Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Pisco, today, looks like a scene from a war movie. Homes of brick and mud have been bombarded by mother nature; rubble is everywhere - streets through entire blocks are unsuitable for travel. Dust of what used to be still fills the air and unstable structures are all around. A significant part of this town has been destroyed... and remains that way today.
We worked with a man, roughly eighty years old. Usually, we do not discover the names of the people for whom we labor. We come, we move rocks and bricks, we take down broken walls, and we move on to the next job. This man was Juan Mayori. He had been living in his home for thirty years, and in three minutes it was gone. Yet he put on a smile - and his gloves and hat - and helped us labor away. He seemed to have a jovial attitude and was happy to have us there, but afterwards a photo reveals the suffering he endures for a life forever changed. He, like thousands of others, will sleep in a tent tonight provided by the UN on the plot of land he used to know as home.
I got the feeling from walking the town one day, taking a visual survey to attempt a grasp of the situation in Pisco, that although my time there (and that of my team) was temporary, this situation of loss, uncertainty, and poverty would persist long into the future. Huge piles of bricks and debris lined the streets. Structures were uninhabitable and, in some cases, waiting to fall. Children were urinating in the streets in plain sight, because they had nowhere else to go. A beach side plaza, I imagined once a tourist draw and picturesque place for a stroll or to steal a kiss, was decimated and reduced to an eyesore of broken stone. Filthy unkept dogs roamed the streets as if they were taking over, and there was nothing the humans could do about it. A fantastic beach of silver sand, warm sun, and a cool breeze was eerily empty. Military men and women patrolled the streets in camouflaged fatigues with machine guns to enforce some sort of tranquil order. Remnants of books, toys, and undergarments were strewn about the rocks and dirt that used to shelter them.
One positive thing I did observe in this huge mess was hope. The people of Pisco, though weathered, had not lost their smiles. Many not only posed for photos, but asked for their photos to be taken. Where once stood a large church at the Plaza de Armas was a large tent set up for Sunday service; and Sunday there was standing room only for a homily about faith and hope in the face of such destruction. The central marketplace was fully functioning and buzzing with a bounty of fresh produce as well as imported goods to be sold. The poorer parts of town had set up 'ollas comunales', or community pots, so they could pool their resources and feed each other. Children were back in school, many with new donated backpacks and clean uniforms. Shops were open for business, even if only little temporary light wooden shacks. The government provided large trucks to go through town to fill barrels and buckets with fresh water. Locals, in thanks, brought my fellow volunteers and me Coca Cola and crackers with jam in the middle of our arduous workday. Most heartening though, were the smiles and hellos and horns honking at us as we wearily strolled back to base through the streets after a hard day's labor. I dared think they were impressed that strangers from several continents cared to come to their small part of the world to give them a chance at a new life.
Pisco is down, but not out. They seem to derive strength, peace, and happiness from each other, from hope, from faith, and from young white people in gray t-shirts pushing wheel barrels through the streets speaking in the language of the movies. They survive. It will be a long time before this city is rebuilt, but I have seen on the faces of many that, although bricks may have shaken and crumbled, there is a much greater foundation than the forced illusion of a happy ending. I hope their smiles outlast our empathy, and their faith shows them the way to a reconstructed future stronger than any earthquake. These people of Pisco do face a battle, though not of bullets, bombs, or ideologies. In any battle there is the essential struggle not only to survive, but to overcome. Fortunately, as I learned at a free concert in the plaza one night, even the youngest among the citzens of this place know the words, "si, se puede!" Yes, it can be done.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Just keep selling ticket until you run out of paper.
I had to look up the word "refund" in my English-Spanish dictionary this morning, but I´m not optimistic. "Hi, we´re here for the soccer game." "Stadium is sold out" "No, I don´t think you understand. We have tickets already." "Stadium full" "No, really, we have SEATS - GOOD SEATS" "Stadium is full. No more enter" That´s all I feel like writing right now.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Speaking of Thanksgiving, my newly created Peruvian holiday was a success. Here was the menu:
Roast Turkey with chorizo, fig, and pecan stuffing
Baked Creamed Sweet Potatoes with saffron butter and sage
Rosemary Mashed Potatoes with roasted garlic
(I totally forgot the) Organic Cranberry Sauce (that I brought all the way from Alexandria, but used this morning with my leftovers)
Pumpkin Pie with fresh whipped cream
I paired two great wines with the meal:
Navarro Correas Seleccion Privada Sauvignon Blanc (2006 Mendoza, Arg.)
