Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cloudy Notes on the Pain Scale

I was about two hours into a promising workday when it hit me.  If I hadn’t felt it before, I would have said I must have just twisted my back, but this was the same feeling I had four years ago, when the same irritating problem put me in the hospital for two days.

Women how have had children will tell you that the pain is worse than childbirth.  I have no frame of reference.  There is no position of comfort, but it doesn’t stop me from trying.  The pain isn’t severe yet, so I continue to work through it, although at times, I have difficulty concentrating.

How could something as small as a grain of sand cause so much pain?  I don’t know, how can something so small as a tiny electron smashing into a molecule of Plutonium cause a nuclear blast?  

In a foolish attempt to objectify pain, such geniuses as Wong, Baker, and MacGill, whoever they are, have probably done theses on the scale of one to ten.  Back when I worked as a nurse, I hated this scale, because basically, it’s useless and stupid.  All you need is a single patient who is equally useless and stupid, and the scale falls apart.

“Can you rate your pain on a scale of one to ten?”

“Twelve,” the patient calmly replies.

“You flunked math in school, didn’t you?”

“I don’t know what you mean.  Oh, by the way, I’m allergic to anything except for narcotics.”

Sometimes the scale would produce something I would call the “Static 10.”  That conversation would go something like this:

“Ten,” the patient would reply, again calmly.

“Is it as bad as it was earlier before you had the pain medication?”

“Oh, no, it’s not nearly as bad as that.”

“So if it was a ten then, and it’s much better now, what is the number?”

“Oh, it’s still a ten.  Can I get some more of that stuff?”

Enough of these conversations, and a guy gets a little paranoid when a nurse asks him to rate the pain, but since I had found my way into the Embassy’s health unit after a failed attempt to go home sick for the afternoon, I had to answer the question, I just didn’t feel like the answer was all that simple.

“Seven.  A seven…is when you can’t finish a sentence…without a pause.  An eight, you can’t start a sentence.  A nine, you can’t…speak in words, only noises, unless it’s random utterances of colorful vocabulary.  I’m saving the number ten for later, in case something…really bad happens.”

My honesty definitely didn’t pay off.  In spite of the fact that I have had five of these things previously, the doc wanted to be sure, so I had to stick around long enough to donate a urine sample, which took almost another hour.  It was a good deal, though, I traded my urine for a bottle of Percocets and a prescription for Flomax.  I guess the stuff is liquid gold after all.  I resisted the urge to pop a couple of pills right in front of the nurse.  I walked home instead, since I only live five minutes away.  I’m sure I looked amusing walking down the street all hunched over and PO’ed.

As I stood in my kitchen, I looked longingly at the half-empty bottle of plum brandy on the shelf, as I washed down two of the Percs with ice water.

For the next hour, I writhed.  The most unusual thing about kidney stone pain is the randomness of it.  Within a minute, it can go from a 7 to a 9, then drop to a 2, which on my scale means I can do light entertainment reading, but nothing academic.  I really should try to get some grant money for this, because I think I’m on to something.

I think I slept for a little while, but I’m not really sure.  I thought perhaps I did, since I dreamed of Leann Rimes with giant 80s hair and missing teeth, chasing me with a bowl of applesauce, yelling, “Eat this!”  My inner monologue was alternating between Morgan Freeman and Charlie Sheen.  Charlie at one point called me an idiot, and told me that only he could be that stoned and live.  Morgan has all sorts of philosophical stuff to say, if you just listen.  I wish I had written more of it down, because I feel somehow that it will be important later on.

I crawled out of bed sometime in the early evening, and the pain is now gone, although I’m a bit sore from all the struggling with it.  Someone has filled my house with fog.  I walk down to the kitchen to refill my water, and some “My Little Pony” dolls scare the crap out of me.  Fortunately, they didn’t talk, but they didn’t have to – their little demonic eyebrows said it all – the only thing stopping them from attacking me with the kitchen knives was their lack of opposable thumbs.  They seemed to know this, one of them sat back on his little haunches and his glare followed me back across the room.  Shut up, it really did.  I’m scared to go back down there.

