Wednesday, May 19, 2010

California dreamin’

I’ve been to various California cities but always on business trips so never really had the opportunity to get a feel for California living. Maribel is familiar with Miami and the upper mid-west but has never seen either coast, so when our friends Ray and Rose invited us to vacation at their home in Palm Desert we jumped at the chance. They were great hosts, making our visit comfortable and memorable.

I did have some misgivings about leaving one desert city – Chiclayo, to vacation in another - Palm Desert, but knew the differences would be vast. The communities of Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Palm Springs and others represent one of the more affluent areas in the state. Chiclayo is a developing city in a developing country. The only point of comparison was the deserts. Once outside of the cities, both Maribel and I were surprised at how the terrain resembled - in fact often appeared identical to the desert surrounding Chiclayo. Even the hills and smaller mountains looked the same.

I’m not going to detail every moment of our visit, but will say that dinner on our first day was something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. We are talking about New York strip steaks – meat more than 1/8 of an inch thick and tender - two characteristics not to be found in restaurants or grocery stores in Chiclayo. Ray cooked them to perfection on a grill in his own ‘secret’ marinade. The first bite was heaven, as was the first swallow of Kendall-Jackson Pinot Noir. We had many good meals both at our host’s home and in restaurants but this first dinner will remain in my memory for a long time.

I expected to see the glitz and glitter of Las Vegas – a town I’ve not visited before, but was not prepared for the huge size and opulence of the resort complexes. Chiclayo has many casinos, all of which could be placed in just one of the Vegas hotel casinos and not even be noticed. We didn’t have time to see all of the complexes during our two day visit. Of those we did see Caesar’s Palace and The Venetian were mind boggling to me.

This photo was taken inside the Venetian. The sky is artificial and I’m told changes to match the time of day or night outside. The canal with gondolas and singing gondoliers seems to wind forever through the stores and restaurants. My sister Joyce joined up with us in Vegas, where she has been a frequent visitor over the years. In her opinion Vegas has lost much of its former mystic as it transitioned to a family destination. That all of this could be under the roof of just one resort complex was to me staggering. These places are completely self-contained, and given the canal with park benches and changing artificial sky, who needs reality? I guess maybe I lived in Wisconsin’s cow country for too much of my life.

Fremont Street in Vegas is another world. You can buy, eat, drink or experience just about everything imaginable, all the while surrounded by locals of all flavors – from business people to Jesus preachers in various mental stages of completely sober to utterly stoned, and hundreds of gawking tourists like us trying to figure out if we’d stepped into an other world dimension. If the lights, sights and sounds of Fremont Street don’t stimulate your senses you’re probably dead.

Hollywood was a so-so experience for me and Maribel. Hollywood Boulevard has its share of attraction but it’s not even close to the grandeur of Vegas. The main attraction seems to be Grauman’s Chinese Theater which is in about the center of the 3 ½ mile ‘Walk of Fame’ circuit, and boasts the hand and foot prints of over 200 celebrities. There are dozens of celebrity impersonators working in front of Grauman’s theater, each looking to charge the tourist a fee for posing with them for a photo. I don’t understand why anyone would want to have their photo taken with a Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe or Bruce Lee impersonator, let alone pay for it. I wouldn’t pay to have my photo taken with a real celebrity. We enjoyed walking up and down Hollywood Boulevard but found it tame compared to Vegas.

Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills also did not impress us. We didn’t see any of the ‘rich and famous’ shopping, nor did I see anything different from any other up-scale shopping area in all major USA cities. We did see a unique car parked on the street. It drew quite a crowd of curious onlookers. I don’t know if it was the car or the car’s owner they were interested in.

One of the many highlights of our visit was riding a tram to the top of the San Jacinto Mountain. The word ‘breathtaking’ is overused but is the appropriate description for this activity. The 12 minute ride to the top of the mountain is scenic and fun, and once at the top the scenery was spectacular.

There was snow on the ground and the smell of pines in the air. It was cool and crisp, reminding Maribel and me of the spring climate in Wisconsin. In one direction there were higher, snow covered mountains while in another we could see the cities of Palm Desert and other communities far below us, looking like a table top miniature. There are restaurants and hiking trails on the mountain top. I’d like someday to return to walk one of those trails.

Now we’re back home in Chiclayo, and as always it feels good to be home but the visit was too short. Fortunately we’ve got over 300 photos to help us with the mental transition.


Saturday, May 1, 2010

The place I left behind me

I’ve been in Chiclayo for 22 months and am dealing with my first real case of homesickness. Perhaps it’s because of our upcoming visit to the States but I don’t think so. I’ve adapted fairly well to customs in Peru. Most of the time I ignore what I would call the petty annoyances. For some reason during the last few days they’re overpowering; making me aware of what I left behind.

At my former home in Wisconsin’s north woods I controlled the environment. Here, the environment controls me. Lately I can’t seem to shut out the taxi and moto horns; the ice cream vendor’s bicycle horn; the guy pushing his cart while calling through his bullhorn “Buena palta!” (Good avocados!); the newspaper vendor shouting”La Republica!, La Industria!, El Comercio!”; the woman yelling “Tamaaaaleeees!” at a volume I thought impossible for the unaided human voice to attain; the bible readers who refuse to stop ringing my bell because saving my soul is their priority for today, and the never-ending phone calls asking for “Briiam” who used to be Brian but Brian is apparently not a cool name for a rapper so now he’s Briiam. That’s pronounced Bree-am in case you’re interested. I actually enjoy getting to the phone before he does so I can say, “Briiam?...sorry, there’s no Briiam here” and hang up. He doesn’t like that. He thinks I’m not cool. And of course there’s the music…the ever present music, that I can hear right now as I type this coming from 3 different directions. Also the chickens cackling and the roof-top dogs barking. Can’t forget to mention them, cause’ they never forget to serenade me.

I didn’t have any of that in Wisconsin. I had ¾ of an acre of peace surrounded by woods. I had birds and deer and foxes who ate out of Maribel’s hand, and chipmunks and frogs and raccoons and bears, none of whom ever once tried to sell anything to anybody that I know of or felt compelled to save someone’s soul. They never asked to borrow money, though they did frequently visit in the hope of receiving something to eat. They didn’t offer to shine my shoes every two minutes, nor did they ever shout or play music or call my house asking for Briiam. I had a fire pit where I could sit day or night and cook or just watch the fire and never see or hear another person, that is until Maribel joined me, which I didn’t mind at all.

My house was my fortress. No one ever rang my door bell without first being invited, and on the rare occasion when the phone rang it would actually be someone I wanted to talk with and who had something of substance to say. My special place inside the house was in the family room on the right side of the sofa near the open patio doors. I did my reading there, and when I wasn’t reading I’d listen to the birds during the day, and the frogs, owls and the wind in the trees at night. Most nights I didn’t bother to lock up or even close the patio doors. There has never been a break-in or anything outside stolen that anyone in the area has heard of.

I like living in Chiclayo. I have never regretted the move here. I’ve had occasional twinges of home sickness before, but this one is really tugging at me. We don’t own that place anymore so there’s no possibility of returning to it. But we’ve got lots of photos…and memories.