Friday, November 20, 2009


Yesterday was a glorious spring day and, even though today it's overcast again, it's definitely getting warmer. And yesterday I had to go to Ripley's - a Chilean department store with I don't know how many outlets - in the centre of Miraflores.

Miraflores is one of the posher parts of Lima and almost everything happens here. As far as the centre of Lima is concerned - that's the Plaza de Armas and many of the mind-bogglingly beautiful old colonial buildings - is apparently not really that kosher for gringos alone - everyone warns you to hold on tight to your bag or, better still, not take one. Perhaps people exaggerate somewhat. When, during my first time in New York, I walked almost the whole of Manhattan, even Central Park, they all looked at me in horror and told me I was incredibly lucky for not having been mugged, knifed or worse. Perhaps I was lucky, but perhaps fear breeds fear and the newspapers only talk about bad news anyway since 'good news doesn’t sell' and fear propagates by being fed daily. I remember my mum asking me how – at the time of the IRA bombs - I could possibly live with my family in London, and how come we were still alive. I tried to explain to her that we lived a normal life in all respects.

Where was I, oh, yes, in Ripley’s. I had taken off my jacket because of the 24º and had walked into the store not thinking of anything much, idly fingering a top here, sizing another one there, deciding whether I'd only buy pure cotton or whether a cotton mix would be acceptable, you know, the sort of difficult decision one has to make from time to time, when I heard on the muzak speakers something that at first didn't register. After a while it dawned on me that I knew that tune.

Has it ever happened to you that you see the waiter from your favourite lunch-time place in a completely different context somewhere else in town minus their uniform, and you wonder where
you have seen this person before?

The tune was "The Little Drummer Boy" and I vaguely figured that they probably didn't know it was a Christmas tune because they didn't understand the English words. When it was followed by old Bing crooning his "White Christmas", I cottoned on. Of course! It's the beginning of the Christmas shopping season and I smacked my hand against my forehead. Döhhhr.

Apropos “Plaze de Armas”: it’s amazing how many streets in Lima (and Peru in general) are dedicated to war and the army. Coronel Portillo, General Pezet… the list is endless. Not only that, but my Peruvian friends assure me that all the various generals et al honoured in this way have lost a battle somewhere. Which brings me to the latest scare mongering here in my new country: Chile is buying the latest, cutting-edge weaponry and the Peruvians are getting their knickers in various twists because of old lost battles and relentlessly repeated anti-Chile messages. Long live Peru! Recently they even presented a territorial dispute (or rather, an oceanial dispute – it’s about territorial water
s) with Chile in Den Haag.

Well, anyway, getting back to the Chilean arms deals: I am sure the Chileans have a reason, perhaps somebody gets an absolutely fabulous kick-back, or it’s simply time to get the cobwebs out, or they are getting worried about Chavez and friends – but, to my mind, the Peruvians have nothing to worry about because Chile is taking over the Peruvian High Streets in a much more profitable way (Riplay's, Wong, Saga Falabella, Metro ...) and it seems highly unlikely they’d bomb their own economic interests. Let’s just say I am not about to build a bunker!

Talking about evil deeds: yesterday, on TV, they showed a big table full of large jars with something in it that looked like a face cream or something similar. It was explained to the gob-smacked viewer that each pot contained a human being. No kidding and sorry about that. Each jar was full of human fat and, according to the journalist, the Peruvian police had just dismantled a gang somewhere in Amazonia that had found a new and exciting source of income (it seems that selling organs is no longer quite as profitable as it once was). The presenter explained that to date they had found around 60 people converted into Human Fat for the US cosmetic/pharmaceutical industry and that each jar was worth 15,000 US$. No further comment.