I’m going back to bed again, to try to sleep it off until the Oxy-hangover starts.  If that doesn’t work, I’m going to listen to some Beck.  I have heard that when a person is this baked, the lyrics are hidden verses of the Tao Te Ching.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


I grabbed a handful of change and we headed to the street to catch the trusty EM-17 bus.  The brown and white rolling piece of junk was like a thousand others in Lima, but the numerical and color code meant it was heading to Miraflores, a touristy district near Lima’s oceanfront.  My girls had gotten an invitation from one of my colleagues – they could borrow some much coveted books from her library, but they had to help her unpack it.  They had graciously accepted the challenge.

On the way down, a violin player had stepped onto the bus, to play for us in the hopes of a few coins.  He wasn’t bad; my youngest was sure she had heard his song before.  He finished it and turned around with his small change purse in his hand.  I saw that he was blind.  I gave him a handful of small coins, maybe a sole in all.

A short time later, we dismounted and walked the remaining few blocks to my friend’s apartment, where they spent the next two hours sorting and shelving books – not with enthusiasm, but the labor was free, and at least something was getting done.  I spent a bit of my free time drooling over her electronic piano, one of the best I had played.  We would undoubtedly share some sheet music as time went by.  The girls finished, or more accurately, they were finished working, so we left the apartment at 6:30, enough time that we should be able to catch the bus before dark.  We headed back up to the main bus route, Benavides.

We waited there a half hour, which wasn’t unusual on a Sunday night, since the buses had been known to be sparse.  After we had waited another half hour, I fished around in my pocket and counted my change.

I had a total of 7 soles, four 50 centimo pieces and 5 singles.  A dollar is about 2 soles and  60 centimos.  On weekends, the bus cost s/1.20 each.  I was 20 centimos short of the possibility of a two-bus combination to get home, which would be our option if we couldn’t find the right bus.  We needed to wait for the brown and white EM-17, or a blue one with a rainbow on the side that also passed very close to the embassy.  Anything else would leave us almost two miles from home, without enough change to get back.  We would be walking.

The youngest decided we should walk, which was fine with me.  I would glance over my shoulder from time to time, watching for the right bus.  Tons of buses passed by, all heading to San Juan de Hurigancho, or Villa Maria - not places I wanted to visit after dark, and certainly not on the way home.

Just over a minute after our feet started pounding pavement, the rainbow bus went by, at not less than 20 mph, never even slowing.  Youngest, who has a bladder the size of a walnut, had to make a pit stop, so we found a coffee shop, while Middle and I kept watch outside, hoping grumpily that we wouldn’t see our only chance at a ride home pass by while Youngest was in the john.

By 8, I decided I should report in.  Wife was certain to be worried, and since she had taken Middle’s phone to put some minutes on it, we were without commo.  The first payphone we saw, I stopped.  Some idiot had jammed the coin slot.  We moved on.

At 8:30, we were at a place called Ovalo Hugerieta, in the daylight a hub of activity, but after dark a creepy place.  I didn’t like being here alone with my two girls, but the first functional payphone was here, so I posted them as lookouts and tried calling again.  Payphones in Lima are 20c/min, but they don’t give change.  Since I didn’t have enough for a two-hop on the bus, I sacrificed a 50c piece for the good of marital harmony.

Wife suggested I call a cab, and I was agreeable to that, and she gave me a number.  I got a recording at the cab company, which meant another one of my precious coins was gone.

Not content to set up a defensive perimeter here, we kept walking, past the Ovalo de Doomoh Certaino, and back into a more civilized area.  Not a bus in sight, and at this point I would have taken a ride to the nearest big exchange point and walked the last two miles.

We tried each of the next four phones we saw, and not a one of them worked.  Apparently the same phone gremlin who had jammed the previous ones with 5c coins had done so with all of them.

By now it was 9, and we had been on the streets of a Latin American city for two and a half hours.  I wasn’t sure how much longer I could play these kind of odds.  I’m pretty good at projecting a “Do NOT screw with me” aura, but that’s a lot harder with two little blond girls in tow.

Finally we reached a Starbucks, and a payphone bank that was functional.  The drop of another 50c coin, and I called Wife – this time just telling her where we were, and to call a cab for us.  I joked that I would buy Middle a coffee, except I was down to 5 soles.  We sat for ten more minutes, and I called home again, to find out which cab was coming for us.  Fortunately, it was a cabbie we knew, by the name of Carlos.

