We are living in a lovely house in Lombard, IL until the end of April, when we may know something more about the current pandemic. Our month in Athens is off, and probably the rest of our travels this season, but we will check our options at the end of each month.
We are fortunate to have found a nice place to stay. There is a historic element, here, too, as the house is one of the “Sears catalogue” houses built between 1908-1940 from kits that included all that was needed to build a house shipped from Sears to the building site. (Ours is a single story, not exactly like the pictured two story house.)
Though the house looks modest from the outside, the lower floor is completely finished and contains a bedroom and bath, media room/den, home office, laundry room, and storage. The upstairs has living room, dining room, kitchen, two bedrooms and a bath.
The neighborhood is interesting, long settled and with a variety of homes built at different times and in different styles. Downtown Lombard is about a ten minute walk to the east, where there is a Metra station for trains to Chicago. Two blocks south of us is the Prairie Path, a regional walking/biking trail that extends more than 50 miles, from Chicago through the western suburbs.
The best known feature of the town is Lilacia Park, donated to the city by Col. William Plum, a local resident. The city was given his home, land, and the garden of lilacs that he and his wife had been cultivating for a number of years. The Plum’s began their garden with two lilac bushes they brought from France in 1907. The park was established in 1927, and today it includes over 200 varieties of lilacs. I had no idea there were that many variants! Though the plants are not in bloom yet, daffodils and tulips are coming up, and within a couple of weeks the park should begin its showiest time of the year. There won’t be a Lilac Festival this year, but the flowers will bloom no matter what. I intend to walk by regularly to keep track of them, and to smell the lilacs.
The day after I took this walk, it got drizzly and cold. I explored some of the downtown streets and didn’t pass many people. I noticed that the liquor store and smoke shop were open, and I was surprised that a hair salon and a nail salon were still open. I hadn’t been keeping up with the news, so I didn’t know that people were still crowding together at the beach in Florida and California, and standing in line to see the cherry blossoms in Washington. I suppose there are also people who still want to get their nails done. I have cancelled all appointments except for one eye doctor appointment that is already overdue.
This morning we were surprised to get up and find snow. What a change! It was so depressing to think that I’ve given up life on the beach for this–Illinois at the worst time of year. My moaning was premature, as the snow was completely melted and the sun was out by mid-afternoon. At 8 am, though, I was ready to abandon ship and go back to South America.
What do you like best about the beginning of spring? The longer days, warmer sun, options for gardening?
[Today I have another guest post. Rick Scott is an American who has lived in France for many years. In response to Joyce’s virus story, Rick provided his update on leaving the US to get back to Paris before he was stranded away from home, and what it has been like since his return.]
What a subject we suddenly have! Never thought I would see what we long-protected boomers are seeing now. Here are a few high points of the last few days — I was just in the U.S. for 6 weeks (New York, Philadelphia, Washington) and was getting ready to go to Richmond/Charlotte/Charleston/Florida, but started to get uneasy about all the talk about travel disruptions in the Far East and how that may spread. So I bought a ticket on Feb. 23 from Washington to Paris – and back to familiar local cafes and familiar health insurance until this virus thing sorts itself out.
3 days ago, Thursday, March 12 (two days before french lockdown)–
Life in Paris seemed totally normal. Hardly any masks on the street. I stopped in for awhile at the local library and was thinking about going to a movie. All cinemas were open. Also would have been a good time to visit uncrowded museums.
That night, a reading of online international press made me realize that a lot of the world was already in lockdown mentality if not fact, and with good reason. You can be healthy as a horse but not even know – or never know – that you are/were a carrier and be endangering other people. We’re all going to be walking in the dark for awhile with this virus. What would Dr. Spock do?
So I decided – with the luxury of a retired person living alone – to then and there start self-quarantining or semi-self-quarantining. No handshakes, no extended dinners with people, avoiding crowds, and spending a lot of time at home doing homework/research/errands online. I don’t have tv, but I have lots to do with a piano and the internet – and last month I spent a day at the Library of Congress in Washington getting instruction on how to access their online collection.
Yesterday, Saturday March 14 (the day of the french lockdown)–
My new rules still allowed me to take the metro and to have coffee on terraces outside. It was sunny and the terraces in my neighborhood were doing a booming business at 5 p.m. – every single seat taken, but that night I heard from a niece in faraway Nebraska that she had just heard that France had declared a lockdown.
I went to the French papers online, and sure enough, Edouard Philippe [Prime Minister of France] had spoken and the police were making rounds to kick people out of bars and restaurants at midnight. (That didn’t even happen with the imminent German invasion in 1940, did it? Humphrey Bogart was still schmoozing well after midnight by the piano with Ingrid Bergman – and they seemed to have plenty of time to make further plans).