Montes Alpha Chardonnay (2005 Casablanca, Chile) ****
My Peruvian Tio decided it was an occasion for Pisco Sours as welcome drinks. That was great; it gave me more time to finish getting the food on the table by 9:00 (I know, I know). We had a ceviche outing in the middle of my cooking day, what´s a guy to do?
Friday, November 16, 2007
Lucas - He was the guy I always wanted to work with. He greeted every grueling job with a "yeaaaahhh!" as he pushed the wheel barrel out to the street at 8 AM. Lucas is Australian and doesn't wear shoes; rocks, broken glass, chaotic demolition situations don´t bother him... only bird droppings scared his weathered feet into captivity. What a fun guy to be around.
Neesh - The first person I met. Neesh is Canadian. He heard about the earthquake, and he bought his ticket to Peru. Neesh basically just showed up and looked for something to do to help. It turns out the UN was there with tents for the newly homeless residents. He started putting up tents.
Julia - I met Julia on my first day on the job walking out to the site. It turns out she is from Virginia too. One night at the fire, she got out her guitar and shared her songs with us. She is a wonderful folk songwriter, and her music gave us some much needed entertainment in an otherwise uninspiring evening. Julia is great with kids, and I was amazed how she connected with them so well, when I just resulted to throwing them around and hoped they wouldn't break.
Elaine - I almost hate to mention that Elaine has only one leg, but I think it adds so much to how impressed I am with her. Absent that fact, she is intelligent, friendly, and hard-working. I believe she was doing work at the hospital, but she joined us with the rubble crew one day. Ordinarily, I´d think it extremely difficult to be effective on only one leg. I found it difficult enough on two. She helped interpret and dig a trench. Good woman.
Dee - Dee and I got along right away. It always helps me to have an outgoing friend. It turns out we are both in the restaurant business. We were fast friends, but what struck me was her big heart. She was even able to make friends with, and get invited to dinner with, some of the locals. The people of Pisco are lucky to have her.
[hrr-hrrrm] - I´m such a loser with names, but I think his is Carlos? There was a young gentleman, local Peruvian, I believe, who came to help. There were not many Peruvians on our crew. This guy spoke no English. He got cut up badly one day by an ugly piece of metal and kept working. He would even keep digging during our breaks sometimes. His countrymen are lucky to have him.
Marie - I mentioned earlier that I got stuck on cement-mixing duty one day. That afternoon really sucked until reinforcements arrived. Marie was one of them. She is such a fun person, the day got much better for me. First she insists on working in the cement with no shoes, then she gives herself a facial. It helps to have someone around to brighten your day. I´m sure the locals agree.
Diego - This guy is cool. He is from Argentina, had been living in New York working in the financial market, quit and decided to DRIVE back home. He has been on the road for a year and a half, heard about us, and joined us helping the people of Peru for a while. He probably has another six months left on his trip, but he has no schedule.
Leah - I really did not get to know her, nor did I work with her, except when she, Neesh, and I went to Paracas. She is from North Carolina and is one of the leaders in Pisco. She is obviously dedicated, not only to this project, but to helping others in general. She is fluent in Spanish, perhaps introspective unlike others I have mentioned, but nevertheless a great asset to those around her.
There are others, and there will be more. So many people signed up to do a lot of hard work with no expectation of gratuity. Like I told them the other night, I am very impressed.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Yes, I have been cooking again. No, I do not have full use of my hands, due to the extra-extra-extra-hot little black seeds inside. It feels about on par with the pain I felt when Tom gave me niacin pills that make you feel like your whole body is on fire... or when I was injected with poison by that sea urchin in Maui. I remember the remedy for that, but even though I have been working with these people in Pisco for several days, I am still a little bashful about asking anyone to pee on my hands. (There was no cure for the niacin thing except time.) Rocoto peppers look similar to red bell peppers, only spicier, and their seeds are little black balls of fire often used in ceviche, but sparingly. So what was I doing, you ask. Well, today was my last day on the job in Pisco, so of course I took the afternoon off of rubble duty to cook an Italian feast for my coworkers. (I know, there are no rocotos in Italy, but give me a break.) I have cooked family meal before at Buca di Beppo, but that was easy. Today, it was dinner for 60-70 tired workers from more than 10 different countries with big appetites. I had three big pots, no oven, and two dull chef knives. Here was our menu:
Bruschetta with tomatoes, basil, and garlic
Fagiolini Limone (green beans with fresh lime juice)
Penne with butter and fresh cheese
Chorizo with rocoto, onions, and garlic
This was my first time cooking with two French sous chefs! Actually, they do not cook, but were happy to cut my tomatoes for me. It was a nice dinner, AND, AND... READY BY 6:30! If I have ever cooked for you, you realize what a feat that is.
