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A RABBIT, A MONKEY, A SERENADE AND A STORY

"What is it about small, warm, fuzzy things that make humans forget themselves?" I ask my cousin Monica as we walk quickly toward my cordwainer's.
 
"I have no idea." She’s clutching the small white rabbit to her chest. 

We've just bought a two week-old rabbit from a street merchant from Chosica, who took the $7.75 and bolted without giving me any change.

Inside the shop, Manolo is yelling at his clients as usual. Manolo is one of those artists who resents the fact that he has to sell his creations to people who do not understand them. He sees soul where others see only soles. He likes me because I come with my own crazy designs, not pages from magazines, and in the end, always let him go where his heart wants to take him.

"Manolo, look!" I call out, walking in. He turns around, annoyed, then recognizes me. I point to my feet. I am wearing the latest thing he made me.

"Perfection!" he says, almost smiling.

"I am going to need you again. I will bring the design. You're going to die. But right now, I need your help. I have a rabbit."

"Rabbit? For shoes maybe uggs?" he looks horrified.

"No, no," I point to Monica. "A real little --"

"That man he always say same thing with the rabbit! Dwarf rabbit, he say. You wait, it grows big and say what is this? Not the little rabbit! Yes, the rabbit. He lie all the time sell rabbit. Here is, here. Box. For rabbit. Ha ha ha!" I've never seen him laugh before.

We wander down Avenida Diez Canseco, with Monica holding a rabbit, and I, holding a large empty white shoe box. We finally find Café de la Paz, just a few yards from where we were conned.

We sit at a table away from the crowd and order our Americanos. Monica takes off her scarf, wraps the tiny ball of white fur in it and sticks it in the box.

"The rabbit needs a name," she says.

"How about Toledo?" I ask. Monica looks confused. "He was president not long ago?"

Her face reveals she's not confused, she's shocked. "Why would you do that? Why!"

I sip my coffee, "what are we going to do with it?"

"I know!" she replies, lighting a cigarette. "Ñuqa sunquyni."

"What?"

"Ñuqa sunquyni -- it means 'my heart' in Quechua."

"New-ka soon-koi," I attempt. "You know Quechua?"

"Hi, Ñuqa!" she coos at the white ball.

A man walks over and asks whether we want to donate funds for his band. He points to the local musicians a few tables away playing the guitar, quena and sampoña.

"That is a beautiful rabbit," he compliments us. "I raise rabbits myself. Are you selling it?"

"Yes --" starts Monica, but I cut her off.

"I'll make a gift of the rabbit if you make a gift of a song."

And so it was, in the middle of Café de la Paz, that a group of musicians serenaded two girls for hours.

"It's name is Ñuqa Sunquyni," I say to them when they finish. "You have played wonderfully."

"We may have played wonderfully, but you have given us your heart," one of them replies. 

When we leave, our server gives us little notes. Mine says, "An optimist is the human personification of spring." Monica's says, "From a man without ideals, nothing great can be expected."

Now Monica and I wander Parque Kennedy, looking at the scattered kiosks filled with antiques. She has a piece of quartz crafted into a necklace while I discover ancient cameras, typewriters, giant brass door knockers, telephones, guns and spurs. 

"There is an old man here at the park with a monkey," Monica says as we walk around some more. "Mother used to bring us when we were children. The monkey reads your fortune."

"The monkey does?" I ask, amazed. "We have to find them."

"I don't know if he's still here. It was years ago."

Unaccompanied children play with a partly deflated ball with all the seriousness of World Cup athletes. People walk dogs of varying sizes. Lovers dot the park, kissing and whispering under trees and embracing on benches beneath cold, Lima skies. It strikes me that somehow, they don't inspire the sort of loneliness that newlyweds on Waikiki Beach do -- but I don't exactly know why.

The old man is still at Parque Kennedy, still with the small Capuchin that plays a music box and hands out fortunes stashed inside it. Monica gives the monkey one sol and it pulls a little fortune from inside its box and hands it to her.

"Don't let your heart drown in misery; fear and hatred are foreign to your nature," Monica reads out loud. "You use your time honorably and don't let yourself be carried away into indecent orgies."

I snicker. The monkey looks at me expectantly.

