Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Brando, Part 4: The Italians (see pts. 1-3 below)

Brando and I bumped and jostled our way across the busy square filled with revelers. The next day would be Inti Rami, the winter solstice, the most sacred festival celebrating the mythical origins of the Incas, and pilgrims had come to Cuzco from all corners of the Sacred Valley. The city seemed an explosion of music and commerce, musicians and vendors, the smell of damp llama wool, of skewered hearts grilling on open braziers, chicha and cuy.

We met up with the rest of our group at an Italian café on the opposite side of the plaza. The café was nearly deserted, and we sat at a large table next to a plate glass window that separated us from the square, from all those less fortunate, lazy with a lack of oxygen, slowly taking in the strange rhythm of the town, basking in the late afternoon Peruvian sunlight, the shadows growing, the thin air now beginning to chill. Observers from a quiet corner.

Suddenly at the window appeared an exotic looking couple, tall, attractive. A pantomime of smiling, gesturing. In turn, we smiled and waved back. And then they were at our table, ordering tea and regaling us with exotic stories of their adventures across the country. They were Italians and fascinating, gypsies, of sorts, with those hollow, transparent eyes of those who have long been away from home They told us stories of the mountains and of jungles and said they had jaguar pelts they could sell. Eventually, it became obvious that they were merchants, of sorts, selling their wares to tourists longing for adventure. They were each tall, he sinewy and hard, she a stretched blonde, each attractive, but phantom-like, somehow, shadows. When it became obvious to them that we enjoyed their stories but had no interest in their wares, they called the waiter and offered to pay their tab with large bill that the waiter couldn’t change. They would have to wait for us to pay our bill. And so they sat, waiting rather glumly, obviously anxious to move on.

And finally we did pay and the Italians were able to exit. What fun, I thought, to be sitting in such a place eating and drinking and hearing tales from such strange and exciting people. “Jaguar pelts,” I said. “Isn’t that illegal?” Just then, the tall Italian man burst back into the room pointing his gigantic finger, shouting. “Dogs!!” he screamed. “You made us sit here and wait for a few Intis! You are cheap bastards, Cheap!” And like lightening, he was gone. What had happened? We all sat in the rush of emotion that was suddenly, belatedly coming to us, the adrenaline kicking in, first shock, then anger. “What the hell was that?” someone queried, astonished. Brando explained that the fellow was running a scam and did it all the time. He had probably had that large bill for months, selling his stories and wares to tourist who would offer to pick up their check. “Most small restaurants don’t keep a lot of money on hand,” he said. “They knew that this café would not have change.” An embarrassed anger began to rise in my chest. A coward, I thought, a dastardly villian. “Well, it is a small enough town,” I told Brando. “We’ll see him again.”

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