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Monday, April 22, 2013

Friday I'm in Love...

Waking up alone in a foreign city. Sleep in? Well, maybe a little. Just a little. Delicious.

That done, rubbing my eyes, sore-legged from holding the coach plane position for hours and hours the day before, I gimped over to the floor-to-ceiling windows to look out where the Pacific, beyond the cliffs and far below, was obscured by a warm, playful mist. Only the distant rumble of surging waves promised that the mighty ocean was indeed there. The palms were vague forms in a sea of white fog; the only movement was that of joggers in bright outfits striding the pavement. Hello, Peru.

I made an executive decision: today, as a nod to jetlag, the fact that nobody but nobody was going to call me "Moooohm!!!" and no place I should be nor thing I should be doing, I was going to have a languid day of...absolutely nothing.

Sounds good, doesn't it?

Long shower, sunscreen, minimal makeup, and drifting out the front door to go find a coffee of some kind. I found one at a café where I could sit outside and watch pedestrians clopping past with the sunshine now breaking though the fog, revealing a beautiful day.

The coffee was beautiful too; a rich, perfectly bitter and foamy cappuccino, with nutmeg dusted over it. Later I discovered that nutmeg is a staple for cappuccinos, at least everywhere I went, and all the better thanks to it.

I also ordered a sandwich; egg, ham and cheese. Admittedly, I did so because I didn't have any food back at the apartment and knew how to ask for it in Spanish.

The sandwich came with a side order of....popcorn.

This had never happened to me before; I found it charming.

Popcorn. Hee.

Gazing out over the street, munching happily, writing in my journal and counting the tourists more rip-offable than myself. I found this last most reassuring; not a lot of street smarts out there. Flashy jewelry, strappy purses, fat wallets in back pockets.  Plus, I have Safety Purse, which you may remember from other adventures, with the wire cable through the shoulder strap, wire mesh throughout the body and lockable zipper on the main compartment. It was hard not to feel smug.

Police presence, however, probably reduced the vulnerability of the other, less paranoid tourists; Upscale Lima, at least, was obviously determined to keep their visitors safe and happy, reasonably hoping to ensure good reports on the internet travel review sites.

My smugness went out the proverbial window, however, when the only other diner, three tables over, with huge hair and colorful, exotic clothes, a deep tan and serious makeup asked me for directions. I least, that's what I thought she was doing; it was all in Spanish.

Fumbling, I tried to field her questions but tripped and stuttered over what I was trying to say, and as I hadn't a good grasp of exactly where I was, anyway, I admitted defeat quickly, confessing to what was already painfully obvious; no say, no hablo Espanol, disculpe.

Baby talk for "can't talk, sorry."

It got so much more fun when the woman switched to heavily accented but perfectly understandable English. Then I had to explain again, though comfortingly in my own language, that I didn't really know the name of the nearby cross street, nor how she could get where she was trying to go.

Then the kicker, "I'm from Sacramento," she confided with a deliberate toss of her head to make her earrings cavort and jingle.

Oh, for crying out loud. I could barely speak to an American?

Some Frenchmen sat down at another table for their breakfast, rendering me even less interesting; someone who was therefore left safely in peace.

Slightly ruffled peace.

My phone beeped from the depths of Safety Purse. Then it began to talk.

Actually it's my husband's Peru phone, which is mostly set up to be a jobsite walkie-talkie. As it isn't my phone I, well, kind of sort of didn't know how to use it.

Great. My communication skills were really up to par.

Using a combination of force of will, swearing under my breath in several languages and finally resorting to pushing a number of likely buttons, I finally got the thing to work. It was a call from my family, my expat family, folks I knew from Dubai, now on the Peru job.

In other words, real friends, for life. With one phone call my day of doing nothing beneath the now-streaming sunshine had become a day with a dynamic family of five.

A day with no obligations? Great! A day with no obligations and some friends to pal around with, who speak the language far better than I do and know where they're going?

Even better.

As I found my way through the colorful streets, beneath the festoons of bougainvillea, scarlet or bright pink, walking toward the Church of la Virgen Milagrosa, I realized that my heart was full, absolutely brimming, with simple joy. An uncomplicated moment of sheer happiness.

Her name translates to the Virgin of Miracles; a beautiful landmark that I was surprised to read is less than a hundred years old, but then, Miraflores was burned by the Chileans in 1881 during the Battle of the Pacific. The Peruvians and the Chileans still passionately hate each other, though perhaps not when face to face, sort of like how I feel about the New York Yankees.