"Oh, fine." I put a sol into its little black hand.

The fortune reads: "You will be whatever you desire if you are an active pursuant of your ideas, but remember to keep yourself from the false, which poisons freedom. You will always have courage because you will never betray what makes you happiest. Luck is yours; your love is mad and passionate."

"Interesting," comments Monica. "Does that mean you get to have the indecent orgies?"

"Excuse me," a voice calls to us. A young man approaches us cautiously.

"Hello. My name is Daniel. I'm a writer. I exchange stories for loose change. Would you like to hear a story?"

"Absolutely!"

He offers us a seat on a stone pillar and in return, I offer him a cigarette, which he takes.

"This story is called 'Parquecito con Café'..." he starts.

A little park with a coffee. The body and soul of contemporary Lima. 
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51 comments
 
Reading this makes me want to be your travel companion AV! Exciting and interesting experiences seem to follow you :)
 
+Buddhini Samarasinghe, a companion for the companion? I don't know how that works, but given it's you, I don't much care. We'd have so much fun!  
 
You're welcome, I am smiling at a memory of being ripped off for pigeon feed in a piazza in Italy in 1999 triggered by your rabbit con, not to mention the price of a delicious milk-shake in the sun of the French Riveria, so, thank you actually
 
I think we're programmed to go "awwwww" when we see a tiny version of a full-sized thing, to keep us from killing our own children in vexation.  That leads to dollhouses, model railroads, and hotwheels.
 
+John Bump, "to keep us from killing our own children in vexation" -- ha ha ha! You're hilarious. 
 
Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing. I have to get to Lima.
 
it was a very good story. did you consider finishing the story tellers tale?
 
+Benjamin Rice, it wasn't my story to finish. Stories should be told by those to whom they belong.  
 
+A.V. Flox I think you're right. I was looking at maps; I can go to the Galapagos Islands, then Lima, then go see Machu Picchu, and finally go look for Padington Bear who I believe is from the deepest darkest jungles of Peru.
 
+Christina Talbott-Clark Cool :-) I will have to visit the Home for Retired Bears and search out this Darkest Peru. I can probably find it... or get mugged... at least I'm guaranteed an adventure.
 
+Matt Kiener, I lived in Peru for years and never once did I hear of Paddington until I came to the U.S. -- isn't that wrong? Peruvians ought to embrace their famous bears better! 
 
PS: do not go to Darkest Peru (or even dimly lit Peru) with anything of value on your person!
 
I really hope that rabbit was okay. Two weeks is so very very young. They're usually only weaned at 8 weeks. I'm afraid I might have not bought it but confiscated it for the cruelty of taking it from its mother that young.

But then, I tend to take animal suffering more seriously than human suffering; they have little in the way of defenses.
 
+Gert Sønderby, I'm really glad we found someone who had any understanding about rabbits. If you go visit Peru, perhaps you can impart some useful information to street vendors.
 
+A.V. Flox Doubt they'd want to listen - people will do amazingly cruel things to make a buck if they're poor enough to be desperate. I doubt any of my advice would work, since treating the animals decently cuts into the profit margin.

(I don't dislike poor people. I dislike the measures poor people get forced into as a means for survival.)
 
+Gert Sønderby, you're right, of course. If people are "poor enough to be desperate," we must worry about the fact people are so poor. It's difficult for people outside certain countries to understand that level of poverty well. It's not about "profit margins." It's about some semblance of survival. It doesn't justify mistreatment of animals (including other humans), but if one wants to change the situation, one needs to address that crushing, inhuman element first.
 
Exactly. A lot of the problems we face are based in a two-fold problem: The requirement of money to survive, and the unequal distribution of it.

And perhaps 'profit margin' was the wrong term; maybe 'number of their children they can feed today' works better. That anyone should depend on animal cruelty to feed themselves and their children shows me that there's something deeply, and enduringly wrong about the world.
 
+A.V. Flox yes yes and yes. This is why I can and will attempt to raise awareness about animal cruelty here in the US or Europe, but I am more careful about it in Sri Lanka - we routinely see 'snake charmers' and 'monkey dancers' wandering the streets of Colombo and it's really awful to see, but the solution is not to reprimand these people who are struggling to make enough money to find a meal to feed their family of 6. The problem goes way beyond that, and it's a helpless feeling, not knowing where to begin.

