It’s time again for resolutions that we would like to keep, those we might keep, and a few that we keep making even though know we will never keep them. Hope is boundless, so let’s all put a big scoop of it in our resolutions and head on in to the New Year.
Our holiday decor is very hopeful, including elements of as many belief systems as we could gather. A Chancay figurine wears a hand of Fatima, the creche rubs shoulders with a couple from Ayacucho riding an elephant, and all the stockings show how Christmas is perceived by designers in China. There is a piece of whale bone in the non-functioning fireplace. At least Santa doesn’t get burned on a real fire when he comes down the chimney.
Meanwhile, transitions are taking place all around us as summer takes hold in Peru. The thick coastal mist that characterizes not-summer is giving way to the quickly evaporating mist that is gone by 10 am with hot days to follow. There are flocks of seabirds on the beach every day. They will seek less crowded shores as soon as summer vacationers arrive in slightly greater numbers. The flocks of gulls are punctuated by the occasional tern or oystercatcher and the rare whimbrel or two. I love seeing the whimbrels, they have such a fanciful name. Their long curved beak and nervous cheeping makes them look like an uncomfortable accountant who has lost his eyeglasses, perennially flying just over the water looking for his specs.
There are some local transitions that stand out because we’ve been away since April. Last year we had restaurants on either side of our house, both are gone. The newcomer just south of us didn’t have enough business, we hear, and gave up before his lease ended. Las Gaviotas, forty-year landmark of the neighborhood, aged out of business. The owners had passed the running of the restaurant to their son, our good friend Gaim. When Gaim was diagnosed with leukemia three years ago, we all believed that he was a bone marrow transplant away from recovery, and one of his siblings was a match. He died two years ago from a form of MRSA that he contracted in the hospital, never well enough to undergo the transplant. The cruelty of his death affected us all, but his parents couldn’t face returning to the daily grind of the restaurant, itself a reminder of their missing son. The signs are down and painted over, and they have resisted offers to rent the restaurant space to others. Las Gaviotas is closed.
Not all is gloomy. A few doors down is a brand new beach house just completed by a friend who has wanted to have her own place on Chorrillos Beach for many years. We met when she stopped by to tell us stories of staying in the house that is now ours when she was a child. Maria Luisa’s new house is lovely, with a generous porch overlooking the beach, large living/dining area decorated with Spanish tiles collected on visits to Spain through her work with Iberia airlines. There’s a large interior patio with a grassy plot in the center and two bedrooms at the back, sure to be quiet. We are looking forward to her vacation days in the neighborhood.
Up and down the beach we see people putting up new woven sun shades over their front porches and painting their facades, getting ready for the season. One disco has a new name and a restaurant has added rooms to rent. Two small hotels no longer advertise rooms, though I understand that both intend to rent rooms informally. Inspections by the civil defense authorities revealed costly upgrades that both–in older buildings–decided they couldn’t afford.
One tiny new bar has emerged along a stretch that appeared to be completely built up. Mackey’s Bunker is just over one parking space wide. That’s pretty narrow, but they’ve managed to squeeze in three tables. I wish them luck.
The beach is the same as ever. Some years the sand washes in and the beach expands. Other years the sand washes out and people worry that the seawall will be undermined. It hasn’t happened yet. The beach has not been maintained recently because of a strike by sanitation workers and the high tide line has a lot of unsavory junk–wrappers, plastic, halves of limes, the occasional onion. When we arrived there was a dead seal on the beach and we wondered whether it would be left to ferment. Just as the smell became really noticeable on our daily walk down the beach, the carcass disappeared. I guess the city fathers realized that it might put a damper on Christmas. Even the dogs wouldn’t touch it. Workers settled the strike yesterday and today, finally, the beach was clean.
The seawall is painted most years by a commercial sponsor. This year the repair and painting is underway with one section bright orange and the next section green. The logos should get stenciled on by New Year’s Eve. Or the week after. Perhaps.
The ebb and flow of life in a small beach community is unchanged. The taxi driver who parks at the bottom of the hill up to town is still there. Jonathan wished him a Feliz Navidad and shook his hand. The old man with a terribly bent back still sits on the seawall doing his Sudoku, and three generations from nearby–mother, daughter, granddaughter–walk up and down past the house. This year the youngest is pushing her doll in a carriage, not riding in a stroller herself. They wave as they go by.
We are creatures of habit here, too. We set a table and chairs on the front porch to have our lunch. At six pm we set out two easy chairs and a small table to watch the sunset. Anyone who wants to say hello or confer knows when to find us. The sunset is different every day. We have so many sunset photos that we try not to take any more, but sometimes we can’t help ourselves. It’s part of the rhythm of the neighborhood.