Thursday, July 30, 2009


On the 28th itself, Independence Day, we headed off to the nearby village of Muyurina for lunch and to watch a corrida bufa, a bullfight in which the bullfighters dress in comic outfits and put on a degree of slapstick in the ring.

One of the characters that always is portrayed is that of the Negra Tomasa. For this the bullfighter dons blackface and an Aunt Jemima-like outfit of dress and head scarf or cap. Usually the outfit includes large breasts and buttocks made with balloons. The character doesn't particularly act "black" but is usually sassy and plays up the "attributes" when facing the bull.

For some reason, the accompanying characters always seem to be drawn from the popular Mexican TV comedy El Chavo del Ocho, with the characters of Chavo, Quico, and Chilindrina being the usual ones portrayed. In this instance, we got Chilindrina, although they brought along Chavo's barrell.

The bulls -actually five bullocks and one cow- had supposedly been brought from Rasuwillca, but seemed like they had been simply pulled in from the fields. They lacked the aggressiveness of true toros de lidia, which was, of course a good thing and expected. However, the makeshift bullring proved unable to keep in the animals, a good number of whom managed to force their way out and back to the herd.

There was, nontheless, some excitement in the ring that afternoon, with the band adding the necessary taurine ambience to the event.

The highlight for us came late in the afternoon when we managed to cajole Nicolas into jumping into the action, much to Susana's distress:


We just got back from Ayacucho today, to where we had travelled to spend the Independence Day holiday.

We found the town in pretty good shape overall. Many of the colonial buildings in the historic colonial downtown were being gussied up with new plaster and paint. In fact, our family house, built in the 16th or 17th Century, had itself had its facade replastered and painted, with the workmen finishing the job on the morning we arrived.

We took an overnight bus for the 9 hour trip over the western branch of the Andes. The bus, from Transporte Internacional Palomino, was the nicest I've been on. It was a "bus cama" so the seats reclined almost all the way, allowing one to sleep lying down, and the best part was that the cabin was pressurised or had oxygen pumped into it so that this time the trip over the 4746 meter (15,570 foot) high pass at Apacheta did not leave one lightheaded and gasping for breath.

Although the whole of the Apacheta was covered in snow, we arrived in Ayachucho to a bright, sunny dawn.

After dropping off our stuff at the house, we headed to the market for a breakfast of llipta -a creamy cereal made from corn-, bread, and fruit juices.

Then, after resting up a bit, we hired a van and took off to visit the ancient ruins of Wari, and the town and battlefield of Quinua.

On the way we passed the sewage treatment plant, which in typical Ayacuchano humor has been nicknamed "Acapulco", the comedy lying in that aca is the Quechua word for excrement.

The pampa was rather empty even though it was the Independence Day holiday. This was probably due to the government's decision to cancel all parades and official celebrations in response to the AH1N1 flu. The view, however, was all the better with the snowy peaks in the background.

Afterward we headed into the town of Quinua itself for a late lunch -too late, as far as the girls were concerned, as they were tired and suffering from the altitude- and some shopping for some of the ceramics for which the town is famed.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Liz and the kids arrived on Thursday without incident, and we've been having a good time with the family...

Shopping and hanging out in Miraflores.

View along Jiron Ancash, toward the Archbishop's Palace and the Cathedral.
On Saturday we took a trip to Lima's historic downtown and to the old Franciscan monastery of St. Francis of Assissi, where the kids had a good time feeding and startling the many pigeons which inhabit the church's facade, before taking the monastery tour and visiting the catacombs.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Seen while out and about

I've taken to taking nearly daily walks, often to and from errands, but also just because. On those walks things sometimes catch my eye ...

... like this restaurant on the corner of Av. Salaverry and Av. del Ejercito in San Isidro, which gets right to the point with its name.

Although it doesn't seem to be remembered much these days, one of Lima's nicknames in the last century was Ciudad Jardin or "garden city". When one sees the profusion of flowers -such as this one- blooming in midwinter one begins to understand how the city earned the name.

I remember when these orbweaving spiders first showed up in San Felipe. At least I remember when I first noticed them, but the fact is that they weren't widespread here before then. It was in about 1976 or 1977, and they first turned up in the northwestern edge of the hedge surrounding the Peruvian-Japanese Cultural Center. At first it was just these white ones, but before the end of that summer there was a sizable portion of them that were a dark mahogany color.