Today – Sunday March 15 (the day after lockdown)–
Out of curiosity, i went to the local supermarket this morning. Quite a few people were doing bulk shopping, but all the shelves were well stocked except for rice, pasta – and peanut butter (perhaps other things that I don’t notice – since I don’t know how to cook). There seemed to be plenty of everything else, even toilet paper.
[The 19th and 20th arrondissements of Paris include the Parc Buttes Chaumont, the Pere Lachaise cemetery and lots of residential buildings.]
Then I took a walk through the 19th and 20th arrondissements – a total of 14,095 steps according to my iphone. Restaurants and brasseries indeed dead as a doornail. But – and this is a lifesaver – all the bakeries are open, even on Sunday. Fresh bread, sandwiches, quiche, patisserie … and takeout COFFEE! So I’ll be buying the newspapers, getting takeout coffee and reading on park benches for awhile. Not quite a terrace but not bad with proper social distancing. Then some power walking or biking in the park for exercise.
Takeout places are operating as well. Domino’s pizza outlets were all open. McDonald’s was closed but functioning – via internet orders delivered by Ubereats, Deliveroo, etc. One enterprising brasserie was closed for food but had an outdoor takeaway stand for wine, beer, coffee. All takeaway, and socially distant.
In that walk of several miles, I saw only about a dozen people wearing masks.
[Thanks, Rick, for giving us a snapshot of Paris at the start of the French response to the global pandemic. If you would like to contribute a Virus Story, please contact me at email@example.com–Winifred]
This is another guest post by my good friend Joyce Heard, sharing her story of how the COVID-19 virus is affecting her life that moves between Paris and Aix-en-Provence, France and Sidi ifni, Morocco.
By now you probably have your own coronavirus story. Here’s ours. First off, we are well. Jean Marie and I spent the first week of March in Paris. Before the virus seriously hit France, we enjoyed good meals, fine wines, a concert, a movie, a museum and catching up with old friends. I also ran around to various doctors to prepare for a planned surgery in April. It will now surely be postponed.
Parisians were unusually friendly. Eating lunch alone at a cafe, the man at the table on my left reminded the waiter not to forget my coffee as he could see it was taking a long time. The young couple on my right eyed my chair full of bags (Yes I had been shopping) and asked if I was planning to take the metro. When I said yes, they advised me not to do so as there had been a run of metro thieves at the nearest station. I walked instead. Never before had I benefited from such solicitude from unknown Parisians.
At the Marmottan museum to see a show on how classic Italian painters influenced Cezanne even though he never went to Italy, we used the co-ed bathroom. When Jean Marie came out of the toilet and made to leave without washing his hands, I reminded him to do so. A well-dressed and perfectly made up woman about my age, the sort of Parisian who would normally ignore us, turned to me and said, “Oh they are all alike,” in sisterly commiseration. I said, “Yes, I expect to be a widow soon.” She said, “Me too, perhaps we’ll meet up again as merry widows.” Unbelievable. A friendly upper bourgeois Parisienne? Something in Paris has changed. Indeed, the taxi drivers were all on time and uniformly competent with clean vehicles. I think this is due to competition from Uber and other services, but it is such a pleasant change.
We flew back to Agadir, Morocco on Sunday, March 8 and spent Jean Marie’s birthday at one of our favorite hotels, Dar Zitoune in Taroudant. We had thought it would be nice to enjoy a last few weeks of Spring in Morocco before returning to France on April 6. Now we are stuck here.
So far Morocco only has a handful of confirmed cases of the coronavirus, all brought by Moroccans and tourists arriving from Europe. So the country has shut down all ports and flights to most European countries.
Even in the best of times, communication is a weak point in Morocco. So of course there were scenes of chaos at all the airports yesterday as stranded tourists tried in vain to get home. Late yesterday Morocco gave permission for France to send some planes to repatriate citizens. We are not going to be on one of those planes. We have decided to hunker down at home in Sidi Ifni rather than join chaotic mobs at the Agadir airport. Since we are legal residents of Morocco, we would probably not be on a priority list to return to France anyway.
Back in France, two of the friends we saw are showing mild symptoms that could be the coronavirus. One friend went to the hospital to have a stent put in, but as he had a low fever, the stent placement was postponed and they gave him a Covid-19 test. He waited days confined at his apartment. Finally, the hospital told him they had mistakenly sent his test to the wrong lab so it was not analyzed. This is not reassuring. The second friend was simply told to stay at home for seven days and wear a mask when going out today to vote in local elections. France is now only testing people who present with likely serious cases.
