Impromptus

Lima Journal, Part II

by Jay Nordlinger

I’ve been jotting some notes about Peru’s capital — for Part I, go here. And I think I’ll just wade back in . . .

. . . like you wade into Lima’s traffic (when you’re a pedestrian, trying to cross the street). The traffic here is very heavy. But not the heaviest I’ve seen. The heaviest, I believe, was in Bombay. Followed by Cairo. Bombay is the all-time champeen.

While in India, I jotted the following line: “Memo to self: Don’t romanticize the Third World.” I think of it again, while in Lima.

Peru has made great strides, thanks to liberalizing policies that began in the early 1990s. Poverty has been struck blows. Yet it persists, obviously. Children are in the streets, selling trinkets of varying kinds. I don’t see any outright beg. They are all selling something, some small item. In India, the children outright beg.

Unmuffled motorbikes: They are part of the soundtrack of a great deal of the world.

One sight you increasingly see — including in the United States — is a policeman on a Segway. So it is here.

I smile at Parque Franklin D. Roosevelt. Seldom have I been anywhere in the world without an FDR Park.

I smile at Calle Tomás Edison.

Here is a question I don’t know the answer to: In Latin America, broadly speaking, the European conquerors and settlers and their heirs mixed — mixed with the indigenous, or “Indian,” population. Latin America is full of “mestizos.” In the United States, there was some of that. (Think of our Cherokee senator, Elizabeth Warren! Everyone claims to have “Indian blood,” especially if they want to get into college.) But relatively little.

Why?

I see the name “Túpac Amaru” — and it doesn’t refer to a late rapper but to a late (very late) Incan king.

In Lima, there are many things named after the conquerors, the conquistadors. In Cuzco, I’m told, not so much. In Lima, the conquistadors are hailed: They are the founding fathers. In Cuzco, an “Indian” place, they are more like destroyers.

(Sort of like Christopher Columbus at Brown University.)

A great Peruvian delicacy, I’m given to understand, is the guinea pig: cooked — roasted, I imagine — whole. Head, feet, and all.

I see a painting of the Last Supper in Lima. The food being served is a guinea pig (or several). Behind Judas is a figure of the devil.

My guide says that there is a Last Supper in Cuzco, too. This one has a devil behind Judas as well — and that devil is Pizarro, the founder of (Spanish) Peru.

Lima contains some wonderful incongruities — such as German-, Swiss-, and Austrian-style homes, built by settlers (immigrants?) who came from those places. There are also English Tudor houses.

I meet a young man from the Amazonian jungle, whose name is Patrick — his given name, I understand, not an adopted English (or Irish) one.

There is something all visitors to Lima enjoy seeing, and that includes me: On a monument to José de San Martín, there is the figure of a woman, and on her head is a llama. She was supposed to have a flame — a crown of flames. But the sculptor misunderstood. “Llama,” in Spanish, means both “flame” and the animal.

Speaking of animals, if you ever have a chance to feed alfalfa to alpacas, do it. (Alpacas are smaller cousins of llamas.) I have such a chance. They are dignified, elegant, endearing animals, the alpacas.

At the presidential palace, there is the changing of the guard. Drums beat out a rhythm, over and over. It sounds like Boléro is about to begin. But, frustratingly, the melody never comes in. I supply it, in my head (and maybe even out loud, a bit).

There is a rainbow flag, and it is the Incan flag, I’m told. It is often confused with a gay flag (I’m further told).

What would Túpac Amaru have thought? (Either one.)

In the Miraflores district, I think, I see a building with a large sign saying “Cookie Factory.” (In English.) The building looks closed, abandoned. For some reason, I think of that old ruse in Iraq, under Saddam Hussein: “Baby Milk Factory” (also in English).

But, after walking a few more yards, I inhale this heavenly, perfect smell — they are indeed baking cookies. (And one would want milk to go with, true.)

On a sunny Saturday morning, wedding parties are having their pictures taken in the Bosque El Olivar. And girls in short dresses are posing for their boyfriends, and others. It is a festive, happy, and also a gentle scene, here in El Olivar.

At the beginning of these notes — the beginning of Part I — I mentioned the high, high reputation that Peruvian food enjoys. I can only say: No wonder. I have done some of the best eating of my life — especially some of the best seafood-eating. They are magicians, these cooks.

Do they have excellent natural materials to work with? That’s true, too.

I have thought a bit about WFB (Bill Buckley). I did some touring around with him, in Spanish-speaking countries. I liked seeing him maneuver in such places, using his native-ish Spanish. I can just hear him.

Early on Sunday morning, poor kids are out on the main motorways, selling their trinkets. When traffic is stopped, they go from car to car. Their faces are very, very sad. They must be ten years old, something like that. You burn to help them.

But let me say this: Lima pulses, from what I can tell, with vitality. You’re apt to feel more alive, in a way. There is life all around: vividness.

If you ever get a chance to come to deepest, darkest Peru, do. Hernando de Soto reminds me of the origin of this phrase, “deepest, darkest Peru” — Paddington Bear.

At Jorge Chávez Airport, you don’t have to take your shoes off — belts and other things, but not shoes. I can’t help thinking, “Shouldn’t airport-security techniques be standard? Uniform?”

But that’s a biggish topic for another day . . .

The airport in San Salvador has a nifty little restaurant called “El Rincón de Mi Tía” (“My Aunt’s Corner”). Excellent empanadas and tamales, and a heavenly — positively heavenly — fig pie (made by a delightful girl who’s planning to go to college in the U.S.).

But the special of the day? Irish stew. And the music from the TV set? Reels, plus “Danny Boy.” And then, nodding upward to America, “Shenandoah.” Sweet globalization.

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