Friday, August 5, 2011

More on grandmotherdom, some on travelling and another bit on Peruvian elections

OMG it’s been a looooooong time. The more things are happening to me, the less I seem to have to talk about.  The last time I stuck my head out of my mole hole was during Peruvian election time.  In the meantime we have a new president; I’ve been travelling; met my second granddaughter, Daphne, had considerable walking problems because of a tendonitis that struck unexpectedly and – as far as I can see – without obvious reason.  A bit like taxis which are sent by God to try us… 


Plans for the near future
Where on earth do I start? Let me tell you before all else that I’m a happy old thing. My foot is better by now and I’ll soon go a-travelling again. Together with Hazel, one of my dear friends in London, we’ll ‘do’ Arequipa (hope we stay in a hotel with a view of Misti, the old volcano), the Santa Catalina convent and the Colca Canyon (where the condor flies) at the beginning of her Peru trip. She’ll be in Lima 29 August and we’re off on 3 September. While she’ll go on alone to discover Cusco and Lago Titicaca, I’ll be back at the ranch. I have to work on my second book blog, which isn’t even ‘under construction’ yet. Perhaps getting this here friendship blog up to date will inspire me? No good to have a book out nobody knows about…

Hazel will come back to Lima after her Cusco/Titicaca experience and we’ll be moseying about town for a while. There are so many wonderful things to do and places to eat. After a few days relaxing and being frivolous we’ll pick up our rucksacks and walking boots and fly to Trujillo and Chiclayo to see all those pre-Inca sites they’re digging up all over the place. Should be ok weather-wise. Right now it’s winter, September is still early spring here, and Trujillo (home of the wonderful Peruvian dance ‘La Marinera’ - and takes us closer to the equator. I don’t think I could cope with Equatorial heat in the summer.  

That’s something you’ll always have to consider should you be planning a Peru holiday – what you’re going to do and where, and which part of the year would be the best time for the geography. In the summer (our summer, your winter) it rains in the Andes, and Cusco can be a very wet experience indeed. In the summer (our summer) the North can be too hot, and the rain forests can be unbearable – rain, mosquitos and humid heat.  July/August/September are the best months, but, of course, until the last days of August prices are up… up... It’s summer hols in Europe and the States.

Travels and tribulations
Where was I – or rather, where did I intend to be? Yep, I wanted to tell you about my travels, didn’t I. Some of you I managed to see, others not. Please forgive. This time my Achilles heel had me almost constantly in pain which meant I was walking as little as possible and it generally made me less adventurous and slowed me down. My ‘doctor’ has taken care of it by now. I was in such pain that I even went to my old doctor’s praxis in London, 100 meters from my old house.  Can you believe that – after over 20 years – they still had me on their computers? Gave me quite a jolt when they confirmed my address – my old home. Melancholic moments. What did they do? They printed out some advice regarding Achilles tendons from the internet. But they were very nice doing it. At least they didn’t make it worse. I avoid normal doctors like the plague. Something tells me that between them and the pharmaceutical industry they’re out to make me sick, preferable with something that’ll cost aloadofmonney to not make me better. I know. I’m exaggerating. But honestly, did that thought never strike you? At least for a fleeting nasty moment?

Daphne with Daddy
Daphne with Mummy
Between my old hip, crooked back and right heel I was a bit put out, especially since I had to be the girl-about-town in a big way. Apart from seeing friends outside of London (again, tube, bus, train)  my two children live at opposite ends of the world as London knows it. Demo, Saskia and Daphne, the new little one, live in South London. Effie, Blossom and I (in North London) took busses, tubes, trains, walking up and down stairs and endless connecting corridors. There I was limping along and feeling sorry for myself because I was in considerable pain all the time, while Effie took pushchair with baby under her arm and waltzed up those stairs like Supermum - faster than I could without baby. That made me feel quite defective.

Blossom with Mummy
We did do play parks and pub gardens, train journeys and family gatherings. Both babies are so very different. Difficult to see how they can possibly be first cousins. Both are beautiful (of course) and clever (of course). Also, right now, a 3.5 months age difference is enoooooormous. In a couple of years none of this will matter and I fervently hope they’ll like each other and become firm friends.

For those of you who know them: Marc Lomelí took me to the ‘new’ London, Canary Wharf and neighbourhood. We met at Waterloo Station, walked past the ‘London Eye’ (next year I’ll be on it!) to a Thames ‘water bus’ on which we headed south-west. Beautiful sun for most of the day and a terrific risotto at Carluccio’s. With Jane I met somewhere in Oxfordshire and when we’d finished our pub lunch we got ourselves lost on the way to Marc le Clercq, Iona, Louis and Clementine. All four in good health, happy and prospering in a beautiful new house.  Oxfordshire even brought a poem on. You may not particularly like the poem, but it describes aptly our experience that day:

Sunday by the Oxford Canal

We met at the station
and drove into the shire.
I’d forgotten how green wet green is.
Talking, catching up –
it's been a year.
Wasn’t really worth opening the brolly,
the rain came softly from all sides.