So for now, we are taking our chances where we can still go for walks on our uncrowded beach. We have books, television, Internet, Netflix and the calming presence of our cat, Rizu. Since Morocco stocked up on staples in advance of Ramadan which starts April 25, we don’t expect to run out of food here. Our local market supplies fresh local fruit and vegetables and the fishermen are still arriving daily with fish. Before Morocco confined us, we were having a big debate about trying to get back to France or not. In the end, it is perhaps easier to have let King Mohammed VI decide for us.
I was beginning to put clothing on the bed. I was starting to put away all the beach glass remaining in the studio. I was thinking about what I needed to take with me to the US.
There was still a week before we were due to fly to the US, and we agreed to take a morning to visit our friend Alex’s farm. He had new fields of avocados to look at, and there are always interesting things to see. On the way out to the fields, we passed an old cotton gin and fields of “tara” (Cesalpinia spinosa), a tree whose gum is used for cosmetics and medicines.
We stopped to visit a small reservoir, and walked up a short hill to get to the edge. Tiny fish were flopping at the edge of the water–Alex said they were tilapia. I saw one tiny fish that had flopped out of the pool and thought I’d flip it back in the water with the toe of my shoe. I did, but kept sliding, and ended up sitting in the water at the edge of the pool, mud-covered and laughing. Alex came to help me and promptly skidded into the water up to his knees. “Don’t help me! Get out!” I yelled. He couldn’t help me without sliding in even further. As Alex made his way to the edge and out of the pool, I edged up the slippery shore until I could grab a dry palm frond that Jonathan extended down to me. With it, I was able to pull myself up the bank. I was safe, but covered in mud, and soaking wet.
I headed back toward the car but part way back heard a noise. Alex and I headed back up the trail and found that Jonathan had tripped over a big log that crossed the trail. He said his arm was broken. I couldn’t believe it. We hobbled back to the car and headed for the Clinica Zavaleta. We waited a few minutes and then Jonathan was able to go in and get x-rays taken. By the time I could go inside, they knew he had broken the end of his humerus, and the doctor was setting him up to receive intravenous pain medication. His arm was put in a sling.
When we sat down with the doctor, we were told that Jonathan would need a pin in his arm, and that it would take a few days to locate the right size. Then there would be surgery. After talking with the doctor, and she in turn talked to the surgeon by phone, we decided the best course of action would be to return to the US immediately. I emailed our travel agent, as this time we’d used a travel agent to get our tickets. That turned out to be very helpful because within 20 minutes she had found a flight at 11 pm this very day to connect to Chicago. All we had to do was pack and get to the airport by 9 pm. By the time we left the clinic it was about 1 pm.
Everyone at home was helpful. Carlos got ready to drive us to Lima, Dalmira helped Jonathan pack, as he couldn’t use his arm. I started to pack, and got finished just about 5:30 pm when it was time to leave. We said our goodbyes to our neighbors, hugged everyone, and jumped into the car. It was strange to be on our way home, jerked from our life in Barranca into something completely different. We stopped in the lounge on the way to the gate where I was able to email our family in the US about what had happened, then we boarded the plane and six hours later we changed planes in Miami.
We had a few hours layover in Miami, but didn’t really notice the time. We got on the plane for Chicago and in no time it was 10:30 am and we were on the ground in Chicago. I was able to get our rental car a week early and return to the airport to pick up Jonathan. We went straight to the emergency room at the hospital closest to where we stay.
We sat in the emergency room for a very long time. After about two hours, new x-rays were taken with a very interesting portable device that rolled right into the room. Jonathan didn’t have to move much to get the pictures taken. After a lot more sitting, we talked to the physician’s assistant on call. He believed that the arm would heal on its own without surgery, and referred Jonathan to a surgeon for another review during the week. We were very relieved. That was Saturday.
On Monday, we went to see Dr. Ivey, an arm/shoulder surgeon. He suggested the most likely repair to Jonathan’s shoulder would be a small plate, but that he wouldn’t know for certain until surgery. Now we are back to planning surgery again! We tried to get another opinion, but everyone was booked up and very busy, and after waiting through all of Tuesday and Wednesday for people to call us, Jonathan decided to go ahead and book the surgery. He will go in next Wednesday, Mar. 18. In the mean time, we’ve heard good things about Dr. Ivey. Now we wait for surgery day.
Postscript: The Silver Lining
We returned to Chicago a week early, and this weekend, when we were due to arrive, the new rules for entering the US resulted in waits of between four and six hours at O’Hare airport. We would have gotten off our flight around 7 pm after traveling for twelve hours, and THEN had to stand in line for another four or more hours just to get through immigration. A good reason to have returned early, when there were no lines.
I wonder if having Global Entry would have helped?
We begin planning our travels for the coming year just after we land in the US at the end of September. By the time we’ve hashed out where exactly we’d like to spend the following April-September, it’s some time in October and Jonathan begins scouring the Airbnb listings.
This year we ran into a problem before Coronavirus spread into our consciousness. When we left Sicily at the end of September, 2017, we had been in Italy for five and a half months. When we went to make our European plans for 2020 we found the rules have changed! The Schengen area, 26 countries that include most of Europe apart from Ireland, the UK, and some of the former Yugoslavia have made it nearly impossible for US citizens, among others, to stay longer than 90 days. Though visitors are still allowed to stay for 180 days per year, each 90 day visit must be followed by 90 days outside the region. Should we want to spend more than three months in Europe, we would have to visit in two rounds separated by three months. While that would allow us to visit during lovely times of year, say March-May and September-November, skipping the hot and crowded months of June-August, it would require us to make two round trips to Europe rather than one. If you tack on the question of where we would live June-August, when our Peru house is in the depths of cold, misty, humid winter, you begin to see that the new rules have struck at the heart of our travel strategy.
The rule is so new that our travel agent wasn’t aware of it, and sold us tickets for five months stay in the Schengen Zone. When we discovered the tourist visa problem and complained, she countered that a discussion of the Schengen rules came up at almost every weekly meeting in her office. They are still feeling their way. She rearranged our flights and waived her fee.
What we decided to do was to explore more of the UK after our three months in Europe are up, giving us time to spend the month of July near Penzance in Cornwall, way down near Land’s End. There are gorgeous walks and lots to see. It’s hardly a sacrifice to give up Denmark for England. The following month we’ll be in Wales, another green and lovely region that probably will not be roasting during August. We would have liked to visit Sweden, but that will have to wait.
In September, we’ll try Croatia, a country that is trying to get into the Schengen group but won’t succeed until at least 2021 because of political infighting with member countries. That means we are eligible to stay in Croatia for 90 days without regard to where else we’ve been all summer. We reserved properties for each month, made our travel arrangements, rented cars and booked flights. Everything was in order.
Every day we hear of new infections, there are new cases in more countries, and the culmination was last week’s huge drop in the US stock market. We went out and bought paper masks and a bottle of hand santizer, having read that stores in the US and Amazon are already out. Peru isn’t worried and we got both.
Now we’re ready.
We aren’t changing any of our plans. Jonathan has been tracking the number of new cases of the virus, the total number of cases, and the death rates rather closely. What the graphs show as of today is that the Coronavirus is spreading much more slowly than it was a week ago. New cases world wide may level off this week and even start to decline. Though he has to track a few more days to see where the trends are going, unless something changes drastically, the outbreak is not a pandemic and won’t become one. By the time the virus has been tracked for six weeks, it will be tapering off. We are keeping all our plans in place, reasonably confident that by the date of our planned departure for Athens on April 1, 2020, air travel and tourism will be largely back to normal. Jonathan’s close following of the statistics has made the difference for us. Though the data is pretty scanty and models of disease transmission are surprisingly scarce (have these been supressed?) the trends right now suggest the virus is on its way out.
One of the reasons people have had trouble believing in man-made climate change has been the lack of symptoms. Things have changed, or we’ve passed a tipping point, because now everyone sees climate change around them. Summer in Europe turns Florence into an oven, while winter in some parts of the US doesn’t bring enough cold to kill the cockroaches.
This month, climate change is front and center on the beach. Where we spend Nov.-March in Peru there are two seasons. Cool (50s-60s) and humid winter weather runs from June-October, and sunny, hot (80s) summer from December-April. May and November are transitions from one season to the next. According to this scheme, February is mid-summer. If there is coastal mist in the morning it burns off by about 10 am, and doesn’t return until 4:30 pm. When we were here in early 2018, we agreed to buy a room air conditioner for the study if the weather continued to be so hot during the day. At night we were sleeping with two fans going.
We haven’t bought the air conditioner.
Most of February has been unusually misty, with coastal fog lasting all day as it does in the heart of winter, or breaking for an hour at midday. Even stranger are the days when the mist hangs along the coast until mid-afternoon, clearing from 3-4pm. The sun has been coming out just when beachgoers are heading home for a meal after hours spent on the beach (prime beach time is 11 am-3 pm). It has become impossible to predict when it’s time to go to the beach. In a beach community, this is an issue.
The people who rent umbrellas and beach chairs set up their first chairs and stake out their stretch of sand by 9 am, but there are days when no one comes to occupy their chairs until well into the afternoon. I like to go for a swim when the sun is out, yet some days the sun is back under the clouds by the time I get suited up, or worse, I give up on the idea of having a dip and then the sun comes out and roasts me wherever I am in the house. If I change my mind the sun will have disappeared again before I’m out the door.
I was on the beach waiting for a bit more sun before going into the water. I sat chatting with my neighbors who have a regular outpost of umbrellas and towels. I can tell where everyone is sitting even without my glasses. “Where’s the sun?!” I complained. “Right there,” a friend pointed upward. I looked, and there was a pale lemon colored dot in the sky. The sun was out, but heavily veiled by mist. We all noticed there was a halo around the sun, a large white circle with a hint of rainbow colors at the edges. Later, I read these are caused by high cirrus clouds between us and the sun, and the refraction of ice crystals in those clouds.
Every day is not cooler than normal, and the mist evaporates completely on many days, the sun comes out, and the day heats up, but the overall pattern is different than usual.
Most of my readers are in the depths of winter right now. Do you notice anything different from other years?
This was the weekend of the annual fiesta in our neighborhood. The Virgin of Lourdes is the patroness of our area. A tiny chapel sits up on the hillside, and the larger chapel is at the end of our block. Every year a local resident sponsors the festival and organizes a weekend of activities.
This year the actual feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes is Feb. 11, but the event is held on a weekend to accommodate those who come from elsewhere. The weekend has become a homecoming for Chorrillanos (people who live on Chorrillos Beach), wherever they are.
There are religious observances, a novena the week preceding the festival, and various Masses dedicated to the Virgin celebrated in front of the chapel, followed by a procession with the statue through the neighborhood.
Events are designed to draw in neighbors and members of the larger Barranca community. Friday night was bingo under a canopy outside the chapel. The mountain of prizes took many games, lasting from about 7:30 pm until almost 11. I won a coffee maker! (Jonathan left after the first few games.) Other players won sets of glasses, dishes, and first class amenity kits courtesy of our friend who works at Iberia Airlines. One of the young men won a pink handbag with a kitty cat face on the front that was good for a lot of laughs from the crowd.
Saturday morning began with a walk from the chapel at our end of the beach to the top of the hill at the opposite end of the beach where a very tall statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooks the bay. It took a while for the group to gather, but this is the beach in summertime. The walk was lovely and many walkers commented on how long it had been since they had been up to see the view.
There were sports events including soccer and volleyball tournaments, though most people headed for the beach, especially visitors who live elsewhere and return to Barranca for a beach reunion, who wanted to make the most of their weekend. Our neighbor Miguel opened his beer and snacks kiosk, a most welcome addition to our end of the beach. The causa bites by Romina were delicious.
Activity picked up in the evening, when Mass was followed by the procession, then the chocolatada. As the name suggests, hot chocolate and sweet bread are distributed. This is a real favorite with children, and for many adults brings back memories of childhood when chocolate was a very special occasion treat.
The stage that had been sitting idle for the afternoon was now bustling with people setting up waaay too many amps, each about the size of a refrigerator, with cables and music stands. The next hour was entertainment by the local youth choir and orchestra. Though they deserved their moment in the spotlight, it might have been better for the young performers to appear at sunset, rather than later. The overall plan was to keep everyone awake until the fireworks at midnight and for that we needed some adult music. Sometime after 10 pm, music for dancing started up, and the neighborhood began to swing. By 12:30 or 1 am when the fireworks went off, only neighbors were left dancing, until sometime after 3 am when the music ended. We didn’t make it past the early evening, but we’re assured that there was dancing all night both at the stage, and up at the Hotel Chavin, where some neighbors danced and sang karaoke until very late.
The fireworks used for the fiesta are a “castillo” or castle, a tower of bamboo strapped with about forty different spinning or exploding elements. Once the castle is rigged on the sandy beach, it is set off piece by piece with a grand finale of twirling, fizzing, hissing pieces that makes an impressive display.
Saturday night went out with a bang, and Sunday came all too soon. We got a leisurely start, taking our walk along the beach when it was still largely empty, just the vendors and umbrella rental folks getting in position.
