23 July 2011

A tribute to the Beetles!

Wiki tells me that:
‘The Volkswagen Type 1, widely known as the Volkswagen Beetle and Volkswagen Bug, is an economy car produced by the German auto maker Volkswagen (VW) from 1938 until 2003. With over 21 million manufactured in an air-cooled, rear-engined, rear-wheel drive configuration, the Beetle is the longest-running and most-manufactured automobile of a single design platform anywhere in the world.’

I think a great majority of the beetles that survive from that original 21 million are here in Peru, as these photos show. They come in all colours and all states of repair.

The blue beetle in these first two photos seems to be following me around. I believe it lives in the next street. I saw it first in that street, facing off against the white beetle. The next morning it was perched outside the shop on my corner, and that evening I saw it lurking up a neighbouring side street. It’s shabby but it has attitude.

I like the snazzy metallic blue of this beetle – its shiny skin shows it is obviously well cared for, though the rear bumper shows signs of a few scrapes and scratches. The words on its back windscreen, ‘solo nenas’, mean ‘only girls’. Does that mean the owner is a woman, I wonder, or maybe the owner is a playboy who only admits women to his vehicle. The orange beetle is rather garish and has on its front windscreen ‘Paz Con Dios’ – ‘Peace With God’ – perhaps the driver is hopeful of divine protection on the roads. Given the crazy drivers here and the frequency of shrines at the roadside to those killed in road traffic accidents, his plea is certainly wise.

This blue beetle was snapped quickly amongst passing traffic, while the pale green one has been parked opposite my bus stop these past two days. The woman wearing the fluorescent green vest appears to be some kind of parking warden – she collects money from the cars parked in the middle of the road. Whether this is an official position, or she is just guarding the cars from random thieves, I haven’t figured out yet.

Here we have two shades of dark green. I prefer the one on the right – it’s almost British racing green. It has a lumpy front bonnet as if it’s been in a smash and has ‘volkswagen’ on its front windscreen, as if it’s forgotten its name and needs to be reminded. The beetle on the left is parked outside the supermarket where I do my weekly grocery shop. There’s not normally such a long queue outside – I think someone was giving something away for free.

These next two beetles were photographed in the streets as I walked to my bus stop. Note the advertising posters and graffiti littering the walls behind the blue one – no city in the world seems immune to such rubbish. The red beetle reminds me of a car we had when I was a child. I liked its cheery colour but we didn’t own it long – it proved impractical for our family – when my granny accompanied us on road trips, my brother had to sit in the little space behind the back seat.

This white beetle looks pristine but white is an incredibly impractical colour in a city perpetually plagued by red dust. The beetle on the right is a jaunty Rudolf red, though its tyres look too worn to be safe.

Red is obviously a popular colour as here is another. Perhaps it belongs to the Notaria, whose sign it sits beneath. The colour does resemble the red of a notary’s seal. And the colour of the beetle at the left seems a cross between the colours of the boy’s jumper and the man’s shirt – a pale greenish-yellow. Note that most of these beetles have roof racks – a functional solution to the limitations of the beetle’s storage capacity!

The Volkswagen Beetle must be one of the most recognisable cars in the world, and I find something comforting about them. I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at these blasts from the past as much as I enjoyed photographing them.

15 July 2011

Tea is a cup of life

What’s your tipple? Mine is tea, and my current favourite of the many local brews is Te Canelo & Clavo, cinnamon and clove.
Another goodie – with that extra zing to wake you up in the morning – is coca tea. It has medicinal uses – it’s said to combat the symptoms of altitude sickness (siroche), though I don’t know whether that has any scientific basis or is simply a sales ploy by the locals. (They also sell coca sweeties for the same purpose.)

Coca tea is, of course, made from the leaves of the coca bush, a Peruvian native plant which flourishes on the cool slopes of the Andes. It has been cultivated in this country for centuries. Coca leaves can also be processed to make cocaine, and some locals chew the leaves to alleviate tiredness. This is common, for example, amongst the porters who carry tourists’ luggage along the Inca Trail, the four-day trek to Machu Picchu.

It didn’t occur to me until a volunteer mentioned it recently that drinking the tea and eating the sweets can leave a drug residue in your system which can be detected by Western drink/drug driving tests. Try explaining that to the zealous traffic cop back home!

The tea shelves at my local supermarket are extensive, so I’m obviously not the only one who enjoys them. Other flavours include:

*      Felices Sueños (Happy Sleep – love the name!) (includes Valeriana, Toronjil, Pimpinela y Chamomile – that’s valerian, lemon balm, burnet and chamomile)

*      Antigripal (anti-influenza) (includes Eucalyptus, Escorzonera, Borraja, Mint, Asmachilca, Muña y Honey of Bees – that’s eucalyptus, scorzonera, borage, mint, asmachilca, muna and bee honey)

*      D`ellas (tea for women – according to the packet it “relieves the menstrual colics”) (includes Hojas selectas de Oregano, Paico, Malva, Mint y Muña – that’s selected leaves of oregano, paico, mallow, mint and muna)

*      Dietetic (includes Alcachofa, Sen Dienta de León, Chamomile, Borraja y Culén – that’s artichoke, dandelion, chamomile, borage and culen)

*      Digestivo (includes Culén, Muña, Anise, Cedrón, Chamomile, Mint y Toronjil – that is culen, muna, anise, kidron, chamomile, mint and lemon balm)

Note one of the brand names in the picture – Horniman’s. I couldn’t help but wonder what the ingredients in their teas are! Apologies for the juvenile humour – Horniman’s Tea has actually been around since 1826 and was a household name in the Victorian era.

