Sunday, 31 August 2014

Let them eat cake

Panetón (panettone) is a family favourite in Peru. In fact Peru is the second largest consumer of panetón in the world, beaten only by Italy.

The domed shaped yeast bread, traditionally flavoured with candied fruit peel and raisins, is said to hail from fifteenth century Milan. Nowadays all sorts of delicious chocolate versions are available, but in Lima the old school panetón reigns supreme.

Indeed there is a kind of hierarchy of brands and in our family, when wishing to impress, it´s not unknown for lesser (no less delicious) brands to find their way into the boxes of their more upmarket relatives.

Panetón crowds the supermarket aisles in late December, and is eaten at midnight on Christmas Eve accompanied by industrial strength sweet steaming hot chocolate. But you don´t have to wait for Christmas to enjoy it.

In this story Hernan tells how, on the long arduous Marañon expedition, Tello´s deputy and head bean counter Toribio Mejía Xesspe is sent one from his wife. 

Let them eat cake 
In which the odyssey of a panetón is rather rudely cut short

On the eve of his birthday, whilst we were in Casma, Mejía Xesspe received a panetón that his wife had sent to him. The gracious lady, mindful no doubt of her husband’s companions, had sent a large cake that was plenty big enough for all of us. But we only got one tiny slice each, the excuse being that we would do well to save enough to share out again once we got to the other side of the Marañón basin

Señora Mejía Xesspe had probably not imagined when she sent the gift, that her cake would be so zealously preserved, but it’s worth mentioning here that Mejía Xesspe’s meticulous thrift always delighted Tello, because he was able to miraculously balance the books with his stringent economies and strict rationing.

Months passed and we soon forgot all about the precious panetón. Nevertheless, it unexpectedly came to light again one day in Pacasmayo. 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The unforgettable millenium bean feast

The Paracas peninsula in the region of Ica is one of my favourite places on earth. 

Situated on the coastal plain just a few hours south of Lima,  it´s a haunting place of rare beauty, where the light plays off desert cliffs reaching down to beaches whose only inhabitants are seals and sea birds. 

The peninsula sands are also littered with archaeological sites, witness to the ancient peoples who depended on the area´s rich marine resources.

Tello began explorations there in 1925 and was eventually to unearth hundreds of tombs containing 
funeral bundles fardos yielding up a wealth of artefacts and the exquisite, finely woven textiles for which the area is now famous. 

Ica is also the birth place of  Peru´s beloved national beverage, the infamous Pisco; a drink that my friends have christened the happy drink and which indeed has brought me many a happy moment. 

Hernan's story from Ica  tells of a time when the team were treated to a very memorable meal. 

The unforgettable millennium bean feast
In which a lazy cook unexpectedly tickles our boys’ taste buds – and in doing so proves an interesting theory

During one of our excavations in Ica, the work schedule and the budget was so tight that there was no allowance for a cook, all the cooking was left up to us, the expedition members. We took it in turns to prepare the food, but our meals were truly horrible. Conscious that his team was wasting precious time in the kitchen and eager to improve our awful diet, Tello halted work one day and asked around amongst the peons we had hired if there was anyone who knew how to cook. 

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Public enemy number one

Lima 1992.  A winter´s evening, just a couple of weeks after our arrival. I hear fireworks popping outside in the street. The sound intensifies. Suddenly Mama Mery is running through the house screaming "abre la boca, abre la boca".  I have no idea what this means. My sister in law scoops my two year old from his grandma´s bed in the front bedroom where he is watching cartoons. I am bemused and befuddled on the stairs. And then an almighty bang rocks the windows.

detail from a Paracas textile held in the MNAA Lima
taken from : La cultura Paracas - treinta siglos de arte textil

This was the night Sendero terrorists killed the local university´s night watchman. He used to sit in a plastic chair, two doors down from our home on Las Nazarenas. We, along with the neighbours, took it in turn to offer him the occasional sandwich or hot drink to keep the cold at bay.

Turns out it wasn´t fireworks after all, it was automatic gunfire.

Then they threw a grenade at him.

Later I find out abre la boca means open your mouth; the local civil defence advice to avoid ear drums splitting in an explosion.

My brother in law had been tinkering with his old VW outside the house at the time of the attack, a bullet hole in the bodywork testament to a lucky escape. The family was anxious  for days afterwards, fearful that the killers would think he had seen their faces as they ran past. This was the Peru I first knew. A people stunted by fear and suspicion.

I was strung out and frustrated. The initial delight at living in a house with humming birds in the garden was wearing thin, but getting to know this beautiful country seemed next to impossible. Travel to the more remote regions was blighted by those twin goons terrorism and crime, and violence and murder was commonplace. So I took refuge in armchair travel and read Tio Hernan´s stories. They transported me to a gentler time.

But even back then bandits were a thorn in the side of our intrepid travelers. As this story shows. 

Public enemy number one (and two)
In which our explorers have a narrow escape and find that a pistol comes in handy  

A battalion of army engineers was working on the extension of a landing strip in one of the northern coastal towns where Tello was studying some tombs. He had gotten to know some of the commanders and one day,seeing one of them with several pistols stuck into his belt, the archaeologist smiled and said to him: "You're certainly well armed there Commander. Can you believe it, I've travelled all over Peru, many times alone, and I've never carried so much as a small penknife". 

It was true. I never knew him carry any weapons with him on his travels. He did, however, once tell me of a rather swashbuckling incident that had happened many years before.