Lima: Literary slams, music and other adventures

New York TimesSeptember 22, 2012 

“It’s a city with terrible traffic, alarming crime rates and a sky that’s gray for eight months a year,” Daniel Alarcon, author of the novel “Lost Radio City,” said of his birthplace, Lima, Peru.

But, he added: “The music scene is incredible. The food is great. You could never be bored.”

As Peru’s growing mineral mining industry transforms parts of the capital into a boomtown with shiny new high rises, its culture and grittiness keep him returning year after year from his home in San Francisco.

Q: Where do you go first when you get into town?

The book market along Avenida Abancay known as Amazonas. It’s thought to be the largest informal book market in South America, with some 200 outdoor stalls selling antiquarian and used books and pirated copies of whatever you want, from Garcia Marquez to Coelho. Q: And at night, where you do like to go?

La Noche in Barranco, which is part music venue, part culture center. It holds this literary contest called Lucha Libro, a riff on Mexican wrestling, lucha libre. Two writers are given prompts and write stories live, which are then projected overhead on screens. It’s the kind of thing I would never want to do, but I’m glad it exists. La Noche has great concerts, too.

Q: Where else do you go to hear music?

El Aromito, off Avenida Guardia Chalaca in the Callao neighborhood, is an old social club where you can hear traditional criolla music. There’s a singer, one or two classical guitars and a drum called the cajosn. It means drawer because people used to pull the drawer out of a desk and drum on that. The club is in a typical middle-class house, with a big, open front room, and the musicians set up in the back. On the left side is the kitchen where people make the empanadas and put out cold beer. My wife and I went with a friend, and we were the youngest people by 40 years. You have these men who look like they can barely walk, but as soon as the music starts, they dance so gracefully.

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