He was there in 20 more minutes, and ironically we were within a mile and a half of the house.  My feet were killing me, and I’m sure the girls weren’t doing much better.  I didn’t want to risk more bad neighborhood by walking the rest of the way home.

This adventure is a series of lessons learned, like be sure to carry cab fare just in case, and a cell phone is always a good plan - but it demonstrates how our lives work – as a family, we are very adaptable, so really, if one or two things goes wrong, we barely notice.  When something truly bad happens, it is a result of a perfect storm of events – in this case, a dead cell phone and a lack of available cash.  Had the blind violinist not played for us on the early bus, we would have had just enough for a two-hop.

We were home by ten.  I had forgotten Wife’s birthday, and holidays and such usually aren’t a huge deal in our house (She and I both forgot our anniversary until the day after), since it was her (number deleted)th, the children and I had discussed buying some black balloons or something.  After being stranded for over 3 hours in the Peruvian urban sprawl, none of us were thinking about anyone’s birthday, other than perhaps hoping that we would all be able to celebrate our next one.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Funnel Cakes and Second Degree Burns

Fresh from my brush with the Oompa-loompas in the Houseof Cocoa and Chocolate,  I checked my e-mail to discover that I had received my quarterly payment from Yahoo. 

There is a certain bipolar element to professional writing, if that is what you would call what I do.  Mostly, I write about experiences that I have enjoyed, or things that I have found thought-provoking or downright entertaining, in a way assisted by my own distorted internal monologue.  On most days, I post at least one story’s link to my Facebook page, asking family and friends to read my latest work.  A good portion of them tell me that they enjoy reading what I have written, but never enough to share with their own friends who don’t know me. 

The vast majority of this monumental body of work appears on my blog.  I’ve not yet made a penny from it, and I doubt that I ever will, but the blog gives me the freedom to write whatever I want, without being forced into a genre.

My secondary outlet is Yahoo Voices, which is what made today different.  About a third of my articles are eligible for upfront payment, and I receive $1.50 for every thousand page views.  This makes me a paid writer!  In the past three months, I have made $1.76, bringing my lifetime earnings (since April of 2008, when I first went pro) ever closer to three digits.  It’s elusive, but I believe I will make it there within five years, if I can catch a couple of lucky breaks, like the first sale I ever made – I was paid $15 to write a pamphlet about pre-paid credit cards.  It took me twenty minutes, and I thought, "Hey, this is going to be easy."  I’ve since put in hundreds of hours.

My lucky break wasn’t going to come on this day, since my pledge of support for my wife’s new hobby was taking up a bit more of my time.  We were heading to an event known as the “Embassy Games,” which here in Lima, is four consecutive weekends of soccer, volleyball, and a few other team sports.  Different agencies and work sections engage in a bit of trash talk, but it’s taken very seriously by some.  For me, it’s a way to meet people in other parts of the mission.

The hobby in question is neither volleyball nor soccer.  My wife has started a baking business.  It earns a bit of money here and there, but mostly it’s something for her to do, and she’s gotten quite good at it.  It’s been great for the whole family, since my kids grew up thinking that the smoke alarm going off meant that dinner was ready.

The bread and butter of this is homemade cookies, but lately she has gotten into various soups and stews.  I got the bright idea that she could make and sell funnel cakes at the embassy games.

Funnel Cake Recipe:

2 eggs          
1½ cups milk
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Mix batter and cook in hot oil.  Corn oil tastes better than vegetable oil, but olive oil won’t get hot enough.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar.  Makes about a dozen, depending on how big you want to make them.

We did sell a couple dozen to Americans, who longed for the carnival feel that walking around with a funnel cake gives you.  We discovered that Peruvians have no earthly idea what a funnel cake is, and since 80% of the embassy staff is Peruvian, most of her potential clients just walked on by.

While my wife was busy breaking even, I headed over to the volleyball court to round out a team from my section.  By “round out” I mean allow the group to meet the minimum number required to take the court.

