By Annie Maroon, Staff Writer
This weekend I bought a painting. I hadn’t gone out intending to do so, but in the middle of Parque Kennedy, where local artists set up their displays every weekend, I found myself talked into an impulse buy in the most pleasant way possibe.
The painter, Hermán, was a round-faced man in his twenties or thirties who was already talking to two of the other girls on the BU program when a friend and I showed up in the park. His paintings sat on a wooden frame, some protected by a plastic sheet from the rain that had been falling all day (this was Lima’s version of a punishing downpour, meaning that after walking around outside for half an hour, my hair was slightly damp).
One after another, the other girls selected paintings, none of which cost more than 20 soles – $7.63 in U.S. dollars. All the while, Hermán was telling us about Peruvian foods we should try (the one I made sure to remember was the picaron, a sort of donut made from squash and sweet potatoes) and asking us where we were going after we left Lima. Rather than harassing us to buy something or pushing us toward one painting or another, he told us about the towns we’d be visiting and asked us how we were finding the capital so far.
The weather here – at times simultaneously chilly and humid, with gray skies from sunup to sundown – can take a toll on morale. So can the fact that rapid-fire Spanish, in conversation with native speakers, is still far from natural for me. It’s fortunate, then, that nearly everyone I’ve met in Lima has been exceedingly friendly. Our group of “amigos,” the university students who volunteered to show us around the city, have done everything from finding us soccer tickets to getting us “on the list” at various bars and discotecas around town (if you’ve never been “on the list,” I recommend it – no matter where you are, it makes you feel sort of like Beyonce). I’ve had a few random strangers approach me for conversations that wound up being much longer than I expected (don’t worry, these were in a well-lit, populated areas).
So when I was the last one left without a purchase, I went ahead and pointed to the one I’d been eyeing, an oil painting of two small Peruvian houses covered in colorful flowers. There may have been bigger, more impressive paintings in the tourist-geared “Inka Markets” that line a number of nearby Miraflores streets, but this one came from the person who told us about picarones and somehow stayed cheerful while standing in the rain all day with his work.
By Annie Maroon, Staff Writer
Annie is currently studying abroad in Peru and will be sharing details of her experiences and travels over the next couple of weeks.
Crossing the street in Lima is an extreme sport. Part of what makes it so fun (and by “fun,” I mean “life-threatening”) are the microbuses: buses that barrel down the streets with people hanging out the doors, calling out prices and destinations. And on the side of each multicolored vehicle is a partial list of destinations: BRASIL. VENEZUELA. CUBA. MEXICO.
Of course, they’re only street names. If these were submersible buses that could actually take us to Cuba, crossing the street might be a sci-fi movie, rather than just a terrifying South American experience. But I’m pretty pleased with the idea that I could hop a city bus in central Lima and, eventually, find myself in Venezuela.
In fact, during an excursion over the weekend, we passed by the Pan-American Highway, which I’d forgotten passes through Lima. I’ve been smitten with the idea of the Pan-American for the last couple years: essentially, it runs from Alaska down to the southern tip of South America, but you can’t actually drive the length of it, because there’s a 54-mile patch of Colombian jungle where there is no road and you have to ship your car around it by ferry to continue. Part of me is disappointed by this; the other is a little relieved to hear of a patch of the Americas that hasn’t been paved.
The point is that I’m on the other side of that gap in the road. Ecuador and Chile are my neighbors right now. But I’m in no hurry to head out of Lima, seeing as I only have two more weeks to learn my way around a city that sprawls over 310 square miles along the Pacific coast.
So far I’ve seen the area around the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Peru, a neighborhood that seems to be under a great deal of construction; Miraflores, the residential district where I live with my host family; the city center, which is full of brightly colored Spanish buildings and tiny shops selling llama-related paraphernalia; and Pachacamac, the ruins of an ancient city on the outskirts of town. It’s all part of greater Lima, but I feel like I’ve been in several different regions – the only unifying factor is the fog.
The fog, for which the local name is “garua,” is here to stay. During the entire Peruvian winter, it hangs over the ocean and the city on the cliffs up above, blocking out any hope of sunlight. I am serious when I say that I saw ten times as much sunlight in a week in Ireland (where I studied last fall) than I have in my first week in Peru. But even in the dead of winter (you know, jeans and sweatshirt weather), wandering around Lima for the next two weeks suits me fine.
It’s a good thing I have some experience with cities that refuse to make sense. On the first day of my Contemporary Irish Society class, our professor explained to us that we shouldn’t be too concerned about the fact that street signs in Dublin are hidden away on the sides of buildings, or that there aren’t uniform city blocks so much as there are places where streets accidentally intersect with other streets. In short, it won’t be long before we’re used to the fact that Dublin is actively trying to confuse us.
“The city’s a bit like a sponge. It’s like SpongeBob,” Frank, the lecturer, explained. “It sort of festered out from a central notion.”
This is a pretty poetic way to talk about buildings and streets being jammed together haphazardly, the same way they are in Pittsburgh, where I spent my summer. (In Pittsburgh, we mainly just curse out our GPS and focus on weaving through the construction cones.) The Dublin tourism bureau would probably tell you that kind of poetry is typical; this is the city that gave us James Joyce, after all. The home of Oscar Wilde, who has an encyclopedia’s worth of witty quotes attributed to him, some of which he may not have even said. Maybe I’ll finally be inspired to finish my first novel here. At worst, here’s hoping I’ll be motivated to keep up with this blog.
Growing up, I heard a lot about the Irish writer-dreamer-poet from my mother, who’s nearly 100 percent Irish and always made us listen to rebel songs about kicking the English off our land on St. Patrick’s Day. I saw a lot of green decorations and shamrocks year-round at my uncle’s house in Ohio; he was proud of the family name, McCartney, and wanted to make sure we all knew we were Irish and damn proud of it. In fact, when I first told him I’d be going to school in Boston, he almost teared up. “All those Irish Catholics in Boston, honey,” he told me. “Couldn’t be going anywhere better.” (For the record, I am fairly certain he thinks I go to Boston College.)
I probably got a lot of the same stories and images as a lot of American kids whose great-great grandparents came from Ireland, growing up, so I consider myself pretty lucky to have wound up here. Of course, I have to change the way I describe myself – at home, when the topic of heritage comes up, I can comfortably call myself an Irish-Lebanese Pennsylvanian (rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?). Here, I’m not Irish. I’m from the States.
One of the more interesting things about wandering around another country has been hearing about the way other people expect me to be as an American. That same lecturer who brought up SpongeBob has talked to us about the American image of explorers, loners, cowboys roaming through wide open western spaces. The young guy who interviewed me at the magazine where I’ll be interning was more frank: “What do you mean you don’t have an iPhone? You’re an American!”
It wasn’t worth explaining that I have a Droid, which is as baffling and excessive as any iPhone. Like it or not, I represent the States from sea to shining sea every time I open my mouth here. I’m expected to be on time, even though Irish people are apparently expected to be late for everything. I’m already tied to Bill Clinton and John Wayne (I’ve been told) by virtue of my birthplace, and I’m cool with that. This is the fun part – this is the part where I put names and faces and personalities to Irish people who aren’t Bono and the Edge. This is the part where I learn my way around Ireland.