The Feast of the Virgin has often seemed like the hottest day of the summer, and this year was no exception. Though it has been overcast lately, the sun was bright and by mid-day there were flocks of people on the beach. At the same time, Sunday traditionally includes a demonstration of caballos de paso, and around 1 pm people migrated toward the chapel where the demonstration was to take place. Caballo de paso have a particular gait, or way of stepping, that is very smooth. A century ago, one version of the folkdance of the coast, “La Marinera,” has the lady dancing with the caballo de paso. Part of the fiesta has always been a demonstration of horsemanship, dancers doing the Marinera, and the dance of the lady and the horse. This year was no exception. Our neighbor Maria Luisa did the honors dancing with the caballo.
The greatest novelty of the riders this year was the presence of a woman among the group.
Once the dancing and horsemanship was complete, people returned to the beach, stopping at the kermes, food stalls that are usually part of the Sunday events. There was a long line for tacu tacu, the local specialty of rice and beans that often accompanies seafood.
Music throbs among several clubs on Sunday afternoons in the summer. Their parties run from about 3-10 pm, and the music booms over and over until evening and this Sunday was no exception. When we get tired of the noise we sit in the back yard enjoying the sun and the diminished hubbub.
The fiesta continued on Monday, because the actual feast day is Jan. 11, Tuesday. There was another mass, more hot chocolate, and a traditional serenade, with more planned for midnight. On Tuesday, the farewell mass was followed by a procession under the hot sun, before the statue of the Virgin returns to her chapel high on the hillside until next year.
Friends and family who have arrived from as far away as the US and Europe will generally stay for a while, enjoying their time catching up with those they haven’t seen in the past year. This is the height of summer vacation, and many of our neighbors who live in Lima are here for the month. Those who work try to stay an extra day when they can, and come out on the weekends. The result is a neighborhood of friendly faces, another reason we like it here during the summer.
We walk to the opposite end of the beach and back almost every day. We walk down on the sidewalk by the seawall, and back on the beach. You’d think we’d get tired of the up and down, but we always find new things to look at. By taking the same route every day, we notice tiny changes. Ask anyone who walks the same route regularly and they will tell you about small changes they notice (We do not look at our phones while we walk…).
Monday is always quiet, the beach empty except for the few men who fish from shore every day. They spend hours casting into the surf, and we don’t see a lot of fish, but there they are every day. Every Monday is a new season, a fresh start, and the beach seems expectant, waiting.
Then the hardest-working men in Barranca come by, their truck lumbering down the street, honking, honking, honking to remind people to bring out their trash, and the spell is totally broken. Monday is the day with the most/messiest garbage. This is a beach community, and in the summer, Sundays have the most visitors, and the most people likely to leave styrofoam containers of leftover chicken bones and cold french fries on the beach for stray dogs to tear apart. Best not to look down on Mondays. Fortunately, there is a new environmental awareness. These signs appeared on the beach right where the most people pass by. “To enjoy the beach is to keep it clean,” “Take your backpack, your phone, your trash,” “Thank your for visiting my beach. Keep it clean.”…
I’m happy that people are becoming more aware of how quickly trash ends up in the ocean. It will take time to educate people, and to reinforce new habits.
During the week, the beach is often quiet all morning, a perfect time for a walk. Over the years, we notice more people walking their dogs on a leash, more joggers, more people doing exercise on the beach. There are soccer training groups who meet, running around lines of cones, jumping over strings, working on drills. There are a number of surfing and body boarding classes, too.
I watch construction projects: a new story is added next door, and down the street an old house was torn down to be replaced with apartments. Bricks, sand, and cement sit in piles on the street one day, and are gone the next. Hammering begins at 8 am Monday and continues off and on until Saturday noon, when the work week officially ends. It’s common for people to leave rebar pointing skyward, waiting for funds to build another story. I am waiting to see whether the current projects will get completed before we leave in March. Farther down the street, a homeowner added the first wall of a third story room and then stopped, tiled the facade, and now the single brick stub is a reminder of what may be coming.
More charming than brick walls are many tiny bright spots. The city installed streetside planters a few years ago. Most have not survived, though a few benefit from tending by the residents. This one broke recently, and I wondered what would happen to the lovely flowers planted by our neighbor who lives opposite. I was astonished to find a huge and brightly colored new planter delivered on Saturday, and even more surprised to find it newly painted and replanted on Monday.
The next day we saw another miracle of the beach. A San Pedro cactus that has been growing in the sand sent out a gorgeous bloom. These last only a day. Most of the time, these cactus are easily overlooked, and this one on the beach didn’t look like a candidate for long term survival. Someone has been watering it, because it is even sprouting a new branch. The flower is lovely and so fleeting.
