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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Forever we will stay, like a pyramid...


One of the amazing things about living in Lima is how time is measured entirely differently to that which I am used to; taking 40 minutes to cut up vegetables for a recipe is entirely normal.

Forty. Minutes. Of veggie prep. That's like a lifetime.

In 40 minutes I generally expect to be halfway done eating whatever I started cooking 40 minutes ago. 

But I'll tell you more about the cooking in another post. You know I will; I always do. 

Then there's this: multi-tasking is unheard-of. Customers are waited upon one at a time until they are taken care of, then you move on to the next person. As a consumer this could be gratifying or infuriating, depending on where you stand in line.

Craft works and food are not considered valuable for the time put in but rather in the quality of components and workmanship. 


With, of course, the exception of the ubiquitous mass produced made-in-China dreck for tasteless tourists found within 100 miles of any airport. People buy that stuff for the same reason people buy fast food. It's easy and accessible. It can't always be helped, but it can be ignored. Such is our world. 

Around Miraflores, "our" neighborhood in Lima, there are several large craft markets. These offer all of the above, cheap junk, beautiful artwork, and everything in between. You have to put in the time and effort to sort through to find, and then negotiate for, your treasures. 

The stores each has their own small, generally crammed stall, perfectly suited to Peruvian-sized folk. Caucasians do well to keep arms, legs, and rear ends tucked in at all times, or risk breaking something that would probably turn out to be enormously expensive. 



The kids decided that our favorite, the Mercado Los Incas, is just this side of heaven. All those colors! All that stuff! All those nice señoras and señoritas who always seemed to know exactly what would tempt small children.  

Bethy immediately developed a love for alpaca fur. Thomas was fascinated with wooden toys. Both wanted t-shirts and caps and embossed leather cowboy hats, magnets, and pretty much anything to do with guinea pigs and llamas or the Peruvian flag. 

All well and good. They remembered their haggling skills from the Middle East, tried out their Spanish, and paid with Peruvian soles from their own coin purses, which almost inevitably lowered the asking prices.

Good fun for all. 

Mommy, though...was intrigued by the textiles, the silver and the carvings. No discounts on the latter two. I was fascinated by the detailed artistry of the gourd carvings in particular: 


The best of the stalls were generally run by women, and those women would be weaving or carving or painting or gluing when no customers were present. Those stores always had the real treasures. The woman above was shy at being caught making her wares; perhaps she thought it gave more mystique if the gourd whatever had been made in the mountains or desert in a tiny hut, but we liked meeting the ones who actually made the beautiful works, and getting a glimpse of the time and talent that went into making these objects. I encouraged her to please, por favor, show us what she was doing. 

She needn't have been shy; her hands were skilled, her carvings delicate and beautiful. She explained, with much linguistic effort, that the gourd had been painted the green color, that it wasn't naturally that way, but that the creamy pale beneath was true. 




The tree of life, she explained, flowering -could I see? -and the hummingbird, el colibri, an animal she loves, if I understood correctly, because it is small yet fierce.

I bought a beautiful pendant of the living tree carved in a gourd background of burnt orange, framed in silver.

Even mommies need mementos, right?

I loved how the storekeepers managed us as customers, my favorite time being when Thomas really had to go to the bathroom and the baño, usually guarded by a nice young man who would gladly let you go by and might even hand you a couple of squares of toilet paper for a fee, was unattended and very much locked.

The wily lady who had been showing us some lovely alpaca scarves realised that she wasn't going to make the sale unless we took care of the little man's bathroom needs, so she took us through the labyrinth of stalls to a secret bathroom. She hustled back to her store but sent a relative to fetch us back; no fool she.

Yes, she made the sale.

Lest you think all we did in Peru was shop and eat, let me tell you about the adobe pyramids, Huaca Pucillana just a short walk from the kids' TaeKwonDo classes.

Yes, we had them take TaeKwonDo in Spanish. But that's another story as well.

The pyramid rises greyly next to a busy street. A sight such as this should be out of place in a modern city like Lima, yet. somehow, it is utterly right.




