Monday, October 21, 2013

Thoughts About a Woman In a Restaurant

     A woman sits in a tan-stained wicker chair, her eyes fixated in a zombie-esque manner on the television set nestled up in a corner between two pale white walls. The Spanish TV soap on display has her full, undivided, attention, and no matter what happens to the world around her, only the small universe inside of the suspended box counts for something. As I sit patiently waiting for my food to be ready, I notice this strange spectacle in the corner of my eye. She is sitting alone. I begin to ponder her story; where did she come from; where has she been?
     Grassy green fields of daffodils and sunflowers atop hulking hills, like something out of The Sound of Music, manifest themselves in my mind, and, lying undisturbed in the middle, is a twenty-something year old woman with olive skin and long black hair caressing her face and ascending down to the ground parallel with her body. She is perched up on her side, with her long legs gently protruding outward from her luminously white dress as her elbow digs its way into the earth beneath, so as not to disrupt its continuing support of the hand that is holding her head. Between her thumb and index finger is a yellow sunflower that seems to be missing two or three petals, which upon further examination can be seen upon the ground directly beneath the hovering flower. Her somber gaze and wanting eyes make me wonder, has something made this woman sad? As I begin to approach her, the scene begins to melt away and I suddenly find myself standing in a decrepit doorway, its white exterior chipping off onto the weathered hardwood floor. Beyond the doorway is what seems to be an apartment, yet it would do better to classify it as a large closet containing a stovetop and a wash-sink. Only one lone yellow-lighted lamp is supplying the light for the room, but instead of a beaming light, it only achieves pools of ambient yellow that have become victims to the seemingly opaque shadows inhabiting the space. Within the confines of the brown adobe-style walls is a drab green love seat made of wool, complete with a shredded exterior that appears more to be a derivative of a night with a speed-crazy wilder beast than a lifetime of depressed environmental factors, and adorned with two pale pink pillows. On the couch sits a sobbing woman, wearing faded blue jeans and a dark black shirt, her head deep down into the palms of her hands, which are held up on top of her two legs. She looks to be in her mid thirties; her hair having lost its shimmer years before, and lines from a hard life displaying themselves gloomily upon her visible forehead. As her tears crash and explode against the bronze picture frame in her lap, her incessant sobbing pauses for a second and she asks herself in exasperation, "Why? Why? Why? I don't understand." I begin to walk forward, moving deeper into the dimly lit room. My eyes adjust to the lighting, or lack thereof, and the picture comes into focus. A family—son, daughter, husband, and a mother—their smiles radiating as they stand in front of a stone wall, which I assume to be from a vacation of some sort. I want to ask her what happened; I want to comfort her. Autonomously my arm extends, reaching for her shoulder, but the moment before I make contact, she freezes. In the same moment, as my hand lands upon her shoulder, she shatters like a porcelain statue. Pieces of her sullen face drop onto the couch and floor as a cloud of dust permeates the air. In complete horror, I begin to slowly back away, still facing the petrifying scene before me. The room seems darker, angrier, and the swirling air has become cold, despite the lack of windows within the apartment. I feel something rise against my heel as I back away, causing me to stumble. Like a rug pulled from under me, I begin to fall. Thoughts run back and forth through my head—what happened to this woman? What does it all mean?—then, as my skull cracks itself on the floor, darkness. 
"Señor? Señor? Aquí es su comida."