Given my aversion to wearing shoes, and since flip-flops don’t work so well for volleyball, I played the game barefoot.  It was a slaughter.

Enter my next problem – I seem to have a fairly high tolerance for pain.  I realize that this is subjective, since it will never be possible for any one person to relate to the way another experiences pain, but I don’t usually let it bother me.  Pain is something that must either be ignored or worked through.  The pavement of the court was a bit hot, and by the time I had finished the second game, the soles of my feet were pretty red.  When I slid back into my flip-flops, I felt a large blister on the ball of each foot, about the size of a half-dollar.

I think I’m going to use my windfall to buy some burn cream.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Salon del Cacao y Chocolate

I saw the beige envelope lying in my chair.  As I picked it up, I saw my name printed across the cover, and inside was a cloth-and-paper card that would have cost ten bucks if you were using it for your wedding.  It had my attention.  If someone had gone through the trouble of sending me one of these, it was likely my presence was expected.  Diplomatic functions are usually dry and boring sweat lodges full of free booze and important people I don’t recognize, but this one piqued my curiosity, so I sent the customary RSVP.

The event was called “House of Cocoa and Chocolate 2012.”

After work, still in my gray suit, I stepped onto a coaster-bus, a 28-passenger conveyance.  At least 50 of my new closest friends shared it, and the conductor kept yelling at guys in the back to get closer together, because there was still room.  The driver was a rock, but they usually are.  The bus companies either search for high-level Buddhist monks, or they give them tranquilizers to deal with Peruvian traffic.

We drove by a station - a gallon of 98-octane gasoline was up to s/19.34, which at current exchange rates is $7.39.  In a country where minimum wage works out to about $1.40/hr, that should add some perspective.  The next time I complain about $4 gas, someone please remind me to shut up and be happy that the U.S. has its own refining capacity.

The bus dropped me off a few blocks from the address, just as it turned the corner to head back north.  The event was easy to find, since outside was a line that came out of some movie, where some nobodies were trying to get into some exclusive club, and the big thug at the door won’t let them in, yet some hot girl walks right inside.

Tonight, I was the hottie.  I walked straight to the front and handed the guards my invitation, and he checked my name against a list.  Doors open.  I could get used to this.

The Prado house is probably one of the largest private residences in Lima.  As one point in recent history, it was liberated from the Prado family and used as the Prime Minister’s office.  A few years ago, the more reasonable government returned it, and now it’s used to host snooty-snoot events such as this one.  The main hall has the split staircases straight out of the Munsters, only a lot cleaner and without anything living underneath, and the ballroom was a spot for about 300 people to gather.

In celebration of the history of chocolate, the organizers had hired “living scuptures” in the entryway – live models dressed in period clothing, who depicted the ancient methods of processing the beans.  On either side of the entrance hall stood a man and a woman, dressed in pre-Inca garb and covered with red makeup.  They moved, but very slowly, beckoning the guests inside with their movements.

Oh, the smell!  I took a deep breath through my nose, as the smell of melted chocolate almost stung in my nostrils.  In the center of the entrance stood three huge multi-tiered fountains of chocolate, surrounded by skewers of fruits, marshmallows, cookies, and various other items, all designed to be waterboarded in one of the chocolate fountains.

This decadent buffet was not yet open for business, since first we were herded into the ballroom, where a half dozen honored guests spoke for a few minutes each.  We heard from chocolate association execs, and some guy from France who spoke Spanish with a thick French accent, which was just fascinating to listen to, almost musical.  The U.S. Ambassador to Peru spoke somewhere in the center of the lineup, where she almost casually mentioned how cocoa played an important role as a legal crop in the fight against cocaine production. 

At the end of the remarks, the crowd moved back into the main hall and attacked the fountains of chocolate.  I tried a variety of things – mango dunked in chocolate, marshmallows dunked in chocolate, kiwi dunked in chocolate, strawberries dunked in chocolate…is that really a variety?  Maybe.  A sharply dressed waiter kept bringing around a drink tray full of a chilled Bailey’s and chocolate concoction.  It tasted strong enough that I limited myself to two.  I wasn’t driving, but some of the drinks here will leave one not remembering where he lives.