Some short and encouraging news:

  • The ice-cream men and women with their red or yellow bikes appear everywhere blowing their little trumpets, and the Italian ice-cream parlors are poised for business.
  • There are bike tours around Lago Titicaca to be had (and in Lima you can rent bicycles and tour the town – they even have started to add bike lanes to certain roads. Gallardón, eat your heart out! )
  • More and more intensive efforts are being directed to helping the less privileged, to clean up contamination, to create decent housing, to take infrastructure into the euphemistically called ‘Young Villages’, to stop the big petrol and mining giants from contaminating the earth for miles around them – often a greater cause of deforestation than actually cutting down trees.
  • They are building a Metro bus. The first line should be finished in 2010 (forgot whether beginning or middle 2010), one of the next lines will pass very close to our house, slowly phasing out the greatest killers and polluters in Lima: the minibuses and combis – Lima’s semi-legal, private-initiative transport system.
  • Business solutions for poverty try and help people to help themselves.
  • The art scene is vibrant.
  • The food continues to be incomparably wonderful.
  • The Peruvians are the nicest people you can come across.
  • On Sunday we baptize Emilia, hubby’s great niece! in Punta Hermosa, look it up!
  • Juan Diego Flores gave a wonderful concert in Callao.
  • I found an old shoemaker who will reproduce my favourite footwork in my size – exact replicas of the old ones (my size is impossible to get).
  • Jenny has miraculously appeared in my life. She comes every morning at 7.30, makes breakfast, then cleans, washes, irons, cooks and washes up. Leaves at 16.00. She’s been sent by God and I am delighted; but she’s happy too because she needed work desperately. We have arranged ourselves in mutual respect and have created a win-win situation.
  • Last but not least: you have no idea what you’ll find when you come to Lima and we visit a peña. Peruvian peña lovers even got together to celebrate everything from food to pisco to ‘música criolla’ and traditional dance in a small bar in New York.

    Until next time.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Christmas in summer by the beach

I am just a little worried how Christmas at the beach will feel. Even though I haven't been a dedicated Christmas consumer, I do carry cold and snow in my earliest memories (be it from real life as a kid or postcards with Rudolph and the invariable sleigh) and my genes; and when the kids were small we did it BIG, two meter tree an' all, branches bending under the weight of the decorations, the inevitable fairy on top, miles of presents all wrapped up lovingly... Of course Christmas changed profoundly with the kids doing their own and Mum moving on again. There was no longer the need to make two little souls happy who so fervently believed in Father Christmas and his infinite generosity. I didn't miss Christmas, really; what I missed were those years when it was magical again, when the little kid inside of me had two friends with whom to celebrate Christmasses(?) in a way I'd not been able to when I was small.

So now, here in Peru, Spring is just happening, and despite of it all being subtropical there are some trees which just begin to green again; and I don't mind at all that I don't have to shiver somewhere all wrapped up, the wind penetrating to your skin and your ears dropping off from the cold. This never happens here.

Here beautiful Jacarandá trees pop up between other exotic varietis along the roads or in the green bit in the middle. I walk past front gardens where plants which I have had in pots and which were quite difficult to grow take over like Triffids. I eat fruit which used to cost me a fortune and weren't even ripe, I eat fruit with otherworldy names which I didn't know existed, I have help in the house allowing me to do what I do best, and from my windows I have those breathtaking views of the Pacific... It's all good news. But I do wonder about Christmas.

Even here, in all the shops the new Christmas spirit is everywhere: plastic, paper, shiny, red, green, silver and gold, rubbing it in: you are not a complete person without seasonal trimmings. TV and Radio hammer it home - why should that surprise me? Everythone jumps on the bandwagon, and it's ok - perhaps it's just me who feels a little uneasy - I naively thought that that was one aspect of the "rich" world I could escape. But the local handicraft have a window of opportunity, and what's available in that line is often breathtaking!

Summer and Winter equinoxes were important to all the ancient peoples and the Southern half of our earth was no exception. I'll have to find out more about the pre-Inca cultures here. There is so much to learn, and I've only just skimmed the surface. When I know more I'll post it here.

There is much to tell and it'll be told in bits and pieces as I have time. Most important last words: the food is spectacular and here is one last picture to say goodbye for today: