Monday, October 31, 2005

Peru Is the New Prague

Remember when every hipster and their brother was heading off to Prague (in what was then called) Czechoslavakia? Ah yes, the town of the ORIGINAL Budweiser, the Parisian West Bank Artistes Colony of the newly opened Iron Curtain. Well, I have news for you: Peru is the new hipster destination of choice. Whether in South America or Indiana, anywhere there is a Peru is a happening hotspot and all things Peruvian have got it going on.

Just in this past year, I have heard more about this country previously only known for Lima Beans and Machu Picchu then I have in my entire life! Here's a sampling of some recent Peruvian buzz on the pop cultural radar:

1. Two co-workers went to Peru on their vacations, and a third co-worker was seriously looking into it, and at least half a dozen customers at work talked to me about their plans to go or how much they enjoyed their trips there. Peru? One of the poorest countries on Earth? When did this become a hot ticket getaway, I thought at the time.

2. The 2004 Copa America was hosted by Peru. (Peru were champions in 1939 and 1975, and the Peruvians are currently experiencing the resurgence of soccer greatness in their country. In fact, Nortberto Solano plays for Newcastle United in England and Claudio Pizarro plays striker for FC Bayern Munich in Germany.)

3. Peru on screen. In 2002 John Malkovich directed The Dancer Upstairs, a political thriller with a romantic undercurrent based on Nicolas Shakespeare's eponymous novel that veers around the "sendero luminoso" (Shining Path) Maoist insurgency in Peru. But The Dancer Upstairs was actually filmed in Ecuador. For actual made-in-Peru films, check out Alberto Duras' Alias la Gringa, based on the life of the real-life Peruvian criminal escape artist (yes, he dressed as a woman, hence the la gringa) and his experiences on an island prison similar to Alcatrez called "El Fronton," site of an infamous 1986 terrorist riot. And don't forget parts of Walter Salles' 2004 arthouse hit The Motorcycle Diaries were shot in Iquitos and Machu Picchu, Peru. Finally, on an expatriate's recommendation, I purchased my first Peruvian DVD last year, the sex comedy Pantaleon y las Visitadoras (2000), which was shot in the Peruvian Amazon. Though lambasted by the critics, it had the potential to be a Fitzcarraldo con boobies.

4. Peru, Indiana is the Circus Capital of the World, at one time host to as many seven circus troupes at a time. Since 1958, there has been an annual Circus Festival there, where parents can threaten to send misbehaving children to try out for a life under the Big Top. The 1971 film "Circus Town U.S.A." documents this unsual festival in the otherwise ignominious town of Peru, Indiana, population 12,994 (this town is in Miami County, near the town of Mexico, Indiana - how do they come up with these exotic locale names in Indiana?).

5. My workmate Michael Rios (pictured at right) is half-Peruvian. I had never met a Peruvian before him. Coincidence? I think not! Also, in the past year, the most beautiful woman who has ever entered my library turned out to be a Peruvian artist. Also, the most beautiful woman ever to bus tables at my local coffee shop turned out to be...yes, Peruvian!

6. And speaking of beauties, Miss World 2004 was none other than Miss Peru herself, then 20-year-old Maria Julia Mantilla-Garcia (pictured at right). And what about Peruvian supermodel Giulianna Ramirez? The 23-year-old sexpot, seen in ads for Tommy Hilfiger and L'Oreal Matrix, was featured in Stuff magazine's December 2005 list of the Top 10 Latin American models. But this beauty was not above mixing with beasts when she ate spiders, swam in a pool of snakes, and got immersed in a pile of worms while a contestant on Fear Factor.

Other Peruvian trivial pursuits:

7. German filmmaker Werner Herzogshot 1982's Fitzcarraldo in Peru.

8. My former co-worker Steve Intelkofer is planning a huge cookout party (with music supplied by Plans Plans?) in Machu Picchu, Peru, when he is becomes rich and famous for his "Patent Ownership of An Obscure Media Technology I Haven't Ever Clearly Understood" in the near future.

9. Peru's ancient Inca civilization practiced the lost art of "trepanation," or boring holes in one's skull for enlightenment.

10. Cole Porter was born in Peru - Peru, Indiana, that is! And he's buried there in Mt. Hope cemetary.

11. The asteroid 32570 Peruindiana, discovered August 20, 2001 is named for Peru. (Again, that's Peru, Indiana!)

12. Peruvian resturants are popping up everywhere in Baltimore lately. There's the new chicken joint, Polla a la Brassa in Fells Point. And Sala Grill has restaurants around the Catonsville and Woodlawn areas. Near College Park, there's Machu Picchu. And in addition to its Mexican chow, Baltimore's Los Amigos restaurant (with Harford Road and Towson locations) has added Peruvian dishes like Lomo Saltado.

Momento Mori - Le Roi Est Mort:
And finally, legendary local guitar hero Mark Harp, who was known as The King of Peru, passed away in December 2004. (Harp's title was, unfortunately, not recognized by Peruvian authorities.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Tom:
David Cattin here-- Peruvian from Indiana. I don't suppose you would know where I could get a copy of Circus Town U.S.A. do you?
Thanks- figure it's a long shot, but you knew the year... so. Anyway, let me know. Otherwise, now you have yet another real live Peruvian near you in DC.

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