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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Elle est comme l'eau vive

Mike met me back at the hotel room after my day of introducing myself to Lima, handsomely concealing any surprise he might have had that I'd made it without anything untoward happening. As some days I can barely do that with our two children on our home turf, let alone in Peru, I wouldn't have taken offense.

That evening we were to meet with two of the most adventurous and likable people we know; April and Royce. Perhaps we like them because they're from the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps it's because they are not only adorable but also well-travelled, (and therefore full of great stories,) have world views similar to our own, and, while they're at it, can swear with accuracy and aplomb.

I should explain that last bit, as it does sound like an odd reason for liking a person. Swearing is a time-honored tradition, and therefore an acquired and necessity skill, when working on an overseas construction site. You either talk trash and swear with the rest of the crew or you get crushed, not terribly unlike being in the military. It's all about being able to use the skill, but in the right place and time. Otherwise, you're simply, pitiably, a victim of your own poor manners.

We met our friends at the Ricardo Palma stop after hoofing it through a good bit of the upscale part of Lima, Miraflores. Especially when compared to most of the rest of Lima, it is a manicured sort of area with cafés, shops and parks, where tourists hang out. The pan pipe and guitar music synonymous with Peru slips out of the stores onto the streets and women walk in clicking heels with large shopping bags.

For some unfathomable reason the concrete of the sidewalks in the area is polished absolutely smooth. This probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but when they are even the littlest bit wet the unwary risk slipping and sprawling. Perhaps it is a subtle revenge of the workers against the pampered. I kept expecting a well-heeled shopper to go sprawling, bags flying, but none did. Perhaps it takes practice.

Along our way were street sellers, my personal favorite being the hat seller who wore two hats upon his head, his many wares laid out all along the sidewalk. He was a bit of a flirt, and gestured that he was willing to have his photo taken when I asked in my awkward Spanish.

After taking the shot I surprised myself by blowing him a thank-you kiss, and he burst into a wide Zorba the Greek grin, spreading his arms and saying...something. Using prepaid cards, through a turnstile, down stairs, we smashed ourselves into the excellent Metro, Lima's urban train. It was reasonably clean, felt safe enough, and while crowded, was obviously far more efficient than braving Lima's roads.

flower delivery VW. We saw many of these with enormous floral displayes lashed to the tops, bumbling down the streets.

Night was falling as we disembarked the train near the heart of Lima headed to El Circuito Mágico del Agua in the Parque de la Reserva Nicely, even my Spanish was sufficient to translate those names. Entry to the park was 4 Peruvian Soles, $1.47.

It was a velvety evening and there were many families out, spending time together and, like us, enjoying the spectacle of many, many water fountains set to lights and music throughout the park. A brilliant show, and one which Lima residents are justly proud. It was also a wonderful place for people watching, laughing with the children who were shrieking in joy, getting gleefully soaked in the fountains and wandering through semi darkness. It had the same feeling one gets going to see Christmas light displays, that uncomplicated happiness and delight in color and sound. Our favorite fountain was one of the interactive ones, where you could walk through an arched tunnel of water.

We were like little kids: "Hey, look up! It makes you dizzy" and threatening to douse one another by misdirecting the streams. Hunger began to assert itself in earnest, so we tore ourselves away from the water fountains and went in search of a restaurant Royce and I had independently read about, L'eau Vive.

L'eau Vive, which means water of life, met our dining desires on just about every level. First of all, we were pretty sure we could find it. Second, it was quirky. How quirky? you ask.

Well, when was the last time you ate a dinner, a gourmet dinner, whilst being serenaded by nuns?

Exactly. This restaurant is...wait for it...run by a French order of nuns, and the money you spend to dine goes to feed the poor. Which is a good thing, having walked past many of them to get there. The French cuisine is also a good thing. A very good thing.

L'eau Vive during the day

But first you have to gain admittance into the place. We were sure of the address, which turned out to be a huge colonial building in the historical district of Lima with an equally huge wooden door. Doors in Peru are either Peruvian-sized, that is to say, tiny, or enormous. This one was the latter. A discrete sign marked it as the correct place, and an intercom seemed the way to proceed. We stood there uncertainly for a moment until Royce took the bull by the horns and pushed the button, enquiring, er, dinner, por favor? There was a crackly reply, which we didn't quite catch, and nothing happened. We hesitantly tried the door, which, not surprisingly, didn't budge.

This gave us enough time for us to wonder if we'd made a mistake after all. Then the door swung slowly open and we were greeted by a cheerful looking, bare-headed woman beckoning us to enter. She was wearing a simple skirt and cardigan instead of the admittedly hoped-for nun's habit. Visions of The Sound of Music, I admit. The interior was wood upon wood; high ceilings and empty spaces, which gave way to a pleasant, somewhat plain dining room with many empty tables. Only one other table was occupied, with that group of four nearly all the way through their meal.

With the restaurant so empty, we wondered afresh if we'd made a mistake. But Royce had heard of the place, and my guide book had sworn that even if your time in Lima was short, that you really should make sure to dine at L'eau Vive.

The menu reassured. Beautiful wines and lovely French cuisine, which, when the latter arrived, (we'd already made some inroads into the former, a ruby Malbec) were artfully and deliciously prepared. I had lapin (with apologies, rabbit) which was tender, richly sauced, and surrounded by golden puffs called humitas, lighter and fluffier versions of the traditional corn-husk wrapped Peruvian corn fritter.

Lordy, it was goo-ood. Mike's French onion soup was perfection, and I can report that the creme brulee really was the last word in creme brulees. It was odd to be the only ones in the echoingly large room, as we dined like lords and ladies, the food and company were so good it proved to be an entirely memorable meal.

There was a rustle of fabric, and in practiced movements, all around the edges of the room and in front of a painting of the Virgin Mary the nuns assembled themselves to sing. One slipped song cards to us. We sat, feeling slightly unsure as to expectations, as they swelled into song. It was not Bach or Schubert, but an entirely new Ave Maria to me, sung sweetly with real devotion, echoing off the ceilings. Here is a YouTube video someone posted from when they dined at L'eau Vive: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKC8RH0djIs if you would like to hear it.

When the song ended we felt a bit awkward; do you clap as though it was a performance, or nod, acknowledging and respecting the expression of worship? We went with the latter, murmuring our thanks as the nuns smiled gently at us and disappeared back into the kitchens and darkness.

We paid with exclamations at the affordability of such a magnificent meal, and went out to try to find the Metro again, mellowed and flushed from the good food and wine, and feeling at peace with the world.

As it turned out, the nuns from whom we asked directions were too kind to point out that the Metro was closed for the night, instead urging us to find a taxi. We eventually figured it out for ourselves. The rattling taxi we found brought us at a good clip from the old beauty of the historical district and deposited us, slightly breathless, at the sleek modernity of Miraflores.

April and Royce, true travellers who have gotten on random planes on the spur of the moment, trekked the world from tiny schoolhouses in Africa to Everest Base Camp in Nepal and beyond, said that it was one of the most unusual and memorable meals they had ever eaten.

Now, there's a recommendation.

Our weekend had began on a high note, and, with an early start the next morning, was fated to continue in much the same way.

1 comment:

  1. So great to catch up on your adventures!!! "Where in the world is Natalie?" I wonder on the few times I come over to read you :)