If you were to step out the front door of our apartment building, you would be facing due east, looking across the palm lined boulevard toward the back wall of the San Isidro golf course. Turning to the right, you could walk south along Avenida Colonel Portillo past the Cuban embassy, the RepSol gas station, and the local KFC. Carrying on, you might notice the avenue curving slightly to the west, and the tall apartment complexes giving way to private homes behind tall, white walls. In a few more minutes you would find the avenue had run out, ending in Avenida Perez Aranibar. Across Aranibar is a fence, behind the fence are playing fields, and behind the fields is a blank expanse - the edge of a cliff, and the whitewashed Pacific beyond.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
I began my last post speaking not about Peru, but rather about my year in Brazil. This came about in the following way: I knew I wanted a Peru blog, but had no idea of how to begin. Then, the other day, I was walking down a broken sidewalk, flanked by faded colonial architecture and smooth trunked trees covered in glossy fat leaves, when a battered white taxi honked hopefully at me as it passed. I ignored it and it sped away, leaving a cloud of exhaust fumes in the humid air. The smell of the exhaust took me right back to the streets of Volta Redonda, Brazil. Car exhaust smells different there, and occasionally here, due to its ingredients. I smelled so many new and unfamiliar things in my first year away from home, all of them making a permanent mark on the blankish slate of my young mind - fresh passion fruit, clove cigarettes, cilantro, cashew juice, dende oil, guarana, green coconut, Cacharel's Anaïs Anaïs - but for some reason the first and foremost remains the smell of the exhaust produced by burning Brazilian gasoline.
It was in September of 1993 that I arrived in Brazil. It was my first real time away from home. I was seventeen. There was no internet, nor were cell phones common. It was arranged that I would call Canada to speak with my parents at an appointed time, or they would call me, once a month. I was homesick, but my exchange family supported me and I dealt with my bouts of loneliness. I kept a journal, although I have since lost it. I wrote letters on onion skin paper edged in yellow and green and walked down the hill from Laranjal, the neighbourhood in which I lived, whose name meant "orange grove", to the post office where I carefully sealed them using paste from a communal jar before sending them off to my parents or one of my many pen pals.