Monday, July 29, 2013

Well, I'm back in the US.  I got back on the 24th and then went camping.

I'll add a few more posts about my trip to Peru in the next few days or weeks -as I get over a cold-, before sending this blog into it's customary winter dormancy.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Protest downtown

Tonight I joined thousands of others downtown in a protest against the recent actions of the Peruvian Congress.   On the 18th, the nation watched via a live TV feed as the four parties with the largest share of representatives in Congress, which included the party of former president and dictator, Alberto Fujimori (who is serving prison time for graft, corruption, and human rights abuses), and that of the current president, Ollanta Humala- consumated a political deal between them to get their members elected to head the Central Reserve Bank, the Constitutional Court, and the Public Defender's Office.

The four parties -Gana Perú, Fuerza Popular, Perú Posible, and Alianza Por el Gran Cambio- pushed through a vote for the candidates in a block, instead of on a one-by-one basis, as required by the Congressional regulations in place since 1975.   As a result, the candidates were selected based, not on personal and professional qualifications, but on quotas set in backroom partisan wheeling and dealing.  In fact when one Congresswoman tried to abstain, she was browbeaten into voting in favor, on the grounds that she "had to agree" as her party had a "political agreement" to which she was supposedly bound.   To make things worse -with the exception of those elected to the Central Reserve Bank- the elected were perhaps among the worst candidates, lacking in relevant experience, having conflicts of interest, and having been connected to or defended human rights abuses and corrupt practices.

The people's rejection was immediate and loud.   Almost every newspaper, magazine, newsprogram, NGO, labor union, political movement, student group, and others spoke out against the repartija - the divvying up- in Congress.  That very night there were spontaneous protests in Lima.

There was another demo called for tonight as a show of rejection and a means of pressuring those elected into stepping aside, and Congress into approving an extraordinary session for Wednesday to anul the election and hold another, clean one.

Well, I'm down to my last two days here.

In about a half hour I'll be off downtown, to a demo at the Plaza San Martin in protest against a bad vote in Congress which resulted in some very questionable appointments to high legal offices, and in support of a motion to annul that vote and hold a new one which will elect the candidates on an individual basis -not in a group- and based on individual merit -not on backroom political deals.

I've started packing this morning, then went to lunch with Willy and Elba at Puro Peru, and then a quick shopping stop in Polvos Azules, before coming home for a rest before heading downtown.

Family lunch in Pachacámac

Yesterday the family headed out to Pachacámac for a lunch in the countryside, at one of the many restaurantes campestres that have set up shop in the area.

On the way we stopped at small roadside restaurant called "El Paso Obligado" -basically, the obligatory stop- that is known for breads and turnovers that it sells, which are made with a variety of fillings -olives, cheese, pastry cream, etc.- and baked in a wood-fired oven.

Jacho, Diego and I had thought of perhaps returning to La Casa de Don Cucho, but based on friends' reviews, we all headed instead to the nearby Chaxras restaurant. (The name "chacra" - the "x" is to be pronounced as a /k/- is a Qechua word that has been adopted into Peruvian Spanish, and refers to a small peasant farm field.) 

Chaxras bills itself as an "ecological" restaurant.   In Peru that term is used to denote that something is organically or sustainably grown, or simply less harmful for the environment -much as the term "green" is used in the US.  It is sometimes applied to vegetables grown hydroponically, although the "greenness" of water-intensive hydroponics in a desert can be questioned.

In Chaxras' case -according to the restaurant's website- the term refers to its use of recycled materials in its building, its organic garden, and its commitment to organic, locally-sourced produce.

In addition to the restaurant, Chaxras has games -as is usual for this sort of establishment- but also a small zoo, with rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens, and a parrot that says hola!, whistles, and imitates cattle and horses.

The restaurant and its grounds are quite pleasant and present a modern, open, well-kept appearance.  There is a covered dining area, as well as tables set under ramadas on the lawn, a bar, open kitchen, and a cooking pit for the meats.