If I understood the tour correctly, which is assuming a lot. at least two cultures were involved in building and worshipping in the tiered mass of stone; the Lima and the Wari, between 1,800 and 1,000 years ago. With the arrival of the Spanish, the pyramid itself fell into disuse and the people used the area as a garbage dump, until around 1980 when interest grew again in this massive artifact from the past. 
Bulldozers and archaeologists began to slowly unearth\its secrets. 




The research was very much continuing; with the structures gradually being restored, finds reflecting spiritual practices long gone; pottery, textiles, and, as expected, the remains of victims sacrificed long ago to appease the Gods.

It was exciting to be at an ongoing excavation site. I found it nearly as interesting to watch my kids' reactions to things. Mostly they were interested in digging in the dirt,



and bickering with one another.


I hope you appreciate his brotherly love expression as much as I do. 

We were the only US Americans, and my kids were the only kids on the tour. Par for the course for us. 
I get kind of thrilled by that status. There's no hiding it. 

Part of being a tourist is to be amused by other tourists, and I was most entertained by a young man who apparently was also quite rich; he had not one but two fillies wearing the tightest jeans they could achieve, one on each arm, each sporting footwear not intended for a dusty afternoon tromping up and down a pyramid. The one with the wedge heels had a swinging cloud of black leather fringe flying from the top of her shoes. 

You can't buy class like that. 



Neither lost her footing. I was impressed. 

As you can see, unlike the more famous pyramids in Egypt or Mexico, the Huaca Pucllana is surrounded by businesses and homes, Lima all around. History smack dab in the middle of the everyday. 

The talk of human sacrifice (the priests killed children, I murmured in my offspring's ears. My children stopped bickering.) held our tour group in thrall.



The entire site couldn't have taken more than 40 minutes to explore, dutifully following our guide, and though I looked longingly toward the areas where the newest excavations were taking place, no one invited me to take a a brush or trowel and join in.

Dang.

I blame the kids.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

She don't know why, dog and butterfly...

It was the sort of encounter one doesn't necessarily expect in a park.



Sure, there were couples -there always are- necking on benches, up against palm trees, walking with that awkward walk of being so close your legs can't function as designed, but this, this was different.

His voice came floating over the grass. Oh, you are so beauuuutiful.

He was tall with dark curly hair, fit and confident, with the accent of one well-educated and travelled.

Yes, yes, yes, oh, sweetheart, mi querido amor, I love you,  oh, my little bonita, come to me. Such an amazing girl, oh yes, darling! Si, si!!!

This was the dark, handsome stranger, the Latin lover of a woman's dreams. In a suspended moment he gazed into the eyes of his love, she of lyrically long legs, delicate features, a sweet smile and soulful lashed eyes. A unique beauty, knowing and fascinating.

He continued to coo and court her, shamelessly pronouncing his fathomless love for her beauty, her intellect, her adoration for her.

Oh, how I loooove you, my beautiful darling, how wonderful you are, si, si, SI!

Then he took a ring, her eyes shined, her lips parted....and he threw it again for her to chase.



It was about then that I snapped out of it, realising that I was a bit jealous of a dog. A hairless dog. I'm quite happy in my marriage, but boy oh boy, to be talked to like that:


Oh, look at you, my amazing wife, vacuuming the carpet so beautifully. You are my soul, my stars, my eternal beloved...

No, it's not going to happen. We'd laugh ourselves sick.
Such an attempt would turn out more like little Pisco, here, with his mohawk and leather jacket:
 

I'd like to say that he's so ugly as to be cute, but, well, no, not really.

At least he doesn't get fleas. A benefit of hairlessness, apparently.

In case you wondered, little jackets are de rigeur in Lima. Most of the dogs wear them. My favorite is the Scotty dogs in plaid, but it's a fashion show, regardless. Big dogs, little dogs; it's another way to accessorise.

The kids and I watched the lovely naked dog fetching and frolicking, and I had a hard time not either grinning or swooning at regular intervals at her owner's exhortations of love. He sounded so sincere, so very enthralled by her abilities and good looks.

Her name, when I asked, is Sumac, which means "pretty" in Quechua, the language of the Central Andes people a nod to her origins. Hairless Peruvian dogs are allowed to have a little bit of hair, on top of their heads, on the tips of their tails, but breeders prefer the completely hairless ones, like beautiful smooth Sumac. Not that we got to pet her. She was stunning but like many supermodels, skittish and high-maintenance.

She doesn't like to be touched by anyone but me, her owner murmured, the jealous lover.

I found myself saying something about "Yeah, well, I get that; if I were naked I might not want strangers touching me either." I wanted to bite my tongue off for being such a moron. It didn't matter, he barely noticed us leaving, he only had eyes for her, his perfect, pedigree, hairless dog.

Fortunately another star of the park had arrived; Otto the Skateboarding Dog, bawling his deep, funny bark as he came!

 
Otto is a local celebrity and, also jacket-less, is beyond cute. Whenever he comes out, crowds gather, people ooh and aah and giggle, smart phones taking photo after photo as he rolls along, obviously enjoying himself as much as they are.
 
The kids have been on a serious lookout for Otto, watching the area around the lighthouse for crowds that might signify his awesomeness is rolling along.


Otto even has his own Facebook page. He rides his board like a real pro, pushing with his front paw and then surfing along, tongue waggling, his owners grinning ear to ear. It never gets old.

Bethy and Thomas posed with Otto for his Facebook page, tickled to death. He nuzzled and snuffled at them with his snorty flattish bulldog face, as gentle as a lamb.

 
and when he thought no one was looking, he flipped over his board and chewed affectionately on one of the wheels.
 
 
We did get to pet a Hairless, eventually.



 His name, also Quechua, meant "Naked Fox" and he was a sweet dog. He felt like a soft, bristly elephant; warm, with wiry hair.
 
 
 
These dogs need to be lotioned up on a regular basis to keep their skin soft, and the male ones' bits are, well, a bit...disconcerting to the viewer. Not their fault, mind you.
 
Everywhere we go, there are dogs, stray, pampered, in packs, taking classes, and occasionally we run into Sumac and her dashing owner; inevitably I grin and have to hide it. If dogs resemble their owners, then that fellow has one heck of a Narcissus complex. Or simply a very lovely, lucky dog.
 
So I shave my legs and hope for the best.
 
 
Oh, Otto, you are so beauuuutiful. We loooooove you...


Monday, July 22, 2013

...to chocolate town

I think we all deserve some chocolate today.
 
 

Peruvian chocolate.
 
I had heard rumors that the open air market, Mercado Surquillo, was selling Cacao pods. This was too good to be true and had to be investigated. Sure enough, the fellow with the most varied fruit stand, the one who inevitably has something (or a lot of somethings) that I don't recognize, had pods. For 10 soles, ($3.61) I jubilantly took home my very own football-like chocolate pod.
 
 
Aren't they pretty?!
 
My level of enthusiasm should have been embarrassing, but no matter. I took it home and gazed at it like a newborn baby. The sunset colors. The potential for greatness.
 
Could I make my own chocolate? Was that crazy? I had all the necessary ingredients right here for the pure stuff. I knew what to do: cut open the beautiful, tough pod. Inside, chocolate beans encased in a sort of sweet marshmallow fluff. The beans are supposed to be laid out to ferment in the goo beneath banana leaves. When I did cut it open, the kids and I ate some of the marshmallow fluff goo. It was pretty good. 
 
A cut-open cacao pod

But before that I needed to research how to have the beans ferment instead of mold in the damp, damp air of Lima? Some of the Segway-riding Policia may be riding around with their firearms drawn and in hand but it's the mildew that I am ever-vigilant against; even our Q-tips molded when we left the box open. Such is the effect of the Pacific Ocean.

So I went to the experts; the nice people at Chocomuseo. Fortunately for me they've opened a branch of their brand of chocolate lovin' mania within walking distance of our apartment.

Walking in you hit a positive wall of chocolate fragrance. I think my eyes rolled back in my head. The Mothership. I'm home!



sign on the bathroom. Obviously these are my people.

This tiny museum/chocolate making place has a kitchen, a cafe, one screen beneath a cacao tree mock-up playing a fascinating documentary on all sorts of aspects of chocolate and another the movies Chocolat, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or Like Water for Chocolate in turn.

You get your chocolate fix and your Johnny Depp fix all at once. This, my friends, is one stop shopping.

