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Sunday, June 23, 2013

A blister in the sun...

 
The tuk-tuks in Barranco made me happy. Here we're supposed to call them "mototaxis" but whatever. They're made in Thailand. A tuk-tuk is a tuk-tuk.
 
I wandered south some more and came to huge, elegant gates with the sign Museo Pedro de Osma. Behind these gates was a stunningly white colonial mansion flanked by lion statues and green lawn. This looked enticingly good. I went up to the little stand where a security guard leaned and within an attractive girl sat patiently. There was a sign beneath her window but no indication as to the cost, or even if there was one. Cuanto questa? I asked, tentatively. She said it several times until I understood she was saying viente. Twenty. I took out a 20 centimos piece. They both looked pained. No. 20 soles.
 
Me muy stupio Americano.
 
And while fumbling in my purse for the correct amount I managed to knock the metal sign that didn't say how much it sot to the ground with a tooth-parring clang.
 
Me muy, muy stupido Americano.
 
I fled into the sanctuary of the house, and was immediately overwhelmed by an enormous collection of paintings, most over sized, most of religious scenes and icons, saints and martyrs, all in gilt frames, and you knew that gold leaf was real.
 
Exquisite furniture and carvings, and paintings after paintings. St. Michael the archangel and the beautiful Saint Rose of Lima and Virgin Mary were especially well represented.
 
 
Saint Rose is the patron saint of Latin America and the Philippines. She came from a nice family but apparently did not appreciate her beauty and reportedly cut off her hair and smeared pepper on her face when suitors began to take notice of her. This did not do flattering things for her complexion, making her skin red and blistered. Apparently the suitors went elsewhere. She spent all her time doing good works for the poor and also did holy and penitent acts as burning her hands, fasting, and vowing eternal virginity, becoming a recluse except for when she left the house to go to church and vegetarianism. This drew the attention of the church.
 
 
Her parents found her a trial -not eating meat?! A girl making herself ugly? resisting marriage?!- and probably should have been canonized as a reward for putting up with their frustrating, daughter, so different from girls of the time.

Perspective, though, says that she probably couldn't even get her own reality TV show these days. Except maybe for the hand burning thing.
 
I had the museum almost entirely to myself and admired the artwork, then wandered over to the silver display in an adjoining building, which was stunning. Exquisite works that ranged from silver shoes to serving dishes of all sorts in the forms of animals to entire saddles of silver (that poor horse).
 
The pelican, I read, symbolizes Christ, who sacrificed himself for mankind; the pelican is often shown plucking at it's own heart to feed its children on its own blood.
 
 
 
Eeyagh.
 
What really happens is that blood from fish that pelicans eat and feed to their young gets on their chest feathers, that's all.  But never mind that.
 
I went back outside into the glorious courtyard and watched the sign I'd knocked down being carried back to the front from a workplace apparently hidden in the back. Oh dear. But then I saw something that lightened my heart considerably; a few outdoor tables and chairs arranged behind curtains and a sign for the museum cafe.
 
I may have incredibly lousy Spanish but mama, I can order a coffee.
 
 
 
 
 
and sipped it while gazing over the beautiful scene before me
 
 
 
A girl could get used to such things; she really could.
 
 
I was nearing the bottom of the cup when I noticed my hands were itching.  What on earth...?
 
They were bubbling with tiny blisters. I racked my brains. What could I possibly have gotten into? I had a mango for breakfast and coffee just now, those were nothing new. I'd gone to the bathroom in an unattractive port-a-potty but hadn't really touched anything.
 
I needed Dr Google. Stat.
 
So I headed north, first through Barranco, following the clifftops back to Miraflores.

 
older woman strutting elegantly with serious flair
 
 
I was four miles from my laptop, and by the time I had gone three-and-a-half of those I was hungry and tired, despite the beautiful vistas. I had intended to have a real lunch in Barranco rather than to flee home.
 

 

My unlikely savior appeared; neither a knight nor a pelican.

The ice cream guy, all in yellow. With a big yellow hat. Me and Curious George.

Passionfruit-vanilla ice cream (Helado de Crema sabor Vainlla cubierto de Helado de agua con Jugo de Maracuya) on a stick tasted better than anything I could possibly have imagined at that moment.

I got to the apartment and called Mike. "Um, do you know where the nearest pharmacy is, I might need one."

