It’s COVID-19 in Peru Days 5.
Still quiet here in Lima. And even though not much happens, life, of course, goes on.
I could read this as ominous, but I won’t. The random powers of the world appear to have a grim sense of humor.
Below that is taped this sign, which roughly translates to “Take your own garbage out, here’s where to do it.” I thought that “No hay personal” translated to “This isn’t personal,” but it really means “there’s no staff.”
Our friend Alberto (see days 3 and 4) is quarantined in Buenos Aires. Alberto is our Spanish teacher. We used to be able to pay him through PayPal, but that’s become increasingly tricky in Buenos Aires. In the US, it’s easy to forget that other people really have problems, and have been for years. In fact, one of my favorite jokes with pretty much anyone I’ve spoken with since we first went to Argentina in 2018 is that, when I would bitch about our government, the Argentines would rightfully smile and say, “Hold my beer.” There were about 24 Argentine pesos to a dollar when we first went 2 years ago. Last year, we could double that. In the months since, you can double that.
So we were really looking forward to bringing Alberto’s teaching payment down to him in dollars after we were finished in Peru. Also cooking him dinner and drinking Malbec with him.
Well. That ain’t happening.
So we’re in arrears, Alberto and Steve and I are in quarantine, and Western Union is the only way to get him money. I talk to my sister to see if she can send it from the US. She says, “great.” Then she says, “My kids are saying that, due to my advanced age, they don’t want me leaving the house.”
(The advanced age thing has made her and I laugh a fair amount, but also want to whack our children over the heads. My son told me, “I’ll be happy to see you but I don’t want to get close because of your age.” As possible as it is to snap in a text message, I snap, “I’m 59. I’m not Bernie fucking Sanders.” But, honestly, it’s sweet of them. And a reality check. A Chinese cook I worked with in NYC once asked me, “What is this thing you say? I am not a young chicken?” I am no longer a young chicken.)
So my niece is going to go. She gets to the WU location I usually use, only to find it closed. She’ll try tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Steve and I have found an office less than a km away. He’s confident he can get there without incident. He says the streets are empty, and he relishes the walk. And of course, it’s fine for one person per household to go out.
Then my niece sends me a text with a tracking number from Michigan. She found a WU open. Alberto’s got his money.
So….what are you doing this weekend?
Steve bought 3 bottles of wine. I asked for coconut milk, thinking it would be the easiest thing in the world to find in a country so close to the equator. The only coconut anything he could find was shampoo and conditioner. Well, that’s not going to fly in a chickpea stew.
Hell with it. The wine will more than make up for it. (Peruvian wine is fairly unknown in the US, but very good.)
I work out. I write our governor, Gretchen Whitmer, and one of our senators, Debbie Stabenow. I like Whitmer, though Stabenow I’m a bit indifferent to. But man, they’re kicking butt and closing stuff down in Michigan. I’ve been so grateful to see the newsletters from Stabenow, with daily updates. I think my state has a shot at maybe not getting hit as badly as NY or NJ.
I watch half of Beyonce’s Lemonade movie and am blown away. I haven’t seen it up til now. A woman alternately raging, exhausted, delirious, joyously destructive in her fury.
Our Lord of the Earthquakes
I lie down for a nap, and wake up, shaking—the bed, not me. I remember this feeling growing up in the Bay Area in California. It’s an earthquake, a minor one.
I go out and ask Steve if he felt it. He thinks it’s a kid skateboarding on the rooftop; we’re on the top floor, under a big rooftop patio.
Definitely an earthquake.
It’s funny, but in my days of dread prior to this trip, I was really paranoid of a natural disaster. I had no idea it would be the one we’re going through. I did think it could be an earthquake; Peru has been through a number of catastrophic ones, most recently in 2007. In Cusco, you see huge crucifixes featuring Jesus with dark skin, Our Lord of the Earthquakes. The skin darkens because every time there’s a big earthquake, they haul the crucifixes outside and people touch them and pray to them, and between the elements and all the oil in people’s hands, you end up with Black Jesus. You can’t take pictures, because you can’t take pictures in hardly any of the churches in Peru. (This is actually a great rule. People are always worshipping in whatever church we’ve been in, and it feels a lot more holy when you don’t have folks trying to get a selfie in front of, oh, say, the Pieta.)