The pub, dark and low-ceilinged.
Right by the canal.
A fire lit.
Steak-and-kidney pie and a pint please.
We had planned to sit in the garden
watching the boats idling by.
Still, it was good.

At the next table sat foreigners
with loads of kids
all in brightly coloured slickers.
They said they were Finnish, had hired
a longboat for the weekend.

The tallest and blondest said, smiling,
We have a heat wave in Finland right now.

My home town is certainly changing. This was a nothing site before the once so conservative ‘town fathers’ commissioned Niki de Saint Phalle to come up with a fountain. Met up with my big brother. Last year that evil cloud from that unpronounceable volcano in Iceland wouldn’t let us get together.

British Museum
One of my ‘musts’ in London was the Afghanistan exhibition in the British Musem to which my friend Hazel invited me. I never had (or, rather, made) the time for the new and improved BM,  and after all the fuss in the British press about the new glass dome over part of the court yard I couldn’t stop admiring it.

Leaving London was a bit of a tearjerker for me – this time more than on other occasions. ‘My’ two babies first on the list, and reconnecting with those who befriended me when I was first married and had my own two children a close second, and…  All very emotional in the nicest possible way. You know what’s absolutely mind-boggling? When you see someone again after 30 years and they haven’t changed. Gives you ideas about yourself…

In Madrid I had to hobble around in the heat and finish the eternal ‘tramites’ – the bloody paperwork -and then I took refuge for my last two days in Lindy’s house, my wonderful New Zealand friend who has created an elfin stronghold in Peñascales.

The aftershock of my Europe adventure had me in its throes for at least three weeks. I blamed my foot, jetlag, exhaustion, emotional overload, even having felt ‘heavier’ in Europe as well as a host of other ills for my apathy. Probably a mixture of all of them. But sooner rather than later my old hard-disk started to function again and eventually I relocated properly.

A bit on Peruvian politics
On 28 June we finally had the long-awaited inauguration of the new Peruvian president Ollanta Humala. Even though he won by a small margin, it’s still a miracle that he won at all. It’s the first time in Peruvian history that a left-leaning candidate was democratically elected to lead the country. The choice in the end really was between a rock and a hard place. I suppose the hard place won out. Duh… No, seriously, Keiko Fujimori couldn’t possibly be the new president because the real man behind the throne would be daddy, who didn’t really distinguish himself in the democratic and honesty game. And the votes that made Humala president didn’t only come from the largely ignored masses of the poor in the huge and forgotten hinterland, but also from many of Lima’s intellectuals and those of the bourgeoisie who (I think) have an optimistic eye on the future. At one point everyone had to jump without knowing whether there was water in in the pool.  To this day we don’t really know, but we are beginning to get an idea that it's trickling in.

The majority of the Latin American heads of state were present as well as Don Felipe, the Spanish heir (without his missus). I took a few pix off the television. In one of them there were a hell of a lot of suits and I have no idea who they were. They can’t have all been secret service. The American president doesn’t have THAT many… looked like a convention of penguins.

The pundits, as everywhere, sit around tables in TV studios, getting paid well for propounding the same tired old theories which have been doing the rounds for yonks. But somehow I don’t think (perhaps one day I’ll be nailed to the mast of a sinking ship for this) we have to be worried about having opened the door to another dictator. Times have changed, the air smells different. Lula has been doing very well, and Castro has been struck by old age, his brother isn’t exactly made of the stern stuff, and Hugo has been smitten unexpectedly and will fade away. Slowly.  …the times they are a-chaaaaangin…

Humala has been sworn in with some controversy. I’ll quote from ‘Peru this Week’ (, the brilliant English-language online magazine (I know they don’t mind the publicity I give them from time to time in my blog. Oh, by the way, the picture is also taken from ‘Peru this Week’ – don’t know where they got it from, of course):

“At 11:01 a.m. Lima time, Ollanta Humala became president of Peru. In the process, he caused quite a controversy.

In front of the Congress, his new cabinet, and foreign heads of state, Ollanta Humala swore to rule in the spirit of the Constitution of 1979. Members of the opposition jeered, demanding that he swear only on the 1993 Constitution, ratified by Alberto Fujimori and currently the highest law of the land.

Later, Humala's second vice-president, Omar Chehade, told AmericaTV that swearing in on the 1979 Constitution was a “symbolic act” and that it had no legal implications.

After swearing-in and receiving the presidential sash from Abugattás, Humala gave an inaugural speech which stressed social inclusion. He promised a uniquely Peruvian economic model, balancing economic growth, stability and inclusion. He also rejected both interventionist and laissez-faire economics, saying that the role of the government was to spur investment and growth.

Humala also promised new social programs, greater investment in public health, and an immediate increase in the minimum wage.

After the speech, Humala left the Congress and moved into the Government Palace, where he will reside for the next five years.”

Now ‘Peru this Week’ did something even better, they gave a short resumé of the two constitutions to enlighten the less informed of us expats wherein the difference lies:

The swearing-in of President Ollanta Humala the 28th of July in the Congress, invoking the Constitution of 1979, brought back his initial proposal of reinstating this document. In the midst of the discussion that this has generated about the suitability of such a move, it’s important to ask if the 1979 Constitution was better than the current one, passed by Alberto Fujimori in 1993, and to remember what each document proposes.

