The worldly Belgian

They say it’s hard to be a Saint in the City but I say it’s even harder to be a Belgian in Peru. Or to be a Belgian anywhere outside of Belgium for that matter, because old habits die hard. Take the Belgian idea of politely offering a cup of coffee to a visitor in your home:

HOST: “Would you like a cup of coffee?”
GUEST: “No thank you.”

HOST: “Are you sure? I can make a fresh pot.”
GUEST: “No thanks, I’m actually in a hurry to get to blablablah.”

HOST: “I’m going to make a pot of coffee because so-and-so is coming over in a bit.”
GUEST: “You don’t have to do that I was just leaving anyway.”

HOST: “Here’s some cookies, you sure you don’t want a cup of coffee with that?”
GUEST: “Well if you’re having a cup, I’ll have a cup with you.”

The Belgian guest will politely say “no” at least 2 or 3 times before accepting and the host will keep offering until the guest accepts. The idea is that the guest can’t accept the first time the host offers because it would indicate that he or she came hungry/thirsty to the guest’s house. A similar weirdness takes place when you’re passing that plate of cookies around the coffee table and everyone will refuse to take the last cookie until the plate with that lone last cookie has gone around the table 2 or 3 times, then someone will finally cave and eat the last cookie. The idea is that you don’t want to leave the host without anything, so nobody takes the last of anything until the host has insisted on passing plate around 2 or 3 times.

One of the things I like best about being in Peru is that we eat very well. Unlike the so called developed world, we eat real and fresh foods, not food-like industrial products. For example, we buy fresh bread twice a day, we don’t get bread that lasts 10 days in a plastic bag from a factory 3 states away. We make fresh juice for breakfast most days and I’m the self-proclaimed king of the Philips blender: mangos, papayas, pineapple, bananas, it’s all fair game.

Now lately mamacita linda’s been in a rush to get to work in the morning and she might skip breakfast at home, like this:

Me: “Mamacita, do you want a glass of juice before you go?”
Mamacita Linda: “No papi thanks”.

Me: “Sure you don’t want some of my world famous mango juice?”
Mamacita Linda: “No papi I already told you I don’t have time”.

Me: “Hmmmmmmmmm this is the best juice ever, do you want some before you go?”
Mamacita Linda: “NO PAPI!!!! How many times do I have to tell you the same thing??? I don’t have time!!!! I don’t want juice!!! I don’t want breakfast!!!! Quit asking me the same thing over and over!!!”

Oops. Then I realize I’m no longer in Belgium and there is no such thing as a worldly Belgian.

Merry Christmas!!!

This is what your 4-star hotel in Cusco is built on top of

Have you heard about the latest archaeological “discoveries” at the Plaza de Armas in Cusco? Road work has been going on between Av. Sol and the Plaza de Armas, in the heart of historic downtown Cusco. As the old road was excavated, a number of historic Inca Walls have been “discovered” below the surface. Cusco has been abuzz about the new discoveries for the past few days, take a look:

Inca walls discovered in Cusco

Inca walls discovered during roadwork near the Plaza de Armas in Cusco

Inca walls below Plaza de Armas Cusco

Ongoing work/excavation between the Plaza de Armas and Av. Sol in Cusco

While it’s great these historic walls are being exposed, the word “discovery” seems to be a bit of a stretch being that 50-year old underground utility pipes appear to have been routed in and around these historic walls. “Discovery” in this case implies not something we recently found but “creating buzz to attract tourist $ that will help us clean up the archaeological treasures we covered up 50 years ago”. Or something like that.

It’s hard to tell from the pictures (taken over construction barriers) how much of the walls is original, quite a bit appears to be later work built on top of Inca ruins but some of the walls are clearly original Inca structures in very good condition. You can easily tell the difference because the original Inca walls are of exceptional quality, the form and fit of the rocks is nearly perfect, as are the angles and dimensions. Also, the Incas used no cement or filler of any kind between the rocks. In the pictures, the stairway and adjacent parts are clearly original Inca architecture. Later walls that were built by the Spanish Conquistadores or restored in later times aren’t of the same quality as the original Inca walls.

I don’t know what the plan is for this site going forward, now that it has been laid bare again I hope the site gets a full restoration. It’s sad to see such a piece of history strung full of sewer pipes. Of course any archaeologist, historian or architect worth his salt could tell you that the entire historic downtown area of Cusco must be sitting on top of similar Inca structures. When the Spanish Conquistadores first brought “their” God and King to the New World, they built churches on top of the existing Inca temples, to show the superiority of “their” God and King. Here in Cusco you can still see some original Inca structures but sadly most of the original Inca architecture in the historic downtown has been covered up with buildings from the Spanish Colonial era and beyond.