The press was there in hordes, including some guy from a TV show.  I tried to pay attention and move in the other direction, and at one point when we got cornered, a colleague of mine said to me, “Hurry…look boring…look like you aren’t having fun.”  A press photographer did catch me in an action shot, shoving some chocolate covered shish-kabob into my wide open mouth, but I’m not ashamed.

The danger of press at such an event is getting caught in a candid comment.  I had my sound bite prepared.  “I’ve been all over the world, and Peru has the best chocolate.”  It’s a true statement, even a lot of the German and Swiss stuff comes from beans grown here.

The press doesn’t want to talk about chocolate, they want a blip about U.S. policy toward Syria.  “Does Syria have chocolate?  You guys should ship them some, and then we could have world peace!”

By nine, it was time to make a gracious exit.  The lady who was the living statue in the entrance must have gotten into the chocolate-liqueur, because she had the giggles and was doing the robot dance in slo-mo.  The other guy was still a stone face, even after a hundred photos and a bit of a performance for the live cameras.

I stepped out into a night that was 20 degrees cooler, and in my wool suit that was probably going to need a good dry-cleaning, this was a good transition.  Within minutes, I stepped back onto another crowded bus.

The thing about this sort of adventure – you never know what you might see.  On the bus with me, I saw a nun in a white dress and black sandals.  Doesn’t she know it’s after Labor Day?  Wait, since Labor Day in Peru is in May, she’s okay.  Another dude looked like he jumped straight out of an anime, with heavily gelled sculptured hair and everything.  He was jamming to his iPod, using giant chromed-out Dick Clark headphones and bobbing his head.  Ludicrous.

As I stepped off the bus near my house, I glanced up at a police vehicle, a Toyota truck.  On the tailgate was a “Baby-on-board” sign from the 80s, except it said, “Police-on-board.”

The life of a diplomat may be a lot of things, but it isn’t boring.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Review: Largo Bar and Grill - Miami FL

Largo Bar & Grill
Bayside Marketplace
401 Biscayne Blvd
Miami, FL

Largo’s was not a planned stop.  Our group of three was casually wandering Bayside Marketplace at about 5:30 p.m., and it had suddenly occurred to us that we were hungry.  A member of the staff was in the mall corridor, asking passersby if they wanted to see a menu.  We stopped to look, but seeing nothing special, we wandered about for a bit before returning.  The same staff member asked again if we wanted to see the menu, as apparently we hadn’t made an impression a few minutes before.  We were seated immediately, since out of about fifty tables plus bar seating, only three others were occupied.

The setup was linear, along the lower level of Bayside Marketplace, and there were no walls, leaving it open to the fresh sea air.  Or the not-so-fresh sea air, depending on the ocean.  There were regular tables at the water’s edge for a more formal feel, but since we were in the mood for a diner, we sat at one of the high-tops near the bar.

There was no theme to the menu, it was as varied as individual tastes.  We ordered an appetizer of nachos with all the extras and Guinness.  For an entrée, I decided on filet miñon with a lobster tail.  All you food snobs out there are probably cringing right now, but I didn’t care.  The nachos were loaded to perfection, and I’ve only eaten better lobster at a couple of high-end seafood joints.  The steak was just a steak, not bad, but nothing to write home about.  I suppose when you don’t specialize, there are a few sacrifices that must be made.

I don’t have complaint one about the service – our orders were taken efficiently and our food was brought out quickly.  My beer glass didn’t sit empty until I was ready for it to do so.  The young waiter was courteous and efficient.  By 6:15, the place was still basically empty.

The price of my dinner, after I split the appetizer with my friends and drank two beers, was about $55.  I had ordered from the top end of the menu, there were certainly other choices that would have allowed me to escape for under $40.

What we couldn’t escape was the young lady at the entrance.  As we left, she asked us if we wanted to see a menu.

In conclusion, Largo’s isn’t a place I would visit again alone, but it’s a decent choice if you are faced with a large group of people who want different things.

For a place in Miami that’s a little more straight laced, please read about my experience at City Hall, theRestaurant, or satisfy your inner carnivore at The Knife ArgentineanSteakhouse.

