A bravura opening, from our new Nobel laureate

The Bad Girl, by Mario Vargas Llosa, begins thus:

That was a fabulous summer. Pérez Prado and his twelve- professor orchestra came to liven up the Carnival dances at the Club Terrazas of Miraflores and the Lawn Tennis of Lima; a national mambo championship was organized in Plaza de Acho, which was a great success in spite of the threat by Cardinal Juan Gualberto Guevara, Archbishop of Lima, to excommunicate all the couples who took part; and my neighborhood, the Barrio Alegre of the Miraflores streets Diego Ferré, Juan Fanning, and Colón, competed in some Olympic games of mini-soccer, cycling, athletics, and swimming with the neighborhood of Calle San Martín, which, of course, we won.

Extraordinary things happened during that summer of 1950. For the first time Cojinoba Lañas fell for a girl-the redhead Seminauel-and she, to the surprise of all of Miraflores, said yes. Cojinoba forgot about his limp and from then on walked around the streets thrusting out his chest like Charles Atlas. Tico Tiravante broke up with Ilse and fell for Laurita, Víctor Ojeda fell for Ilse and broke up with Inge, Juan Barreto fell for Inge and broke up with Ilse. There was so much sentimental restructuring in the neighborhood that we were in a daze, people kept falling in and out of love, and when they left the Saturday night parties the couples weren’t always the same as when they came in. “How indecent!” said my scandalized aunt Alberta, with whom I had lived since the death of my parents.

The waves at the Miraflores beaches broke twice, the first time in the distance, two hundred meters from shore, and that’s where those of us who were brave went to ride them in without a board, and they carried us a hundred meters to the spot where they died only to re-form into huge, elegant waves and break again in a second explosion that carried bodysurfers smoothly to the pebbles on the beach.

During that extraordinary summer, at the parties in Miraflores, everybody stopped dancing waltzes, corridos, blues, boleros, and huarachas because the mambo had demolished them. The mambo, an earthquake that had all the couples-children, adolescents, and grown-ups-at the neighborhood parties moving, jumping, leaping, and cutting a figure. And certainly the same thing was happening outside Miraflores, beyond our world and our life, in Lince, Breña, Chorrillos, or the even more exotic neighborhoods of La Victoria, downtown Lima, Rímac, and El Porvenir, where we, the Miraflorans, had never set foot and didn’t ever plan to set foot.

And just as we had moved on from waltzes and huarachas, sambas and polkas, to the mambo, we also moved on from skates and scooters to bicycles, and some, Tato Monje and Tony Espejo, for example, to motor scooters, and even one or two to cars, like Luchín, the overgrown kid in the neighborhood, who sometimes stole his father’s Chevrolet convertible and took us for a ride along the seawalls, from Terrazas to the stream at Armendáriz, at a hundred miles an hour.

But the most notable event of that summer was the arrival in Miraflores, all the way from Chile, their distant country, of two sisters whose flamboyant appearance and unmistakable way of speaking, very fast, swallowing the last syllables of words and ending their sentences with an aspirated exclamation that sounded like pué, threw all of us Miraflores boys, who had just traded our short pants for long trousers, for a loop. And me more than the rest.

The younger one seemed like the older one, and vice versa. The older one was named Lily and was a little shorter than Lucy, who was a year younger. Lily couldn’t have been more than fourteen or fifteen years old, and Lucy no more than thirteen or fourteen. The adjective “flamboyant” seemed invented just for them, but though Lucy was flamboyant it wasn’t to the same degree as her sister, not only because her hair was shorter and not as blond as Lily’s, and because she dressed more soberly, but also because she was quieter, and when it was time to dance, though she also cut a figure and moved her waist with a boldness no Miraflores girl dared attempt, she seemed like a modest, inhibited, almost colorless girl compared to that spinning top, that flame in the wind, that will-o’-the-wisp that Lily became when the records were all stacked on the automatic changer, the mambo exploded, and we started to dance

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