Monday, July 26, 2010

About Marmite, Time and Lima

I am running out of Marmite. Only an English person (or a New Zealander or an Aussie) knows the far-reaching tragedy this simple statement implies. I know, I know… most of you have shuddered at the idea even to try it. Most of you “foreigners”, of course. You don’t know what you’re missing. You’ve never had a soft-boiled egg with Marmite ‘soldiers’. There you are, that’s why they gave me British citizenship. I had to go to the Foreign Office and swear upon the Bible that henceforth I’d hold, love and honour and give to my children – Marmite.

There is hope, however. I am expecting friends before 2010 leaves us and Marmite is available in Spain! Hark! Ask me where … it’s anyone’s entry ticket. But a distinct possibility is, naturally, that the Peruvian customs people look at it – not only with grave suspicion, but with disgust, and decide to chuck it in the bin there and then.Which reminds me, when Lucho brought in soome pata negra jamón as a gift for friends (for non-Spanish readers: some of the best Spanish ham you can buy, from pigs which have been fed nothing but acorns or some such) they confiscated it saying that they can't let 'foreign muck' into a country which has to protect its hygiene... they were probably immediately eating it as soon as Lucho was out of site - in a country where most pigs live on rubbish heaps. Never mind. Where was I?

Talking about the end of 2010, isn’t it just a little bit scary that we perceive time to pass faster and faster? Time, of course, isn’t speeding up – at least I don’t think it is (even though they had to adjust the atomic clock twice or three times to date and to my knowledge – but that’s nothing to do with our perception and it’s about parts of seconds, not perceptible by us lesser mortals). Since we, the three-dimensionals, felt we had to measure our movement and that of our world, we invented linear time, and linear is the only way we can deal with time. But every friendly neighbourhood quantum physicist knows that linear time is a figment of our imagination and therefore doesn’t exist.

Here is my bafflement (where I hide under my eiderdown in deep and cosy meditation): since linear time doesn’t exist, but it seems to be speeding up, it must be we who are speeding up. A bit like fast forwarding a movie which we all know by now how to do. Once upon a quieter time I looked at it all very logically: when a baby is one year old, one year is a whole life and, clearly, time must pass slowly. When the child is two, it’s already 50% faster etc. So, clearly, as an old biddy I would think that time is indeed racing ahead. But the phenomenon is far wider spread than I thought: young, very young people are now experiencing the same sensation. Do I have a clever answer? Of course not. I have my suspicions. But I invite you, my friends, to comment and tell me what you think is happening... One of my po-ims I wrote about time. Fascinating stuff that.

Not only am I running out of Marmite, I notice that I am beginning to establish roots here. I listen to the local news, see local news programmes on TV (the beauty is that I can also – and do – get the BBC and Spanish TVE and keep abreast of ‘how the others think’.  So my outlook becomes more local, and I can now place Latin America into an important slot in my mind and in my heart. It’s no longer ‘over there’, exotic, full of tin-pot dictators and corrupt politicians and they all speak Spanish, and they exploit the native population, they dance – what do they dance – merengue, salsa, samba, mambo all the stuff that makes the old hips hop.

All of this is true, of course, but for me it’s no longer a sketch with a very large brush, it's now a picture with detail, with variation, with goodness, economic growth, same mistakes made as not so long ago over there (in Europe!), wealth slowly dripping down to those who need it most, people being able to work and doing so with great dignity...

I can now see the differences between the Latin-American countries, tremendous differences which we tend to overlook when we speak about Central or Latin America. And it fascinates me every time more how people, coming from similar stock, develop such different characteristics once the frontiers go up. And how language begins to change – even here where supposedly everyone speaks Spanish! Think American English and UK English, and then think, for example, Mexico, Argentina, Peru... and all that, in world terms, is fairly recent history. What’s 500 years between friends? Spain and Portugal, for example (yes I know, Portugal has more in common with Galicia, but still) – you go over the border and, bang, a different world. Germany and Holland (they originally were even the same Germanic tribes) – go over the border and there’s a different planet.  England doesn’t count here, really. It always was a different planet.

