Wednesday, July 21, 2004


Peña from Hell

Peñas are a typically Peruvian way to spend an evening, and entail a three or four person group playing lively traditional music and singing.  They seem to attract plenty of people.  They do not, however, attract me in anyway whatsoever, since my first, and hopefully last, peña experience way back in February.  I meant to write about it at the time, but it has been too painful to recall... until now.  It was Valentine's Day evening, and we had been in Peru for all of nine days. Perla and Wooloo suggested that Tito and I go out with them to a peña in the Grand Hotel, where they would meet a bunch of friends.  It sounded quite interesting, so we went along. As soon as we walked in the door of the posh function room where it was being held I knew we'd made a mistake.  Two hundred pairs of eyes turned to see who was arriving so late... and watched us as we made our self-concious way to our table, which was right at the very front of the room, in front of the band.  We sat down hastily and tried to relax.  I modelled my face into an 'I'm watching live music and enjoying it' look and took large gulps of cold Pisco Sour.  But I had not escaped the notice of the band (which consisted of two blokes with guitars, and one sat on a big wooden box, which he thumped like a drum).  "Where are you from?" asked the lead singer, not very privately I might add, seeing as he was using the microphone.  As I didn't yet understand any Spanish, Tito replied for me.  I smiled pleasantly at the band, and at the public whose eyes were once again upon me.  It had started.  From then on, between each and every song, the singer took the opportunity to quiz me in front of a live audience of 200 strangers. When he felt he'd gotten to know me sufficiently, he demanded a song.  Yes, the crowd agreed, let's hear the gringa sing.  No chance... what could I possibly sing that could be accompanied by two moustachioed men on acoustic guitars and one on a thumpy box?  Radiohead?  Britney Spears?  God Save the Queen?  There was no way I was going to make a tit out of myself in that way. "NO WAY, JOSÉ!" I said, shaking my head vigorously in total refusal.  Nevertheless, the singer continued to hassle me.  I was beginning to feel extremely victimized, and thus was suitably pleased when a brassy middle-aged woman appeared with a microphone and began to belt out some distracting crowd-pleasers.  I was quite upset and needed to be out of the spotlight for a minute.  Unfortunately, the crowd was pleased so very much that they decided to dance. Fast as greased lightening, a woman from our party whisked Tito from under my nose and onto the dance floor.  I was left sitting by myself and tears filled my eyes.  I looked up to a proferred hand - it is not done to refuse a dance in Peru - so this bloke was baffled when I did just that very thing.  Then I dashed out of the room to the safety of the toilets, where I began to sob hysterically (I blame it on culture shock).  Tito's voice came from outside, "Let's go somewhere else" he said.  "But everyone will know that I couldn't hack it" I sniffed.  "Who cares? You'll probably never see any of them again in your life."  So off we went.   We bought some beer from an off-licence and proceeded to get drunk on a bench.  Classy - and without an audience!

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