In the pit there were, when we arrived, some slabs of pork that had been slowly cooking over a low fire for four hourse, two smoker ovens for pork and chicken prepared al cilindro, and a pit holding a pachamanca.

A pachamanca is a traditional Andean way of cooking food for a crowd by constructing an earth oven by placing the foods in a pit with heated rocks, and covering the lot with soil to hold in the heat for a few hours.

We arrived in time to observe the staff opening up the pachamanca.

In the Andes usually green alfalfa or grass, combined with fresh aromatic herbs, are used, but in Chaxras' pachamanca the food was wrapped in bijao leaves.  Bijao is a jungle plant and its leaves are used to wrap foods in Amazonian cuisine, but its use and flavour are not part of the Andean spectrum.

The pachamanca was good for what it was, but it was not what a family of Ayacuchanos would expect, flavourwise, in a pachamanca, so some were disappointed with it.

I enjoyed mine, however.

Lechon al palo: spit-roasted pork
The other food was also competently prepared, but was not traditionally-prepared, but a more modern, novo/fusion sort of cuisine.  That is fine for an urban restaurant -in which context no one would likely have complained- but it is a far cry from what one expects and seeks from restaurantes campestres, which is traditional Andean or criollo dishes prepared and presented in the traditional way.  

On the other hand, Chaxras -fairly or not- also suffered from being judged in comparison to La Casa de Don Cucho, which is natural as we had passed up that establishment -which is half a block's distance before Chaxras on the same dirt road- to come there.

None of that is to say that we didn't like the place.   We all enjoyed a surprising cocktail they offered: the Chaxras chilcano.  A chilcano is a drink made of pisco, simple syrup, lime juice, and ginger ale.  The Chaxras house version ommitted the simple syrup, but added a touch of chicha de jora -Andean corn beer- and cooked red and white quinoa grains.

We all  also enjoyed the setting, which we thought was very attractive, and the kids had fun in the play area.   

Even the those off-put by the food might have been mollified if the service had been up to snuff.

Unfortunately, however, not only did some orders take overly long to come out, but the wait staff often appeared confused at where to deliver  plates and drinks brought to their stations by the runners, and dishes of food were left to sit at the wait station while they sorted things out -not a good thing under any circumstances, but less so when diners are eager to get warm food after sitting outdoors on a cold day.  They got some of our orders -specially drink orders- wrong.

Did we have a good time? Yes, overall we did ...

.... even if we did have to change a tire on one of the cars in order to get home, which was no one's fault.  But it is not likely we would return.  I doubt I would make the trip out to Pachacamac again to go to Chaxras.

However, if I had young kids, I would consider it.  There is lots to keep them occupied -climbing structures, trampolines, a zip line, carts, the mini-zoo, etc- and they can do most of it within sight of one's tables instead of off to the side or in the back as in most of these country restaurants, and on a warm day sitting under the canopies, sipping cocktails and artisanal beers could be quite nice.

Besides, that parrot and those chickens are pretty cool.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

El Bolivariano

On Friday Willy took me to lunch at one of Pueblo Libre district's old-school haunts, the El Bolivariano restaurant.  El Bolivariano ranks as another of Lima's "classic" eateries and is many people's favourite place for classic criollo cuisine - which makes it all the more surprising that I had never been there despite hearing and reading about the place for so long!

The ambiance, is of course, old-school limeño, the place being located in an old house, and filled with antiques and old photographs. 

The service was curteous, attentive, friendly, and very smooth.   That comes, of course, from it being provided by older, professional wait staff, and not just a bunch of kids trying to get by or doing it only because it's the family's place.

The food, was very good.  I would say that one would be hard pressed to find a place with better or as good versions of them, but that would only be true anywhere but in this city.  In any case, these were comfort food done right -the tomatoes in my fish dish were peeled and seeded!- and who can ask for more from an old-school restaurant?