One of the nice enthusiasts working there in his Chocomuseo apron, gave me the bad news. "You would have a very difficult time making chocolate from the pod in Lima," he said sadly. "you need warmth and about 5% humidity for it to work, and Lima, well..."

I understood. The humidity had ranged from 80-95% and it was chilly, being winter. Shoot.


Hmmm, what's the luggage weight limit back to the USA, again?

I somehow sucked up my disappointment by purchasing already fermented and dried cacao beans, since that's what I was going for anyway. Also a container of pure cocoa butter night cream (pure white with a texture like coconut oil, but with that smell of chocolate...talk of your midnight cravings!) and hitting up the cafe.


A cup of cacao tea later, and a chocolate brownie, I was running on overload. Which didn't stop me from finishing off the kids' drinking chocolate when they overloaded as well. The way it was served was beyond charming; a largish, treasure chest-shaped piece of either milk or dark chocolate on a stick, tied with a pale shimmering ribbon and a cup of steamed milk to dunk it in until the milk was thick, creamy hot chocolate.



Be still my beating heart.

I haven't roasted he beans yet. I ate one, the package suggested that eating 5 a day would ensure favorable health. The one I ate was beyond bitter and that's a waste of a good chocolate bean if you ask me. Plus I can always go back to Chocomuseo and buy some chocolate nibs to munch on...

Maybe take a class on making truffles, while we're at it.

As for my cacao pod, I carefully cut it open, gutted it, and spent the next week gradually drying it in the toaster oven. It shrank and hardened, and the husk turned a dark chocolate color, but it was still getting patches of mold. The last step was to clean it off and paint glue over the entire thing, sealing it.


Now I have an oh-so-unusual box to take home. Is it not beautiful?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Vamos a mambear!



The song-and-dance of the everyday life, now with kids; in the US it is a line dance. In Peru it's a mambo, and I need to teach my feet the steps.
 
Maybe cuter shoes as well.  Rolling my r's would also be a good start.
 
We had dashing across the street like a South American game of Frogger down pat, and figured out the little niggly things about shopping; for freshness you must go to the Mercado Surquillo. For a supermarket experience, Wong. For convenience and human contact, our little Bodega across the street. The bodega I've already described to you. They're terribly nice to me, and I am learning how to carry the bags of eggs without breaking them.
 
Mercado Surquillo is my favorite, of course; open air markets always will be.
 
 
I love all of the surprising fruits and vegetables, things I never even imagined; camu camu, lucuma, cocona and pepino dulce. Right now the avocados are in season, creamy and flavorful, a perfect breakfast with a little bit of salt and balsamic vinegar.
 
teeny tiny watermelon. Not for consumption, the vendor warned me.
I bought it anyway, for its cuteness factor of about 9.

It is at Surquillo Mercado that I bought my first cacao pod and we found Picarones. Embracing street food is a surprisingly good idea when you travel; Anthony Bourdain once said something along the lines that if you're going to get food poisoning abroad it will be at the lousy breakfast buffet at your Western-style hotel and not to fear the greatness that is street food.

If it works for Anthony Bourdain, it works for me.

Except maybe for the drugs and tattoos. He's grown up and left those days behind anyway. Thankfully he's still fabulously snarky.

Anyway, I digress as I am wont to do; Picarones. Deep fried goodness, sort of a doughnut, but made with flour and pumpkin or squash in the dough, which makes them not only crunchy but also somehow creamy. The dough sits and fluffs up to many times its original size, which accounts for their toothsome lightness.

One-handed, the vendor shapes the dough into circles and slips them into the boiling oil, handles them with pointy sticks specifically for this purpose, lifting out the light and tender results, drains them for just a moment so they are not the least bit greasy, then douses them with Chancaca syrup.


Then you eat them as fast as you possibly can.

I bought a bottle of Chancaca syrup to try and figure out what gives it that wonderful unusual taste, cinnamon and cloves and something sweet, like honey or oranges. The ingredients are listed as follows: Jarabe invertido (inverted syrup), chancaca (molasses), sal (salt), canela (cinnamon) y clavo de olor (and cloves). The kids love it on Picarones, won't touch it on pancakes. Whatever it is, the syrup goes perfectly with the almost-too-hot-to-eat-but-not-quite Picarones. We all agree; a little burn on the fingers or mouth, bit of stickiness, all worth it. In spades.

