And then, out of the blue on a misty Thursday night, we land at a table with nine men, drinking pisco sours and shooting the proverbial shit. It's a monthly roundtable, and this installment is happening at Mango, a Peruvian restaurant in a Shrewsbury strip mall.
An interesting bunch, these men, including: the grandson of the former president of Peru; another Peruvian, an elderly gentleman who in his youth ran with Che Guevara and Fidel Castro in Mexico City; a cigar-chomping lawyer; a Russian Jew, who in the late 1960s was part of an investment group that tried to build a hockey arena next to Busch Stadium; an artist who just returned from sculpting marble in Italy; and a wide-eyed high-rise developer with a well-manicured head of soft gray hair and an encyclopedic brain for books and history.
Over the next three hours, we hear stories of landing Cessnas in Paraguayan jungles, of near-misses with legendary Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner. As the night progresses, we switch to Spanish wine and debate love and lust and pheromones, occasionally craning our necks to check on the Cardinals, who are trying to recover from an early deficit in game four of the World Series.
But tonight the Paraguayan dictator is a more inviting topic. The gray-haired developer name-checks a great book on Paraguay, At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig, then recalls a plot to kill Stroessner. "The assassin stood out in the middle of the road holding a bazooka," explains the developer, "and shot it at Stroessner!" The despot survived. One of the Peruvians recalls a business trip to Paraguay, and a missed opportunity to have tea with the dictator.
"You had a chance to meet General Stroessner and you didn't?" asks the developer, incredulously.
"I regret it."
"My people weren't fans of Stroessner's," interjects the Russian Jew. "Mengele," he adds, referring to the Nazi "Angel of Death" who, like many other escaped murderers, spent his post-Holocaust years in Paraguay under the protection of Stroessner's army. The developer then tells the story of Friedrich Nietzsche's sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, an Aryan Jew-hater who emigrated to Paraguay with fourteen "master race" families to set up a colony based on her brother's teaching. It failed, explains the developer, because the Aryans couldn't keep their master paws off the sexy natives.
Mango makes the best pisco sour you're ever likely to drink. The "National Drink of Peru," pisco is a clear brandy that, drunk straight, is clean and strong and recalls a glass of nice mescal. Take a whiff of pisco's bouquet and you're liable to burn your nose hairs. Used as the base for a sour, though, it's a different story; the brandy provides a sturdy foil for the citrus. Mango uses a blend of fresh lime and lemon juice, squeezed daily, and a simple syrup, also fresh. To this they add egg white to create a meringue-like froth, the remnants of which stick to the sides of the lowball. As a final little accoutrement, the bartender adds a few drops of bitters, which sit on the froth and add a touch of clove-y spice.
A couple of men start talking about love and lust. Stumped, they ask the aged Peruvian for his input. "Guillermo, what's the difference between love and lust?"
"Semantics," he says, to hearty laughter, as another round of pisco, this time neat, arrives as a digestif. We sip, check again on the Cardinals (we win, 5-4!), settle the bill, shake some hands and retreat to the car. Outside, the mist has turned to rain, and Paraguay, Peru and pisco have given way to Shrewsbury. ¡Viva Mango!