Review: City Hall, The Restaurant - Miami FL

City Hall, The Restaurant
2004 Biscayne Blvd
Miami, FL

A group of 20 or so of my colleagues chose City Hall for an weeknight’s dinner based solely on its proximity to the Hilton Downtown.  We walked in right on time for a 7 p.m. reservation, and were seated immediately in the main lower section of the dining area.  That section was fully occupied, although the second floor was not in use.

When I saw the sign, my twisted brain took me straight to a Mel Brooks movie.  Spaceballs, The Restaurant.  Fortunately, the similarities ended there.

The engineered ambiance struck me as a nice feature.  The ceilings were high, and the tables not packed so closely together that conversation was impossible.  The setup was perfect for a business lunch, or a quiet conversation with friends.

I have always found the menus in variety restaurants perplexing.  I understand the concept of broad appeal, but sometimes there are too many choices.  City Hall has various specialty items, unique to this particular chef I suppose, since I had never heard of any of them.  One selection stood out, and I zeroed in on it immediately.

Meatloaf - plain old ordinary meatloaf with house gravy, a miscellaneous vegetable, a roll, and something they called “Maple mac and cheese.”  I’d never heard of that, but whatever, bring it.  Now, I’ve travelled the world, but my stomach is from the Ozarks.  I ordered a Bombay Sapphire martini, dry as a bone, and shaken.  That’s me – the redneck diplomat.  City Hall did not disappoint me, and before long I was tearing into a meatloaf that was almost as good as Mom’s.  Mom never served it with a martini, but I didn’t see sweet tea on the menu.  While others in my party were enjoying such treats as grilled salmon with sesame and mushrooms, my spirit was back in Missouri, and wherever this maple-flavored macaroni was from.

I’ve always broken down a restaurant into the big three criteria – food, atmosphere, and service.  City Hall has the first two perfected hands down.  The service leaves something to be desired…no, that’s not quite right, because it’s too general.  The bartender was fast, and so was the cook.  The waiter was a jackass.  That’s better.  The guy complained about dividing a table of 20 into separate checks, as though he wasn’t already going to get a healthy share of the 18% tip that the Miami restaurant mafia builds into all checks, hoping you won’t notice and will tip even more.  Someone didn’t tell him that I didn’t care that he had four more tables.  A second waiter spotted my empty martini glass and took care of it, returning with my second precisely prepared drink, which Mr. Grumpy-Pants definitely noticed.  Begone from me, Mr. Grumpy-pants, and let me enjoy my meatloaf.

Even with two $12 martinis, my bill came to about $55.  The meatloaf was on the less expensive side of the menu at $18; most entrees ran between $22-$28.

Conclusion:  It’s the perfect place for a business lunch or a more formal gathering – it’s quiet, even when full, and the food is well presented with a classy menu full of specialty items. 

For something a little more laid-back, note my experiences in two other Miami eateries – The Knife Argentinean Steakhouse, and Largo Bar and Grill, both located at Bayside Marketplace.

Review - The Knife, Argentinean Steakhouse, Miami FL

The Knife, Argentinean Steakhouse
Bayside Marketplace
401 Biscayne Blvd
Miami, FL

A colleague and I had just arrived in Miami, and two of her friends, who met us at the airport, led us to The Knife for an early Sunday dinner.  We arrived at around 4 p.m. without a reservation.  We were seated immediately, as the place was maybe 20% full.

The setup of the place was on the second floor, overlooking the water.  We couldn’t see that much, since the cove was jam packed with giant sailboats and million dollar yachts, so I wouldn’t say that the view is that great.  The room was laid out in a horseshoe shape, with the entry on one end of it, and the grill on the opposite side.

Rather than ordering from a traditional menu, the Knife offers an extensive salad and food bar.  The selections were varied, and I tried a half dozen.  The pickled eggplant was the best, but the ceviche was a disappointment (In The Knife’s defense, I had just flown in from Peru).  The waitress will deliver such items as fries, but all this is leading up to a visit through the giant grill.

Ah, the grill…this is the main attraction.  There, several grillmasters are carefully tending all sorts of beef, pork, and chicken, along with grilled stuffed peppers, onions, and other tasty flame broiled treats.  The meat is slowly roasted in large roasts, so a steak of the appropriate type, thickness and doneness is right at hand.  That first bite was just as good as the last, seasoned perfectly.

