Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

A Taste of Lima

Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

A Taste of Lima

Article excerpt

each one oF us has a grandmother or mother, grandfather or father whose dish-humble or elaborate-transports us back in time or space, surrounds us with people, places, images, languages, and even fragrances of the past. The dish-or the memory of the dish-evokes a smile, or perhaps a tear, and generally seems inimitable by those who share the memory. Whether the dish is meatballs, empanadas, cardamom bread or rice pudding, the effect is much the same.

Each nation also has a culinary memory and foundation, dishes recalled and dishes reconstructed that gradually, sometimes mysteriously, become part of the imagined nation and its borders. A country like Spain is transparent, revealing immediately that its cuisine is a result of a history of invasions, expansions, immigration and (of course) globalization. Argentina's cuisine, too, reflects history, but also geography and distance. (You are never in Buenos Aires de paso, after all, except to Uruguay, which shares rivers, pampa and cuisine...) Yet in Peru, cuisine-of coast, mountains and jungle-has now united a people, who may easily have remained divided by natural and political obstacles. And fortunately for all of us who have landed and lingered in Lima, once called by U.S. novelist Herman Melville "the strangest, saddest city thou canst' see," but now is a subtly charming- albeit massive at nine million-metropolis, grey 11 months of the year, and the Aleph of all those enticing and local flavors and ingredients and naturally, too, their accompanying history.

Lima for me would be like Toledo once was for Peruvian writer Julio Ramón Ribeyro, who described that city as one he loved as a passing tourist for its monuments, climate and people-unlike Paris and Lima, where Ribeyro simply felt he belonged, beyond expressing likes or dislikes. Lima does not "belong" to me; I have not lived there for twenty years, only for one long delirious weekend of introduction, and subsequently two January stays: just enough to reveal that I enjoy the city immensely, am fascinated by its history, its people and (of course) its infinite culinary offerings. I can speak of moments visiting plazas, archaeological sites, kitchens and restaurants, private homes and gardens, schools and orphanages, restaurants, markets and museums; and I can recall many conversations, overheard or my own. I have traveled through the insane traffic on Lima's streets, through districts called Magdalena del Mar, Pueblo Libre, Miraflores, Barranco, Chorillos, Gamarra, La Victoria, and La Molina. And I can say me gusta, I like it, very much.

Lima is not glamorous, nor does it have the street life of Mexico City, nor the beach scene of Rio, yet it is elegant and dynamic. As an Argentine friend once declared, "Here in Buenos Aires, we don't have a sense or a presence of history...whereas if you walk around Lima, everything is history, you're completely surrounded by the past!" The limeños might simply say "500 años de fusión," five hundred years of fusion as past and present, city and provinces collide and cohabit Peru's capital city overlooking the Pacific. History, art, ethnicities and the country's biodiversity are all recognized and represented in Lima.

I went to Peru with gastronomic and linguistic curiosity. I went to discover the fruits of the jungle and the culinary treasures of the Peruvian Pacific. And I had heard that the Peruvians "spoke in poetry." Although majestic in photos, Machu Picchu was not in my plans. I wanted to listen, to speak and to eat, and, as always, my destination was essentially urban. And I came to realize I was in luck, as Lima, thanks to the last 20 years of Peruvian history and politics, is now a city which could and would provide me a sample of the entire country, historically, linguistically and gastronomically.

lima and sPanish 30

My students' enthusiasm over our Peruvian readings and activities in one of my advanced Spanish language classes had been overwhelmingly contagious. …

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