Won’t go on. After all, these are musings. My head works that way. Need to muse with someone to have my wandering thought brought on the right track.
Ok, let’s talk about Lima again then, where I am making my forever home, I think, even though one never knows what the gods have in mind.  After all, I would like you all to put some money into your piggy banks and think of Peru as a more than viable holiday destination. Whether you are the guys who want nothing more in the world than an unspoiled, white-sanded beach with palm trees, where the ‘fried pigeons’ fly right into your mouth (old image from the Brothers Grimm collection of tales – here it’s more likely to be a handsome, barefooted young man who puts a tray next to your sun lounger with a cold beer and a plate of ceviche or steamed white fish just hauled out of the sea), or whether you are more inclined to go trekking in the Andes or the Jungle, or whether archaeology is your heart’s desire, everything you wish for will be more than fulfilled in Peru. It’s a beautiful, beautiful country , rich in absolutely everything, the people are charming and helpful (of course some may help themselves to your purse or camera, but that’s an international problem and any wise traveller knows just what not to do), the American and European currencies still exchange very favourably,  and the markets make your moth water. Ladies, especially the markets where you buy alpaca sweaters, jungle textiles, silver jewellery, pottery and sooooooo much more. 

Where was I – oh, yes, Lima. My new home town.  Looked at superficially, Lima is not a thing of beauty. It is loud, chaotic and gritty and much of its newer architecture looks like huge concrete boxes. It is, in fact, a sprawling desert city with a beautiful Pacific sea front and some beautiful mountains ‘at the back’, and with euphemistically called ‘pueblos jovenes’ (young villages, more like the ‘favelas’ in Brazil) clinging precariously to dusty cliffs. A long ride on the motorway, on the Panamericana Sur, is not a pleasure trip (nothing for the eyes and yet hell to pay if you don’t have your eyes absolutely everywhere).  And then Lima spends much of the winter marinated in a perpetual fog, clouds which have nowhere to go. This winter we had some breaks, however, and, if I find them, I add a couple of pix as proof. Many foreign travellers tend to use Lima only as an overnight place after the long plane trip, just to get rid of some jetlag before they move on to the more exotic destinations in the Andes or the jungle.
That's just a bit sad. Lima, being discreet, doesn’t display its wares like a lady of the night. But show a bit of interest and Lima the beautiful reveals the most amazing archaeological sites, pre-Columbian temples happily ensconced between modern high-rises, and there are still quite a few colonial mansions, and quite a few still boasting those famous Al-Andalus-style balconies. In the amazing centre of Lima it’s the Bishop (who else) who has the most elaborate one. Even modern architecture is beginning to take more interest in design.

Then there are the museums displaying all kind of stuff (found or excavated), especially the most exquisite pottery and jewellery (gold and silver), handicrafts… the list is endless.  There are a number of galleries, the more traditional kind and some even with edgy art and multimedia installations.There are various small halls and 'boîtes' for black Peruvian music and dance, jazz, the classical... The mind boggles.

For those who are fascinated by religious processions, we have many, all dating back to the times of the conquistadores, and compete in pomp and fervour easily with their Spanish counterparts (coming from the same Church, of course). And as far as churches go, there are some extraordinary ‘baroque’ churches decorated with the skulls of saints. By contrast you can dance the night away in crowded nightclubs offering all varieties of Latin beats.

Bookstores, shopping malls, private golf and tennis clubs for the well-heeled and last, but not least, there are the restaurants: exceptional eateries, from humble to high-brow, all part of a gastronomic revolution that has been more than 400 years in the making, and is in fact now one of THE items on the Peruvian cultural export list.

So, here you have it. Historic delights and modern chaos, care and neglect, loud and secretive, and even in the poorest streets you’ll find something that you can’t miss if you have an adventurous palate. Lima – don’t pass it by.

From Lima with love, Rosmarie (or Rose Mary)

PS: This time more than ever I'll carelessly 'scatter' some photos into the text, letting them fall like some people drop commas freely over any given text ... (couldn't resist that one) 


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