This Army fort is in Pueblo Libre, a few blocks from Avenida Brasil, on the way to Plaza Bolivar and the National Archaeology Museum and the Queirolo Tavern. It is fairly unremarkable in itself, not far different from other such installations scattered throughout what were once the outskirsts of the city, except that at one time this one housed the incarcerated members of the Grupo Colina death squad. This squad of Army and Intelligence officers operated under the aegis of the Fujimori administration and is held responsible for several notorious killings, including the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta massacres.

This is the new Japanese Ambassador's Residence, on Salaverry. The old one was a few blocks to the north, near San Felipe and the Clinica Italiana. It was abandoned and demolished after the 1996 hostage crisis. The new one has a berm and a double wall surrounding it, with a heavy steel doors and detached guard towers, which -now that the civil war is over- stand empty. The steel poles atop the walls are intended to disperse the energy from a carbomb blast.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Though it is far humbler than its counterparts in North America, Lima's Chinatown is significant for being one of the few, if not the only, Latin American Chinatown.

It is centered around two blocks -the seventh and eighth- of Jirón Andahuaylas in downtown Lima, a stretch universally referred to as Calle Capón, a name acquired during the Spanish Colonial period as that was where castrated pigs were sold.

In the 1860s Chinese immigrants started to cluster in the area around the Central Market, giving rise to an ethnic Chinese neighborhood. Over time, the Chinese integrated into Peruvian society and no longer clustered in the area, which nonetheless retained a distinct ethnic flavor.

In 1971 an archway, a gift from the people of Taiwan, was erected to mark the entrance to Chinatown. Even then, however, the whole area was being overrun by street peddlers, who in time set up essentially permanent stalls. The streets were so crammed with stalls and sellers that they were essentially impassable to vehicles, leading to a number of tragedies as emergency response vehicles could not enter to put out fires in surrounding buildings. The crowding also made it a haven for pickpockets and cutpurses.

Finally, in 1997 Lima's mayor cleared out the hawkers and beefed up police presence and Calle Capón was cleaned up. The street vendors were relocated from Downtown andCalle Capón, which was closed to vehicles and paved with 30,000 red bricks bearing the names of donors and benefactors (one can still pay to have one's name inscribed in a paver). Several panels were included depicting animals of the Chinese zodiac and, in the center of the street, the ideogram for "Double Happiness".

Today, though it does not attract the international tourism that, say, San Francisco's Chinatown does, Calle Capón still houses offices for several Chinese benevolent associations, is a source for rare Chinese ingredients, and is a destination point for Peruvian families looking for quality Chinese fare at any of its many long-established and well-known chifas.

Birthday lunch

This morning I awoke late to the sound of church bells after a late night with my cousins. It being my birthday, I soon got ready as the family was heading to Lima's Chinatown for a celebratory lunch.

Based on recommendations from Danny and Liz, I opted for one of the more traditional Cantonese-Peruvian chifas on Calle Capon, the San Joy Lao. Coincidentally, it also happened that I had recently read about San Joy Lao in the news as it had won a prize for the best arroz chaufa (fried rice) in Lima.

Palmira, Willy, Toya, Marina, Juancho, Toti, Mito, Carla

We ordered a banquet deal for 8-11, and added a number of dishes as there were sixteen of us (we're always a large group). Danny and Liz's recommendation was right on, as the food was quite good and varied, though one thing I miss in Peruvian Chinese fare is the piquancy of Hunanese- and Sichuanese-influenced cuisine.

Pa Kap Sum
Squab, duck, pork and Chinese sausage, with crispy noodles to be wrapped in lettuce

Chi Jau Cay chicken

Cam Lu Wan Tan

At the end of the meal the waiters brought out a small boat with an effigy of a Chinese deity and a candle for me to blow out. They led the group in singing "Happy Birthday" in Cantonese, but my cousins changed the Cantonse lyrics to "cuchi senqa to you" which means "pig nose to you" in a mix of Quechua and English!

"Cuchi senqa tu yu ...!"

