I might have been disappointed that we only had a single guest for Thanksgiving dinner, but this is 2020, and having a guest was the Best Thing Ever. Lyra came to see us and brought Pandora, an endless source of fun.
Jonathan sharpened his knives and made spatchcock turkey (remove backbone, lie flat to cook). This may have been the smallest turkey he ever cooked. It was done in an hour (!), and was delicious.
We had a family zoom call that let us connect with Lily & Neil, and Amanda & Jim. I felt a lot better about our separation just by being able to see us all together on the same screen. I’m grateful for the technology that is the glue holding us all together these days.
We had the best holiday in a long time, with all our girls coming to Peru. Lillian and Neil came from Champaign, IL, Lyra from Los Angeles, and Amanda and Jim from Los Angeles. It wasn’t as logistically awful as it could have been, with one group arriving on the Friday night before Christmas and the others the next evening. It was the same with their eventual departures, one group leaving at midnight, the other at noon the next day, a couple of days after New Years.
We promised not to make plans and that turned out to be a wise decision. All five have jobs that keep them busy, they would quickly have been exhausted by spending their vacation traveling and sightseeing. We kept the visit local, starting with a visit to the Barranca market for pre-Christmas food shopping. Everyone got to request their favorite Peruvian foods to build menus. We had baby pig on Christmas Eve, beef filet on Christmas Day, and in the following days we ate a big flounder, duck breast, and home made tacu tacu.
Our visitors went out for lunch to taste ceviche up and down the beach, agreeing that El Cangrejo at the far end of the beach had the best. There wasn’t time to visit all the restaurants, during the summer there are a dozen places that open up.
Every day we stroll to the opposite end of the beach and back, taking the dog if there aren’t big crowds, and often one or more of our group would accompany us. It’s a chance to stretch, admire the waves, and chat. A relaxing part of the morning.
Every member of the group cooks, and each one contributed to the menu. In the evenings, all five guests took turns as sous chef with Jonathan, peeling, chopping, and making sauces. On Christmas and New Years some personal specialties emerged, like Lillian’s buche de noel, Neil’s caramelized onions, and Jim’s Vietnamese sauce for pork. When we asked for help making snacks for our New Years Eve gathering on the front porch, Amanda and Lillian made pate a choux (mini creampuffs), and filled some with a savory filling (cream cheese and those caramelized onions) and others with a sweet filling (chocolate mousse). Lyra made way for the others, claiming that despite being an excellent cook (oh, those cupcakes!) in this crowd she was the third-best baker. Jonathan, as the fourth best baker, or maybe the fifth, made pannetone, the best I’ve every eaten, with bits of his home made candied orange peel, dried blueberries and cranberries plumped in rum.
Food wasn’t the only theme, there was the beach and ocean. Some days we set up beach umbrellas and chairs right in front of the house. Other days, just a beach blanket for towels and sandals. Those in the mood would walk straight out to the water. The boogie boards got good use.
We took two field trips to visit other beaches. The Albufera de Medio Mundo is a coastal lagoon less than and hour’s drive south of us that we have visited with the girls regularly since we first discovered it more than ten years ago. Coastal lagoons are uncommon in our area, filled with brackish water, they are home to a variety of shorebirds and are visited by migrating birds all year long. Reeds that grow around the edge of the lagoon are harvested to make mats and baskets, a craft that is at least 5000 years old in this region. The strip of dunes and beach that separates the lagoon from the ocean is where many shorebirds nest. There is often good beach combing along the ocean side of Medio Mundo, too, and we set up our umbrellas and chairs overlooking the ocean. A long stroll in one direction or the other is always a pleasure. Eventually, though, the heat and sun drive us back to the car and home.
The furthest we got from our base in Barranca was Tuquillo Beach, a lovely spot north of Huarmey. It was almost two hours of driving, but the Panamerican highway is relatively empty north of Barranca. Anyone who tolerates reading in the car, or napping, passed the time easily.
Tuquillo is a place where two small bays sit side by side, like two U’s joined in the middle. The car park is in the center. We chose the slightly more exposed, less crowded side, and enjoyed the water and walking along the shore. A spur of headland separates the two bays so Amanda and Jim went off to see what kind of marine creatures could be found sticking to the rocks. When they eventually returned, she brought news that there was an area of beach glass in the gravelly inlets on the edge of the hill. We all went to have a look and each returned with a small handful of beach glass. Most of it ended up in my jewelry workshop.
Amanda surprised me even more when we went to the north end of our beach to look at the sea creatures on the rocks. Not only did we find a lot of sea stars and other critters, we found beach glass. This is just a few hundred yards from home! I realize that I rarely walk that far down the beach onto the rocks. Now I’ll have to make it a regular stop, just to keep up with what has washed up. I found a small piece of blue glass, one of the uncommon colors.
During the times of day we were avoiding the sun everyone had time to read, rest, stretch on the impromptu yoga mats (blankets), or work on a jigsaw puzzle. Amanda received a puzzle of a Frank Stella painting that she and Neil put together in a matter of days. I happened to have a second puzzle that had been sitting around for a long time, probably because it was 2000 pieces. Everyone worked on this big one, and by the time we left for Lima on the homeward trip, there were only a handful of pieces missing. I finished it off the day we returned from sending them off.
Everyone brought their skills to the party, too. Jim nailed the fabric backing onto the loveseat where the tacking was giving out. Neil consulted on the wifi system, though it doesn’t look like we would benefit from a mesh upgrade. Lillian reset our connection to the printer, and fixed Jim’s constant resetting after a messed up update. She also made the Christmas squid. Amanda spent her down time knitting, turning out half a hat while she was with us. Jonathan ordered a pair of throwing axes after seeing pictures of an axe throwing adventure and set up an axe-throwing target in the back yard. Lyra threw axes most every day. The group enjoyed trying it out, but Lyra became a pro.
We found a few other games to try. Beach paddle ball suffered from a dead tennis ball and we’ve yet to replace it. Darts had its moment, though its a good thing the shafts and feathers are easily replaceable. We had a rip roaring game of Yahtzee. It’s become something of a family tradition, full of shouts encouragement and chants of “Yaht-zee, Yaht-zee” on that last roll.
We watched the sunset from the front porch most nights, each person adding a chair as they emerged from the house. Jonathan and I play gin, and we played round robin with each new challenger playing the winner of the previous hand. Neighbors sometimes stopped to say hello and many, many pictures of the sunset were taken.
New Years Eve and New Years Day (see previous post) were followed by one last relaxing day with no new plans or destinations. We left for Lima in two vehicles, loading the luggage in our car with a few passengers and the rest in another car that we rented. We arrived in Lima without trouble and proceeded to the craft market to let the group complete their gift shopping. On the way to the hotel we stopped at the grocery store for candy for office candy dishes, and a few odds and ends.
Jonathan planned a big ending to the visit by booking us a table at Maido, one of Lima’s best restaurants. Our group of seven had to have a private room and we missed the people watching that good restaurants provide, but the food was excellent, start to finish. We began at 7:30pm and might have gone on for dessert had it not been time for Lillian and Neil to head to the airport at 10:00. At least they didn’t need airline food on their overnight flight to Houston.
The next morning, Lyra, Amanda and Jim set off for the airport at 9:00 am, arrived around ten, and by the time they stood in all the lines, they managed to squeeze in five minutes of shopping to use up their last soles before filing right onto the plane to LA. By the end of Saturday, all of our five were home again. (We miss them.) It was a wonderful holiday.
It’s almost Christmas and we’ve been watching the neighborhood get ready for the holidays. Decorations are not that extensive, though the city has installed a tableau including Santa along one street, and there’s a Christmas tree on the beach. Until the last weekend before Christmas there wasn’t much decoration. On the weekend, though, booths selling toys, panettone, and fruit wine set up along a long stretch of downtown street. On the Monday before Christmas the stalls were in high gear offering everything pink, everything dinosaur and superhero themed. The food market was crowded and the grocery store was mobbed.
Outside the main food market, holiday specialties were on offer, including live guinea pigs, and turkeys, killed and plucked while you wait. We watched a young man try to get a live turkey to stand on a scale so that he could calculate the price (it was 8 kilos at s/. 12 per kilo). The turkey didn’t pay any attention to his entreaties to hold still….
We did our last shopping on the 23rd, enjoying the guy singing in the market, the stalls selling decorations, and the “fair” selling all kinds of toys.
We are enjoying the holiday now that our family has arrived. Yesterday they all went out to eat ceviche at El Cangrejo restaurant, where they found a lady Santa and a Santa Crab. Why not!
It is a lot of fun to have our children around. They are helping make all kinds of delicious things to eat, like the buche de noel that Lillian and I made.
Jonathan baked his own panettone. Though these yeast breads originated in Italy, they are extremely popular in Peru and we have never much liked the flavors. This year Jonathan decided to bake his own and on Christmas Eve we’ll find out whether we like it.
I’ve accumulated a lot of Christmas figurines. Technically, these are part of a “nacimiento” or creche, or Nativity scene. I like all the animals, and this year decided to go all out and get a stable to stage my scene. At this time of year there are stores that stock the prefab stables, so I picked out a good one and filled it up right away.
We bought a Norfolk pine for a Christmas tree because we have two of these in the back yard already. After the holidays we will plant it. It’s on the skinny side, and doesn’t matter very much that decorations are scanty.
We are ready for the holidays! Happy Winter Solstice, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy New Year!
This year the Fiesta of the Virgin of Lourdes is once again the biggest weekend of the summer. People return to Barranca from all over the world to visit family. I’ve met people who live in Austria, Israel and the US all back to visit and enjoy the summer and participate in the festival. There are two statues of the Virgin, one from France whose purchase was organized by the mother of Jorge Marquez, who formerly owned our house. A newer statue was made by an Italian craftsman more recently and presides over the tiny chapel.
This year the day was sunny but not too hot and the dancers put on their best performance ever. The marinera, traditional Peruvian dance typical of the coast, was beautiful to watch with the ocean in the background.
The festival includes a novena and concludes with Sunday mass, though many more people come to see the dancers and the fireworks. Saturday evening was the yunza, an Andean tradition of erecting a tree that is decorated with prizes. A traditional band plays as neighbors take turns hacking at the trunk. Beer is distributed as the singing, dancing and clapping continue. The yunza is not supposed to be quick, and many people whack at random places on the trunk to prolong the process. After about an hour and a half, the final blow comes and everyone grabs for one of the prize bags. It shows we never entirely grow up. People are as enthusiastic about a bag of Skittles as any of their kids. Besides, the kids had their own yunza Saturday morning. The person who delivered the final blow that downed the tree is the patron, responsible for the tree, gifts, band and beer next year.
One of the only good things you can say about machismo is that the men aren’t afraid to dance.
The women are always beautiful.
Jonathan loves hosting the dancers on our patio where there is shade and room to prepare.
Nor can he resist getting in on the action.
Nothing says “I ♥ Our Lady of Lourdes” like giant spinning fireworks.
We watched a projection called Awakening the Dragon, at the Casa Batlló, one of Antoni Gaudí’s bests known architectural works, the night before the end of the festival.
It does look like a big lizard is crawling around the roof. The roof line, altered by Gaudi, is an undulating form that was said to be reminiscent of a dragon. The park Gaudi designed, Parc Guell, has a fountain with a centerpiece of a huge tile-spangled iguana (ish) animal. Hence the images in this show.
The structure, the Casa Batllo, is among the showiest of Gaudi’s works, with undulating balconies that are depicted in one video as frog mouths. The group that runs this house has the strongest social media presence of all Gaudi’s work in Barcelona, including these periodic projection nights, photo contests and family activity days. It may be a case of survival of the media-savvy.
We saw a lively musical group Sabor de Gracia, on Placa Catalunya on Wednesday evening on our way home from Casa Batllo. They’re on Apple music.)
The next day at noon we watched the parade of ALL the city’s giants. Part of the time we were sitting in a cafe while we watched, an almost perfect venue. The giants ranged from highly realistic figures to fanciful Sun and Moon figures. Every stereotype you can imagine is presented. (If you dance down the street, then it’s not a bad stereotype, it’s just a…….big puppet!).
There were kings and queens
(Is that the Gatsbys?)
(Is that Putin?)
Is that a friend of Putin? (or was it Berlusconi’s friend?)
Local celebrities (I guess),
and folk dances,
And a lot of others.
The final element was the fireworks, music and colored fountains. It was the biggest fireworks display and the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen, estimated at 108,000, packed across a large plaza and all the adjacent streets in front of the Palacio Nacional (the National Museum of the Art of Catalonia). After it was over, we were surprised at how well-organized the subway was, with personnel letting people into the station in waves, then holding the crowd until the station was clear and continuing. Trains arrived every 2-3 minutes. We were home in less time than it took to get from our viewing spot to the subway, shuffling along with the crowd. Below is the youtube video. There are others more professionally done, but this one gives you a sense of the fireworks, searchlights, tubes shooting flames, smoke, and the fountain changing colors.