The last time I freaked out like this was over begnets in New Orleans. My friends, these are better.


And in the Mercado they cost 2 soles for 4 of them. $0.72.

Sadly, Picarones are never, apparently, available in the morning. Which is irksome, because Picarones and a cup of Peruvian coffee is my idea of a little slice of heaven to begin the day.

Thomas introducing his tiger to the kitten Bethy is cuddling. It lives in the egg cartons of one of the market stalls and the seller there completely hates us, no matter how much I buy from her. *sigh*

I bought a package of Picarone mix. Wish me luck with that one. As it was, at least a box of mix and some boiling oil is a small investment; when I'd initially read about these delights I'd made it a Saturday quest to find them. We'd asked about a hundred strangers where to find Picarones, and each and every one helpfully gave directions, which the kids and I tried and with unimpeachable consistency failed to follow through the labyrinthine market.

At one point I had expanded out search to the neighborhood behind the market. A man walking by half snarled at me, "Gringa, ¿por qué estás aquí?" Unmistakably, Gringa, why are you here? I whipped around and stared at him, blurting Que? Que?! (what, what?)

How rude! I'd thought.

You shouldn't have been back there, spouse and friends all told me later. He was trying to help you. That's not a place to be.

Oh. Mental note.

 
perhaps the grafitti was a clue

Finally, back in the market (we'd stayed within a one-block radius; I may be crazy but I'm not insane) I asked and two little girls took us to another little girl who took my hand and led us straight to her mother, the Picarone seller. Ah.

Wong market is more predictable,  a supermarket not terribly unlike those anywhere else, but with a few twists; for instance depending on your checker, you will be asked to show your driver's license, a copy of your passport, or the passport itself to use a credit card.

This, to me, is really silly. I won't carry my passport. This having been said, a friend of mine had to leave once without her groceries for not having her passport with her.

Then again, she's Mexican, stunningly tall and quite beautiful. The cashier may simply have been taking some sort of petty revenge. We ladies know; it happens.

Those are papayas. Apparently that's the size they are here.

Another twist is that the bag boys, who work so fast and hard that it would put the Les Schwab guys to shame, will quite willingly follow you home, pushing your cart of groceries in front of them quite cheerfully for blocks and blocks and blocks. This service is included, though the nice young men I have tipped have seemed grateful.



The ramp to the second floor of Wong is magnetized, which the kids love. The new phrase, however, is "Milk in bags and water in boxes? What kind of country is this?"

Milk is also sold by the boxful, but UHT, not fresh. The bags taste most like the milk we know back home, so bag it is.

The cows would probably approve.

Cheddar cheese is once again ridiculously expensive, but the beautiful Chinean wines aren't too bad. If only queso fresco melted nicely for macaroni and cheese.

It doesn't.

I can buy the freshest, most beautiful breads you can imagine just about anywhere, from the market to a street cart passing by, and have "borrowed" a friend's maid to teach me to cook Peruvian. This is an excellent deal.

Perhaps best of all, though:



I have photographed this flower seller, theoretically without her knowledge, several times. She strikes me as such a natural, beautiful person that I can't resist. Our family was invited  to a dinner which was a perfect excuse to buy flowers from her to gift the hostess.

The flower seller was delighted to pose for a photograph, and this arrangement, including a heavy vase, cost 30 soles. $10.78. As sweet in person as she had seemed though the lens, we have a lovely nodding acquaintance now. I told her my amiga loved the flowers, she kissed my cheek.

It's moving to the music, feeling the rhythm of being.

Will I fall flat on my face? Step on my partner's feet? Undoubtedly.

But at least we'll be well fed.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Stayin' alive....

Our first week in Peru was made easier with the arrival of Mike's Mom, Colleen. Also more dramatic than expected; it's a tale worth telling.

Now, you have to behave yourself when Grandma is around, which made little transition blips go smoother than they might. Even better, I had the extremely welcome help of one more adult to keep the kids from getting run over. Which is a real worry.

a moment of kinder, gentler traffic patterns. Watch those tuk-tuks. They're at the bottom of the food chain and, occasionally resentful, get uppity about it.