In an instant, I jolt back to life and apologize to the woman holding my food. She looks at me quizzically, then walks away muttering something to herself as she proceeds to pick up plates covered in half-eaten portions of rice and various vegetables. As I leave the restaurant, I notice that the same old woman is still sitting there, her eyes fixated on the television screen without compromise. I don't understand why she is there; why she saturates herself with a fake reality. Her longing stare imbues me with a sense of wonder, but I realize that for all the wondering I could ever do, I will not find my answer. I exit and continue down the cracked sidewalk, the air embracing me with mystique, watching as people interact and forge moments with one another, each more fleeting than the last. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Withdrawals of You are Starting to Settle In

Since I came here about a month or so ago, I have been exposing myself to a myriad of different artists, songs, and films. There has been no break in the overcast sky pattern that tends to plague Lima during its dim winter. The sun shows itself rarely, if ever, and when it does you begin to see a taste of what the summer is expected to bring—people become more social; they blast their car stereos with all four doors open and begin dancing on the sidewalks. It's a glorious depiction, and one I love to witness when the rare moment occurs. But, unfortunately, this occurrence is quite seldom during this time of year, bringing instead a more subdued version—people shuffling down the cracked sidewalks, keeping to themselves with their eyes focused on the ground. It's not that they are inhospitable, they're just in that old winter mode which tends to produce a rather somber time of reflection. No one really enjoys winter, whether it brings thunderous blizzards and power outages, or simple overcast skies and a sense of despondence. It can be a struggle not to let the clouds beat your motivation to a bloody pulp, so I have been remedying my situation with some Peruvian beers and a little dash of Santana I-III. That's right, good ole' "Santana", "Abraxas", and "III". It's extremely refreshing to say the least, and does its best to make up for the sun's rude malfeasance, albeit the lack of physical light. Searing guitar leads, furious bongos, ambient minor sevenths, and a healthy dose of swirling and whirling organs do enough to produce their own, immortal brightness, despite delivering the usually-optical sensation through a completely different sense. But, no matter how brilliant a luminescence the music achieves, it creates a longing in my heart for my own electric guitars and strange array of effects and amps left at home. My acoustic did join me for my trip down here, and for that I am beyond appreciative, but I do sorely miss the electricity running through each note, delivering a reverberated sense of sustain and feeling. The buzzing hums of the seemingly liquid tones being bathed in oceans of delay and phase, giving way to a crescendo of crisp, clean, and thick chords—I miss it; I want it; I crave it. There is no replacement for that feeling of being in a dark, dank, smoke-festering little room with other musicians, jamming out to a universal feeling that is as harmonious within ourselves as it is in the notes and beats we play. The syncopated effort, among a lingering stench of cigarettes and big dreams, is a beautiful euphony that delivers an unparalleled sense of unity and accord. Music is an art imbued with a beautiful sense of symmetry, allowing you to disrupt its ambiguous congruity with sonic prodding and aural assault until you achieve a balance of your own desire. Bottom line: I'm having electric guitar withdrawals!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Blast Off... It's Party Time

Since coming to Lima, I have only been involved in a handful of social outings, with most of them not even being genuine Peruvian adventures, but rather just fun times with my roommate and friends from the States. The first weekend I was here however, I had the unique opportunity to watch Peru compete in their final qualifying match for the World Cup at a local bar. It was quite exciting—patrons drank themselves into boisterous oblivion, roaring angrily during game lows, then bursting into celebratory song at each anticipated high. When I arrived at the bar, I was introduced to a young, well-dressed woman sporting mute, yet chic, colors and her equally stylish boyfriend in a red track jacket, both of whom welcomed us to sit with them. The experience itself was something I won’t soon forget and concluded with my friends and I being invited to a birthday party, weeks away, for the girl we had sat with. My friends had known her for the last six months or so, and seemed to be sincerely close with her. The aforementioned party took place this past weekend and was truly one of my first authentic Peruvian experiences—being that, over the last couple of weeks, the party transitioned from being a supposed “banger” at a rowdy nightclub to a more subdued intimate celebration at her aunt’s apartment for family and close friends. Whichever way it was to go down, I was slightly nervous in regards to the event, thanks to my lack of fluency in the Spanish language, as well as the fact that I knew none of the people that were to attend. But, with my nerves flying at high altitude and a little apprehension, I nonetheless decided to venture into the social wild and attend the celebration.
