The old man has always been a Romantic. It is easy to picture him there in the military boarding school in Lima, 1950. He describes it to us in four words; damp, gray, boring, unhappy. That was Mario Vargas Llosa 60 years before he won the Nobel Prize for literature.

 

In the face of the doldrums, Vargas Llosa turned to Victor Hugo. Who else is a sensitive young lad living in Peru going to turn to? I say this jokingly, but also, not. In a curious and enjoyable little book Vargas Llosa wrote about Hugo’s Les Misérables (The Temptation of the Impossible: Victor Hugo and “Les Misérables”), he describes being carried away by Hugo’s world of “extreme misfortune, love, courage, happiness, and vile deeds.”

But more than that, Vargas Llosa speaks about being caught in the horns of… More…

I have been known to eat foods that others snub. As a student, I lived off back-of-the-store, reduced-price vegetables and fruits. Day-or-more-old muffins and danish were a treat. My best company dish was a cheap and tasty enchilada casserole that I made with chicken necks and backs. So it was only natural I should one day undertake a real gastronomic adventure. I should try to eat a pet, a nice small one. A guinea pig would do, and the place to accomplish that was Peru where cuy, as guinea pig is known, was said to be a staple of the traditional diet.

Of course, I didn’t travel to Peru just to challenge the frontiers of dining. It had long been my dream to explore the cloud-crested ruins of Machu Picchu and to glide upon Lake Titicaca in a reed boat. I wanted to brush up on my Spanish. I wanted… More…