I’m not sure who decided that putting an old tire around the base of a tree planted on the beach would protect them, but the city planted coconut palms all along the beach this year and came by the next day to ring them all with old tires. The day after that, word went around that the city would be unable to water the trees regularly and was counting on the neighbors to take care of them. A brief discussion among homeowners and caretakers divvied up the trees so that each homeowner knows which one is “theirs” to water. If they survive, they will be lovely, and give a tropical fringe to the beach. In the past, there have been efforts by the city and by homeowners to plant palms along the shore, and only a few have survived. This is the first time for coco palms, and we are all hopeful.
Friday afternoon is the beginning of the weekend, and the noise level rises. More restaurants are open, and each one seems to need to play music–often pretty loud music. We have tried to convince the restaurant that is beside us that when people eat out, they want to have a conversation, and this is impossible if the music is very loud. It’s a tough sell. Fortunately, they close at 6 pm, just when we emerge to set up chairs for watching the sunset.
There are drumming groups (bateristas) that practice several days each week, and then spend all day Saturday and all day Sunday drumming their way up and down the beach. Combined with the restaurant music, music from private cars with their doors open, the honking of mototaxis in search of passengers, the bateristas can be the last straw, turning the atmosphere into a wall of sound. There is a “minimalist” piece by the composer John Cage called 4’33” during which the piano soloist sits at the piano but does not play for just over four and a half minutes. The idea is to get people to listen to what is around them. (At its inaugural performance, a lot of the audience left.) Here in Barranca, 4’33” would be a riot of music, drumming, car horns, and crashing waves, possibly with a few squealing children. It’s summer, people are on vacation, and that’s the soundtrack to living on the beach.
Every week we see new things, and say hello to almost everyone we pass, whether we know them or not. Some are people we know well, others are people we see regularly…nodding acquaintances, and others may just be visiting for the day.
Our biggest adventure lately has been dealing with a vicious dog that attacks our dog, and now us, every day. We get one attack as we go down the sidewalk, and another on the way home. In Peru, dogs are not regulated, and it is permissible for an owner to let a dog go free all day.* The only recourse neighbors have is to go to court–rather extreme. We have tried to think of ways to deter this dog. It’s a bit unnerving to be rushed by a dog with bared fangs twice a day.
We finally found the solution, a giant squirt gun. Yes, there’s something new every day.
What will we see tomorrow?
*We take one dog for a walk on her leash every day. We have another dog who has lost or gotten rid of every collar we’ve ever put on him. Though we try to keep him in the yard, Ruffo escapes as often as he can, and he cannot be caught. We’ve tried. He’s fast, and wily. When he’s ready to come back, he comes to one of the doors and paws it. Before then, no inducement works–Ruffo is well known along the beach. I may not be a fan of the Peruvian system that lets dogs run wild, but I have a dog that participates.
Jonathan’s birthday is Jan. 24, and as we chatted with neighbors on the beach, we found three others with birthdays on the same day, one the day before, one the week before, one the week after. We decided that a celebration was in order, and began our planning.
Our first issue was when to have the get together. The 24th itself seemed like a good date, but then we thought some people might not come out from Lima until the weekend. Would it be better to have the party on Saturday? We’d forgotten that the Peruvian special election of new congressmen is on Sunday, January 26. Voting is mandatory, and people must vote where they are registered. Most of our friends would be expected to go to Lima for voting. That might mean that friends from Lima wouldn’t bother coming out on the weekend of the 24th in order to be able to vote. We chatted with friends who said they weren’t planning to vote because the fine was so small, less than US $30. Another friend had quoted us a higher penalty, but that is for individuals who are scheduled to work in a voting station. Rather than make people choose our party or voting, we returned to the original plan of having a barbecue on the afternoon of Jan. 24.
We spread the word to friends and found that a quorum would be around and ready for festivities. Jonathan then got busy with his favorite part of party planning—the menu. He asked a fish vendor to save him a large flounder for ceviche and reserved a pig to barbecue. The flounder ended up weighing 5 kg! He swapped all our empty quart beer bottles for new cases of beer.
Peru has ancient customs that revolve around sharing drinks going back long before the Inca. Back when people brewed their own corn beer, or chicha, a gourd bowl of the brew was passed around friends sitting in a circle, perhaps around a fire. Anthropologists have written books about the use of drinking as a method of fostering, celebrating, and cementing relationships. There’s a scholarly article about how women influence politics by being the one handed the full bowl of chicha after the leader has taken the first drink. Protocol demands that the next most important person be handed the bowl, but the woman who takes the bowl from the leader and hands it to the next person has power to change the pecking order. It would be impossible to take the bowl away from someone who has it in their hands. Thus, it’s actually the leader’s wife who selects the next most important person. Lore associated with drinking chicha, sharing drinks, and sharing beer, is present everywhere.