There are things that when said in South America you should probably be prefaced with "I'm pretty sure nothing is wrong, but..."

As it turned out, those little blisters are a common condition called polymorphic light eruption. The sun did it, of all things.

Kind of an allergic reaction to too much sunlight. Who knew?

Dr Google suggested topically applying a weak acidic solution. Hmm.

Limes! It's by national mandate that all must have limes in their home at all times or risk deportation.

OK, I just made that up, but here's what I did: smeared my hands with a lime juice-water mixture.

Plus an antihistamínico that I picked up that evening, just in case.

After the treatment my hands were still blistered and vaguely pickled. On the other hand, the itching was relieved and I now wafted a sort of lime margarita scent. Not all bad.


Which didn't make me less attractive to suitors, either.


Friday, June 21, 2013

A million miles away, your signal in the distance...


A tapping. What was that?

I groaned and rolled into a half sitting position beneath the bedsheets, squinting as the door to our room opened.

The maid. Lord, what was her name? I had no idea.

She looked startled but recovered. Señor might have to be off to work at 4:30 am but Señora had obviously slept in.  "Así que lo siento, buenos días ¿cómo estás?"

"Y grande estas," I blearily replied, which sort of means "and I'm big."

She nodded and took all the towels out of the bathroom.



Now I had no towels. And no idea what the word for towel is. (toalla de baño, it turns out.) Nor did I feel like pantomoming drying myself off. There is only so much a woman abroad can do before coffee.

So I did what any self respecting gringa would do; I gave up on the idea of taking a shower, slammed down a mango and got out of there in as quickly and cowardly a manner as possible.

Today I had an ambitious plan. Well, not really. I was going to walk down to the ocean and head South and see what happened. It was a Natalie plan, for sure.

First, to get down to the ocean. Miraflores is on top of the cliffs, the ocean is, as one would suppose, down at the bottom. So I followed a rocky path down flanked by a wall of morning glories on one side and cars whizzing by on the other. In the road, women bundled head to toe in blue, like some sort of cleaning ninjas, swept the concrete; city employees risking their lives for almost nothing in so many ways.

Quick thank you to the skies that neither I nor my children had been born into such a life.

After dashing across the lanes of traffic (I followed some runners at an optimal-looking spot), the beach. The beach in Lima is not sunbathing territory. It's rocky and while the city cleans it up here, (and it's still not all that pretty) I am told that not that far north it is buried beneath 6 feet of garbage.

But still, it is the ocean.



I headed south, the traffic flying past on one side, the breakers crashing on the other.



I stopped at a vaguely disgusting set of port-a-potties and been charged a Peruvian sole (pronounced sole-ay, about $0.36 in USD) for the privilege. I only had a 5 sole coin and was pretty sure the woman (is it always women who run these things?) wasn't going to give me my change back. I made a fuss, on principle, and got my 4 soles back.

After all, there might be 4 more port-a-potties in which I might want to partake.

I rather hoped not.

There were many, many signs for Tsunami evacuation routes, enough to give a girl pause. Some were bright neon yellow and orange, some more placid but all showing a great wave that would surely come take you away to watery depths from which there would be no escape.. Admittedly, Lima has many earthquakes, and the cliffs up are steep and high.

This sign made me laugh, however:



Whatever you need to evacuate; beach, bowels, hey! We've got you covered.

Maybe that's just my sense of humor.

I was watching the sea birds overhead somewhat warily; they're quite lovely, oaring and wheeling and cackling to one another, but they were also dropping spiny sea urchins from heights onto the sidewalk and I imagine that one of those hitting you in the head would not be my idea of a good time.
 
The birds would undoubtedly disagree with that assessment.
 



I was hoping to find the local fish market, and after walking for like what seemed forever, asked a local police officer where it was. Mercado Pez?
 
He looked at me like I was insane. Not promising. Blame my bad Spanish and accent once again. Perhaps is was that pez means a fish that is swimming in the sea. Pescado is a fish that has been caught.
 
Even so.
 

And why are our pez candies called that?


Just wondering.

 
I gave up on the seashore, the few surfers and security guards, and climbed up hundreds of stairs to emerge happily into the Barranco region of Peru.
 
Without fail Barranco, which means ravine,is described by every guidebook as both "bohemian" and "romantic". And it is that. Art and art galleries, mansions and promenades, music and musicians.
 
I hadn't gone terribly far beneath the palm trees before I found a guitarist playing by the Ermita de Barrancos, the Hermitage.
 
 

Not really a dwelling for hermits, but for fishermen and travellers to come to the priests for help of whatever sort, spiritual or otherwise. Legend tells that a group of fishermen were lost in a terrible fog and a glowing cross appeared to guide them safely home. The hermitage was built on the site and Barrancos grew up around it.
 
Like everything else, the Chileans burned it in 1881. Like many other places, it was rebuilt.


 The Peruvians are still mad at the Chileans.
 

This guitarist was undoubtedly playing the song La Flor de la Canela, a romantic bit about the Puente de Los Suspiros, the nearby "Bridge of Sighs."
 
Dejame que te cuente limeno,
Dejame que te diga la gloria
Del ensueno que evoca la memoria

Del viejo puente, del rio y la alameda.

Let me tell you limeno,
Let me tell you the glory
Evoking the memory ensueno

The old bridge, the river and the mall.
 
Not only is the fellow in a good spot for donations (I ponied up too), but he also gets to watch busloads of tourists try to hold their breath as they cross the bridge for the first time. If you make it on one breath the wish you make is supposed to come true.
 
Either way, it's pretty funny to watch.




There are many other handsome fellows with soulful eyes in Barranco. This one, for instance:
 
 
 
and a bit of pathos as well. Poor R2D2. Who thought it would come to this?
 
 

That's what he gets for living in a whimsical, bohemian neighborhood, one suposes.
'
The nice thing about Barrranco is that is it comparably quiet, away from the honking and traffic of the rest of the city. I took a deep breath; flowers and a bit of tuk-tuk exhaust.

The local Biblioteca (library) is also the tourist office. I went in and in Spanish asked for a map.

This proved to be a mistake as I then spent some of the longest 5 minutes of my life saying "si" and "claro" and nodding over and over again to what I think was a description of the area's attractions as earnestly detailed by one of the very sweet tourist office gals who was trying to be helpful.

I felt like a total fake but finally escaped after signing the guestbook, map in hand, so go see what I could find.



 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Oh, this has gotta be the good life

Back to the kitchen.
 
Sky Kitchen Cooking School, that is, with my two glamorous friends, Shuko and Dalia.
 
 
This time I had talked them into taking the "Andean Delicacies" class with me.  Which didn't take too much effort on my part, to be honest.
 
I showed up with a bottle of wine and enthusiasm (practically synonymous) to Christian and Yurac's beautiful residence where the kitchen and the rooftop garden flow into one another and all of Lima spreads out beneath and to the horizon, melding into a cooking nirvana.
 
The first course we were to attempt is called Ocapa. Now, like me you might be tempted to think this has something to do with octopus, but they are quite rare in the heights of the Andes Mountains. To compound the problem they quite deceptively show up on menus at sea level under the moniker of pulpa. Which, honestly, sounds a lot more like what we made;
 
 the potatoes, pre Ocopa-ing
 
a rather exotic looking potato found locally, smothered in cheese sauce. Ladies and Gentlemen, start your cholesterols.
 
The cheese sauce included such diverse ingredients as yellow chili peppers, garlic, vanilla crackers, peanuts, and key limes. And it was delicious.

Christian and Yurac threw in a mini class about Peruvian potatoes, which are starchier than their North American counterparts and also kind of pretty:
 
 
 

But no time to linger over the potatoes! There was a feast to be made! Second course, Chupe.
 



 Chupe is a hearty soup, potatoes and rice (welcome to Peru), crayfish and more fish and pumpkin and corn and a bunch of other vegetables and eggs and cheese and condensed milk and I do believe the kitchen sink sneaked in there.


An ingredient that was new to us and in both of the first dishes was huacatay, also called black mint.

Yurac showed us how to properly slice an onion, and though I had seen it done before, this time I managed to  not only understand but actually pick up the technique. Had I come away with nothing else, this was worth the price of admission.

However, I was crying so much every time I tried to cook said onions that Dalia and Shuko had to take turns rescuing me. My eyes instantly water up and slam shut as though I've been hit with pepper spray -more than once Mike has had to leave the kitchen laughing after catching me wearing swim goggles while preparing onions.