            Back home in the States, I would usually have a bunch of different outfit options, of which I did my best to bring here, however, my timing was unusually unfortunate and the party had found me at the cusp of a new laundry cycle. The only available articles of clean clothing in my closet were a gray flannel, a pair of maroon-ish jeans, and my black pullover. With my Frankensteined outfit assembled and a quick foray with the mirror—in an attempt at some sort of hairstyle; we sadly have no brush, I joined up with my two friends and begun the night. The party was taking place at an apartment only ten minutes or so from our own, so we took the opportunity to walk the streets of the Surquillo district and the beautiful Miraflores district. When we arrived at the apartment door belonging to the birthday girl’s aunt, we were welcomed in by her grandmother, who greeted us with a warm smile and a kiss on the cheek—the customary greeting for women down here. She was a hospitable woman, who exemplified the exact image and definition of “grandmother”, with her friendly conversation and charitable offerings of anything we might need. After entering the apartment, we walked down a short slender hallway, past an arched alcove on the left in which the kitchen was housed, and arrived at a wonderfully, and appropriately for the occasion, decorated room with two tan-skinned, raven-haired girls sitting on a beige loveseat. They greeted us with big grins and welcoming embraces as we sat down on the couch parallel to theirs. Both of my friends knew them, and after talking for a bit, I learned that they were the birthday girl’s two best friends. As one proceeded to apply eyeliner and foundation to the other, they broke down the itinerary of the night for us into karaoke, dancing, and other stuff, as well as supplying us with the notion that they wanted the party to be a surprise. We continued to talk about various things until the birthday girl arrived, in which time another friend, as well as the parents and the aunt joined us.
Upon notification of her arrival, my friends and I, in addition to the two girls and the newly arrived friend, hid in different spots around the living room, with me placing myself behind a table. Laughing to myself, I found joyous amusement in the fact that I hadn’t been part of a surprise party in many, many years, yet I reveled in the youthful sentiment that seeped from the idea itself. As we sprung up, yelling surprise in two different languages, the birthday girl’s mouth gaped open with shock and appreciation like I haven’t seen in a long time. Down here, family events such as birthday parties, reunions, and even simple dinners are treated with a sense of respect and gratitude—something that we, including myself, have trampled all over. As we all sat down, her parents produced a silver tray lined with glasses of fresh peach puree and rum, sending my taste buds into their own ecstasy that was to be followed by karaoke. Karaoke and I were never friends, but I was so swept up by the contagious excitement flying around the room, that I decided to attempt “Promiscuous” by Nelly Furtado. After the karaoke had subsided, and about 4 more rounds of peach rum drinks had gone around, they presented the birthday girl with her cake. Adorned with what I assume to be twenty-four—since this was her newly achieved age, sparkling trick candles and an edible picture of the birthday girl holding her dog, she hurriedly tried to blow out each sparkler after the birthday song concluded. After successfully extinguishing each stubborn sparkler, a cylindrical tube was placed at the top of the cake, which, when lit, burst into a stream of sparks like a Fourth of July firework and served as the precursor to a piñata, which literally looked like a pink papier-mâché ball covered in glossy birthday hats. With quite a bit of superfluous effort, the piñata was eventually ripped open, spilling its insides of candy and knick-knacks all over the hardwood floor beneath it. After the mad-dash to retrieve the candy and disperse colored ribbons about the room, EDM and dancing ensued. I did my best non-dancing dance moves—stand around, bop my head like “Night at the Roxbury”, and make a mockery of dance culture while mingling awkwardly to the groove. The night soon concluded itself around one in the morning, and after a few good-byes and closing beers, we initiated our journey back home. I can honestly say that I fully enjoyed every moment of the party and wouldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my Saturday night. Meeting new friends, forging fresh connections, and feeling the warmth of family that so permeates the culture down here was an extraordinary experience and I’m incredibly thankful I was able to be a part of it.