Rafaela, Carla, Palmira


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Well, it's been pretty quiet around here. Did some shopping for furniture the other day but found nothing worth getting. I did run out of change on that trip, however, and so had to duck into the local Ace Hardware affiliate "Maestro Home Center", to buy something so I could make change and get back home.

I bought the tickets to Ayacucho yesterday, so that's pretty exciting. Nico arrives today, and that's even more exciting!

Sunday, July 12, 2009



Today there is a soccer game that is captivating all of Lima: a showdown between Alianza Lima and Club Universitario de Deportes.

Alianza and U are among the oldest and most established soccer teams in Peru. Alianza has always been located in the working class, and largely Afro-Peruvian neighborhood of La Victoria, while U was originally a university team. These origins in time lead to Alianza being identified with workers, blacks, and mestizos, while U has appealed to a whiter, more moneyed crowd. These, of course, are not absolutes, and each has fans in all segments of society, but that identification has meant that U - Alianza matches have been surrogates for all manner of tensions and struggles in Lima, and Peruvian, society since their first meet in 1928.

Theirs is now the quintessential rivalry of Peruvian soccer, and any match between them is referred to as a "clásico" and is a flashpoint for hooligan violence in the stands and on the streets.

Today's Clásico -of which the 1st half has just ended with Alianza up 1-0 - is being played in the U's Estadio Monumental on the outskirts of Lima, and everyone connected to it in an official capacity has gone out of their way to assure everyone that it will be peaceful and sportsmanlike, on the field and off.

The stadium is full today, with the Alianza fans occupying their usual southern sections of the stands, and the U taking up the north and eastern sectors. If U wins, it may be OK, but it doesn't seem likely that the barras bravas will take kindly to U's being beaten on their own turf.

As for us, we're comfortably esconced in front of the TV at home...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Jungle food

Today, to welcome Carla back to Peru, it was decided that Diego and I would cook lunch at my cousin Juancho's apartment. Diego was hankering for cecina, smoked peccary meat from the jungle, so we headed to the municipal market in Magdalena del Mar where there are several stands specializing in Amazonian products.

We bought a pound or so of cecina, and some pork chorizo from Tarapoto. On a whim we also grabbed about a 1/3 of a majaz (agôuti) carcass.

We prepared papa a la huancaína (potatoes with a spicy cheese sauce) as a starter because Carla had been craving it, but the rest of the meal was straight Amazonian.

The agôuti went into a pot to be cooked into a stew, to be served with rice, cecina, and chorizo, with fried yuca on the side.

We had also purchased some of those tiny but killer ajies that they have in the jungle. Those I made into a sauce with onion and lime juice, leaving some peppers whole. When I blended the rest to give the sauce some background kick, everyone -even the dogs, I kid you not!- started coughing and sneezing from the pungency of the little buggers.

The meal turned out very nicely. Carla S. and her family came over as well, and we all had a nice time eating, drinking wine, and chatting for several hours.

Friday, July 10, 2009

July 8th: "National Day of Struggle" Rally in Downtown Lima

On July 8th the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP), in conjunction with the National Front for Life and Sovereignty (Frente Nacional por la Vida y la Soberania) of which it is a part, called for a Day of Struggle, with a rally in downtown Lima and marches and rallies in other cities. This came in conjunction with a 72-hr ground transport strike which curtailed movement to a significant degree in Lima and other cities, and totally paralyzed Ayacucho on the 7th, and with 72-hr Andean and Amazonian strike.

The demands:

- Return to Peru of Alberto Pizango
- End to criminilization of social protest and to persecution of popular, social, and political leaders
- End to Legislative Decrees 982, 983, 988, and 989.
- Reinstatement of 7 suspended Nationalist Party congressmembers
- Force of law for International Labor Organization Convention 169 and for the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples
- Immediate resignation of the Cabinet
- End to the neoliberal and primary resource export-oriented economic policy
- End to the Public Education Career Law
- Solution to the demands of the transport unions
- Price controls on public services. Reduction in electrical fees.
- Increase in budget for social services, health, and education

Of course, most people were still compelled to go to work, and the government was quick to seize on that to call the mobilization a "failure" although being forced by the obvious to admit that transport was severely curtailed, despite it's own attempts to split the transport unions and its mobilization of state-owned buses and trains to move people about the capital.