I know; the weak blue eyes of the Gringa betray me. 

Now the alpaca.

Yes, I said alpaca, those fuzzy cutenesses of creatures. Going in the pot.

The pressure cooker, actually. I was gratified that not just me but all three of the ladies showed the whites of our eyes not at the alpaca meat but at the pressure cooker. We're all terrified of the thing.


While we were assembling the non-exploding portions of the dishes, Dalia, Shuko and I were also explaining how we knew each other to our hosts, which was rather fun: Dalia, who is Mexican, met Shuko, who is Japanese, during a job in Poland. They both went on to the Dubai job, where they met me. Then the two of them moved on to the Peru job and currently live in Lima, though Shuko does spend a good amount of time in Texas as well, and I went back to the Pacific Northwest region of the States. However, my husband travels back and forth to the Peru job and I'd come with him this time. Again.

And we're all good friends.

Got that?



(note the nice little gal in the background doing plenty of prep work as well as all the cleaning up and setting out while we pretend at cooking and get photographed doing so. Quite expat, that.)

It was about here that I said something about something going catawampus.

Dalia and Shuko started laughing and Christian, who is German, just to make it that much more fun, said "what language is THAT?"

"Er, english..." I insisted, and had to argue that it is indeed a real word, giving both definition and examples of usage. Dalia immediately set about trying to learn the new word. Shuko and Christian were still giving me the eye. Albeit lovingly.

The alpaca had pressure cooked (sans explosion) into a tender piece of meat and we added another shopping cart full of vegetables including butternut squash and good sloshfuls of Peruvian maize beer called chicha de jora and white wine until we had a flavorful delicacy indeed, which we plated it over quinoa with fresh steamed asparagus.



Without further ado, we dug into our enormous lunch.

But wait! The best was to come.

We'd also whipped together a mousse, something I had made before and understood the basics of constructing such, but this mousse, ah this mousse was made with another exotic bit of wonderfulness, the Lúcuma fruit, a real find, that tastes like a perfumed caramel custard.


Which we drizzled with carob syrup and passion fruit alongside paper thin mango slices and a Physalis for looks. Shuko wrote her name in Japanese with the carob syrup and jsut as she finished  a tiny piece of the mousse escaped and besmirched her carob-y calligraphy.

It did what? The three of them asked me.

"Besmirched. Yes, that's English too."

They laughed at me.




We wrote in three languages in Yurac and Christian's guestbook.
That's how many it took to say thank you for such an afternoon.

*****
an additional thank you to Shuko...I will someday learn that cameras work much, much better with batteries in them. But until them, I will be indebted to her for sharing her photos so selflessly so that I could share them with you. Sky Kitchen's website is http://www.skykitchen.pe/ 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Look at us we're beautiful...


Walking through the little neighborhoods of Miraflores is a pleasure in itself. Each place is painted a different color, tangerine, scarlet or cream, lime, palest purple or the most vivid blue imaginable. Over these walls a riotous effusion of tropical flowers tumbles shamelessly, flirtatious pinks and yellows and reds. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the painting, except one: match not thy neighbor.

It is a joyful box of Crayolas, each revelling in their brilliance.


dog on the rooftops

Nestled by the doorway of one of the bodegas were two adorable little kids. I took out my camera and most reassuring smile, Puedo sacar? I asked.

"Si" the girl answered, so I snapped a couple of shots.

Bonita! I exclaimed Muy bonita, gracias! The little girl jumped up, yelling "Mama! Mama! as she ran into the store.

Uh-oh.

I started walking away a little faster than planned; I had read stories of Guatemalans being so paranoid that their children might be kidnapped and sold that they had attacked and severely beaten foreign photographers. That couldn't possibly be the case here...?

Behind me the mite came flying back out, "gracias señora!" she chirped winningly.



Aw. Smiles all around. Her brother looked shyly pleased.

On the corner there was a bakery. Mike had pointed out the evening before on our way back from a particularly nice steak dinner that had culminated in the two of us moving from our table to chairs set up in front of a big screen to watch a soccer game, which we did while finishing off our wine, the restaurant's staff standing nearby, also watching. No one felt the least bit awkward about this.

