Coffee and the Sea (part one)
“Barranco.”I leaned over and peered into the cab window.
“No.” The driver was heading north. His shift was ending and all runs now would be in that direction.
Another car was coming towards me. I lifted out my arm to signal him, but he passed me by. “What are you, a millionaire!” I didn’t realize I was thinking out loud.
Finally a small, derelict sedan pulled up. A faded pink sticker with TAXI in heavy letters was peeling back from the windshield. We bartered a price. When I got in, it became immediately evident that I had paid for transportation and not luxury. I lowered my window to relieve the rank odor that was either the driver, his car or both. In this neighborhood, and after such a hot day, the humid smell of urine on the sidewalks made the smell, if anything, worse.
The taxi pulled up to the main plaza of Barranco and I opted to walk the remaining quarter-mile or so to the restaurant. As I crossed a short wooden bridge, I looked out over the valley that sloped down from the main streets towards the beach. Shops, bars, and restaurants lined the cobbled street with signs advertising food and drink specials.
My path took me along the ridge, overlooking the street below. I paused for a moment to watch a street thespian perform a solo act. He made sweeping gestures with his hands and carried on with some imaginary companion, telling jokes and responding to himself. I dropped a few coins into his open case- seven or eight soles. “Muchas gracias, señor,” he thanked me and continued his sketch.
I passed an old church whose poorly kept steeple provided shelter for pigeons and gulls. Along my narrow path lay the active valley down to my left, protected by a simple wooden split rail, which added to the feel of comfortable confinement. A string of run-down shops glared above me to my right. “You eat here mister,” vendors called out to me in broken English, eager to cook for a gringo’s checkbook.
Finally, the way ended into an open patio overlooking the beach and ocean below. Small seating areas were terraced down the mild, rocky sea cliff with two or four-person tables and antique streetlights at each place. The restaurant stood to my right above the isolated seating. It was an elegant, historic structure with a sea-worthy visage. Large rope nets and coastal overgrowth embellished its simplicity.
He was already waiting for me, sipping a coffee and staring out over the immense ocean. I sat next to him, but we didn’t speak. It was a powerful feeling, the vast waters washing endlessly onto the shore. Soft music harmonized with the carelessly reassuring repetition of the midnight waves, and various streetlamps illuminated our locale.
“I’ve ordered a pizza and some wine. Cigarette?” he offered, breaking our silent reverence. He didn’t wait for me to decline. “Then do you mind if I smoke?” He spoke through his teeth as he lit his own. “It is of no use trying to discuss anything of importance before we have eaten, lest our thoughts be persuaded by the reasoning of that second mind- the stomach.”
He was right, of course, and our conversation was quite senseless until the food arrived. The subjects ranged from sports to weather and the latest movies, but none of the things that we had met to discuss. We were strange in our similarities, sometimes perfectly alike and other times dreadfully opposite. He read Joyce and I read Wilde, but we both read Shakespeare.