A Week in the Heroic City

1 July 2012

Sunday


This was my final view of Lima before it disappeared into the cloud cover below that I had been seeing from below for the previous week.

Lima has traditionally been called The Heroic City. This tradition continues to the present day, even if it is not perhaps well known. In fact, when I was walking along Lima’s Malecon and I saw two city workers fixing a street lamp, I noticed that they were wearing t-shirts that identified them as Lima city workers and which additionally included the line, “Ciudad Heroica.”

My week in the Heroic City, which turned into a week and two days when I missed my flight, left an impression on me. Lima is not a tourist’s city. It certainly is not a beautiful city in the way that, for example, Rio de Janeiro is a beautiful city. I can’t think of any particular reason that people go to Lima in that way that people go to Buenos Aires for tango or to Paris or Milan for fashion. Lima’s superficial charms are few, but I found it to be worth the effort to penetrate beyond the surface and search for the substance beneath.

I was asked more than once if I was on my way to Cuzco or Macchu Picchu or some other well-known destination in Peru. I was not on my way anywhere; I had come to see Lima. And I can honestly say that spending a week in a city often bypassed by tourists was not nearly enough; I barely scratched the surface of Lima, and I knew it while I was there.

Of course any city of nearly ten million people will have many events and activities going on; a person could spend a lifetime just exploring restaurants in a city of this size. In this respect I also barely scratched the surface in Lima. Although I had some good meals, I didn’t go to any of the renowned restaurants of Lima; I simply ate wherever I happened to find myself when I was hungry.

I would recommend to anyone that they select a city on whatever continent or hemisphere you like — Africa, Asia, Europe, etc. — and spend a week or two there, just randomly walking and sightseeing, without much of a program. (I have done this in Paris, Rome, and Rio de Janeiro.) You will learn things that are completely unexpected. Many of these things you will not realize until some time later, when you unexpectedly call up a memory that turns out to be unexpectedly valuable. Of course, you must select a place where you are not at home, and preferably do not speak the language. Experiencing this most superficial form of alienation is a condition or a certain kind of enlightenment.

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