Stay tuned for my Pisco wrap-up when I get my photos back. I really have only touched the surface of this situation, but I wanted my visual aids to assist. Now off to find some sort of ointment... tsssssssssssssssssss!
Monday, November 12, 2007
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Yesterday was a great day. I was able to wash my laundry for the first time. The weather was sunny and perfect. I spent the afternoon in Miraflores walking along the cliff overlooking the ocean and taking photos. "Miraflores" is the perfect name for this district of Lima, because this walk along the cliff has a long garden of "flores" (flowers) which makes for a perfect stroll and some great photo ops if you, say, are into nature photography... or I guess if you have a date, but I think you all know better. Hey, so anyway, I think I got some great shots... but alas, they are in Lima (4 hours away). Later, I got really hungry, so I made my way down to sea level by taxi and found Restaurante Costa Verde. I will have to consult with my Top Twelve Favorite Restaurants in the World list, but this one is definitely knocking at the door: right on the ocean, nearly all white interior with windows all around, attentive professional service, a great view of paragliders overhead, the best Pisco Sour I have had... very nice. Ceviche was good, but I have had better. Anyway I enjoyed myself thoroughly (Sorry, Brian if this is ruining your affection for the chow hall). Ooh, they even have little flags in the foyer for you to bring to your table to represent you country, and they have servers available to speak five different languages. I picked the flag for Ethiopia just for fun, but nobody came to help me despite my pleas in Amharic for "service!", so I grabbed the red white and blue.
OK, here is my list so far...
1. Il Latini (Firenze, Italia) - no menus, plenty of wine, dine with total strangers, the best total experience.
2. La Cantinetta (Barolo, Italia) - out of this world, but simple, Piemontese cuisine. Owner Maurelio treated me like a member of the family.
3. Lucy's (San Bernardino, CA) - my start in restaurants. Good Mexican food. Friendly service.
4. Antica Bottega del Vino (Verona, Italia and NYC) - 80 wines by the glass listed on a chalkboard in the bar. Amazing selection... food was good too.
5. Harry's Bar (Venezia, Italia) - Have a REAL Bellini cocktail where it was created... oh, yeah, you're on the Grand Canal... in Venice!
6. Pasta Mia (Washington, D.C) - Chef/Owner does all the cooking. Fresh pasta. Affordable, respectable wine list. Cozy and fun.
7. Public (NoLIta, NYC) - a culinary treasure and adventure in fusion that pulls flavors from Italy, Spain, Australia, Ecuador, Asia... consistantly delicious!
8. Zaytinya (Washington, D.C.) - Greek/Lebanese/Turkish small plates, hip bar, and fascinating wines you've never had before
9. Jaleo (Washington, D.C.) - Spanish tapas and more Spanish wines than you ever knew existed. Iron Chef winner Jose Andres. Me.
10. Grimaldi's Pizzeria (Brooklyn, NYC) - No delivery, no credit cards, no slices... great pizza.
11. Jose Antonio (Lima, Peru) - Upscale traditional Peruvian cuisine that's cozy instead of pretentious. Wonderful ambiance and professional service to show you the best of Peru.
12. Lupa Osteria Romana (NYC) - Molto Mario's restaurant for the rest of us has fresh homemade delicious pastas, a lively atmosphere, and, in my experience, a much better value than Babbo.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Yesterday, I thought of a brilliant idea: make my own special project as photojournalist for the day and finish early since I wanted to make it to Lima before dark. I am glad I got this opportunity to get a break doing what I really like to do. Unfortunately (for them), I was still signed up with my crew for a demolition job, so they were a man short. Later I stopped by to take their pictures, and there was a bit of awkwardness. I don´t feel so bad though, since the day before they sent me on concrete duty (no mixer, just me) with the barefooted bricklaying Aussies. Mixing concrete with a shovel and six wheel-barrels of sand is not fun. My photos are going to be ready later today, so I will save the findings of that endeavor for the next post.
I think it´s time for ceviche. Stay tuned...
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Evidently, Señor Ay ay ay decided that as long as he had us, he would keep thinking of things for us to do. I did not see him today, but I suspect he was across the street with his neighbors drinking beers and doing the play-by-play of all the whiteys sweating in the sun turning two mounds of rubble into a front yard full of rubble. So I hurled a brick, overshooting the Big Rock Pile (oops), into the street and busted up their latrine. The little girl in the front yard cried and cried, and I then had the fortitude to press on for six more hours. We received word that the next door neighbor liked our two ditches we spent a day and a half digging so much that he wanted one for himself just like them. Well, back of the line señor, there is no passing around gringos here.