And that, was the end of the festival. What a week! The city’s patroness should be well satisfied for the coming year.
Barcelonans are fearless. They make human towers up to eight people high:
Keep in mind that the people you see at the bottom of this photo are the second tier. They are all standing on people underneath.
Also note the size of the child climbing to the eighth level–the one wearing the helmet…
Barcelonans also take small children to the Correfoc, the Fire Run, where they are likely to be scared out of their wits.
It is night. There is a big portal covered with horns, or flames.
It opens to admit so many drumming groups that the area becomes a single wall of deafening sound. Then the lights change:
This is followed by a series of large fireworks that are exploded over everyone’s heads. You’re supposed to know to bring something to cover your head from the sparks and floating bits of carbonized paper. The smoke can’t be helped.
It was a wonderful display–I’ve probably never been so close to fireworks. Since we were about 20 people deep around the plaza at that point, it’s probably a good thing no one caught on fire from the falling debris.
Next, the demons emerge and are set alight. They spit sparks and blow off fireworks at the crowd. It looks like the neighborhood is igniting. These burn out about every 3 minutes and have to be charged again by a guy with a box of fireworks who wheels along after each demon… This is a very slow parade but very showy. The entire route is three blocks.
This is an exploding mosquito with glowing red eyes.
Groups of people dressed as devils take turns lighting their super-giant sized sparkler holders and then twirl them as they move down the street. The sparks cover everyone.
Here they are lighting up.
Here’s where I’m glad I’m not right along the route.
Tell me that doesn’t look like the building going up in flames.
There is never a tranquil moment. It’s all out noise, drums, sparklers crackling, explosions and chanting. Groups take turns to enter through the gates, light up, and scare everyone along the parade route. Just another fun evening in Barcelona during a religious festival.
Group members wear horned capes so you can see their horns and they won’t burn their hair.
From the title, you get the idea. La Mercé is the annual festival of Our Lady of Mercy, one of the patronesses of Barcelona. It spans a week, this year Sept. 18-24 and there are more events than one person could get to. We went to see the giants and the giant heads before they emerged. They don’t march in a parade, they dance down the street.
The attendants are “Big Heads”
Music is provided courtesy of the Middle Ages, a chorus of oboes, bagpipes, and other loud and squealing things.
Maybe that’s why she carries a pig. It was part of the band!
This was the first parade. The next parade was monsters and devils. We saw some of them in advance:
They looked more threatening at night in the street:
Several of the dragons, including the angry dolphin, squirted water on the crowd.
There was a drum group with almost every dragon, a group of 10-16 people, more than half of them women. They made a wall of sound and danced at the same time, some groups more choreographed than others. Impressive.
It was a great day in Barcelona. Open house at the Born neighborhood cultural center shared its extensive archaeological exhibit on life in Barcelona in the 1700s. Outside the Center, castellers built human towers. This is a Catalonian tradition that requires solidarity–groups create a huge base of people pushing toward the center and upward.
Group members climb over one another to create a tower six people high. Two children or small adults climb to the top of the tower, change sides and descend. The goal is to get the tower all the way up AND all the way down without collapse.
Applause greets both the highest point of the construction when the two smallest members pass one another and erupts again if the group succeeds in disassembling the tower without any collapse. Teams wear colored shirts, and other teams and members of the public help support the base level.
Perhaps most remarkable to us was the fact that the spectators aren’t cordoned off from the castellers. We stood at the base of the tower builders to watch.
We followed this with a cup of chocolate at the Xocolateria. It was so thick I couldn’t finish my small cup–me! We also got the last two croissants available today, important because these were voted the best croissants in Spain in 2014. They were excellent and my eating most of the cream-filled one probably had something to do with not being able to drink all my chocolate…..
Catalan government buildings were open for visitors and many people took advantage to file through or take their photo with door guards in ceremonial dress.
Street crowds were thick.
Many people wore white shirts because they planned to participate in the demonstration in support of Catalan independence. At 5:15 pm a major street Av. Meridional, was lined with thousands of people organized by region or neighborhood. Sections of the crowd held colored cards that they raised when a lead car drove down a center lane. Each color represented a political goal such as diversity or solidarity. It was an impressive sight, estimated to have included as many as 2 million people.