The service was excellent, although the model was a bit different.  It didn’t seem like we waited for anything.  By the time we left just after five, it was almost packed, but still not noisy.

I stuffed myself to the extent that I wanted to nap on the couch in the waiting area.

The check came to just under $40/person, which I thought was very reasonable given how full of red meat I was, I was pretty sure I had eaten over a pound of it.

The Knife was by far my favorite during my weeklong visit to Miami, and I wholeheartedly recommend that anyone visiting makes a special trip to eat there.  This is the type of place that can make a vegetarian’s head explode.

If you plan to dine with one in Miami, please see my reviews of City Hall, The Restaurant or Largo Bar and Grill.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Nacho Libre

           When a friend of mine here invited me to attend a Peruvian wrestling event, I must admit I was intrigued.  I had seen the Jack Black movie “Nacho Libre,” and found it hilarious (For the records, it's called Lucha Libre, Spanish for free fight).  The real thing looked like it would be at least as funny.  Attending it on April Fool’s Day seemed even more appropriate.
            When the day came, about 250 people filed into a tiny auditorium, hidden in one of Lima’s upper middle-class neighborhoods.  The tickets were $8 each, which didn’t include the main attraction, which was some WWF Wrestlemania feed onto a big screen, right after the live wrestling.  I didn’t care about the TV stuff, I wanted to see this up close.
            While the worst seats in the house were 5 rows back, the temperature inside hovered at about 85 degrees.  My friend had brought masks, as I had the idea that being an extreme fan as a gringo would add to the day’s hilarity.   Sadly, it was way too hot to wear them, although a few people did.
            I also discovered that no one finds the words, “Nacho Libre” remotely as funny as Americans do.  Native Spanish speakers looked at me funny when I said it.  I suppose they couldn't figure out why I wanted to free the corn chips.  Maybe I thought they were oppressed.  Dumb gringo.
            We were the only gringos in the place, but no one seemed to care.  The show started about a half-hour late, and the first act consisted of a young guy called “Cobra” engaging in about 15 minutes of trash talk with an older, more seasoned wrestler.  Cobra was the obvious bad guy, with boos and hisses reminiscent of 19th century live theater.  There was a hint of conspiracy, as a guest referee was slated to oversee the match, and he was apparently an old friend of Cobra’s.  For those not fluent in Spanish, the trash-talk was very easy to follow, since it was spoken slowly with drawn out sentences, just like the way I speak Spanish normally.
            The first real match, and I use that term loosely, was a group called “Los Numeros.”  Four guys came running out to challenge two fairly (normal?)-looking wrestlers in a two-on-two tag team match.  I wasn’t quite sure how the math was supposed to work, but these guys were into physical comedy, running into each other, and just doing goofy things.  I laughed until my face hurt.

            The next match was the classic “I used to be a good guy but now I’d bad” theme of wrestling.  The pretty-boy that everyone loved to hate ended up getting defeated, and walked away dramatically from his opponent’s handshake, only to return to club the guy from behind with…what appeared to be…a lunchbox.
            Where do they find this stuff?  Is there a store that sells wrestling supplies, which includes an assortment of various items that you may use to club your distracted opponents over the head, causing no injury but making a loud noise?  I’m sure I could Google it.
            After a few more matches inside this sweat lodge, I think I had seen every plot theme known from the last 30 years of pro-wrestling.  We did see one guy take what appeared to be a legitimate hit, when another guy drop-kicked him in the back from behind, but I almost expected the whole thing to stop while an apology was made.
            For the final match, Cobra returned with his crooked referee to fight the older guy one-on-one.  The ref became the star of the match, as his bad calls became more and more obvious, and finally he would physically interfere at times with the action.  Eventually, his own guy “accidentally” knocked him out, and a real ref came in to save the day and make the calls.  The crowd of course went nuts for this, and I was right along with them.

            While the acting was horrible, and the blows ridiculously fake, I must say that I was genuinely entertained.  I won’t be a regular attendee at such events, but I highly recommend this if you have never seen it up close.  The Luchadores are entertainers and athletes, through and through.