Monday, February 14, 2011

A rant... a po-im and a recipe!

The story of David and Goliath has recently hiccoughed up (hiccoughed up? ...never mind) with me on various occasions, feeling very much like David yet wanting to change the world. I mean, really CHANGE the world. I no longer want to hear about ‘THE crisis’ (which doesn’t seem to concern the big guys at all, those that landed us in the gunk in the first place), I feel less and less able to look at those pictures of hungry kids with bloated bellies, or at ‘killing fields’ all over the globe – usually where people have had a hard time anyway. I no longer want to read about people losing their homes, forests being sold off to Chinese (or any other) investors so that the national debt may be fractionally less, or selling the mining rights (as in my new home country) for the sake of national income growth to those who are no longer allowed to follow their business at home without cleaning up after themselves. That costs money, doesn’t it, but you can still shit on those who don’t seem to have a voice yet. Well, they may have one, but aren’t allowed to use it. After all, who are those people in funny clothes who say they want to protect their rainforests, rivers and their children? They stand in the way of progress and in the way of a nice fat package stuffed into the pockets of the facilitators... When they try to get together to have a collective voice, they are very soon made to regret it and feel even more powerless.

I got so upset I even wrote a poem about it:


When your children
ask with big eyes,
shadowed in their sunken sockets,
tell them that a new hunger
lies on the altar of sacrifices
and that bodies are floating
your president’s daughter’s patrimony
by contaminating
the terms
of a new free trade agreement.

Go on, dream of oil wells,
gold mines and jungles,
and new plastic roofs.
Your benefactors
will soon deal harshly
with those who corrupt
the people
and make them believe
that progress
is not inevitable.

Mercury laps at the black
shores of the Rio Mantoro
en route to the Ucayali,
rolling with its last lazy move
into the mighty Amazon.

You won – for now.
Far away
your saviours
are pushing  a new model plan
that looks remarkably like the old one.

When I was very young I had an obsession with something called ‘justice’. What normally meant that I was still out fighting the dragon when the others had already long since settled for less. Silly me. I soon learned to shut up and let things happen the way the majority seemed to like it, just asking myself from time to time, can it be that the majority is always right because there are mor of them? 

Now, that I am getting on, my feeling for ‘justice’ hasn’t really changed at all, and I no longer want to shut up. Still, I have resigned myself to the fact that the justice I am thinking of probably doesn’t or can't exist. For example: putting people away 'at Her Majesty’s pleasure' in general ought to be called ‘punishment’, not 'justice' – in the minds of many it may be more correct to call it ‘revenge’ (an eye for an eye?) ‘He’s got to pay for his crimes, doesn’t he...’ is that helpless refrain.

Of course we have to protect ourselves from those who would do us harm, and I don't profess to have any answers; but we have applied the system we have for an awful long time and things got worse instead of better. So perhaps we MUST rethink. For example, if we were to get away from the victim and perpetrator mentality, we could begin to start a ‘just’ system? What I mean is (and that’s not my idea, a hell of a lot of very clever people have come to that conclusion too) that the perp is a victim too, victim of whatever has been done to him/her... and so go back along the line. Treat the victim as well as the perpetrator and perhaps we begin to get somewhere. I am just frustrated and I can’t postulate here my hypothesis, especially since I’m no expert. Trust the experts, I say, they charge the most.

At least the good doctor is making a beginning here in Lima, trying to catch the abused and abandoned kids and trying to give them something to live towards (for example, self respect, dignity, belonging ...). He can only start small, but he’s on his way. In the States he found a few good people of outstanding qualities who are equally determined that things should change. I am his most ardent supporter and pray that they get the funds and the governmental support (part of that has been achieved) to make it happen. We can’t just sit here and feel that little Davids can’t do anything against all those Goliaths out there. All it needed was a hard little stone in a clever sling and the sharp eyes and daring hands of David and, voilà, Goliath had a kind of permanent problem. I wish ‘my’ doctor God’s speed on his way to making dents where they are desperately needed.

Speaking of David, I see little David’s all over the place in Lima. Lima is on a building spree.
They’ve discovered the wonders of quick construction money (remember Spain?) and it’s often Spanish contractors who have found a place to continue what they can’t do any longer in Spain. So the living machines are going up... and every so often you see one of those little guys still sitting tight – it’s a sight for sore eyes, it is. However, I fear that when auntie dies or granny or... the heirs will soon sell their spot of real estate to retire with a nice little pouch full of this stuff called money, and another building will go up. There are a few, but one in particular has a place in my heart (and my camera) and I watch it and wonder...

