Friday, December 21, 2012

First Day in Lima, Peru

gold monkey faces from the Peruvian museum
one of their most famous pieces - octopus, jaguar, and man combined in one death mask.  Thin as foil.
depiction of Jesus, done by a native Peruvian, Jesus is wearing a typical Peruvian skirt
The last two days we were in Lima, Peru with Laura’s dear friend Roxana and her mother, who have treated us like queens.  They are among the kindest people I’ve ever met and have certainly given us a fantastic impression of Peru as a country.  They arranged to have a friend of the family serve as our driver for three days, so we’ve been able to see a great deal and to navigate the congested city streets in a way we never could have otherwise.  Ivan, the driver, knows his way around everywhere, it seems.  So we’ve been to the National Museum of Peru to learn about the history of this wonderful country as well as to a craft market in the museum where they had some very high quality crafts.  I would have liked to have bought many of the things there, but I held myself back because I already have more things than I know what to do with.  But just having such beautiful things around is a real blessing – they fill me with joy.  There was a gentleman there who worked with several women to help them sell their handicrafts which were knitted hats and gloves made from baby alpaca wool.  They were extremely soft and beautiful.  He also wove blankets and shawls which were so beautifully done, with lovely patterns.  I wanted to have them just for the pleasure of touching them daily, but, again, I held myself back.  There was also a man whose father did silverwork.  He had a broche which was a stylized pelican with a lapis lazuli stone in it.  It was really interesting and beautiful.  

Jesus, the baby, blessing his father Joseph.

A retablo of the crucifixion.  There is strong evidence of the Catholic church everywhere in the city.

bludgeons - used for weapons, attached to clubs.  ouch!

modern day depictions of the spirits of plants, done by adults, but with a beautiful child-like naivite.

Retablo of musicians, done inside a gourd.  Amazing!

Retablo of a hat shop.  Love it!

I don't know if you can see it or not, but the faces of the parents are WONDERFUL!  Smiling and so happy, so delighted!  I've never seen a sagrada familia that's so happy before!

Roxana, Gerlinde, and Iris in front of the Peruvian museum.

contemporary depiction of Manchu Pichu

The baby Jesus responding to his very delighted parents!

handicrafter - weaver - in indigenous dress

nose ring!

Poncho - 2000+ years old!

drinking vessel with a depiction of a human sacrifice on it.  Cruelty to our fellow humans is not a new thing.

female diety

another weaver in indigenous dress

ceramic of woman with three kids, one of whom is nursing, and a huge water jug on her back.  I do remember those days!

At lunch with Ceviche Mixto - lots of different kinds of raw shellfish - and purple corn juice

musicians in front of a cathedral.

one of the tackiest depictions of the nativity scene I've ever seen - made of paper painted in many colors, strung with lights, very lovingly and carefully done.

double decker bus in front of the cathedral.  incongruous site.

B&W Christmas tree with Incan symbols.

designs on the tree

Roxana and her mother Iris
money changer in the street
After the museum and market, Ivan took us (Roxana, her mother Iris, Gerlinde, and I) to a lovely restaurant called Richard’s. It was very modern and chic looking with very, very long menus, thankfully with pictures.  The food was beautifully styled and presented as you may be able to tell in the picture of me in the blog.  I decided to be very uncharacteristic and to order something I’d never eaten before – Cerviche with mixed shell fish.  I’m not sure I would have gotten it if I’d thought about it a bit more – it was calamari, octopus, mussels, scallops, fish, and clams.  I didn’t think about it too much – I just stuck my fork into it and dug in, putting it into my mouth without considering what it was.  I’m usually pretty squeamish about seafood.  I decided it would be nice to have something familiar in the midst of all that, so I picked up the slice of red pepper that you can see on top and took a lovely bit bite out of it.  I immediately stopped smiling.  It was a hot pepper, one of the hottest they cook with, and certainly the hottest one I’d ever eaten.  I was very, very uncomfortable, but of course I didn’t want to let on how completely uncomfortable I was since I didn’t want to upset Roxana, Ivan and Iris, so I just chewed on it until it occurred to me that I could spit it out into my teeny tiny napkin (the size of a cocktail napkin but only one layer – the normal size in Peru, apparently).  See that purple juice in front of me?  I guzzled it.  It’s purple corn juice called Chimche or something like that – I know that’s not the right name.  It was very good and thankfully ameliorated the spiciness somewhat.  I also ate as much of the cooked sweet potato on my plate as I could without looking too rude b/c that helped too.  Yowska!!  The other dish on my plate was Peruvian corn.  It is the color of white corn, but the kernels, which were removed from the cob, were the size of about 3 nickels stacked on top of each other.  They tasted blander than our sweet corn, a bit like a cross between lima beans and corn.  Once I got past the discomfort of the pepper, I enjoyed my meal a lot.  Gerlinde got mixed cerviche also, but hers had hot sauce on it.  Roxana, Iris, and Ivan shared a fish cerviche amongst themselves.  Eventually we all ended up sharing the entire meal.  It was very friendly and comfortable.  Roxanna got chicken and French fries and Ivan got a beef dish with amazingly tasty beans served in a kind of paste.  We all got to taste all of it.  It was a lovely way to eat!

