27 September 2007...10:22 am

The Quest For Cousins (Part I)

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by Lily

Two years ago my mother called me from a wedding in Philadelphia and offered to buy me a ticket to fly there for the ceremony the next morning.

She put me on the phone with a male voice called Robert who claimed to be my cousin and told me I was missing a great time. I was in Providence and on a bad date, so I said yes. My mother did buy the ticket, but (among other difficulties) my housemates and I were locked into our kitchen later that night and had to call the fire department to get us out. Before the firemen arrived I called my mother and told her I couldn’t get to the airport, and that maybe I should be doing my homework and going to class instead of flying to weddings of relatives I’d never met.

The groom of this wedding, Robert, and I are all second cousins. (Which, I will remind you because people seem unable to ever remember, means that parents of ours are first cousins.) I had great reasons never to meet Robert and his brothers Richard and Charlie because they live in Peru, while the groom is in upstate New York. But in August I did meet my Peruvian cousins while the groom’s name remains a mystery to me.

My mother was quite taken with all three cousins even though she had met only two—Richard was in the Jungle and couldn’t make the wedding, but Robert assured her that his younger brother was even more handsome and charming than he. And three new boy-cousins in Peru! I think she told me they were all surfer/doctors. Also they were anxious to meet me and said I should come visit Lima anytime I liked. Conveniently my friend Lindsay was living in Ecuador two years later and we made a plan to meet in Quito and go to Peru.

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That was the full extent of our plan when I left New York. I had received some vague (but enthusiastic!) email responses: they now lived in Arequipa instead of Lima, but still had an apartment there, and maybe there were some keys. They began emails with Cus, ended with hugs and kisses, and wrote their laughs like jackals, ja ja ja ja.

Later, I wished I had spent more time researching the climate of sub-equatorial high altitude wintertimes. But it seemed much more important to find the perfect books to bring, which clearly were not the Rough or Lonely Planet guides to Peru. I chose: a Spanish dictionary (complete with learning CDs and wallet-sized phrasebook); a travel diary called The Condor and the Cows written by Christopher Isherwood in many similar cities exactly 60 years before (my father’s suggestion); and a Mario Vargas Llosa novel, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (my mother’s).

My mother’s contribution for the trip to my cousins, I discovered in the airport, was the story of the young author’s love affair with his cousin’s ex-wife. As it turned out the bookjacket was wrong and Aunt Julia is just his uncle’s wife’s sister. But he later marries his first cousin. Also, the lack of connection between my having a Spanish dictionary and speaking any Spanish had already become impossible to hide from myself on the flight from Newark to Miami. But I was able to make it through people names, place names, and vowel pronunciation with the learning CDs before boarding the plane to Quito. And armed with these new skills (which unfortunately do not apply to the names Richard, Robert, and Charles) I began my quest for cousins.

To Be Continued.

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Lily is our Man in Manhattan. If you’re lucky, she can be yours, too.

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