The Icy Grip of Fear
Day 168 – January 6, 2012
For just a shade over five months of living here in Peru’s capital city, I have noticed an intriguing bias among the city’s inhabitants. Today, in the bleachers overlooking a soccer field, I saw that prejudice manifest itself to an absurd extreme.
This bias that I speak of is the belief among Peruvians that cold is unhealthy. What follows is a quarter of chilling tales.
One – The Sin of Helada
To the newcomer to Peru, this bias manifests itself when asking for a soda (or gaseosa to use the local vernacular). After making a request for a fizzy beverage, the clerk will then ask if you want your soda helada (cold) or sin helada (not cold).
Coming from the United States as I do, I simply cannot fathom ordering a soda at room temperature, but this is the preferred method of drinking carbonated beverages here. Since being in Lima, I have learned to answer sin helada after ordering my Sprite because I became tired of the disapproving looks some servers would give me.
Cold drinks, and I have verified this with our empleada, Ethel, are considered to be unhealthy as they lower the body’s ability to fend off illnesses. At least that’s her story and she’s sticking to it.
Two – Hot Dogs
Not only are cold quaffs considered to be un-beneficial to the body, but the same goes for cold weather. Early in our stay here (August, September) it was winter. On Sundays, we would take the opportunity provided by our local government and stroll up and down a section of street that was closed to auto traffic making it a paradise for bicyclists, skateboards, roller skaters, and people walking their dogs.
To protect their dogs from the harsh Peruvian winter temperatures ranging in the mid-60s Fahrenheit, the would wrap their pets in sweaters. Here be proof…
Three – The Iciness of Strangers
On a mid-September afternoon, my lovely wife, daughter (age 7), and I were in an elevator. The day was overcast and the temperature was in the high 60s. The doors opened to allow two older women to enter and share the lift with us to the top floor. One of the newcomers peered over at my daughter who was wearing a short-sleeved shirt with no jacket and proceeded to chastise my lovely wife for being a horrible parent to allow their child to go outside half-naked in such frigid weather.
Four – Sweater Weather
Today is two weeks past the summer solstice here in the Southern Hemisphere and I found myself in the bleachers watching my oldest son practice soccer at a summer camp.
The afternoon was moving towards 4:00pm and while the sun had been beating down fiercely the entire day, clouds rolled in from the Pacific Ocean and covered up Sol. As the shadows disappeared from the bleachers and the lack of direct sunlight caused the heat of the day to alleviate, a mother in the seats above me nudged her daughter and said, “Necessitas un chompa. Tengo frio.” (You need a sweater. I’m cold.)
While I was humored by the fact that I had witnessed proof that mothers behave the same regardless of their hemisphere, I was stunned by the observation that a nearby sign showed that it was 27 degrees Celsius.
That comes out to 81 degrees Fahrenheit.
To paraphrase and crib from the genius of Frank Herbert and his novel Dune, I believe that the litany of a vast majority of Peruvians is…
I must not be cold.
Cold is the mind-killer.
Cold is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
What would a person from Lima think if they came to my home in northern Virginia where the mercury is expected to dip down into the 30s during the evenings this weekend?