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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Sade dit moi, qu'est ce que tu vas chercher?

Everyone was out on the streets of historical Lima. This is something  I really love about Peru's capitol. People are outside. People don't exactly...go...outside in Seattle. I mean, we do; we hike or garden, but it's an event, and we tend to keep to ourselves. Being outside in a crowd, walking everywhere or sitting on the porch and watching the world go by? Not really. We're a car culture. Something to do with the rain...and the hills.
But in Lima the streets were absolutely packed and everyone seemed pretty darned happy about it. There was an infectious, lighthearted vibe

There were people from all walks of life; beggars, sellers, tourists, local families.  The policia in front of the President's Palace were sporting machine guns and riot gear, but appearing relaxed. Not a bad policy.

Flags were flying and the music of spoken Spanish was everywhere. It was a dance break in the walk of life. The people watching was fantastic.

Despite the crowds, I stopped dead to snap a photo of this guy gawking at the...brave outfit this young lady was sporting.

I'm not entirely sure what the woman with him thought of his nearly breaking his neck to get a closer look at what didn't really need a closer look to be entirely apparent.

Usually I hate crowds, but sometimes in the thrall of travel everything becomes amusing and interesting; even a urine-smelling corner of the Plaza made me smile. Actually, what made me smile was that my friends said "Hey, we're almost to the piss stink spot," and sure enough, they were right.

I doubt you can find that moniker and location in your guide book. Such is the benefit of exploring with companions who are also familliar with the area.

At the Lima Cathedral I encouraged my friends' children to try out the knocked on one of the huge, regal doors and then shrieked at them to "Run away! Run away before somebody comes!"

They did so, giggling like maniacs. Well, what are honorary aunties for than to stir up a bit of naughty fun?

While Shuko and I had both been to the Monastery San Francisco, the stunning baroque church from the 1600s, John and the kids had never been, and I was more than game to go again---the last time I'd managed to miss the convent's library, the oldest one in South America.

As we entered a beautiful room with skylights, romantic spiraling staircases and the parchment smell of books containing old secrets long forgotten, the guide explained that the library contains some 25,000 antique texts, some predating the church itself. The skylights were important: these books had been studied hundreds of years before the light bulb and one could not take candles into such an area.

Today, one could not take photographs either. I had to settle for buying a postcard of the library...and taking a photo of that.

The monastery is full of riches; carvings and silver, marble and gold and many, many paintings and frescoes; the large painting of the Last Supper where Christ and his Disciples dine on guinea pig and other South American dishes garnered a chuckle from us, and I found myself explaining to John's daughter why many of the saints were carrying their heads and to John what the Stations of the Cross and stigmata are. Somehow I had become the expert on Catholic faith for these good God-fearing Texans.

Detail from the front of the monastery,

The riches were all well and good, but of course what everyone was really looking forward to was the catacombes beneath the earth, and, the children twittering nervously, we went down the stone steps to the world of the dead. 70,000 souls rest there, their bones sorted by type into piles upon dusty piles; femurs and skulls and nothingness. The light is dim, the air old and dry.

John was especially into it. He'd managed not to crack his skull on the low ceilings, despite his height, had edged himself through the small doors and he was determined to get a photo, despite the guide.

I'll cover for you, I hissed, and lingered behind as the group continued forward, standing guard at a corner while behind John fiddled with settings and swore at his camera as seconds crept by.

I heard the guide coming back and burst out after her, saying "disculpe, disculpe" in my most innocent tone. She gave me a hard look but said nothing as she led me back to the group, not realising my subterfuge.

How she hadn't noticed that John the giant Texan and former US Marine was missing is beyond me, but it worked.

Well, sort of.

He sneaked back to join the group as well after what seemed like an achingly long while. I'd murmured to Shuko where he was and shushed the children who were starting to crane their necks and look for him as well.

"Well?" I asked beneath my breath.

"Nah, couldn't get it to focus and I didn't want it to make a noise and get caught," he said, looking down into the most famous ossuary in the catacombes, one with circles of skulls and bones radiating outward in rings.

Damn, those bones are badass! He exclaimed.
I turned a laugh that threatened to explode out of me into a smothered cough. "Badass bones?"
Oh. My. God. I figured that if I laughed now the guide would take a femur to me and tried to compose my face.
We managed to finish the tour without any other eventualities and emerged back into the rest of the world, vibrant and alive.

John ponied up for souvenirs for his wife and the girls, I got my postcards and we all wandered into the night, admiring the lights of the warm evening in Plaza Mayor, Lima's central square; horses and carts clopping by, pigeons clapping their wings as they headed to their nighttime roosts.

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