First Impressions, Peru

Lima

Quick: How many countries’ names end with the letter “u?”

Answer: Seven

Nauru, Tokelau, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Palau are small Pacific island states. Macau is part of China. So Peru is the only real, manly, by God state to end in a “u.”

•••••

Likeable enough folks, concrete block city, not much spirit, few attractions, “covered in a blanket of low cloud except for the months of January and February when the sun shines,” and every single non-Peruvian either coming from or going to Cuzco. Even the national beer, Cusquena, is named after the second city, not the capital.

Welcome to Lima.

We’re up here in our hotel on Christmas Eve 2012, with a white tile balcony with the view of an excavated building site, foreground, and a wall of 25 floor apartment blocks that mostly obscure the sea. A bank of clouds, which are well-known hereabouts, are a quirk of the local microclimate.

For weeks back home I looked at the 0% chance of rain in the Lima weather forecast. This cloud bank, an almost year-round phenomenon, is the much more salient feature. It’s been foggy and misty since we've been here.

It’s a modern, purposeful airport, busy at midnight, a long way from the central business district. On the way in, there’s this casino district spilling with people not minding the idea that there’s a curb marking the beginning of traffic, and casinos like Casino New York (Statue of Liberty outside), Hello Hollywood, Mesas y Maquinas and Magic City. A ubiquitous fast food chain called Norky’s, another called Bembos, the Katmandu Disco Bar and Aruba Bingo. It’s that third world, no zoning mix of casinos and clubs that aspire to sophistication next to down-market apartment blocks and then a ferreteria.

On a huge billboard way up above all the others, there, high in the sky, stood one mighty word: FUD. FUD is a Mexican brand of hot dogs. A solitary frank, in a bun, lay underneath FUD.

It’s a lovely temperature here twelve degrees south of the equator, given what late December is like back home. We have the heavy glass door to the balcony wide open and there is a freshness that means the sea is close, even though all the while there’s an underlying olfactory awareness of, maybe, inferior heating oil.

Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani, Arzo Bispo de Lima, offers some anodyne benevolence in his Navidad invocation and it’s relayed repeatedly by all news channel RPP. Judging from a few hours with RPP, it’s a kids-centered culture. They’ve got a live camera for Christmas shopping down on a main commercial street where it’s all about the kids.

Watching RPP you have to be a little embarrassed for Peru. I remember driving into Honduras from that model of market-based democracy, Guatemala. I snickered when the first transport vehicle I saw was a truck piled with bananas. Now here on RPP, it’s all interviews with military men wearing epaulets and shoulder boards.

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