My exact location is Trujillo, La Libertad. I am staying outside the historical centre in a hotel designed for businessmen on small budgets. This strategic choice is based on a hotel choosing technique I developed for Mexico. You have to put up with a boring modern building in a boring modern district, but on the other hand you get good service (for example, wi-fi to your room, even if not all the electric plugs work during the daytime), but you get these things at a price designed for people who do not budget in terms of Euros or dollars, and you do not have to handle any tourists. I divined by Internet that this hotel was one such, and in fact everyone else here is a businessman. Rooms are $16, there is running water 24 hours a day, the official hot water actually gets fairly warm, and they serve you coffee and tea.
I arrived after a long and increasingly depressing day of travel during which all I ate after breakfast were four mandarin oranges because the other food available looked as though it could be cholera ridden, and I forgot that I was carrying a whole Andean cheese. When I went out to look for dinner, I was less coherent than I realized and could not find the historical center, although it is quite nearby. My God, thought I – if the center is fact still here, it may not be functioning (that does happen, you know – think of Managua). I who had dreamed all day of real café con leche at night on a Spanish street, nearly choked on the fumes of the suburbs and could not face the greasy food I could find, as my stomach had succumbed to the combination of noise and smoke. I ended up eating an odd dinner of yogurt, papaya juice, fruit salad and maté de coca in a health food store whose owner kept asking, are you sure you do not want honey with that? No, it is already sweet enough, I said. I had already amazed him by ordering plain yogurt, no topping, and rejecting sweetened condensed milk as a garnish for the fruit salad. (The specialty of this health food store was health food cakes.)
Then in the morning I got up to the usual thick winter fog which, combined with the smoke and the grayish brown drab of all suburban buildings, keeps spirits low. I did business I needed to do in other suburbs, by taxi. Unlike Lima, however, all rides were short and all rides cost just around a dollar. (You negotiate prices with cabs in Peru, by the way, there are no meters, and in Lima some of them start out with really high proposals. The haggling can be fatiguing and the ritual is interesting: you argue informally through the window and then, if you finally get in the car, the interaction starts over in a different mode as you salute each other politely and formally: “Buenas tardes.”)
Amazingly the fog lifted slowly throughout the morning. By noon the sun come out. Next, a wind came up and actually blew the smog away. I had the last cab drop me near the Plaza de Armas and walked out onto it in the bright, beach-infused light I remember, to discover that the entire colonial center has been restored and is beautiful, with the flags all up for fiestas patrias snapping jauntily in the high breeze.
There are many colonial mansions, now used for different things, including LANChile, the House of Emancipation, the House of the Schoolteacher, and the headquarters of the APRA party (which advertises the Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre dental clinic, by the way), and no cars are allowed on the Plaza de Armas. There are many of those distinctive Peruvian wooden colonial balconies, all in very good shape, and walking across the stones in the clear air I caught a glimpse of the Lima I once knew.
On the plaza you can see, among other things, the façade of the Colegio Nacional de San Juan, where César Vallejo taught in 1913 and 1914 (yes, it was right on the plaza, y’all – he did not live entirely as badly as people like to say). A nearby church with what I think are remnants of mestizo Baroque frescoes has been decommissioned and turned into the César Vallejo Auditorium, where lectures are given. (In the House of Emancipation there is also a Vallejo room, showcasing all the books on and by him they have. These are most of the books that appeared up to 1980, including a 1979 edition of Víctor Fuentes‘ book I never read and should, and the offprint of an article by Luis Monguió. The only new book they have is a facsimile of his legal dossier, which I would love to read and perhaps can somehow. It ends in 1928 and I need to find out whether his case was closed then, or what. I have heard a rumor that one reason he never returned to Peru after leaving in 1923 was that he remained a wanted man.)
There are many traditional Spanish cafés, and strolling is done very slowly. I went to art galleries and a concert of choral music, including a Carnaval song from Arequipa with mestizo tones. I ate a fancier lunch than usual, consisting of three courses and costing three whole dollars. It involved the usual chicken, potato and pasta soup, camote huancaína with raw shrimp (I do not really like camote or raw shrimp, although one could see these were excellent shrimp, but the huancaína sauce was first rate), pescado a lo macho (the pescado was not the best, but the shrimp, cooked this time but still in their shells, and the sauce were again first rate), and chicha morada. I drank fancy coffee costing almost a dollar. As I walked home through the colonial buildings, now lit up with retro lanterns, I actually saw a tuna.
Trujillo, founded in 1534, is TRUJILLO DE PERU – the first Trujillo is in the province of Cáceres, in Extremadura, where the Pizarros were from and where Francisco Pizarro still has his house (that would be his father’s house – he was illegitimate and I do not think he grew up in it) and where Francisco de Orellana‘s 15th century house is now a hotel. (By the way, there is a card game called NABUKO in which you pit 48 famous generals and conquistadores against each other in single combat – think of it, Cortés vs. Attila the Hun – and this game has a blog.) In any case it is amazing how calming it is to have escaped tourists, to have witnessed city streets not entirely choked with traffic, and to have walked home from the center of town in a city.
It was, in sum, like spending a day in New Orleans in the areas not destroyed by Katrina, known as the “Sliver by the River” or the “Isle of Denial,” without paying attention to any other parts of town. But then the official line is that Peru is advancing, building, so you should not listen to semi-Luddite me. Just answer me this question: is it only my perception that the quality of food in the typical menú del día has declined? If so, do you not see how, as élite Peruvian cuisine rises to new gastronomic heights, the food of the poor grows more Orwellian?
In any case, today the news includes these items:
+ water and electrical bills for Trujillo public schools have not been paid for two months, so the respective companies have turned them off and schools are functioning without lights or water;
+ there is a marvelous photoblog of things written on Lima microbuses and combis;
+ Nicolás Yerovi writes in Peru.21: “A qué genio ha contratado / la digna ciudad de Lima / que a la pobre la ha dejado / convertida en una ruina, / a los limeños en fieras / con los nervios destrozados, / y el tímpano de cualquiera / en despojo desdichado.”;
+ there is an unjust international order and prices are not based on supply and demand but on shameless speculation practiced by powerful groups (Amen, Guillermo Giacosa who wrote that, it is part of my famous 1981 research insight for whose sake I should have changed my major to Economics);
+ in humans between ages 40 and 50, the neurons which prevent anxiety die, never to be reborn;
+ funding to restore the famous mestizo Baroque church at Angasmarca, “the Sistine Chapel of Northern Peru,” has been found;
+ I would like to go to Angasmarca and I wish I had a 4×4 vehicle, like a Land Rover or a Jeep.
+ Angasmarca has a blog. The blog has music on it, so we will sing.