In case you think I exaggerate the risk of being run over, let me tell you two quick stories as they were told to me. Plenty to convince any mother, I am sure you will agree.

First of all, Mike says just about every employee who has been on this Peru job for a good length of time has seen a body on the road.  Generally with a newspaper over the face and bored police officers standing around, waiting for the ambulance to come take this inconvenience that used to be a living breathing human being away.

Second story: a British acquaintance was behind the wheel, her children in the backseat, when an older man stepped out from behind a line of cars. And she hit him. Killed him. There was no question about it.

So, trembling, she turned herself into the police station. Pause for a moment and imagine yourself in this situation. In a foreign country, no less.

The officer listened to what she had to say, shook his head, and said, quite clearly, "This happens all the time, especially on that road. Go home."

So I have done my best to put fear into the kids of the four-wheeled demons. Also the motorcycles. Especially the ones driven by law enforcement. They stop for no one.

Pedestrians are responsible for their own safety, period.



And sometimes cars drive the wrong way on one-way streets, when it is more convenient.

Thomas has three ways of crossing the road: 1.) no cars = quiet and orderly. 2.) some cars = pulling and "run for your lives!" 3.) real traffic, and / or a cement mixer bearing down on us = a high pitched scream for the duration of the crossing, followed by wiping his forehead and proclaiming, quite seriously "Phew! We made it alive! We could have died!"

Lack of seat belts in taxis also can't be helped, so we limit getting into those as well. Colleen was quite happy to ride in the backseats of said taxis, distracted from the driving by the kids; the front seat was a bit much to expect of her, what with 5 cars in 3 lanes and the like, weaving a brake light, metal and horn tapestry of chaos that,after a time, strangely makes sense.

There is also the threat of being kidnapped if you get into the wrong taxi, but that's another story.
On our first day the kids led her happily to meet all the cats that live in Parque Central de Miraflores and Parque Kennedy.

Colleen is not fond of cats, but she gamely went along. She pretended to pet one, and then somehow managed to step on it.

(note the leather Gaucho hats. A great purchase, and less than $20 for both. Crowd pleasers, to be sure, and they keep the nasty UVs off the kids -who call them their "Indiana Jones hats"- to boot.)


It, being a cat, yowled and promptly bit her on the ankle. More yowling.

Fortunately it didn't break the skin.

The next day we were dressing for Mike's birthday dinner, and in anticipation Colleen dressed up. Then she slipped sideways on our wood floor and went down with a good hard thud on her hip. Cute high heeled sandals were apparently not a good choice after all. We began looking for a massage place for her, and planning how to keep her in one piece for the rest of the week.

This woman deserves a drink: Hello maracuya (passionfruit) cocktail.


The next day there was an earthquake.

Determined to show Colleen a good time, we hired a driver, Jorge, to take us into Central Lima, to the beautiful San Francisco Monastery and the Spectacular Plaza Mayor with its Presidential Palace and impressive Lima Cathedral.
 

chasing the pigeons at San Francisco Monastery proved to be the highlight of the day for children who are less impressed with centuries-old buildings and crucifixes galore.

In the Monastery we took the tour through the grounds and catacombs. There was a French guy in our group and I don't know how I didn't smack him. Pretentious snob who put our poor little Peruvian guide, trying to give her talk in non-native English, through her paces, insisting on the differences between replacement and restoration, for instance. He would have looked good among the piles of bones down one of the pits, is all I am saying. 

There was one point where she was trying to explain a painting with women in the background that symbolized temptation. (There were children in the front to symbolize innocence.) He insisted he didn't understand. Whores, whores she finally said over and over to him in her rolling Peruvian accent. I thought I would die.
I couldn't think of the french word for prostitute. I did think of a couple of swear words in French, though, and silently lobbed them at him.

The Frenchman and his compadres gave themselves their own tour in the catacombs, and the guide, obviously having given up on maintaining any sort of control of the hooligans, left them behind.

Probably hoping they'd take a wrong turn. Those catacombs go down several levels and the passages tunnel away darkly to who knows what end?

In the Cathedral I first amused Jorge with the story of how Pizarro had not been in his grave for 450 years after he was murdered, then freed Colleen from both children, taking them to go see the ghostly remains of patrons, families long passed away, some of the many victims of Yellow fever, forever together.

