptionist. Moments later, she returned with an iron and an ironing board.
“Rosalinda, you don’t have to do that. The wrinkles will eventually come out. Believe me, I have done this bef-”
“No! This will not do!” The iron slowly glided down to the cuffs, which she lifted. She huffed and puffed again. “What’s this?” They had become frayed at the bottoms. Again, no big deal, right? Wrong. She shook her head in disappointment and pressed firmly along the seam. As far as she was concerned, she saw me as most women see men: a work in progress, but with flashes of potential.
By the time we walked out the door to catch the bus to Miraflores, mine were the best pair of pressed slacks in all of Lima, the cuffs notwithstanding.

The waitress, whom we seemed to have inconvenienced by showing up, had taken our order and retreated to relay it to the kitchen.. If for nothing else, Miraflores is great for people watching. It is a collision of braids, self-absorbent jerks, inappropriate tattoos, high heels, and drama queens. Rosalinda doesn’t really buy into it at all. Then out of the blue she asked, “What is your favorite food?”
Whoa. It wasn’t the nature of the question, rather that she asked it in English. It was the first time I had heard her utter in any other language but Spanish.
I answered slowly and clearly, but without talking down to her, “I like pasta with meatballs and sausage.”
She got the pasta part. “Meatballs?”
“Albóndigas.” This made her smile. She likes them, too. Then again, who doesn’t like pasta and meatballs?
I simplified the vocabulary. “Salads, steak, and barbecue.” All are cognates in Spanish. She got all of that.
For her part, she added, “I like lomo saltado, pollo asado, and pizza. OK, so only one of those came out in English. It’s not a bad start.
I tried to keep her going before she would get too frustrated and mentally tired of using a part of her brain which had been dormant for many years. “What is your favorite color?”
“Black. I like black.” It was true. Black dominates much of her clothing.
She flinched. “¿Perdón? Ahem, excuse me?”
“Why do you like black?”
“Ah! OK! Why! I see.” She paused. “I like black because I think it is elegant.”
It was probably the first complete sentence she spoke in English in over a decade, and not a bad one at that. She was proud of herself. She was also letting her guard down and opening up. She wanted to get along with me
“Do you want to learn English, Rosalinda?”
“It has been a long time, but I understand a lot” she answered in Spanish.
“Good, then. Perhaps you know of someone who can teach you.”
She scanned her brain, neglecting the obvious across the table from her.
“No, I do not know anyone who teaches or has taught English.”
“No one?”
“No”, she said confidently.
“Yes, you do.” She was clueless. The sockets of her eyes opened wide in anticipation of a response. “I’ll give you a hint.”
“He wears wrinkled pants.”


3rd July 2010

when in rome . . .

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