Well, my kettle’s whistling me a merry tune, so I guess it must be time for another brew! One final thought:

If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty’ ~ Japanese Proverb

11 July 2011

'Cock your hat ...

angles are attitudes’ – so said the great Frank Sinatra. If that's true, Peruvians have a lot of attitude!

Almost everyone here wears a hat of some shape, size or colour. According to livinginperu.com, it was the Spaniards who introduced the hat to South America, though there are unverifiable reports that the locals of Peru and Ecuador had already been weaving various garments – possibly including hats – before that time.

Peruvians have certainly taken the hat-wearing custom to heart – or should that be to head? It’s understandable, given both the cold temperatures in the mornings and at night, and the burning qualities of the midday sunshine.

There are an incredible variety of shapes, sizes and styles. For example, we have the very practical chullo, a hat with earflaps, knitted from vicuña, alpaca, llama or sheep's wool. These are very popular with young tourists but the locals also wear them. Apparently the colours have a significance among the Andean native peoples. The chullo may be practical but it’s not always flattering and the wool can be scratchy.

Then there’s the bowler, called the bombin here and in Bolivia. It has been worn by Quechua and Aymara women since the 1920s, when it was introduced to Bolivia by British railway workers, according to wikipedia.

As well as more modern inventions like the baseball cap, there are local versions of the forage cap (often worn by school boys), the fedora and the akubra (sometimes made of felted wool, sometimes leather), the chupalla (a straw hat, usually found in Chile), and the top hat (most commonly white, and worn by women not men).

And then there are the monteras, the traditional women’s hats that vary from region to region, even from one community to another, and are so unique that it is possible to identify where a woman comes from by the hat she wears.

I haven’t bought a hat ... yet.

02 July 2011

Meet Euphemia

Euphemia is the lovely woman who cooks my lunch most weekdays. She and her husband and two children live in Oropesa, the little village outside Cusco where I work. Attached to one side of their house is an extra room – more of a shack, really – where Euphemia runs a little restaurant. It’s painted bright yellow – as is the outside of her house – and is very small, seating no more than 13 people on rickety chairs and benches.

The restaurant is decorated with bright advertising posters for various local gaseosas – that’s soft drinks to non-Spanish speakers. It also has a DVD player and a television, on which we are treated each day to really badly dubbed, old movies. The TV and DVD stand is adorned with embroideries done, as Euphemia proudly explained to us one lunch time, by her elder son during his art classes at high school.

She also has a young son, two-and-a-half-year-old John, who plays around the restaurant while she works. He is shy of us gringos and, though she tells him we’re her friends, he usually hides behind her skirts when we’re there.

Euphemia’s husband is a policeman, and looks very handsome in his uniform. I made the mistake of telling her this one day – of course, I don’t yet have the Spanish to say this to her directly, so my workmate Nelida translates for me – and Euphemia immediately told me to keep my eyes off her man! She was smiling and laughing at the time, but I’m fairly sure she was serious! After that incident, Euphemia decided I needed a man, so now she’s keeping an eye out for any eligible locals – not only a cook, but a matchmaker as well!

Euphemia is a good cook. For just 3 soles, you can have a big bowl of soup and a main course – there’s no choice – you just have whatever she’s cooking on the day. But for 3 soles – about US$1 – you really can’t complain. For 2 soles, I usually just have el segundo, the main course. The food is plain but wholesome and delicious.

Euphemia, me and Lynn
One day last week, Euphemia told us she’d had a dream the previous night about me and Lynn, a volunteer from Scotland. In her dream, we had been baking bread, fishing in a local river and then selling the fish in the Plaza de Armas, Cusco’s main square. The religious connotations of the loaves and the fishes were obvious, even to me – and Euphemia thought it was a sign from God that she would have good luck. I’m not so sure about that, but I was very pleased that she was happy with her dream, strange though it was.

As with so many people who have little material wealth, Euphemia is a kind and generous woman. One lunch time, she was cooking some extra food for her family’s dinner and insisted we try a sample of the dish. I sometimes buy water from her – you get two types of water here, sin gas (without bubbles) and con gas (with bubbles). The other day when she had none sin gas, she insisted I take a free bottle con gas, because she couldn’t supply what I wanted. I tried to refuse, but was told in no uncertain terms, to TAKE THE WATER! Her husband was there at the time and told me it wasn’t wise to argue with her – I guess he knows from experience!

Euphemia calls me ‘mami’, which is sort of like calling me ‘honey’. I am proud to call her my friend!