Isabella

Isabella

Isabella when she was maybe 8 or 9

I was rocking our baby to sleep the other night, listening to some music, when a song reminded me of a girl I used to know. Isabella isn’t her real name but when she was about 8 years old she’d say she wanted to change her name to Isabella. So I’ll call her Isabella here.

My baby had just fallen asleep on my shoulder and my thoughts drifted away to Isabella. I knew Isabella when she was a kid, she’s a young lady and a mom now. The song I was listening to reminded me of Isabella because of her grandfather, Joe – whom Isabella never knew. I never had the pleasure to meet Isabella’s grandfather either, he passed away young, but I knew Isabella’s mom well. This is how I know Joe.

Isabella’s mom is Sicilian, grew up in Buffalo NY. She always said Joe was in the Buffalo mafia, she wasn’t boasting or proud, in fact Isabella’s mom was embarrassed about that but it was just the way of life if you were born into the family like Joe was. Joe wasn’t a bad guy, he was just part of the family. Joe was a musician, Isabella’s mom always said her father had the greatest voice, a voice like Frank Sinatra. I think Joe played piano and drums, he would play in the Italian restaurants in Buffalo, in the restaurants of the family. Italian restaurants were always a favorite means for the mob to launder their money.

I think it’s safe to say Isabella’s mom had a complicated relationship with her father. I think she admired Joe as an artist, in fact Isabella’s mom was a drummer in her high school band before she got unceremoniously kicked out of high school at the age of 16. Isabella’s mom would go out to party but Joe would find her wherever she was out partying and would drag her out of the bars, drag her home. Joe died of a heart attack when Isabella’s mom was 18.

In a way I feel like I know Joe well, even though we never met. Not only through Isabella’s mom but also through the environment. I grew up in an industrial town in Europe and I know the old industrial towns in the US – like Buffalo – quite well, from the time I used to fly air cargo. We’d fly auto parts for manufacturers to places like Buffalo NY, Flint MI and of course down to the border with Mexico for all the outsourcing there. Peruvians who visit the US probably know no Italian restaurants other than a suburban Olive Garden or Carraba’s but I’ve been to a lot of old, authentic Italian restaurants. Heck, I’ve been to Italy. My best friend friend Bert and I used to hang out at an old-style piano bar when I lived in Florida, the type of place where you could imagine Joe play. As a side note, Bert knew the Italian mob well. He used to work with the US government and he’d always say when the FBI moved offices in New York, the mafia’s moving companies did the move. During Cold War detente when Bert did business with Amtorg, it was via a freight forwarding company owned by the New York mob. He knew the mob well.

There isn’t a point to all of this, in case you were wondering, just me reminiscing about a kid who’s now all grown up. It all seems so long ago now. Not that my experiences in life are any more interesting than anyone else’s but I’ve lived a more unconventional life than most, I’ve been very fortunate to meet some extraordinary people. In a country like Peru, where the median age is 27 and half of the population barely has living memory of the 20th century, some of my experiences seem downright surreal.

I haven’t seen Isabella in many moons. I hope to see her someday, perhaps we can meet in an Italian restaurant.

When was this map ordered and by whom?

Check out this map at Adam Isacson’s LatAm blog, showing the hometowns of the unaccompanied children the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has apprehended between January 1 and May 14, 2014.

The very first comment by “teapartyimmigrationcoalition”:

“When was this map ordered and by whom?”

So just to be clear, the problem is not that there are thousands of children who decide to leave their home, alone, to escape violence or abject poverty and search for a better future. No no no. The problem is that somebody made a map about it.

Look you Tea Party nuts, no matter how hard you try, you will never ever be able to make a reasonable argument that the immigrants of your great-grandparents’ era and before were “good immigrants” and today’s immigrants are “bad immigrants”. Don’t take my word for it, ask a Native Indian.

On a side note, last week marked the 60th anniversary of the 1954 Guatemalan Coup. Didn’t hear much about that on Fox News I take it? Without a shadow of a doubt, US intervention in Guatemala and other parts of LatAm has influenced life in LatAm as we know it today. But the right wing nuts don’t see that as an issue now, no no no, the problem is that somebody made a map of it.

tumblr_n7u34nFuGU1qlvx6ko1_500

Capulí ñawi Cusqueñita

Capulí ñawi Cusqueñita
capulí ñawi Cusqueñita
tus ojos tienen la culpa
para padecer tanto,
tus ojos tienen la culpa
para padecer tanto
Cuando me miran tus ojitos,
cuando me miran tus ojitos
parece que me alumbrarán
las estrellas del cielo
parece que me alumbrarán
las estrellas del cielo
sutiquitari cuncaymanchu
sutiquitari cuncaymanchu
ese nombre tan bonito
con que me engañaste

* * *

You’re welcome :)

Brianna’s weekend homework is to practice a different song with her papis each week. I am devoid of talent so Youtube is my best friend on weekends.