For the constitutional expert Jorge Avendaño, the first difference is in their origins. ‘The Constitution of 1993 has a spurious origin, because it’s the fruit of a de facto government (the government of Fujimori), its origin is flawed. Meanwhile, the 1979 Constitution is fruit of a Constituent Assembly…in terms of the origin, we could say that the second is superior,’ he said.

It must be recalled that the crafting of the 1993 Constitution was put in the hands of the Democratic Constituent Congress after [Fujimori’s] self-coup of April 5, 1992.

In terms of their rules, Avendaño mentioned that the 1993 Constitution is more favorable for investment, because it speaks of a more-developed market economy, though with some social themes. ‘It gives a lot of value to government contracts, it calls them legal contracts, which no one can change, for example, those related to tax stability…the tax contracts with the mining companies can’t be touched.’

About the 1979 Constitution, Avendaño considered it to be more oriented to the social and government spheres, and it did not establish restrictions on the state engaging in business activity. ‘That of 1993 is more pro-private business…it says that the state can form private businesses, but as a subsidiary, and only when the law allows,’ he said.

In the case of Humala’s proposal to create a national airline, he explained that there is no need for a Constitutional change, but rather just the passage of a law that allows it.”

So, there you have it. We shall see. But in the global climate of crises, wars, lies and corruption, we just might be on to a good thing here. I’ll keep you informed.

Just want to remind you that my new novel THE TELLING will be published soon. Here is a not quite finished jacket design. The type face for ‘THE TELLING’ and the back-cover teaser will change some (that's why I got rid of the present one). But  it’s more or less going to look like that. I’ll let you know as soon as it’s out. Would I not?

Those of you who read poetry from time to time may be pleasantly surprised by my collection TANGENTS, and those of you who haven’t made me rich yet by buying my first book, COMING UP FOR AIR, please do so.

To all of you a pleasant summer, happy holidays and, even if you don’t do what you love, try and love what you do. It helps enormously.

Until next time. I leave you with another po-im and a recipe:

Some of the highest peaks in the world,
Rainforests, deserts, vast empty beaches.
At four thousand meters your
heart jumps out of your chest,
your lungs give up.
The sweetest papaya, watermelons,
chirimolla. Avocados are palta here.
Fruit I’ve never seen before and
flowers woven from colours that
haven’t been invented yet.

I am making my home here,
but sometimes I wonder at
the strangeness of not
seeing the first cowslip
squeezing through the last frost.

I nearly forgot, another delicious recipe for one of my favourite Peruvian dishes:

Chupe de Camerones
(Peruvian Shrimp Chowder)

serves 6


(Units: US | Metric)

    2 lbs shrimp, with shells and heads
    4 cups water (more if necessary)
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
    1 garlic clove, finely chopped
    1 tablespoon aji panca chili paste (can substitute tomato paste if necessary)
    1 teaspoon aji amarillo chili paste
    1 cup peas, either fresh or frozen
    1/4 cup long-grain white rice
    1 -2 ear of corn, cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
    1 lb russet potato, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
    1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
    1/4-1/2 cup queso fresco (can be Burgos in Spain), cut into 1/2-inch dice
    1 cup evaporated milk
    1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
    3 eggs

And what to do with all that wonderful stuff:

NOTE for US and UK readers: Aji panca, aji amarillo and queso fresco can be found at Hispanic markets. You may be able to find the cheese at a well-stocked grocery store as well.

Remove heads and shells from shrimp, and refrigerate the shrimp. Put shells and heads in a medium saucepan, add water to cover, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

While shells are simmering, heat the olive oil in a large flameproof casserole over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and cook for 2 minutes.  Stirring. Stir in the aji panca (or tomato paste) and aji amarillo pastes. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking (stirring often) for 10 minutes, or until onion is softened.

Puree shrimp shells and cooking liquid. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl and reserve the liquid (solids can be discarded). Measure out the liquid and add enough water to make 4 cups.

Add shrimp broth to onion mixture and bring to a boil. Stir in peas, rice and corn chunks. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add potatoes and salt. Continue cooking until potatoes and rice are just tender (approx 10 minutes more). Add shrimp and queso fresco. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until shrimp is just cooked through, about 4 minutes (shrimp should be pink).

Stir in the evaporated milk and oregano. Continue cooking and stirring. When the soup begins to boil again, crack the eggs into the soup, spacing them so they remain separate.( If you prefer, you can beat the eggs together in a bowl before adding them to the soup instead.)

When eggs are cooked through (or not quite so ‘through’ – depends on how you like them), your chupe is finished.

I'll be back with more from the Peruvian front in a month or so. I'll have new pictures from our trips. Be well. 

As always, I add a few of the photos I wanted you to see and which didn't fit into the text:

Fiesta in Arequipa

The 'culture traffic' outside the BM

My first view of the 'Eye' up close