My Man in Cusco

Peru – December 2007

Christmas and I have an unconventional relationship. When I was very young, my parents and I did have a traditional Christmas tree complete with ornaments, lights, and garland and the requisite wrapped presents underneath. Over time, however, the tree was replaced with a stuffed penguin wearing antlers in a sleigh and the presents were put inside a large trashcan so our dogs wouldn’t destroy them. An added benefit of the trashcan was that, after all the presents were unwrapped and opened, the wrapping paper and boxes could go back into it for easy cleanup.

As such, I prefer to be away during the holidays. For this Christmas, I’ve chosen to be in Peru and, on Christmas day, Cusco. I should point out that Christmas Eve in Peru, at least in Cusco, is like New Year’s Eve in the States, with lots of music, dancing, and alcohol. I didn’t realize this when booking the trip but ended up going out with a few in my group for dancing and drinks and ended up not returning till after 4am, much to the chagrin of my roommate. This was also the night I learned I have a high tolerance for vodka (my Russian ancestors would be proud).

While the others I’d been out with were sleeping it off, I’m out and about early to enjoy Cusco on Christmas day, which is full of people and pageants. We’ve been in town a few days and I have become used to every vendor approaching me to sell something but I was not prepared for Jimmy. Unlike other sellers who have a stall to display their wears, Jimmy is on foot with just two paintings he’s offering to sell. They are painted by him, he says, though they look exactly like all the other paintings being sold throughout the city.

I politely tell Jimmy that I’m not interested, but he continues to tell me that profits from his sales go to support his school supplies. Jimmy seems to be around sixteen and, being mobile, isn’t going to take no for an answer lightly. I again let him know I’m not interested, so he changes tactic, or at least product. Would I be interested in some knives? He can take me to a nearby shop with some lovely examples. I do love a good knife, but can’t imagine getting one through Customs and besides, I thought Jimmy was an artist.

Clearly not deterred by my lack of interest in paintings or knives, Jimmy now offers some beautiful women only a few blocks from the Cathedral. Now I’m not Catholic, but offering up a prostitute only a few blocks from a Cathedral on Christmas seems like some kind of sin and now I’m a sinner-by-association. I let Jimmy provide a few more details as we are heading toward the aforementioned Cathedral, which I duck into in an attempt to lose Jimmy, figuring pimps probably don’t attend Christmas mass. I don’t either but wait twenty minutes, hoping he’s found another mark during this time.

Jimmy isn’t there when I re-emerged from the church but I know he’s out there somewhere. If you ever have a need for paintings, knives, or women, he’s your man in Cusco.

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