That’s the down side. On the up side you get an increasingly good-looking, modern-looking Lima which in turn allows it to feel more self respect, and – since perceptions are our reality – the investors come and look and are impressed and invest... and they are right. Peru rocks – I said it before. And it does so in many ways: I believe they are even beginning to try and clean up their corruption act. The right noises come from the most surprising quarters, and I can only repeat that things have to start somewhere, start small, tiny voices together can make a big voice and the result can be astonishing.

Just look at Egypt. I don’t know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that Mr Mubarak disappeared himself with all that money (we presume he did), I have no idea whether he was a good or a bad boss for his people, how can I judge... but they were obviously unhappy with him – and 30 years IS a long time – and they managed change. Whatever that change may bring, many little voices got brave and began a trickle, then a flow, and from a mighty river soon a tidal wave sprang. Let us learn from the Egyptians who don’t even know what’s coming – they just knew things had got so bad that they clamoured for the relative shirt. You never heard of the ‘relative shirt’? We all have them. When all your shirts are dirty and you have no shirt to wear you go to the dirty-washing basket and pull out the relative cleanest.

Oh dear, today has turned into far more of a rant than I intended. But, there you are. You can always click on that little cross in the right-hand corner.

Now to something completely different:
Lucho’s cousin, Dr Alberto, came from Florida with his missus, and we went south to where the sea lions and the birds live. Near Paracas you find the Islas Ballestas, our Galapagos, in a way. In the Doubletree Hilton we were in for a bit of luxury and from there we excursed. The Paracas peninsula looks as though nothing could possible grow and thrive – apparently it’s one of the driest places on earth and the landscape is barren – but out there the ocean is teaming with life. The Humboldt Current, the cold brother of the Gulf Current, meets up with the warm off-coast currents and produces plankton and other goodies (not to mention bigger versions which end up on your plates – absolutely fresh and totally delectable).
On first approach you can see a rock totally covered in little black dots – those are birds, and we were told that on the Ballestas islands about 227 different species of birds have made their home. The biggest, the pelicans, seem to be the mafia there. The others just hang about and do their stuff. We even saw some little Humboldt penguins, all waiting for the same boat. I wonder why they all look in the same direction. I thought they only do that in the zoos. The place stinks, that’s true, but you don’t care. What is a little bit of honest-to-goodness guano (from the Quechua 'wanu', via Spanish) smell in the face of nature’s wonders. Then there are the sea lions. One of the bays is the maternity ward, and the mums are fiercely protective of their little ones. The dads aren’t quite as nice as they seem from afar. We were told they aren’t that protective of the babies but very keen to get back with Mrs. Sea Lion – some area of conflict, obviously. They don’t smell that nice either, and when the boat got into – or rather under – the rocks, their ‘barking’ echoed back from the rock walls and, together with the sounds from the millions of birds, you got quite a rock concert... Booooooh, I am sorry, couldn’t resist.

Just as in Lima, in the winter you get that enormous cloud (officially known as garúa, the coastal fog) which I have already mentioned and which brings a bit of moisture and makes some rather courageous plants grow from season to season.

You can find Paracas when you are looking for Pisco, Ica or even the Nasca Lines which are a
bit further still. Paracas is on the way. And Paracas even has its own unexplained lines: on the little Isla Candelabro (one of the Islas Ballestas and so called for the giant mystery ‘drawing’ which resembles a candelabra. Well, there is that, but it may also represent the mighty Browningia candelaris, the mighty cactus from which some interesting juices can be extracted – or so I’ve heard.

All in all, it was an astonishing trip in every way, and full of unexpected pleasures. I am determined to repeat it, and it’s only about four hours by car from Lima along the Panamericana Sur.

News from Peru?

  • There is a bit of an overkill as far as election messages are concerned. The Peruvians will soon have a chance to vote for their next president and the candidates are doing their best to make everybody yawn. Now that Peru is on its way economically speaking (at least that’s what it looks like and it appears to be relatively solid if the world doesn’t change profoundly) they are trying to get to grips with Peru’s human beings. Do we agree with abortion? May gays form a legal contract? (They all emphasise that they are in no way talking about ‘marriage’) Do we legalise drugs? (Drug use itself is not yet a criminal offence which is a good thing because it keeps people with problems out of jails – only they don’t offer alternatives either.) Are we against corruption? We’ll see. The elections will take place on 10 April 2011, that’s not a very long wait. I’ll keep you posted. 
  • Climate change has hit those wonderful  and cute alpacas. About five percent of the 35,000 alpacas around Arequipa died of cold. Apparently it got to just over 1º and especially the most vulnerable of the alpacas, expecting mums and babies, died of pneumonia. 
  • Sting is coming to Lima and the most expensive seats were sold at 1,000 US$. 
  • Peruvian food is getting more and more attention worldwide. Just consider that Ferran Adrià, a Spanish chef considered among the best in the world, a short while ago waxed lyrical about it at Madrid Fusión. El País, one of the major Spanish newspapers, devoted a six-page colour feature to Peruvian cuisine in its OnMadrid section. 
  • Still talking about food, if the rate of chronic malnutrition is one of the indicators of a country’s development status, Peru is slowly getting there. From 2007 to 2010, the national level of chronic childhood malnutrition fell by 4.7 percent – from 22.6 to 17.9 percent according to a press release issued by INEI, the country’s agency for statistics and information. It doesn’t seem much on paper, but it’s an important about turn.