While we were eating, the radio was turned up loudly playing Peruvian music, salsa and such.  At some point, then, I noticed that it had changed.  It was then that I saw a woman sitting in the archway of the door in the restaurant on a wooden box.  She was playing her seat like a drum in the most spectacular syncopated rhythms while singing evocative indigenous music.  My heart opened like the sea rushing out to meet its destiny.  I could have listened to her all day.  It was certainly among the highlights of my entire trip.  I wish I had thought to make a video recording of her music so I could listen to it again.  

After lunch we travelled to the inner city so we could look at some more sights.  We went first to the Convento San Francisco.  We wanted to go into the church itself, but instead happened into the only open door which led to the tour of the monastery and crypt.  Apparently when the monastery was first built, there were only about 20 monks in it, but then it fairly quickly grew to have over 400 of them.  When it was so large, they began sending folks out to proselytize and soon only had 30 again.  At that point, they gave most of the monastery to the city which is working very hard to fix it up – parts of it are crumbling to bits.  Our tour guide told us that soon after the majority of it was built, there was an earthquake which destroyed many of the paintings which had been done in the plaster, though not quite completely.  They decided to replace them with canvases, but they had a problem – apparently it was considered blasphemous to cover a painting of a saint, even if it was half destroyed.  They came up with a solution which I found quite strange – they decided that if they cut off the heads of the saints in the plaster paintings, then it would be OK to cover them up with the canvases.  I don’t understand the logic, but I guess it worked for them!  The canvases, which were from the last 1600’s had been restored about 20 years ago, but I was surprised by the poor quality of the work which was done then.  Or perhaps the original paintings were poorly done.  It was difficult to tell.  The colors were still very dark, but that wasn’t the issue – it was more than the faces weren’t painted well.  They were crude and unskillfully done.

We saw beautifully carved wooden seats in the refectory which could seat 200 monks and gorgeous chests where they stored their vestments.  There were many paintings, some of which were from the school of Ruebens.  So many saints and martyrs, each showing how he died – one was holding his head in his hands, for example.  I came away very impressed by how full of horror the Catholic church is.  So much suffering, so many martyrs, so much torture and death, such strong conviction of what is right and wrong.  The influence of the church was very strong here in Lima.  Powerful stuff. 
The reason for the tour was to go to the crypt under the church.   First we saw a mini-crypt, the personal burial chamber of the man and his family who gave lots of money to the monastery to help found it.  The guide told us we couldn’t go down there though – supposedly it was thought to be gauche to be buried in a coffin or anything like that in those days, so he and his family were put in the crypt au naturel.  According to the guide, who said he had been down there, it still smelled so awful – after 500 years! – that it was impossible to stay down there for more than a few minutes!  I’m not sure I believe that, but it does make a good story.   

The main crypt under the church is part of a network of passageways 3 stories deep which goes all over Lima and Callao and beyond, including to the government offices.  They have closed off the passage ways now so that they are restricted to the area under the church, but it’s an interesting thought.  It must have been very convenient when/if the city was under siege.  The ceilings were very low in many areas in order to make the structure stronger in case of earthquake.  I guess it must work, because the church has withstood many.  In 1947 (I think that was the date), the church realized they had a gold mine under their floors and decided to clean up the crypts and open them to the public.  Up until that point, the corpses had been taken down to the basement and laid into the trenches 5-6 deep with lime sprinkled over top of them.  When they decomposed enough, the bones would be removed so that new corpses could be placed in the same trench – they were certainly running out of room since so many people were buried there.  When they decided to open it to the public, sometime after the crypts stopped being actively used, they had to clean things up a bit.  Some one, or some people, had the distasteful job of going through the remaining bones and putting all the same type together – so now what we could see what a trench full of femurs, all laid in the same direction, then another of fibulas, etc.   The last trench contained the skulls.  They were all dark brown with the dust of the ages on them.  I asked the guide where the other bones were – there were no hips bones or ribs or collar bones, for example.  Most unfortunately I couldn’t understand his reply – I think he said that those bones weren’t as strong and broke more easily so weren’t around anymore.  But I’m not sure…  In the last room we went to, there was a round area that looked like a well.  Of course I was curious to see what was through the opening in the round wall.  I was the first to go over there.  Someone had decided to take some of the bones and arrange them in a delightful pattern – skulls in a circle in the middle with femurs radiating our from there, then more skulls then more femurs.  It was delightful in a completely macabre way.  Who on earth would have thought to do that??  Who came up with the pattern?  Did they have to talk about it amongst the monks and argue about which type of bone would go where?  What made them decide to use that round area anyway?  It wasn’t a normal trench.  Was it for the enjoyment of the visitors?  It was a bit tricky to look at all these things and not allow in the knowledge of exactly what it was – though, of course, bones are just bones – remains of people who once lived and are now dead – there doesn’t have to be anything gross about it – but there sure could be if I were to let myself go there.  It was a very strange tour.
From the crypt, we found out way to the church itself.  It was quite majestic like a cathedral in Europe, but there was a major difference - the walls were painted white with a beautiful Indian Red pattern all over it.  It was strikingly beautiful.  I loved it that it was something other than the somber grey found in all the European cathedrals I’ve been into.  There were many large, ostentatious side altars, more of them dedicated to Mary than to Jesus or to other saints.  Towards the front of the church, at the last side altar, there was an astonishing site – a completely tacky crèche scene.  There’s a picture of it here, but I don’t think the picture does it justice.  That colored stuff is heavy paper, almost cloth, which has been draped around a structure then painted, perhaps spray painted.  We saw a worker painting more of it right around Mary and Joseph and the baby with tremendous love and care and a very small brush – about 1 in.  The whole thing is covered with Christmas lights.  The figures are fairly normal – out of ceramic perhaps, or painted wood.  It’s the surroundings which were different than I’d ever seen before.   I felt very tacky taking a picture of it, but when I saw other people taking pictures, I decided it was OK and went ahead.  In the US, such crèches are generally very tastefully done if they’re in a church, with natural materials for the background, etc.  I love the differences of different cultures.  That’s one of the coolest reasons to travel.