I'm very glad I finally went there.

Papa a la huancaína: potatoes in spicy cheese sauce

Patita con maní: pig's trotter in peanut sauce

Chorrillos-style fish: fried fish smothered in onions, tomatoes, and chiles

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Birthday party

We had a birthday get-together for me the other night on Willy's terrace.  Willy and I went shopping that morning in the Jesus Maria market for meats and other items.  We supplemented those with some cheeses that I had brought from the US for the occasion.

Most of the cousins and aunts and uncles were able to attend, and we had a really nice time.

I tried to take pictures, but mostly the lighting was poor so only a few turned out, and those were of things that happened to be essentially immobile at the that instant!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Lima Art Museum & José Sabogal exhibit

Yesterday afternoon I headed toward downtown, to the Lima Museum of Art (Museo de Arte de Lima, MALI).

The MALI is located at one end of the Parque de la Exposición, at the intersection of Paseo Colón and Ave. Garcilazo de la Vega (everybody still calls it Wilson, its former name), about a block down from the former US Embassy and the Casa Matusita.

The "Byzantine Pavillion".  In the background, at right, the "Moorish Pavillion".

The Parque de la Exposición was built for the 1872 Lima International Exposition, and the MALI occupies the main building, the former Palacio de la Exposición (Exposition Palace).

The former Palacio de la Exposición, today the MALI

Interior atrium of the Palacio de la Exposición
The building itself was restored in the late 1950s to house the museum, which opened its doors to the public in 1961.

Installation in the foyer of the MALI

The MALI houses examples of 3000 years worth of Peruvian and other artistic creations.  It also offers art classes and courses in art history, and has a library that is open to the public.

My purpose for going, however, was to view the current exhibit of works by Peruvian indigenist painter José Sabogal.

Part of the Sabogal exhibit

Sabogal was one of the first, if not the first, artist of note to directly and explicitly incorporate Andean and indigenous imagery and persons as central subjects in art.  

At L, "Varayoc de Chinchero" (1925); at R, "Mujer del varayoc" (1926).

Sabogal thus played a key role in Peruvian art and in Peruvian social history, at a time when the idea of Peruvian nationhood was being redefined as result of the disastrous war with Chile, immigration, and other pressures.   There was a search for an "essential Peruvianness", based less on geographical accident than on culture and history. 

That gave rise to a broad indigenista movement, which sought to bring to the fore Peru's indigenous culture.  In politics, it led to movements to promote civil rights and integration of Peru's Indian majority, and the exhaltation of Peru's Inca past.  In literature and art it led to investigation of traditional arts and legends, the exploration of native Andean themes.  (Pretty much the same thing was going in Mexico, for example, which gave birth to that country's famed muralist school of art.)

"El gamonal"

Sabogal made a study of traditional pyrography and etchings on dried gourds, an traditional craft that is practiced throughout the country, and published several articles on the subject, and was inspired by it in his own etchings and other designs.

He played a foundational role in the development of Peru's indigenistas.  For example -and this was a revelation to me- it was Sabogal who suggested the name of Amauta, the seminal political and literay magazine founded by José Carlos Mariátegui, and it was Sabogal who developed its logos and interior artwork, as well as a number of the cover designs. 

Issue of Amauta with cover by Sabogal, in my library

Sabogal influenced a generation of Peruvian painters who could be called the indigenista school. Camilo Blas (1903-1985), just to give one example.

Last year I attended the opening of a show of paintings and drawings by Camilo Blas , who was the grandfather of my friend Carla, and was a friend and disciple of Sabogal's.  Blas' work made an impression, and from the MALI showing the influence that Sabogal had on Blas's work was clear.  In fact, my initial interest in the Sabogal show was that I confused Sabogal's work with Blas' when reading an article in a magazine about the opening of the exhibit!

Portrait of José Sabogal