Thursday, July 21, 2005

Lima, Peru

I'm sitting in the VIP lounge in the airport in Lima, Peru. I'm not usually a VIP at the airport, and I am entirely grateful for the spread of juice and snacks and coffee, since my midnight flight to Atlanta has been postponed until 3 am, and by then I will have been here for six hours.

Lima is a good city, at least the parts of it that I saw. It charmed me and reminded me why I had fallen in love with South America almost ten years ago.

It is winter here now, and the skies have been uniformly overcast since I've been here, but there has been almost no rain, just a London-like mist once in a while. Not enough for an umbrella, just enough to be romantic for the first 15 minutes and to be annoying thereafter. The weather is cool, but the humidity makes it feel like the mist gets under your clothes to stay there and torment you all day. The weather makes the city feel comfortably melancholy.

I always love to look at the architecture when I ride in cars around a new city. A city's architecture and geography are like the lines and expressions of a face -- in them, you can see the story, illustrated. In Lima, most of the buildings are the same rebar-concrete-tile concotions that populate lower and middle class neighborhoods worldwide. Colorful paint and careful gardens do nothing to make these boxy things elegant. They cram together on the road almost fearfully, suspiciously. But then you get the pleasure of seeing the coy little post-colonial or 19th century house, peeking out from the phalanx with a wink of dramatic windows and doorframes. That is the reward for keeping one's face to the taxi window.

Our office is in the Miraflores municipality of Lima. This area is mostly a shopping district, with some cool stores and restaurants, some things for tourists, and some hotels. It isn't bad, but it isn't the place you'd want to live, necessarily, although it is a chic neighborhood. I stayed in the La Paz Aparthotel, and recommend it, except for the atrocious coffee. They were very friendly. I had a basic suite, with a kitchenette and stocked minifridge. Miraflores has a few nice antique shops, so if that is your thing, check out the places on La Paz, just in front of the hotel. It is safe to walk around, even to a reasonable hour at night, as long as you keep your city wits about you. A place I highly recommend for a drink and light Cuban food is the Club de Habana, on Manuel Bonilla. It is actually run by a young Cuban guy, and the clientele is friendly, the decor warm and comfy, and the food is great. Just next door, they have a gallery space where they show work from local artists.

A colleague took me to Barranco, a part of town with more historic buildings and a reputation for a bohemian culture. I could imagine the bohemians of Lima concocting their schemes for bringing down the dictatorship in cafes, smoking endless cigarettes. We walked all over the area, which is beautiful, especially in the early evening, and stopped finally for a drink at a cool place called Posada del Angel. It is full of strange antiques and painted riotous colors. The food is good, but the service is painfully slow. It is worth a trip, though. Also, all along the aqueduct, there are little restaurants where you can get a good meal, just like hundreds of tourists visiting the beach before you for decades past. We also went shopping, of course, to a lovely but expensive store called Dedalo. Local artists sell their craft work there -- not your typical artisan crafts, but more modern, high-quality, home decor stuff. It is expensive, but they have very nice things.

The next day, we went to a museum of Peru's history (I was ill, so I don't remember the name of the museum). It is in the San Isidro section of town, which is a flat stretch of little one- and two-story houses around plazas. The museum is in the home of Simon Bolivar in Lima, which is huge. It is very well curated for a museum of its type, and has all kinds of cool exhibits from the pre-Incan cultures to the present. I loved the textiles they had, and was fascinated by the most recent exhibit on the Fujumori years. I recommend a trip there if you get a chance -- but wear comfortable shoes, as it is big and you could easily spend a couple of hours there. After the museum, cross the street to the old tavern and get a Cusquena beer. We didn't because I felt horrible, but supposedly it is nice. This tavern is one of the oldest in Lima, continually operating.

So, on the whole, it was a good trip. The proposal went ok, everyone in the office was great, good hotel, interesting city. I recommend a trip to Lima.

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