Thursday, August 28, 2014

Of martyrs and popular memory

As we here, in the United States, are now soul searching in the aftermath of the civil unrest and heavy-handed police response in Ferguson, Missouri, I am reminded of an encounter I had recently in Ayacucho and what it revealed to me regarding a set of events that took place in Ayacucho in 1969.

In Huamanga -i.e. the city of Ayacucho-  four students were shot dead by the Sinchis -the police's specialized counterinsurgency battalion- during protests.  In nearby Huanta the toll was higher.

Here is what I wrote about them in my university thesis:

"In January, 1969, the military government had passed Supreme Decree 006 which restricted access to free public education by retroactively instituting a 100 sol  monthly tuition of all students who failed a course the previous year.  Naturally, this measure affected the poor far more than the rich as it was already an economic burden for many families to spare the children long enough for them to attend school, and the very conditions imposed by poverty  made it far more likely that they would fail a course.    Not surprisingly, D.S. 006 proved very unpopular and provoked a four-month-long series of protests in Huamanga and Huanta.   In Huamanga the protests were primarily led by the [Communist Party's local committee] through the Frente de Defensa del Pueblo de Ayacucho (Front for the Defense of the People of Ayacucho, FDPA) and the FER [Revolutionary Student Front].   In Huanta, where the degree of organization was lesser, the protests were more spontaneous and also more violent.   At least 18 people lost their lives and many more were wounded during street battles with police in both cities."

The events are memorialized in a popular song, "Flor de Retama", composed by the late Ricardo Dolorier.   Among the lyrics are the lines

Ay! Come all to see.
By the plaza of Huanta
the Sinchis are coming in.
They're going to kill students,
Huantinos at heart


Although the military tried to suppress it, the people's memory persisted and in 1974 the Front for the Defense of the People of Ayacucho placed plaques at the spots where each of the four students were murdered.

When I was in Ayacucho in July, attending a colloquium on the role of women in armed conflict and pacification in Peru from 1961 onward, I met a gentleman who had been a student at the time of the protests and continued to be involved in the local movement for human rights.   

He told me about the plaques, which to my surprise had been completely unknown to me.

One of them had been placed on the front of a building that was then torn down and the plaque lost.  This gentleman had managed to locate it after several years of searching and the owners of the new building were persuaded to allow it to again be placed at the spot.  I neglected to note the location of it, and of one other, but I did remember that one was located at the end of Jiron Tres Mascaras, near the "new bridge" over the Alameda River, which runs through town The fourth plaque was, to my surprise, one I had walked past without noticing on many occasions when passing through the archway near the market, on Jiron 28 de Julio.

On my last afternoon in Ayacucho, I made a sort pilgrimage to that spot, and for the first time beheld what had been so often bypassed by me: the plaque, placed by the people of Ayacucho, in memory of one whom they regarded as a martyr in their struggle for social justice - young Eulogio Yaranga Saune, killed on that spot on the 21st of June of 1969, while defending the right of the people to a free public education.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Musical Evenings in Barranco

After starting our evening last Wednesday at the Barranco Beer Company, Jacho, Diego and I, headed around the block to the La Noche cultural center to take in an evening of Urban Singer-Songwriters.

We had such a good time that we returned the next evening to catch a one-man show by Daniel F.

Daniel F (ne Daniel Augusto Valdivia Fernandez) is a singer, composer, and poet (though he rejects that label because, he says, poetry is something higher that what he does), who's been instrumental in the Lima punk/rock scene particularly, and in Peru generally, ever since the he was the frontman for Leuzemia, a seminal Lima band.

While in Leuzemia he wrote songs such as Al colegio no voy mas (I ain't going back to school), Asesino de la ilusion (Killer of hope),  and El hombre que no podia dejar de masturbarse (The man who couldn't stop masturbating) which became well-loved classics.

On Thursday he performed all of those, as well as other older pieces and newer compositions.   The crowd, generally, seemed to know the songs and often sang along during the choruses.

As for me, it was my first time seeing Daniel F on stage and I rather enjoyed it even though I could sing along like 'most everyone else seemed to.

Craft Beer in Barranco

 On Wednesday Jacho and I returned, accompanied this time by Diego, to a spot that we had earlier checked out with Liz while she was still here: the Barranco Beer Company.

Located in downtown Barranco, a half a block from the plaza and the "boulevard" containing the bulk of dance clubs, the Barranco Beer Company was started judging from the press reports I've seen, by a trio of enterprising friends by the members of "a family with a passion for beer". A couple of them, or perhaps all three more several, had spent time abroad and been exposed to the growing craft beer scene in the US and Europe.

They somehow raised the capital and put in a set of (60 barrel?) stainless steel conical fermenters which are visible to visitors at the back of the establishment through  a plate glass divider, while the brew kettles are visible behind the bar itself.

The Barranco Beer Company is, as far as I can tell, the second brew-on-premised beer pub in Lima - after the Cerverceria De Tomas (aka Mi Cebi-Chela) in San Borja.

From L to R: Fifti Lager, Bulls Ay, Weiss Presidente

Their bill does lack a heftier, toastier beer like a porter or stout, and they do do some odd stuff - like combining beer with soda- which is unfortunate because their beer is actually quite good on its own merits, with the "Weiss Presidente" and the "Bulls Ay" being perhaps their best offerings.

