This was the first department store I ever went to in South America. I remember walking through the door in 2006, wondering if they might have scarves, sweaters, or something of the like to keep me warm that first July I spent in Lima. It always seemed like it was five degrees too cold no matter how many layers of clothes I wore or layers of blankets I piled on. The only purchase I made that day was a Perú track jacket for my sister (which I've since restaked claim to).
On this early November day though, my mission was different: Jeans. I tried on at least 15 pairs and studied the waistline, torso length, and leg cut of exponentially more. In the end my favorites were a pair of Bennetton jeans that were the equivalent of $70. I ended up buying a pair or S/70 skinny jeans instead. And even they were far, far better than any jeans I had tried on in a year.
I arrived in La Paz last January with two pairs of jeans: my favorite, slightly baggy, six year old gap jeans, and a newer, but still broken in pair of straight leg jeans. The baggy ones were the first to go. A few months in the knees were wearing then. and then they ripped. But on warm days or evening when I didn't leave my apartment they worked just fine. Then the right back pocket withered away. and finally, just below the right back pocket a but hole began to erupt. I declared them dead.
But they lived on in the patch I made from them to cover the newly emerging hole in the straight leg jeans that resided on my right hip bone. This held up quite well. But then around September the knees of those started disappearing as well. and then suddenly on both upper thighs there were rips every few inches.
And so, off to the El Alto market I went. I was in search of cheap jeans, and cheap used jeans there were. Most in what seemed to be my size were American Eagle or Aeropostale brand. But without fitting rooms I just didn't trust that the "low rise" waists would be sufficient on my long torso. So I went to my old standby, the second hand store on Calle Commercio. There my fears about these Juniors sized jeans were confirmed. Not a single pair fit me appropriately. So I thought I'd try a new pair at Shopping Norte (the centro commercial in Zona Central), just a few blocks away. I tried on what felt like every pair of jeans in at least 10 stores and finally, in a moment of exasperation bought a pair at Zap. But even these, which seemed to be made for real adult women had a very shallow crotch area, and after wearing them for a week couldn't bear it any more.
My birthday was approaching so I decided to treat myself-I walked over to the Levi's store. But to my surprise, the largest waist size they carried was 28. It seemed a 29 or 30 would have been fine, but I decided if I were going to buy jeans that cost about a quarter of the average Bolivian police man's monthly salary, they sure better fit me well. And the 28s did not. So I gave up. Back to the ZAP jeans (only for a few hours at a time), yoga pants, and skirts with leggings.
And I got on like that until Lima. Lima has always been a good, transitional city for me. It was my first South American city. And now, coming from La Paz it feels like a vacation in North America, only closer and speaking Spanish. But there is Starbucks, Chili's, McDonalds, Dunkin Doughnuts, department stores, fancy sushi restaurants, cheap falafel joints, more pizza places than you could imagine, music stores, book stores. "Its a proper city." Amanda once told me in an effort to get me to visit on a long weekend. So I thought spending five days there between Bolivia and the US would ease me into la vida norteamericana. But it didn't work out so well.
I arrived at LAX around midnight on the 11th, and J and her husband picked me up. We drove to J's parents' house where I was given the pull-out bed in the office room, complete with a TV and cable. Amused by this luxury I ended up watching some true crime show and marveling at how silly the late-night Made for TV offer commercials were. The next day we had lunch at a little cafe, we took a hike in the hills, drove over a windy road, walked to the beach, and had tacos and margaritas to finish it all off. The next day we arose early and hopped in the car to drive to San Francisco, stopping first for bagels, then pizza, then just to see the Madonna Inn, later at In 'n Out Burger, and finally at our hotel near Union Square in San Francisco. We walked across the street and had a few $7 beers (expensive, but not outrageous for big pints of local Anchorsteam). We went to bed early to get up for the conference the next morning.
After seeing J's panel, I decided I should try to do something about my lack of communication device (ie phone), and walked over to the T Mobile store. And along the way I noticed a line to get into the UNIQLO store. And then a giant clapping crowd huddled both inside and outside the door to the Apple Store. I just didn't understand...why would anyone wait to get into a store?
And then I started looking around some more. There were stores everywhere! H&M, Gap, Old Navy, not one, but 2 Forever Twenty One shops within a four-block radius. There was Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Target, Best Buy, and Banana Republic. There was just so much to buy. And so many places to buy it.
And even a month after leaving La Paz, I still marvel at this. I'm now in a town of 2,000 people. An exhaustive list of the businesses here includes: 3 gas stations, 4 bars, 2 restaurants (if Subway counts as a restaurant), 1 pizza delivery place, 1 hardware store, 1 Dollar General Store, 3 Barbershops/Hair salons, 2 car washes, 1 bank and 1 grocery store. But the opportunities for consumption still run rampant. Its the holiday season, so the morning newspaper comes with a stack of department store advertisements whose pages outnumber those of the news. The television blares with some snappy song advertising brightly colored pants at old navy. I somehow find emails in my inbox with special seasonal sales. It feels unescapable. And it almost feels normal again. That's the scary part.