Moseying through the twilight, he'd shown the red building to me, saying "You might want to try that place out. Maybe a good place for your to have coffee and write and practice your Spanish, maybe build up a sort of casual friendship with the staff?"

"You were thinking of me?" I asked.





La Mora which translates to "mullberry"

"I always think of you," he replied simply. This was nice to hear.

Through the doorway, I was dismayed by the upscale polished interior. It was straight out of someone's idea of Paris. Chocolate truffles behind glass, chandeliers, black and white photos of the City of Light, antiques, hushed music and uniformed servers echoing the photographs in crisp black and white.

So I had a cappuccino to meet my daily minimum requirement for nutmeg, and chased it with a con leche truffle for good measure, but this, however elegant, was not the cheerful neighborhood place we'd been hoping for.


Too bad. I somehow managed to contain my disappointment with judicious application of said chocolate and coffee.

My nails were positively orange from the mangoes I'd been having for breakfast. Washing didn't seem to do the trick. Later I figured out I could eat mangoes with a spoon, but at this stage I needed help. So I went looking for the bare bones one-woman salon on Pje los Pinos where I'd gone 2 years before. Right street, righ place, but it had been replaced by a barber shop. Dang.

The barber paused his clipping of the few hairs on the draped client's head to look up inquiringly at me.

Donde es where is)...manicure? I asked stupidly, holding my nails up.

Obviously there was no manicure to be had here in this man-place, but the barber grinned and said something to his client who nodded in agreement. Wiping his hands on a towel, the barber ambled over the the doorway, rumbling in a deep voice about aqui (here) and arriba (up). I gestured to the second floor of the building and lifted my eyebrows, si?

He crinkled his eyes and taking my hand, led me like and obedient puppy two doors up the street. There he deposited me with aplomb and a half-bow to my gracias, senior, gracias! muchas grasiases and strode back to his storefront.

There were two women in the salon, both young and looking happy to have a client, even one who stumbled and tripped over their language and had orange crescents beneath her nails. The slender one, whose name I couldn't quite understand, laughed at my bemangoed digits and set to work. The curvy one settled back to watch over the operation, both of them giggling at my pathetic attempts to answer their everyday sorts of questions. The second woman was named Rachel, she got me to understand, and she howled when I repeated it back with the American pronunciation. "Rah-khell en Ingles!" she exclaimed, laughing until she cried.



I tried to explain that Mike (mi esposo) worked (trabaja) in Chilca.

Chilca. Chilca? They looked confused, obviously not recognising the name of the small town. I didn't know another way to say it, and we shrugged good-naturedly at one another after a few tries and moved on to talk about the mouth-watering smell of chicken wafting from a nearby restaurant and could they please not cut my cuticles (cuticulo)?

While this offended my beautician's sensibilities, she worked determinedly with file and cuticle remover fluid and smiled and shook her head at my apologies for being so high maintenance.

45 minutes later, fingertips buffed and polished, I paid 9 soles with a 4 sole tip that they were sure I didn't mean to give. It took several tries to get them to explain that I really did understand that the manicure was 9 soles and that I really did mean to give the extra, "por la cuticula!" I insisted, to their delight. I'd paid $1.17  over the $3.30 they'd asked for.

Heckova deal.

Shiny nails secured, I marched over to Larcomar, a posh mall nestled into the a cliff side over the ocean to meet a British expat friend I knew from the Dubai job. She was  as lovely and slender as always, despite the small child she'd brought into the world less than a year ago, now carted along in a stroller. We headed over to a local park to chat and catch up. She liked Peru, travel was wonderful, especially to Brazil, and yes, she agreed the fruits there are beyond delectable, but oh dear, she was rather tired of Spanish. "Sometimes I just want a break," she moaned. Understandable.



We moved on to other topics. I pointed out a nearby building. "See that?" I said, "when I was here 2 years ago it was under construction and the workers didn't whistle at me or anything. What's up with that?!"

I expected her to laugh. But that's not how it went.

"Oh," she said, waving away my concerns, which really hadn't been concerns at all, merely meant to be a source of humor, "they don't even whistle when I walk by."

I somehow managed to keep a straight face, though inside I was simultaneously laughing at all involved and sighing as well. Multitasking.

Honesty is still a virtue,  I told myself. What are travel and friendship if not a chance to laugh and learn, see the world...and learn how the world sees you?