If today was the earthquake I was dreading…that wasn’t so bad.
Up on the Roof. But Whose?
I decide to go on the roof to get fresh air. I walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator. It’s a little creepy; the stairwells are not brightly lit. But then I emerge up on top, in an open-to-the-sky space. The fresh air and breezes from the sea feel lovely.
There’s a guy running laps, but I’m separated from him by plexiglass windows. I can’t figure out how to get where he is, but then, after finding dead ends and locked doors, I emerge into the place where the guy is running.
The city is beautiful, and seems desolate, though I know that all kinds of life goes on behind all those windows.
I head to the wall facing west, and see a sliver of ocean. I do a few laps, relishing the feeling of the breeze on my skin. Steve has told me it’s fine to go out for a walk, but my Peruvian contacts have said it’s better not to. I’m going with Peru on this one.
I remember being so thrilled to see the concrete building below, which won a design award, on our first day in the city. The random powers strike again, laughing into their elbows.
I decide to head back down after a while. I walk through an open door into the plexiglass-enclosed area. It strikes me as odd; I had noticed bathrooms marked “Damas” and “Caballeros”, but I distinctly remember “Damas” being nearest to a door. Now they’re flipped. I see a woman talking on the phone and a 10-year-old girl riding a scooter. I head down the stairs.
Our apartment has disappeared. We’re staying in 1003. In the hallway on the 10th floor that I emerge from, I see 1001 and 2. No 3.
I go back up the stairs, take the elevator. Same thing. Because, like, duh.
I go back up the stairs. I ask the girl and her mom if there’s a different stairway. We figure out between us—in Spanish! complete immersion—that I have somehow gotten to the rooftop of the other building in the 2-tower complex. I don’t know how the hell I did it. I take the elevator all the way to the basement, but I’m so turned around at this point, I don’t see how I could possibly be on the opposite side. Without believing it’s possible, and just in kind of a fog, I cross to the elevator that seems like it has to be the wrong one.
Nope, this is my hallway. Ok, that was weird.
The Earth Is On Fire
Earlier today, Steve has forwarded me an article on how fucked up everything is economically. This, I have told my sister Becky earlier today in a phone call before reading the article, is what troubles me. Not getting through the virus. The aftermath. The world turned upside down, just made manifest by my little excursion to the wrong rooftop.
I remember thinking, when my son was a baby and my daughter was 5, I probably won’t see the end of the world. But my children’s grandchildren might be that last generation.
When Trump was elected, I tried to put aside the fear that my kids were actually that last generation, and that I wouldn’t be there for them.
Now I wonder if it will come to all of us. That we’ll all be the last ones standing. Dammit. This means I have to be really, really strong.
I ain’t feelin’ it.
Our Nightly Entertainment
We watch a gorgeous movie, callled Baden Baden. We find it on MUBI, a streaming service I’m crazy about. They add a new movie a day, nearly all foreign films I’ve rarely heard of, or US/Canadian indies I haven’t heard of, or classics, in 30 day rotations. The movies push a day at a time. So if you don’t get to something in the line-up in 30 days, well, you miss your chance.
Baden Baden is the debut feature of Rachel Lang. It features a young woman at loose ends after failing as a production assistant, a job which appears to be more like an Uber driver for an actress. The wonderful Salomé Richard plays the woman. She’s a mess, but as with so many things, it’s all incredibly charming in French, deeply funny. And the composition and photography by Fiona Braillon are quietly breathtaking.
Halfway through, my timer goes off. It’s time for the nightly shoutout. It’s a little slow to start. Will it happen?
Not only does it happen, it goes on. We are cheering, clapping, ole-ing, going crazy. I yell out, “Te amo, Lima!” from our balcony. Other people yell, too. Sirens go off; they’re part of a general joyful cacophony.
(My movie came out better, but you mostly hear me clapping and yelling and it sounds really dumb and doesn’t capture the moment. I’ll try to get one where I shut up so you can hear everyone else tonight.)
I think of a prayer I learned in a meditation course:
In this moment, there is no lack.
In this moment, there is nothing to fear.
In this moment, there is much to be grateful for.
I need to repeat that a lot.