Cha`ska Ñawi Niñucha

Our goose has been singing this song for weeks now, she sang it with a choir from her kindergarten the week before Christmas. Brianna’s choir was all 4 and 5 year olds, not quite Mozart yet but I found this version on Youtube, I like it a lot. There are actually 9 people who “disliked” it. Do they not have a life?

Here’s a picture of our goose in her choir. In case you can’t pick her out, she’s the one with her hands to her face yelling at the public :)

cusco-childrens-christmas-choir

That’s my girl!

* * *

PS: how not to talk Spanglish

“Brianna, come rapido. Tu comida se va resfriar!”

IKN Chart of the Day

I caught a glimpse of Otto’s chart of the day over at IKN and shamelessly swiped the same:

gold_jun2013

Remember when gold was $1,200 and going up? The gold nuts said it was never ever gonna end? Of course neither was the real estate bubble, the internet bubble, RCA in the 1920s and 30s or tulip mania long before that.

Gold is a fickle thingy and I have no earthly idea where it’s going next. Maybe all the retail investors are dumping gold to jump in the big DOW / S&P500 comeback? If that’s the case surely we should call a top in the DOW / S&P500 in the next 24 months or so?

Hey Otto: special request, how about an S&P500 chart expressed in ounces of gold? See if that tells us anything.

I’m sure far more intelligent commentary could be scribbled here but a double shot of Jamaican rum and some fine music will do:

PS: On a serious note, I haven’t seen main street Peru react to the lower gold prices, there is still this “party will never end” attitude and that could be trouble: with the good macro numbers that Peru had been posting on the back of rising mining revenue also came an increase in consumer credit, imported consumer goods, declining trade balance, etc. Not saying end of the world is coming but I doubt Peru’s internal economy is as strong as many have come to believe.

PPS: Even I had something to say about gold going up at $12 something.

Dance Saya!

At my tender age it’s just not going to happen anymore but one of the things I wanted to do when I first came to Cuzco was to be part of a Saya dance group. I have work and kids, I don’t have time or style, so being a “Sayero” (that’s probably not a real word) is probably not going to happen for me in this life.

There are many traditional dances in Peru but here in Cuzco the “Saya” dance is by far the most common. I wanted to say “the Saya dance is the most popular” but I hesitate because there’s this odd love-hate thing between Cusqueños and Saya. In festivals and celebrations, parades and school dances, you see more Saya then any other traditional dances. We have several friends who belonged to Saya dance troupes that go to the Virgen de Candelaria festival in Puna every year.

Despite the fact you see more Saya in Cuzco than any other dance, many Cusqueños dislike Saya with a passion. They fuss and complain, why do we have to see more Saya? Why can’t we dance something different? Fuss fuss, on and on. Ostensibly the reason Cusqueños dislike Saya is – are you ready for it? – that the Sayeras show their bottoms when they dance and twirl their skirts and kick their legs up high. The Cusquenian middle class fusses that the “real” Sayeras wore shorts or under-skirts so as not to show their bottom when they twirl or kick their legs up high.

Type “baile saya” in Google images and you’ll see the supposed problem: the Sayeras typically wear these grandma-style black lycra bikini bottoms that wouldn’t excite anyone this side of the Iron Curtain but in traditionally prude Cuzco, that is still a problem.

There’s probably some truth to that, a bit of jealousy maybe on the part of jeans-wearing Cusqueñas (they all wear jeans all the time when they’re not dancing Saya or wearing their work/school uniforms) but I think the real reason Saya is disliked in Cuzco is that it is originally a dance from the Altiplano region of Puno and there’s a traditional jealousy between Cuzco and Puno. In fact there are many ethnic or regional distinctions in Peru: the Limenians don’t particularly like the Serranos, Arequipa is considered almost a country in it’s own, there’s a distinct Afro-Peruvian culture, the Serrano women think all the women of the jungle are horny and of loose morals, etc etc.