Good Friday, and in a heavily, devotedly Catholic country like Peru. I was curious to see how it was celebrated, not to mention with the first Latin American Pope in history now leading the church, Peru has reason to rejoice.

As it was Good Friday it was also a holiday for most Peruvians and the church was brimming with parishioners, bringing by their children to be blessed by the smiling, welcoming Padre. In fact, it seemed everyone was smiling.

Which is a good thing as I was grinning like an idiot.

I had wondered if Good Friday would be a somber affair, chest beating and rending of garments, but it seemed more like a family day, festive and also respectful, and I had a family to spend it with.

closer view of the priest's vestments
We went out to lunch, the three little girls, their tiny Japanese mother, Shuko, a firecracker of a gal, and that hulk of a Texan, former US Marine and friend with a heart of gold, John. He dwarfs ordinary men, and in Peru where at 5'4" I am tall, he is, well, particularly easy to spot.
The friendly waiter who served us at quiet streetside café stated with obvious conviction that John and I must be brother and sister, much to my delight. We oversized gringos with big noses and curly hair; we all look alike. The waiter was so sure he repeated it to us several times in different ways to make sure we knew what we were saying "no" to.
Then he took one of the kids back to the kitchen to give her extra treats and I shared the oldest girl's Lomo Saltado; a particularly popular Peruvian dish of stir fried beef tenderloin and local yellow peppers, onion, tomato, soy sauce, cilantro, and vinegar. Fusion cuisine at its best. Being a Peruvian dish it is served with rice and french fries...how they eat so much starch is beyond me, but it is nice to have choices when it would be a sin not to mop up savory juices.
John and Shuko and the girls walked me back to the block where I was staying and we spent the rest of the day lolling in the park just like everyone else, watching the paragliders, the cyclists and skateboarders, the surfing students far below, and, in my case, getting slowly but inevitably sunburned, despite sunscreen and sitting in the shade.

I also learned a valuable survival tip from my friends; when in Lima, you snack on the street. There is food everywhere but in particular, all along the Malecon Cisneros that runs atop the cliffs are little yellow carts being pedaled or pushed by yellow attired sellers of helado; ice cream.

Note how John is twice as tall as the ice cream man
My friends, determined that I should feel loved and taken care of, picked me up for dinner in the evening a few hours later, and we went to a Mexican restaurant.
Yes, Mexican cuisine is very different from Peruvian. They're 3,000 miles apart, you know. And that's by plane.
But it was closed. So then we went looking for a beefsteak place. Which was also closed.
John pulled over the truck so we could watch a cross being erected in the darkness, and listen to church bells ringing. In Arequipa, to the south, the faithful reenact Via Crucis, the way of the cross, and perhaps this is a Lima version of the same, reading aloud of the stations of the cross to followers.
We did eventually find dinner, but it was only later, when a Peruvian friend inquired as to how the evening had gone, that our tourist-y faux pas was made clear.
"You went looking for beefsteak?" she asked, her voice going up an octave and managing, but only just, not to roll her eyes at our obtuseness, "it's Good Friday. Steak places are closed. You eat fish on Good Friday."
"Oh," I stuttered. "I ate chicken...Aji de Gallina....?"

"That's probably fine," she reassured me.

I didn't mention the Lomo Saltado.

She probably prayed for me.


Here's a link to a recipe for Lomo Saltado http://www.theyucadiaries.com/2010/12/12/lomo-saltado/
in case it's not Good Friday and you're trying to think of something easy and delicious to make for dinner. Take note: it's a kid pleaser!


  1. Great to see you writing again! I have to confess, I'm wondering how you get all this time away from los ninos. (did I get that right? )

    1. Hello darling! Short answer: I have an amazing mother-in-law.

    2. Indeed. I am jealous!

      Surprised to learn that your sister and I live in the same town. Yes, if (when) you visit her we should meet and hike up to Table Rock. I would love to actually meet someone from the blogosphere. Perhaps we would share a misadventure and see who could write best about it. Nah, you would win.

    3. Oh, pah, you flatter me. I would love to have a misadventure with you and I accept your challenge; let's do it! I know we won't make it out there this year, (you'll have to wait to see why, but I assure you it's good!) but next year...wouldn't that be fabulous!

  2. Ha ha! Always an adventure with you Natalie. And you write about them so entertainingly. Glad you were able to spend time with good friends in such a wonderful place.