It was hotter today than it has been, so I thought it the perfect opportunity to take my lunch break in the ocean. All was right with the world.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
I am part of a very interesting, eclectic, and amazing group of volunteers here in Pisco. Most are travelers out and about in South America for a few months, and some have come with this as their purpose. We all work from 8 to 5 every day, except Sundays, for no pay. We do get a free hostel-style place to stay and meals cooked for us. I am proud to say there are a great deal of Americans in the crew, but there are plenty of travelers from Australia, Canada, the UK, and elsewhere. So everyone speaks English, except for a few Peruvians who have joined as well. I´ll leave you with something fun I learned yesterday. Evidently the Aussies and Canadians have a wonderful term of endearment for the Brits: ¨POMs¨ (Prisoners Of her Majesty)
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Well, I am now at my featured destination - Pisco, Peru. We (it´s not uncommon for me to use ¨we¨when referring only to myself, but actually I´m with a lot of people) are south of Lima, by about four hours by bus, so basically you could ride your bike there in about an hour and a half. I thought the ride would be boring, but we got to watch (insert deep latino movie guy voice here) ¨Los Cuatro Fantastico!¨ and I lost all interest in looking out at the barren desert. The bus was large and quite modern, but I think built for little Peruvian people, so it was fairly cramped. It´s a good thing my airplane companions were not along for this ride. Oh yeah, they drop you off on the highway in Pisco, and you have to find a taxi or someone who claims to be a taxi to take you into town from there... lots of fun.
I have joined up with an organization called ¨Hands On Disaster Response¨ who has been in town since shortly after the earthquake last August. We have bunked up in what used to be a restaurant, now headquarters (damn Americans taking over everything), so of course I feel right at home since I live every other day of my life in a restaurant. However, whenever I sleep in one it is much less crowded and more food at my disposal. (Buca was great for that.) Anyway, they are involved with many different activities in Pisco and in neighboring Paracas and Ica. Today I shoveled rubble - lots and lots of large rocks, bricks, and dirt that had consumed this woman´s home. Luckily, we are about 300 yards from the ocean, so I would look out at the pier, feel the breeze, and pretend I was in Huntington Beach and not working and sweating for free. I was very bitter for the first several hours, thinking I could be in Italy right now... but no-o-o-o-o! And then I thought, ¨how strange, in the bottom half of the world the white English speaking people do all the manual labor for no disposable income while the brown people hang out all day.¨ Don´t be upset at ¨brown,¨you didn´t get upset over ¨white.¨ I will reiterate my feeling from last year´s trip that I still find it strange that on the southern part of the globe, I still haven´t fallen off yet. Anyway, my bitterness abated while walking back to base through town, and nearly every local smiled and thanked us.
In case you are keeping score, my group today consisted of 2 Brits, 2 Aussies, and 3 Americans, thank you very much.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
"Yo amo Cindy Lauper!" says the jovial fellow.
"Por que no?" I replied. I mean who doesn´t, really. Perhaps its just so refreshing to have a break from the lovely local DC Arabic radio station´s Koran readings coupled with the edge of your seat excitement of a NYC cab ride.
If we could rewind about 48 hours, I´d like to begin on my new political issue up for debate, since the restaurant smoking ban idea took off so well (California - 1993). They weigh your baggage at the airport, right? And if it´s overweight, they charge you extra. They measure you at Disneyland for height requirements. There is a posted weight limit in all American elevators. WHY DO I HAVE TO SUFFER A 6 HOUR FLIGHT PRESSED AGAINST MY WINDOW BY [XXL] PEOPLE!?! OK, don´t get me wrong; I make my living serving food to these types. Do you know how many tapas I can sell to some 300 pound tourist? However they do always keep me running for - of all things - Diet Coke refills. Where was I going with this? Oh yeah... 26 inches; if your body width exceeds the alloted 26 inches of space designated for your personal space in an economy-class airplane seat, you need to A) buy an extra seat, B) fly business class or first class, or C) make alternate travel plans. I´ll see if my brother can take that to the Hill when I get back. For now, I´ll just write to Hillary to see if socialized travel is on the platform; then at least, I can save the money for a massage.
Saturday, November 3, 2007
The Salazars were up to greet me, and I informed them that my first full meal should include ceviche... and it certainly did. This afternoon, we went to El Villano. Driving in Lima is always an adventure - little overcrowded buses called combis whiz by looking like passengers are going to fly out at any time, the underabundance of traffic lights and signs, and today in a small street close to the restaurant, we drove by kids performing a public stoning. The victim seemed to be getting away on foot, but what upset me even more was the one boy with the machete. Luckily they had no problem with us driving through their makeshift public execution site. Ceviche sure was good!