In recent times, it has been customary to buy beer in quart bottles and share it among several glasses. Individual beer bottles have arrived but are still not as popular as the bigger bottles. I like the sharing implicit in the big bottles. We’ll make sure everyone has beer and raise a toast to all the birthday persons. There will probably be some pisco, too.
Friends will bring appetizers to share. They have a good name, “piqueos” something to pick at while you are sipping your beer. Many of our neighbor are creative in the kitchen, so there will be tasty snacks to try as the pig cooks. Maria-Luisa works for Iberia Airlines, and brings delicious Spanish chorizo.
Ceviche is one of the most important beach dishes, central to our family parties. Though Jonathan is adept at filleting fish and making ceviche, we had the chance to get our neighbor Teresa to make the ceviche, using her many, many years of experience… The freshest fish you can get is mixed with finely sliced arnaucho hot chili peppers, fresh lime juice and accompanied by pieces of Peruvian corn on the cob, or choclo. It’s not what Americans would recognize as corn on the cob, the kernels are large and white, and the flavor is not sweet. Ceviche also comes with pieces of sweet potato, boiled, then cooled. Lots of finely sliced raw onion (soaked in salted water) completes the dish.
Jonathan’s reserved pig didn’t come through, so he found someone who would sell him two baby pigs, butcher them on the spot and have them ready in time for the grill. He built up the fire and put both pigs on side-by-side for a few hours. This gave people time to arrive and enjoy a few appetizers, a drink, and a chat with friends. We all took a look at the grilling pigs from time to time. Back in the kitchen, work continued, as barbecued pork requires side dishes of potatoes, rice, or both, We have a friend who makes delicious beans, often with beans grown on the farm he manages. The middle of summer may not be the best moment for beans, but if they appeared, people would eat them. There could be a plate of sliced tomato, or avocado, but fresh vegetables aren’t a necessity. In the end, we stuck to eating the choclo and sweet potato left over from the ceviche.
There is no rush to sit down and eat, there doesn’t even have to be a specific moment when the meal is called to order. As food appears, people taste what they like and chat with friends, spending the afternoon together. A few people may go out to the beach for a swim. Teenagers may arrive and leave depending on who is on the beach of their friends. Someone must mind the front door or it will be left open and the dogs would both escape. We shut Orca in the back alley by the laundry. She was unhappy to be left out of the fun, but we have friends who are very uncomfortable around dogs, especially big ones. Rufo slunk in and out, but he is wily and unobtrusive. He was barely noticed, and he’s difficult to corner and put on a leash. His wiles won out.
The ceviche was cheered and eaten, then we remembered to bring out the causa, a Peruvian layered appetizer of mashed potato, fish salad and egg salad. The first pig appeared, then diminished. Teresa took over the serving of portions after Jonathan divided it into large pieces. Everyone was becoming content, the snacks and sides put to use, and when the second pig arrived there was just enough enthusiasm left to polish it off right down to the head. Many toasts were made, and lots of photos taken. Dining tapered off, and plates were taken to the kitchen.
The next group moment is the cutting of the cake. The birthday song is sung, there is much clapping and joke-telling, and the cake is cut and passed around. One year Jonathan was told to “kiss” the cake, and a friend added a little push.
This year the cake cutting was less raucous. The three birthday persons are on left, Mariana, Pedro, and Jonathan, singing birthday songs.
Slices of cake were small because by this point everyone has eaten as much as they want. The cake is particularly important because it is made by Dona Berta, the best cake-maker in all of Barranca. If you order the good chocolate cake at the Hotel Chavin when you’re driving through town, you may get a piece of Dona Berta’s work, if you are lucky. All the best parties commission her to make the cake, and we tried to do the same. She wouldn’t hear of it being a commission, but Jonathan’s birthday gift from her and her family. This is a very generous gift.
Once cake is handed around and enjoyed, the party is officially at an end. The young people can bail for the beach or the seawall, though many stayed to throw darts. The balloons around the dartboard were popped, and they all moved off, happy.
Everyone is free to stay and chat or go where their schedule and interests dictate. There was almost nothing left to clean up, some bones for the dogs, but little else. This simplified cleanup, and we didn’t have to press leftovers on departing guests. Eventually, people think about a late afternoon nap or a dip in the ocean, while others sit in clusters and chat and sip. Sometime late in the afternoon, the front door closes, we decide to put away the chairs tomorrow, and thank Dalmira and Jenny for doing the dishes. It was a well-celebrated birthday afternoon.