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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Look at us we're beautiful...

Walking through the little neighborhoods of Miraflores is a pleasure in itself. Each place is painted a different color, tangerine, scarlet or cream, lime, palest purple or the most vivid blue imaginable. Over these walls a riotous effusion of tropical flowers tumbles shamelessly, flirtatious pinks and yellows and reds. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the painting, except one: match not thy neighbor.

It is a joyful box of Crayolas, each revelling in their brilliance.

dog on the rooftops

Nestled by the doorway of one of the bodegas were two adorable little kids. I took out my camera and most reassuring smile, Puedo sacar? I asked.

"Si" the girl answered, so I snapped a couple of shots.

Bonita! I exclaimed Muy bonita, gracias! The little girl jumped up, yelling "Mama! Mama! as she ran into the store.


I started walking away a little faster than planned; I had read stories of Guatemalans being so paranoid that their children might be kidnapped and sold that they had attacked and severely beaten foreign photographers. That couldn't possibly be the case here...?

Behind me the mite came flying back out, "gracias seƱora!" she chirped winningly.

Aw. Smiles all around. Her brother looked shyly pleased.

On the corner there was a bakery. Mike had pointed out the evening before on our way back from a particularly nice steak dinner that had culminated in the two of us moving from our table to chairs set up in front of a big screen to watch a soccer game, which we did while finishing off our wine, the restaurant's staff standing nearby, also watching. No one felt the least bit awkward about this.

Moseying through the twilight, he'd shown the red building to me, saying "You might want to try that place out. Maybe a good place for your to have coffee and write and practice your Spanish, maybe build up a sort of casual friendship with the staff?"

"You were thinking of me?" I asked.

La Mora which translates to "mullberry"

"I always think of you," he replied simply. This was nice to hear.

Through the doorway, I was dismayed by the upscale polished interior. It was straight out of someone's idea of Paris. Chocolate truffles behind glass, chandeliers, black and white photos of the City of Light, antiques, hushed music and uniformed servers echoing the photographs in crisp black and white.

So I had a cappuccino to meet my daily minimum requirement for nutmeg, and chased it with a con leche truffle for good measure, but this, however elegant, was not the cheerful neighborhood place we'd been hoping for.

Too bad. I somehow managed to contain my disappointment with judicious application of said chocolate and coffee.

My nails were positively orange from the mangoes I'd been having for breakfast. Washing didn't seem to do the trick. Later I figured out I could eat mangoes with a spoon, but at this stage I needed help. So I went looking for the bare bones one-woman salon on Pje los Pinos where I'd gone 2 years before. Right street, righ place, but it had been replaced by a barber shop. Dang.

The barber paused his clipping of the few hairs on the draped client's head to look up inquiringly at me.

Donde es where is)...manicure? I asked stupidly, holding my nails up.

Obviously there was no manicure to be had here in this man-place, but the barber grinned and said something to his client who nodded in agreement. Wiping his hands on a towel, the barber ambled over the the doorway, rumbling in a deep voice about aqui (here) and arriba (up). I gestured to the second floor of the building and lifted my eyebrows, si?

He crinkled his eyes and taking my hand, led me like and obedient puppy two doors up the street. There he deposited me with aplomb and a half-bow to my gracias, senior, gracias! muchas grasiases and strode back to his storefront.

There were two women in the salon, both young and looking happy to have a client, even one who stumbled and tripped over their language and had orange crescents beneath her nails. The slender one, whose name I couldn't quite understand, laughed at my bemangoed digits and set to work. The curvy one settled back to watch over the operation, both of them giggling at my pathetic attempts to answer their everyday sorts of questions. The second woman was named Rachel, she got me to understand, and she howled when I repeated it back with the American pronunciation. "Rah-khell en Ingles!" she exclaimed, laughing until she cried.

I tried to explain that Mike (mi esposo) worked (trabaja) in Chilca.

Chilca. Chilca? They looked confused, obviously not recognising the name of the small town. I didn't know another way to say it, and we shrugged good-naturedly at one another after a few tries and moved on to talk about the mouth-watering smell of chicken wafting from a nearby restaurant and could they please not cut my cuticles (cuticulo)?

While this offended my beautician's sensibilities, she worked determinedly with file and cuticle remover fluid and smiled and shook her head at my apologies for being so high maintenance.

45 minutes later, fingertips buffed and polished, I paid 9 soles with a 4 sole tip that they were sure I didn't mean to give. It took several tries to get them to explain that I really did understand that the manicure was 9 soles and that I really did mean to give the extra, "por la cuticula!" I insisted, to their delight. I'd paid $1.17  over the $3.30 they'd asked for.

Heckova deal.

Shiny nails secured, I marched over to Larcomar, a posh mall nestled into the a cliff side over the ocean to meet a British expat friend I knew from the Dubai job. She was  as lovely and slender as always, despite the small child she'd brought into the world less than a year ago, now carted along in a stroller. We headed over to a local park to chat and catch up. She liked Peru, travel was wonderful, especially to Brazil, and yes, she agreed the fruits there are beyond delectable, but oh dear, she was rather tired of Spanish. "Sometimes I just want a break," she moaned. Understandable.

We moved on to other topics. I pointed out a nearby building. "See that?" I said, "when I was here 2 years ago it was under construction and the workers didn't whistle at me or anything. What's up with that?!"

I expected her to laugh. But that's not how it went.

"Oh," she said, waving away my concerns, which really hadn't been concerns at all, merely meant to be a source of humor, "they don't even whistle when I walk by."

I somehow managed to keep a straight face, though inside I was simultaneously laughing at all involved and sighing as well. Multitasking.

Honesty is still a virtue,  I told myself. What are travel and friendship if not a chance to laugh and learn, see the world...and learn how the world sees you?


  1. I love all the colorful buildings and flowers. I wish Americans weren't so afraid of color!

    1. I know! Foreigners moving to the US must think we are pale, soulless beings. (Let's not discuss whether they're spot on in that assessment.) :)

  2. I'm cracking up. No whistling eh? ;) And I remember the other nail story. Heckuva deal indeed!

  3. Ha ha! Love these stories. As for the children and the photo, they probably just wanted to see them on your camera. In Nepal, I spent time w/ an unbelievably arrogant American photographer who carried a small printer in a back pack and would occasionally deem to give his subjects a print. One woman had never had her photo taken in her life, so it was a really big deal for her to receive an actual photo. But being full of himself, the photog made the woman practically beg for the photo - she gave him a necklace for his wife, which she needed to sell to earn a living. She also insisted I take one, which I didn't want (but couldn't refuse, because she would have been insulted). Sometimes these commercial exchanges between cultures are really fraught, aren't they?