Same applies to the luxuries we take for granted here. Pole-and-line caught tuna, and organic produce is fine to discuss at dinner parties here, but it's simply never going to be practical to apply to poorer countries, IMHO.
 
+Buddhini Samarasinghe Or the poorer segments of this country's population. We can't expect people to act against their immediate self-interest, even when doing so is in their own eventual self-interest (and it isn't always; how do we calculate the value to one person of tuna being caught by line?).

It is incredibly frustrating to me when people with few choices about how to live and survive are judged (not by anyone in this conversation, mind you) to be morally inferior in one way or another, and that judgment is used as an excuse to withhold options for real and meaningful social change. 
 
So the question, as always, is what do we do about it?

I think this prejudice can only be eroded by personal interaction - by humanizing the faceless poor who are forced into such actions. But that's a long, slow process. I guess the most effective approach would be to focus such efforts on public officials and lawmakers. But how to get them to pay attention? 
 
To the poor? So far the only method that has shown a real ability to affect change is open rebellion, I'm afraid. That's how the poor masses have managed to change their fates in most countries where they've done so. It doesn't have to be violent - though it will often become so - but basically, what's needed is revolt against an unfair system.

I really hope there's other alternatives.
 
That's not the answer, +Gert Sønderby. I've seen what such movements do to a country -- to its infrastructure and its people -- and it's decidedly not the answer. 
 
+Gert Sønderby I think people, taken in general, pay attention when something becomes personal. We can make a situation personal without violence, but it requires more effort and creativity. 
 
Google Shining Path later on. 
 
+A.V. Flox  Oh I know. But what is? After all, as I said, that's the only thing that's worked at all so far - be it even so dangerous.
 
Look at European history. Despotism galore up until ~1790, then a rash of extremely messy revolutions, a few less so. Things finally changed, democracy began being the order of the day. Then in the late 19th century: Worker movements begin making a lot of trouble, resulting in some extremely nasty riots, strike breaking with armed force, etc. Political will shifted again.

I'm not saying it works every time. I'm not saying it works well. In fact it's about the worst thinkable solution. But I have yet to see any other thing truly cause the kind of shift needed. Maybe the coming global challenges - resource shortages, climate change - may, but that's bound to get even nastier.
 
There's a reason I am sometimes a bit depressed.
 
We aren't talking about the same political situation. There already is democracy in Peru. There is no monarchy or dictator to overthrow. I don't think you really understand the situation enough to opine. Guerrillas don't help poverty -- the effect on the economically oppressed is devastating. It does not help anyone.
 
There are other ways to rebel than to become a guerrilla. Labor unionization, strikes, blockades come to mind. But again, those are likely to be met with force - whether lethal force depends on how deeply the local authorities are in the pocket of the capitalists. I don't know how likely police (or civilian security) would be to open fire on a strike blockade in Peru.
 
I am glad you talk about the stories that aren't yours to tell.  This is something I encounter in my own stories a lot.  
 
+Gert Sønderby, I find it painful and rather useless to argue with people who don't really understand the situation in my country. Forgive me, but I can't pursue this conversation.
 
+Kristin Milton, it's very important to allow people to tell their own stories if they can, to amplify them when they do, and only step in if they cannot do so -- as fairly and with as much sensitivity as possible. 
 
+A.V. Flox There is nothing to forgive. It wasn't a subject for this forum, at any rate. I am the one who should apologize.
 
lol +A.V. Flox you are a gem; one of the good ones too like ruby or sapphire  not a junky one like pyrite. And yes, people should embrace their famous bears. I find it strange more people haven't heard of Paddington. My parents gave me the Paddington Bear book signed by the author when I was a kid. I don't have anything else left from my childhood, but somehow I managed to hang onto that book... I'm not sure whyt. I will be careful when I go seek out the Darkest Peru. Usually in South American countries where it can be dangerous paying off people and getting protection keeps you pretty safe, maybe Peru is the same.
 
+Matt Kiener, just leave the valuables at home, get with the locals and try to emulate them in behavior and dress and you'll be okay. If I can do it, you can, too. ;) 
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