Of all the ethnic/regional distinctions in Peru, one of the most noticeable is toward the Puno region. Puno is very traditional Aymara/Quechua and is the region bordering Bolivia. Peruvians still have some resentment towards Bolivia because Bolivia supposedly got Peru involved in the War of the Pacific in the 19th century. In practical terms, Puno is cold as a witch’s boob and many Punenians have moved to nearby parts of Peru such as Cuzco, Arequipa and also to Lima. Punenians are some of the hardest working people you’ll meet but they are not interested in living a fancy pretentious lifestyle. Personally I think this is where some of the dislike of Punenians comes from: good old fashioned jealousy of the middle-class Cusquenians, who wear nice clothes and send their kids to private schools but at the end of the day live from paycheck to paycheck (kind of like, you know, the supposed middle class in the other 250 something countries in the world). Those middle-class Cusquenians grumble at the Punenian entrepreneur who has a little store in one of the “Altiplano” markets in Cuzco, lives in a very unpretentious manner but has $100,000 in the Caja Municipal (and gets 10% interest on his savings).

Anyway, it’s all petty harmless jealousy, I just wish I could be a Sayero!

ready to dance saya

Ready to dance Saya

dancing saya morena

Dancing Saya Morena

Proselytizing in Latin America

9:00 am the doorbell rings. You know who it is because it happens all the time: somebody wants to talk to you about the Bible. American (US) churches are relentlessly proselytizing in traditionally Roman Catholic Peru. Many homes have stickers on the door saying “we are Catholics, don’t bother”. About once a month somebody will come to our house, I usually say that I don’t have time because I’m trying to get the kids dressed and off to school and all that good jazz.

Now don’t get me wrong, I respect when someone has a strong faith and they want to share that faith with others. But the truth is, it doesn’t always feel that way. The proselytizing by US churches here in Peru has almost a corporate feel to it, a strategic plan kind of feel. They know the population here is young, the economy is growing, and that many Peruvians are receptive in a very mundane kind of way.

On flights back and forth to the US, I’ve sat next to Americans who came on missionary trips quite often. Many times they struck me as just nice people who wanted to come speak about their religion and do some humanitarian work. I’ve sat next to a doctor and a dentist who had come to spend their vacation in a small town providing medical work. They let it be known they came out of religious motivation, but in a respectful way.

On the other hand, I’ve had quite a few experiences like this: I was sitting in the Plaza Tupac Amaru one day when Brianna was only 6 months old. It was a beautiful day and she was enjoying the sun. We were approached by a group of US missionaries:

“Sir, do you know what’s going on in this world?”

Me: “Well, I try to do the best I can every day…”

Of course that was a dead give-away that I was a Catholic, and US Evangelicals have a very different theology, all about good vs. evil (and then they wonder why they’ve been practically non-stop at war for the past 70 years).

“Well Sir, we’d like to talk to you about the end of the world that is coming soon and that there is still time to prepare.”

Me: “Lady: I have a 6 month old baby. I know I can get run over by a Tico any time or struck by lightning or that our sun can go Supernova or the end of the world can come some other way, but I’d like to think my baby is going to have a full and happy life. I’m really not interested in hearing your end of the world come to our church and you’ll be saved preachings today.”

I know that wasn’t very tactful of me at that time but before you get offended ask yourself: when you’re enjoying a nice day in the park with your family, or when you’re rushing to get ready for work in the morning, would you be appreciative if somebody came to your door to talk about the Tipitaka or the Upanishads or the Qur’an? Would you really? What if they came every month? If you knew they were coming because it was part of an assignment? Almost like a corporate scorecard?

I respect people who have a strong faith and want to share it but please do so with respect for the culture you are in. One thing to realize is that 500 years after the Spanish conquest of the Inca empire, much of the Roman Catholic religion here in Peru remains influenced by the ancient Inca culture. In churches in Peru you will find lots of gold, images of the sun (for the ancient Inca sun god Inti), etc. The traditional images of the Roman Catholic church, such as the Virgin Mary or Jesus on the cross, are typically adorned in strong colors and gold, much like the traditional Andean culture and festivals. Many current religious festivals have their roots in ancient Inca traditions.

All this to say that changing someone’s religion isn’t easy, the number of people you sign up may not really reflect the adoption of your message, especially if that message is delivered with little understanding or respect of the current culture and religion.

altar gold Peru

Inside the Catholic churches in Peru you will find a lot of gold as well as images of the sun, a reflection of the historic Inca culture.

Typical Andean baby Jesus figure

Typical Andean baby Jesus figure.

The church of La Merced in Cuzco

The church of La Merced in Cuzco has elements of traditional Inca culture as well as the Roman Catholic religion. To take pictures inside you have to get married there :)

Señor de Huanca

The shrine of Señor de Huanca. It is believed that here God made His home among men.

Señor de los Temblores

Señor de los Temblores – in Quechua “Taytacha Temblores”. One of the best known images of Cuzco.

Power of the sun

It is believed that if you stand in this spot in Machu Picchu with your arms raised to the sun, that you will receive healing and strength from the sun.