In the early 1950s, General Odria having consolidated power and been legally elected president of the republic, my father —and consequently our family— began to receive the benefits of being a loyalist. Much like Giambattista Vico tell us in his Nova Science how the nobles and feudal fiefs bestowed land and favors to their minions, my family received favors and prospered.
To begin with, my father “bought” for a token amount a half-block lot of land in the sparsely populated locality —near the port of Callao— called La Perla Alta. The adjective ‘alta’ (which means high) was added to the name to distinguish it from La Perla Baja, which was a town densely populated by people of the lower classes. In La Perla Alta my father was to build our new house.
Almost on a daily basis I would accompany my father to inspect the progress on the construction of our new house. And in a matter of months we moved in to our brand new house, a house that was the envy of those who laid eyes on it, for it was it was isolated —no other houses were visible around it, for nothing surrounded it but vacant lots— and was totally landscaped in grand splendor: green lawns, magnificent hedges, and a gravel road to the front door flanked by weeping willows and tamarind trees. And since the sea was only three blocks away, I could always hear the roar of the surf, and see and feel the fog as it lifted and steal over the house. In clear days I loved to climb to the roof and watch from the turret the shimmering green vastness of the Pacific ocean; I could also distinguish the Colegio Leoncio Prado, a military high school that much like my own high school —Colegio Guadalupe— accepted generations of rebellious children whom parents would place there more as punishment than for the rewards of education. Years later when Mario Vargas Llosa published his novel The City and the Dogs (about the life of those cadets), I felt a jolt of nostalgia, for clear in my mind were the images of those cadets marching, double timing, and conducting maneuvers and war games of attacks and retreats around my house. In the distance I could also see La Punta, a popular beach-town resort much favored by the populace of Callao.
Now that I look back, I cannot help feeling coldness, hurt, and a resentment in my heart, resentment that for many years I had transferred to the house rather than to the real culprit of my aching heart: my father’s women dalliances. Also, young as I was in those years, an incipient consciousness and distaste for corruption and power began to fill my soul. Soon I realized that I wasn’t happy living there. Confused and disheartened I lived in that house from the age of 12 to my last year of high school, which I finished at the age of 16. But since during the school years I boarded in my high school, in reality I can say that I lived in that house for only four summers.
If our house occupied half a block, the residence of the vice-president of the republic extended to about four blocks. Most of my summer days I spent there, with my cousins whose father was the steward of the property. Since there were but a few receptions and ceremonies during the summer, we had the residence and all its facilities to ourselves, which included a game room, a library, smoking rooms, and a magnificent swimming pool. Sometimes the vice-president would throw gala parties for celebrities, Government officials, and foreign dignitaries. From the second floor corridors, my cousins and I would watch —mesmerized by the glitter and gayety of the balls— the behavior and misbehavior of the adults. On one occasion, for the president’s birthday party, the vice-president flew in from Spain Los Churumbeles de España, a famous orchestra whose music we knew only through records. The singer, Juan Legido —Nick-named El Gitano Señorón— had become just as famous as the orchestra. How well I recall his renditions, that night, of his most acclaimed hits. And not only was he the lead singer, but he also acted as master of ceremonies, delighting the audience with a torrent of jokes, both decent and indecent.
Herman Hesse in his novel Stepphenwolf says, “every ego, so far from being a unity is in the highest degree a manifold world, a constellated heaven, a chaos of forms …” I like this. I’ve never accepted the notion —like Leibnitz’s monads, or Freud’s ego— that our individual consciousness is one, a unity. No , sir. My consciousness is made up of infinitude of events, among which the hurtful ones nudge us in different directions, pushing us to choose our own destinies.
To my ill or good star, my destiny is being fulfilled in the United States (where I toil incessantly to become a writer) and not in Peru, the country where I was born. It isn't that I love my country less, it is that I never had a chance to love it more.
To become a writer I write essays every day. Since English is my second language, in writing essays I consult Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers. When I write fiction --or fiction writing of novels and short stories-- I consult Toolbox for Writers.