The rest of the church was full of more altars depicting the suffering of Mary when Jesus died, and the suffering of Jesus as he was dying.  There were a couple of reliquaries mixed in for good measure of local martyrs.  I came away, again, thinking about the level of suffering in the church and wondering what its appeal is to people.  I was not raised Catholic and realize that growing up with these stories gives a person a completely different perspective.  I’m curious what makes a person interested in being in a church that is so focused on horror and death and suffering.  I realize the promise of the afterlife holds a lot of sway, and I realize there is a lot of suffering in life, but I prefer for my religion, my God, to offer me different ways to deal with it than I have seen in the Catholic Church.  I’m curious to hear your point of view, if you’re a Catholic, and can help me understand.  I’m very curious.
While we were in the church, I could hear music outside and realized it was probably the young men I photographed before we went inside.  Roxana told me that they are young men from the neighborhood schools who dress up and go around making music in order to try to attract girls. 
From the church, we walked to the Central Square in Lima where the main Cathedral and the government buildings are.  Unfortunately we got there too late – 5 minutes too late! – to go into the Cathedral.  We wandered around the square where they had a most interesting Christmas tree – a black and white one with Incan (?) symbols on it.  Interesting mix of cultures, again – Christian and indigenous.
After walking around the square for a while, Ivan took us to a place to exchange some money.  There are two ways, two official ways, of exchanging money in Peru.  You can go to a bank and exchange it there, or you can go to the men on the street who wear blue vests and very openly exchange money, both dollars and Euros.  The exchange rate on the street is significantly better, according to Ivan.  At one point I needed to take some money out of the ATM.  I took what ended up being $122 out which was 300 Soles, the Peruvian money.  The bank charged me 15.60 soles to take it out, around $7, and my bank charged me $1.22 in fees.  That’s a huge percentage to pay for such a transaction!  I’m very glad I brought a bunch of cash with me, though I’m aware I’m going to run out fairly soon.  I haven’t been able to use my visa very often in the places I’ve been going because they’re smaller markets which are run by single proprietors and they simply aren’t set up for credit cards.
Convento San Francisco

Young musicians at the Convent

the ceiling of the Convento San Francisco

our hotel room

the LR/DR/office of the B&B where we stayed.  Gerlinde on the computer

Gerlinde and I decided to stay in the city overnight so we wouldn’t have to make our way all the way back to the boat and so we could have the experience of city life.  Ivan found us a lovely bed and breakfast very close to his apartment.  It was run by a woman who lived in the US for several years, so the language was not a problem.  She had bought this house a couple of years before and had turned it into a B&B.  We got a nice large room in the front of the house with two beds and a nice bathroom and the promise of free internet, a phone I could use to call Chris, and breakfast.  We were delighted to pay 142 soles for all of that (about $60).  Gerlinde hopped on the internet and I got on the phone to my darlin’ and we were happy!  While I was talking to Chris and afterwards while I was on the computer once Gerlinde was finished, I noticed there was salsa music playing some place.  I looked at my watch.  10 PM.  Hmmm.  I was tired and decided to go to sleep.  Music or not.  I put in my earplugs which I had thankfully brought with me and turned off my light.  The salsa music continued not two feet from our window.  The owner and her boyfriend were outside on the patio drinking wine and talking and listening to music.  It sounded quite lovely – just loud because I was so exhausted.  I settled myself into bed and decided I would relax and sleep anyway because I needed to.  I surrendered the situation to God and started to fall asleep.  Gerlinde turned off her light.  The music stopped abruptly.  Silence, or relative silence, has never seemed so golden.  The cars continued to roar through the narrow street and break heavily outside the door; car alarms went off with startling frequency; cats made their howling presence known, setting of barking dogs, but the music, at least, stopped, and the night closed in on us for a few blessed hours.

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