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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Good day sunshine...

It's tempting to stop right here. Are you seeing this cappuccino?! This is a work of art.

Franco made it for me, that sweet boy.

Who is Franco? You ask. Well, it is all my husband's fault that I met charming Franco...and his beautiful coffees.

Mike, my beloved, had envisioned how I would spend my time in Peru the two days alone before he would join me from the States and the days when he would be at the job site and I would again be a woman alone; I would wander, take photographs, find a little cafe, drink coffee, write, and practice speaking Spanish.

You know you have it good when the one you married knows so well how to make you happy. Indulge my every whim and learn something to boot. Spot on.

Admittedly I was nervous about a second attempt to have any sort of conversation in Spanish, but the promise of coffee and pleasing one's spouse can make one bold.

I found a cafe with two tiny tables outside, one inside. At the counter there pastries beneath glass, a gleaming espresso machine, and a young man with a sweet smile.

"Un cappuccino, por favor," I requested. Si, si.

Then he asked the question that no matter how many times I heard it  I never understood what was being asked (and I heard it in every conversation I had with a Peruvian that went more than one exchange). "¿De dónde es usted?


Where are you from? He asked.

Ah! So then I tried to answer in Spanish and messed it all up. Hopeless.

Then he asked me how many days I was planning to stay in Lima.

"Diez dios" I replied. His face was a picture. I realised I'd answered ten gods, dios, instead of ten days, días.

So Franco and I made a pact. He would endure my Spanish attempts with good cheer and I would let him practice his English with me. So I asked Berlioz-worthy questions in English and learned all about him; school and work and family, how he had a cousin in the USA, and what he liked to do when he was not working, which was to listen to music and dance.

By this time I was both happy to be cheating by speaking in my own language and thoroughly in the thrall of the cappuccino, trying not to lick the remaining foam off the inside off the glass like some sort of porn star.

He had come closer to my table and we were trying to tell each other what kind of music we liked. Then "Dance, you, Natalie? You like the dance clubs, si?" and he did some sort of energetic yet fluid sensuous dance move to the 80's music escaping from the door of his cafe into the sunshine, his dark eyes never leaving my face.

Wait, was he flirting with me?  I wasn't sure. Not what my spousal unit had envisioned happening.

No, no dancing, no salsa. I said.

"Why?" he asked. Even closer.

Crap. What could be the word for shy in Spanish? How about clumsy? Gringa? I dance like a white girl? I was in a hole, here.

I'd carefully learned the phrase "¡Dejame en paz, soy casada!" -leave me in peace, I'm married! and a couple of uncomplimentary adjectives and a noun to be verbally hurled if the occasion called for it, but this occasion didn't call for it. I had all my clothes on and everything. Perfectly innocent.

"Your cousin in Houston!" I blurted. "Does he work at NASA?"

A line appeared between his eyebrows. He looked thoroughly and utterly confused.

"NASA. Space shuttle, astronauts? Er, Aeroplano por la estrella?" I continued slightly hysterically, making a gesture with my hand shooting off into space and making a jet sound suitable for playing with a 4-year-old.

"No, sorry, I am not knowing this..." he said.

"Trabajo!" I went on. "Franco trabajo cafe," I tried to explain, pointing, "your cousin trabajo? NASA? N-A-S-A? Space program? Cousin trabaja?" I insisted, mangling the Spanish that much further.

Had I been able to come up with the word "aeronautics" we might have gotten there. Successful communication is opposite to what one might originally think; going simpler is the wrong direction. The more scientific the word, the more likely it is based in Latin, and therefore probably recognisable by Latin Americans. (the word in Spanish is aeronáutica). But I am new to all of this and hadn't figured out this trick yet.

Poor Franco looked chagrined and very young, shaking his head, in total befuddlement,  a feeling which which I could identify only too well.

Oh dear. This was going sideways. De nada, de nada, I said, waving the gap in our communication away with both hands to show its meaninglessness.

He seemed to take this as a dismissal and bowed slightly, backing away several steps as one would from an altar before turning away and going back behind his spotless counter.

Best to gracefully exit before I did any more damage. At the counter, the bill was 4 Nuevos Soles, $1.52. I offered him 6.

He looked confused again, "no, no," he said, "6 is too much. Only 4 soles."

"Si, si," I told him, "claro. Dos soles por tu."

Once more, absolutely dreadful Spanish, but his face brightened with surprise and understanding. A gratuity, which is largely unexpected. Not only that, but this was a huge gratuity by Peruvian standards.

The usual from a generous person would have been 15%. Which would have been all of $0.20 USD. But no, I had gone over the top and given him nearly 76 cents! After spending an hour at his cafe and "helping" him with his Spanish?

Obviously I am quite a woman, even if I don't dance.

"¡Adios, Franco!" I waved a goodbye, smiled at his "¡hasta luego!" and went back out into the sunshine.


  1. Ha ha! You tell a story so well, Natalie. I could see all this happening, as I was reading. Poor guy probably didn't know what hit him - he thought he would try his luck, then suddenly you started babbling about astronauts - and overtipped him! He probably is still confused (but no doubt intrigued w/ this mysterious American woman and her curious habits). :)

  2. I may have to go out and get an Ingrid Bergman hat ala Casablanca. I am breathless from your compliments; many thanks, Tara!

  3. This made me giggle! Ah the plight of the foreigner, trying to be understood, or change the subject. I'd probably have just run out of there! :D