Even with the beer being relatively expensive compared to what a similar serving of the mass-produced beers cost, the place is a hit and did not lack for business either night that we were there.

A pitcher of Weiss Presidente
I'd certainly keep coming back just for that weiss!

Barranco Beer Company
Avenida Grau 308
Barranco - Lima - Peru

Friday, July 25, 2014

Lunch in Chinatown

On Wednesday I was hankering to get out for a bit and for some dim sum, so Diego and I headed to Chinatown, even though it was quite wet and drizzly out.

We went shopping for some large soup bowls in the shops near the old Central Market and headed to a Chinese restaurant and tea room that I knew about on Calle Capon.

It was Diego's first exposure to dim sum, and he said he liked it, although he is not  a big fan of chifa food beyond the classic fried rice and won ton soup lunch combo.  However we were both very impressed with a beef and wheat noodle soup that we ordered to help combat the chill of a very gray and drizzly day.

The flavour was deep and rich, and warmed by a generous addition of star anise, and the meat itself was super tender, even the parts with nerves and tendons.

I've been trying to find out more about it or something similar, but with the old-style (pre-Pinyin) transliteration into Spanish that is used here it is turning out to be somewhat of a lost cause.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

La Arenilla

A relatively new, and somewhat unknown or overlooked, attraction of La Punta -the tip of the peninsula at the north end of the bay of Lima- is La Arenilla.

A few years back, after one-too-many instances of inundation and wave damage to the streets and homes of La Punta, the authorities dumped a number of boulders offshore from the southern side of the peninsula, to create a breakwater.  An unforeseen result was the accumulation of sediment behind the breakwater, forming a lagoon and a coastal wetland.

Soon enough, the new wetland became a haven for seabirds and even began attracting migratory waterbirds who use it as a stopover point along their flyways.

With encouragement from environmentalists and local birders, and with corporate sponsoship, the wetland at La Arenilla has been designated an ecological reserve, and have even provided signs to help visitors identify some of the birds they might see.

It was actually a very pleasant place to visit, to sit on one of the benches and listen to the sea and to the calls of the gulls and other birds out on the sands.  This aspect of La Punta was new to me, as it did not exist when I was a kid, and I don't think it was there the last time I visited La Punta -or at least it hadn't yet gained much notice.   

Now, it its an evident source of local pride -the park next to it is kept immaculate, and it was mentioned to us a as a must-see at the restaurant we ate at.  In fact it has become an almost obligatory stop for birders in Lima, along with San Isidro's El Olivar park and the wetlands of Villa El Salvador.

Callao and La Punta

Last week (I've been a bit remiss about posting updates, I know) Toya and Orlando took me to Callao, Lima's port district.

Officially, Callao is a province, independent of other jurisdictions, and whose existence has been built into successive national Constitutions for years. In practice, it does depend quite a bit on the metropolitan government of greater Lima (although arguments do arise, as is the case now over reform of the city's transportation system).

Until the middle of the last century Callao was a separate city from Lima, although it has served as the capital's port for hundreds of years.  Long ago, however, its fortunes faded and it acquired a reputation as one of the city's most dangerous neighborhoods -which it does, I think deservedly, retain to a degree.

Today, Callao's former glory can still be glimpsed in its crumbling early Republican architecture

All of it, presided over by the Real Felipe fortress, erected to defend the city from pirates and English privateers.  Its construction was begun under Viceroy José Antonio Manso de VelascoViceroy in 1746 and completed in 1774 during the administration of Viceroy Manuel de Amat y Junent.

At the far end of the peninsula that comprises Callao, and the northern end of the bay of Lima, lies La Punta, which -as its name implies- is a point of land extending into the pacific.  On its northern side lies the deepwater anchorages that serve the port, and on the southern side, the bay which is overlooked by the city of Lima.

At La Punta's very end, there is a beach which is still used by artisanal fishermen -many of Italian descent-  who supplement their income by giving boat tours when the weather is good.

Off the coast, lie a set of islands, comprised mainly by the large isles of El Fronton and San Lorenzo.  The latter harbors the last of Lima's sea lion population,  a myriad seabirds, and even Magellanic penguins on its far side.  It has also been found to contain Pre-Columbian ruins and traces left by pirates and English privateers - including gravesites.  

El Fronton (at left), San Lorenzo (at center), and the Naval Academy at La Punta (at right)
Unfortunately, the powers that be have dreams of building a causeway between La Punta and the island and turning it into a deepwater port for larger ships or building an airport on it, either of which would devastate the ecology and archaelogy of the island.

El Fronton, for its part, was infamous as an island prison over which lurid tales were spun.  In the 1980s it was used  to house prisoners from the Shining Path.  The prisoners rebelled on June 18, 1986, and by the next day, courtesy of the Navy, most had been killed and the prison reduced to rubble.  The Navy demolished the cell block even with wounded prisoners inside, precipitating a scandal and crisis for the government of President Alan Garcia.

(From L to R) Orlando, myself, Mr Peñaflor

Of course, being surrounded on three sides by ocean, La Punta is known as a prime locale for quality seafood meals.   And, of course, we took advantage of that, at La Caleta, a restaurant run by Mr. Rodolfo Peñaflor its friendly and talkative owner.

A bowl of parihuela, a Callao classic