Monday, September 26, 2011

Darkest Peru

While our children were swinging happily on the monkey bars at a neighborhood playground, I asked my Peruvian friend Araceli if she had ever heard of Paddington Bear.

Beloved of English children since his creation in 1958 by author Michael Bond, Paddington is a small brown bear who sports a duffel coat, hat and wellington boots. He lives with the Brown family and his favorite food is marmalade.

Named for the London train station where he was found, Paddington originally hailed from Darkest Peru. But these days he is more often seen in the shops at Heathrow Airport, where tourists eagerly snap him up as a quintessentially British souvenir.

Sitting with Araceli it struck me as odd that this bear who has come to symbolize what it means to be British (duffel coats! marmalade! wellington boots!) is in fact Peruvian. And that in his home country, where his Great Aunt Lucy resides in a home for retired bears in Lima, he is not such a household name.

Like Billy Idol and countless Hollywood celebrities, sometimes you have to leave home to make it big.

But where is "Darkest Peru?" Araceli wondered.

In the England of the1950s, Michael Bond probably chose "Darkest Peru" as Paddington's birthplace because it was far, far away and sounded impossibly remote and exotic, I said. Like the legendery Timbuktu.

Araceli laughed. And I asked her: "Where is Darkest Peru for you?"

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