The living room
The traffic in
In the states, at least in Pittsburgh if not in Boston or New York, consensus thinking seems to be that since were all in this together, why not play nice, and drivers merge in an orderly way, first one from one line and then one from the other line. Here though it is the opposite. The situation is taken as a challenge and the attempt at forceful entry by the oncoming line is taken entirely without surprise by all, those drivers trying to get in and those trying to keep them out, it being understood that Latin testosterone is in play here.
Pedestrians are lower in the status hierarchy than drivers. Since stop signs are largely transparent to drivers, there are usually only two ways to cross a street on foot: one, wait until traffic is so jammed up that cars simply cannot move, then you can pick your way through the temporarily stationary cars, each driver now so angered at those in front that he feels obliged to blow his horn, temporarily taking his mind off your nimble penetration; two—and this is most interesting to observe—if sufficient pedestrian pressure builds up at an intersection to create a critical mass, and then some few brave souls begin, the crowd will throw all caution to the winds and surge forward en masse. The trick here is momentum: the crowds leaders must initiate the chain reaction and, with not a word spoken, all must sense intuitively that the time is right and that her brothers and sisters will stick with her as a homogeneous force. This action, when taken, forces drivers to contemplate in a split second a mass killing and it makes them think, temporarily displacing their aggression so much that they then sit back casually and go to plan B which is to look for pretty women in short skirts in the conquering crowd.
The psychology of third world countries with respect to motorists and pedestrians is, I suppose, a holdover from the days when the serfs had to make way for the (Spanish) lords on horses, at peril of injury, or of their lives. The motorists are the top dogs here.
We arrived at our
accommodations at dusk, unpacked and went on foot in search of a restaurant.
To be fair, the thought of eating always in restaurants is not pleasant even at home. I enjoy eating in little out of the way places, and trying dishes I haven’t eaten before, but this can be dangerous. At one place I liked the looks of a leg of pork and had a sandwich made with it. That night I was very, very sick. Tricia, on the other hand, who split the sandwich with me, was affected not at all. She is now referred to by me as Old Iron Gut.
We are staying here in
The Posada del Parque is a little gem of a place, with ten to twelve guest rooms. It has a charming little garden patio surrounded by the high walls of adjacent buildings. Exotic red and purple flowers and flowering vines, and native Indian sculpture dress the high walls painted in white. For patio furniture there are a few tables with umbrellas, and some chairs, and a chaise lounge. I spent many hours reading there.
As I wrote, the hostel is situated on a small park in the
“university” part of the city. Leo, the owner, is an Ecuadorian but has lived
Someone here has an artistic taste. I think it is Leo, but it could be his wife, or perhaps both. They collect what I would term Spanish folk art and it is displayed throughout the hostel: highly abstracted, or distorted, figures of thin Spanish horsemen; small, elaborately painted, open “cupboards”, like a not-very-deep kitchen cupboard, are mounted on the walls with the doors permanently open, their shelves completely filled with hundreds of colorful, individually painted, miniatures of people, burros, goats, dogs and the occasional crucifix. The population in the cupboards seems right out of Don Quixote. One can look at this display for a long time and keep seeing new things. Or one can step back and see them more abstractly as a bright mélange of color.
Often very charming, a hostel tends to be one or two steps more personal than a hotel. Since the public spaces are smaller, people are more thrown together. Instead of staying in our small room all the time we spent most of our time in the “living room”. Other travelers did as well and so you get to meet people, whereas in a hotel one more less disregards everyone else and builds a wall of privacy, except perhaps at the bar. In the living room we found baskets of books left by former guests that we could read if we liked. The furniture in the public spaces is right out of the Inquisition: high-backed, dark, carved wood, intricately carved chairs that resemble small thrones, uncomfortable by design. There is a common “eating room”, where only breakfast is served, though during the day one can eat sandwiches brought in from the outside—there is no restaurant in the hostel. Everywhere, of course, one walks on beautiful tile floors in rich, dark colors.
Our room in the hostel measures perhaps twelve feet square. It is also twelve feet high. It has smooth plaster walls and ceilings, intricately hand-painted where they join, as in a church. A miniature bathroom with no ceiling is in one corner of the larger room, simply blocked out by two walls seven feet high. The floor of course is tile. There is no furniture except for one straight-backed chair. It is a monk’s room—except for the “matrimonial” against one wall.
In a city like
The Parque is a new experience for me. It is at first like boarding in someone’s home—uncomfortable for me—but soon the other people there, and the businesslike operation of the place dispel this feeling and I am charmed by the unusual ambiance and the interesting people.
Wandering around this part of Lima (Centro, the “downtown” part) one sees many very old (three to four hundred years) Spanish colonial buildings of carved stone with beautiful windows, huge ornate doors and delicate wrought iron gates, balconies and window guards.
Think of the wealth it must have taken to build these
structures in the first place. Gold and an unending supply of cheap labor did
the trick, though we should not forget the skill and craftsmanship that the
Spaniards brought to the project. Now it is strange to see this grand
architecture embedded in the shabby matrix that is the rest of
The ministries, military buildings and the commercial buildings have armed guards at their entrances on the sidewalk, and they are not of the ceremonial kind. The smartly-uniformed guards of the commercial Seguridad forces sport bullet-proof vests and pack automatic pistolas. The army guards in their camouflage clothing are armed with submachine guns. (It seems odd here in this urban landscape for soldiers to wear camouflage when one would think a stone-gray uniform might provide better concealment—but, world-over, camouflage now means military, whether in the city or the jungle.) I was unable to determine from where I was whether they were Uzis or AK47s, a damning admission for a Libertarian; I blame my liberal upbringing. Around the squares, at strategic places, soldiers stand with their guns in the hot sun behind shoulder-high, half-inch steel-plate shields, attentively observing the crowds. In one corner of a square I saw a squat armored personnel carrier with a fifty caliber machine gun mounted.
All this could be due simply to the hot Latin temperament,
but it probably has more to do with the current political situation: the
president, Alberto Fujimori, a Peruvian of Japanese descent, turned dictator,
suddenly resigned and changed his address to Tokyo. Meanwhile, the former head
of security, his buddy, absconded with a small fortune (actually not enough to
animate an African or middle east potentate, but still a tidy sum). A new
president is now in the process of being elected with the aid of—no less—Jimmy
Carter’s, Carter Center which has
been designated official watchdog. All this new tension has been overlaid on
the longstanding insurrection of the Shining Path, a Maoist guerilla group that
Fujimori suppressed but was not able to completely eliminate. Now, superimpose
on all this the skirmishes with
The long history of these and similar problems helps to explain the poverty of the country. On the bright side, progress is measured by the fact that during all this unrest the military has not taken over but is supporting a genuine election.
We prepare to leave
In a classy place like this I screw up my courage and—in
contradiction of all intestinal logic—order as a starter a Ceviche de Corvina, for which
(Armando was a most interesting fellow. He stood about 5ft.
high and I’m sure was very nearly 5ft. in circumference around his chest. He
had been born high up in the mountains, was orphaned, and went to a Catholic
school of some sort which apparently realized his abilities and supported him
to some extent through engineering school. He then came to
I had eaten ceviche before in