Pizarro's Tomb. All scientific evidence now supports that the guy in there is actually the guy. I don't know what happened to the fellow that they thought was Pizarro and had been on display forever...

Mothers, fathers, children, babies. These wealthy families had paid dearly to spend eternity ensconced in the hallowed ground of the Cathedral. Who would have thought that a few hundred years later little kids and tourists alike would gape down at their clothed bones, whiter than white beneath a shroud of lime?




Thomas was really getting into it. In fact, from that day on, whenever we even went near a church in Peru he would pull at my hand and whisper excitedly, "let's go see some more dead people!"



Our outing seemed to be going well. Colonial architecture, colorful characters on the street, we still had all our possessions and everything. Right until Jorge told us to hurry into the car; a large demonstration was gathering; signs, serious faces, police in riot gear, military vehicles.

It could turn ugly, Jorge said, and would certainly delay us if nothing else.

We drove away behind the darkened windows of his sedan.

I tried to make tuna melts in the toaster oven that night. The toaster oven and I have not yet reached an understanding. Also, mayonnaise in Lima almost inevitably comes with lime in it. Peruvians. They love thier limes. I was distracted by the mayo being sold in a bag and had overlooked the "limon" part of the label. So we had lime-ish tuna melts which, first as toast, slid out of the toaster oven and onto the floor. I put the other things on, topped them with ridiculously expensive cheddar cheese, and they promptly slid to and off the back of the toaster oven, dumping all the tuna and gooey cheese. 

If you ask for "tuna" this is what you get: prickly pear cactus fruit. Tuna fish is "atun". You will also get lots of tiny spikes in your hands if you're not careful, which we weren't.

I scraped them back together and felt like a doofus. Colleen, bless her heart, told me at least four times how delicious the tuna melts were. Talk of your pity compliments.

The next night I attempted the toaster oven again. I thought I had cleaned it out well enough but instead it began smoking up with some residual bit of fish or bread. I yelled for help and Colleen dashed to open windows and get a cross breeze going.

The front window, one of many, to take advantage of the view, opened as one expected it would.

The back window, also one of many and a rather large window at that...popped out.

We are on the 13th floor.


the view down

Everything happened in slow motion. I have nightmares like this and it was strangely surreal; Colleen tried to grab the glass as it began its inevitable descent. I was moving toward her and there was the longest moment imaginable before the heart-stopping crash of glass smashing far, far below.

¡Dios mío!

The parking garage is open beneath that window, so the pane fell 14 stories. Colleen's hands were bleeding, and I remember saying in a voice not my own, "Oh, Mom!" which brought Mike into the kitchen on the double.

Then we had to go and look to see what lay below.

As I explained to the maids later as they hesitantly queried Señora, ¿la ventana dónde está ? -where is the window?- making the sign of the cross as I did so (Peru is 82% Catholic so, even if I'm not, if helped make my point), there somehow managed to be nothing below but the mass of shattered glass and the shouts and footfalls of men running to see what had happened.

No people, no cars, nothing. Just pavement.

We cleaned and bandaged Colleen's hands. They were painful but, as Darth Vader said, not permanently damaged.

"You don't know the power of the aji amarillo!"

I would love to tell you that the rest of Colleen's visit was incident-free, and technically I could...

but not really.

I had ridden with her to the airport to dropped back off. All was well. Or so we thought.

The charming small but powerful vehicle called a tug which maneuvers airplanes out onto the runway first refused to let go of Colleen's plane, then broke down entirely. None of the flight staff including both pilots had ever even heard of such a thing happening. The passengers spent the wee hours of the morning waiting on the tarmac before being taken back off the plane, into a confused muddle of what to do with them and then finally back through customs, and into a hotel until the next day.

So the bright side was that we went back downtown and got to spend one more day with out beloved Colleen. Unfortunately she was dead on her feet and too polite to say so.



But eventually she made it home. Basically in one piece. I'll take that.

Postscript: We found out from others who have stayed in this apartment that the exact same window had fallen out before (!) ...but into the apartment. No one was even in the room when it happened and the sound scared them to death. Now we are without said window...no one seems terribly motivated to replace it. Which makes sense, since it'll probably just fall out again...