Did  I tell you that we (in Lima) have a park just for lovers? Isn't that nice? They even created a ginormous statue of two lovers just to make their point. Well, it's somewhere to go when you live in tiny flats or houses with a large family and no privacy. Some couples come back to where they first met and smooched the day they get married and take photos. There'll soon enough be a number of kids to reminisce with.

What I considered doing from now on is to add a recipe for a Peruvian dish from time to time so you can try your hand at what everybody is talking about. Let’s begin today with one of the staples of every day – well, once every week perhaps – Ají de Gallina:

•    1 big chicken
•    8 cloves of finely chopped garlic
•    1 branch of celery
•    1 bay leaf
•    1 carrots cut into 4 pieces
•    2 finely chopped onions
•    a little pepper
•    salt to taste
•    6 slices of white bread soaked in about ¾ cup milk
•    50 g or 2 tablespoons of ground pecan nuts
•    1 kg (2.2 lb) white cooked potatoes
•    50 g or 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese
•    ¼ cup of oil
•    10 black olives
•    3 boiled eggs
•    parsley
•    ½ cup milk (optional)
•    150 g or 6 tablespoons fresh ají (there are places where you can get it or similar)

Cover the chicken in hot water and boil the chicken for about 35 minutes together with the celery, the bay leaf, the diced carrot and salt until tender. Put aside the broth (1/2 cup). Let it cool a bit then shred the chicken.

In a separate pan fry the chopped garlic, the onions, and the ají with a bit of pepper until the onions are transparent. Add the bread you soaked in the milk and stir. Add the chicken broth. Add a little more milk if necessary.

Add to this the shredded chicken. Stir well. Add salt and the ground pecan nuts.

Place the chicken in the center of a serving dish, add some cooked potatoes (sliced) and sprinkle it all with the Parmesan cheese.

Garnish with olives, boiled egg (cut into halves) and parsley.

Serve with white rice.

I leave you with an appetite and some of those international English-language gems (they must make some of these up):

In a Tokyo Hotel:
Is forbidden to steal hotel towels please. If you are not a person to do such thing is please not to read notis.

In a Bucharest hotel lobby:

The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.

In a Leipzig elevator:
Do not enter the lift backwards, and only when lit up.

In a Paris hotel elevator:
Please leave your values at the front desk.

In a hotel in Athens:

Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11 A.M. daily.

In an Austrian hotel catering to skiers:
Not to perambulate the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of ascension.

On the menu of a Swiss restaurant:
Our wines leave you nothing to hope for.

On the menu of a Polish hotel:
Salad a firm's own make; limpid red beet soup with cheesy dumplings in the form of a finger; roasted duck let loose; beef rashers beaten up in the country people's fashion.

Outside a Paris dress shop:
Dresses for street walking.

In a Rhodes tailor shop:
Order your summers suit. Because is big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation.

In an advertisement by a Hong Kong dentist:
Teeth extracted by the latest Methodists.

Advertisement for donkey rides in Thailand:
Would you like to ride on your own ass?

On the door of a Moscow hotel room:

If this is your first visit to the USSR, you are welcome to it.

In the office of a Roman doctor:

Specialist in women and other diseases.

In an Acapulco hotel:

The manager has personally passed all the water served here.

From a Japanese information booklet about using a hotel air conditioner:

Cooles and Heates: If you want just condition of warm in your room, please control yourself.

From a brochure of a car-rental firm in Tokyo:

When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor.

You can always ask for a quote at the
Signing off for today. I’ve had a good rant. Thank you for reading and be forgiven if you didn’t. Till next time.

PS: my collection of poems will be published before the end of this year and my COMING UP FOR AIR squel is with the publishers for their perusal.

Our handsome guide who had to hold on to the motor on the way back so it wouldn't fall off ... (something like that)

This picture was taken by Lucho's cousin Dr Alberto Rivera on a beach near Paracas... we couldn't believe our eyes, and I didn't have my camera. This picture reminds me of a car sticker that said: TAKE REVENGE, SHIT ON A PIGEON TODAY! Could equally have been a seagull...