Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Naive Gringos Pay the Price in Peru

Someone wrote on a forun I occasionally visit that they'd had a very tough time with some curanderos they worked with. They paid them for a month and only got a week's work. They had a curandero stop a ceremony and ask for help with paying for a son's schooling. They paid a curandero in the day and he showed up drunk that night.
    The person found it all unsettling and felt they were ripped off. I don't think they were. I think they were just trying to put the Western way of thinking on people who don't think like us. Here's what I wrote on the forum:
DEAR X: I'm sorry you had such a series of lousy events. But your note should serve as a yellow caution flag for others, not because these people were bad--I don't know if they were or not--but because naive gringos--and if you are not, I apologize--don't understand the culture.
   The Padrino incident, for instance: It's an honor to be a padrino, a god father, to someone. But it always involves  you paying for something: A wedding, school, a house. It's a deep and regular part of the culture, not a scam at all: You go to someone with money and ask them to pay for something in return for becoming one of their children's godfathers. I've been padrino for several people and turned it down several other times: Depends on what they want and whether I know them well enough and whether I happen to be able to afford to throw a wedding or pay for an operation at a given time.
   In terms of payment: In Peru it's best to pay as you go. If you are going to make a deal for hundreds of dollars or more for medicine over a period of time, pay some up front and the rest as you go. Even if the person is very well intentioned, if anyone finds out they have money, or if they get drunk the first night you give them money, they will probably not have it long. And once it's gone, they are no longer obligated to you. So if you give them $1000 for a one month dieta and they manage to spend/lose it in the first week of a one month dieta, no one is seriously going to think they owe you three more weeks of dieta. So better to pay $150 up front, then $150 a week for three weeks, then the final $400 near the end of the last week.
   Some of this is simply the culture of the area and would not apply in Lima, for instance. But it is important to understand that people in Loreto do not think like people from New York or Australia think. You can ask for a 3 month healing and they can say yes, but when they are tired of it, they're gone. The issue isn't them--though you might have run into a particularly selfish crowd--it's our thinking that they think like we do that's the problem. We cannot put our framework on that culture.
    In my own experience, Moises always had me bring the best Czech seed beads to the Matses, but he also always made me painstakingly fill tiny bags with them. He said no one would share. The one time I gave a Matses headman a full kilo of beads--and indicated it was to share with his family, who were all there--he took it, ran away and left the village immediately. One of his wives told me I was an idiot to think he would share: He would use them instead to get another wife!
   So I'm sorry you suffered all of it, but hope others can gain from your experience.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Ridiculously Good Father's Day Breakfast

Well, having gotten past that bit of a copperhead nip yesterday--which actually had me scared to death and feeling pretty awful, even though I tried to tough it out--today is Fathers' Day. So to all you dads out there who tried and are trying your best to be good dads, HAPPY FATHERS' Day! I hope your kids understand that while you love them and would do and are doing everything you can for them, it's not an easy job. So rest, fellas: You earned it all year long.
    And with that, I got hungry and took a look see at what to have for a mid-morning breakfast. I decided on a salad and what a salad it is! Organic spring mix greens, a diced natural 1/2 duck breast from the duck I made a couple of days ago, some good quality crumbled blue cheese and a balsamic vinagrette made with--and this was a treat--organic Modena Balsamic vinegar. With some good minced shallots, garlic and olive oil in there.
    It might be a salad but it's still a treat.
    Treat yourselves well today. You don't know when that damned snake is going to bite you.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Just Got Really Lucky with a Copperhead Bite

Just got very, very lucky. Was out mowing the very back portion of the yard. It's invisible from the house and is where we throw lawn cuttings from the fenced in portion of the yard behind the house--but it's still one of the 8 or 9 lawns and needs cutting now and then. Well, I was in a tall grass corner and had to move some old Christmas trees that we'd thrown over the fence into that wild area, and then I had to step into the tall grass to turn the lawn mower around. I thought I'd taken a good look at things before I did: I was looking for a tree branch I might step on or a broken bottle the neighbors might have chucked over the fence. Didn't see anything so stepped into the tall grass. The moment I did I felt a weight on my right ankle and kicked furiously. I knew what it was from experience: A snake.
    This one was just a baby copperhead and it got away, but my ankle hurt like hell. I kept mowing for 10 minutes, then got weak, scared and so forth and went to the front porch swing to sit for a while and check it out. The wound was more of a scrape than a full fang bite. In half an hour I felt weak but there was no appreciable swelling or difficulty breathing. What there was included a headache and shooting pains originating at the point of the attack running up my right calf every five minutes--the same calf that the infection tried to eat last year.
   When I felt well enough I went inside and took my sock off and washed the wound with alcohol. Then I looked at the sock: Two fang marks on the outside of the sock, maybe 3/16ths of an inch apart. They matched two dots of blood on the inside of the sock. But below the tiny exterior fang holes in the sock was a yellow stain the size of a large thumbnail. That's what that baby was going to give me if it had a moment more to hang on before it was kicked off.
    So I got real lucky today. THANKS UNIVERSE! THANKS SPIRITS! That was super cool.
    And now, four hours later, the headache is nearly gone. The pains up my leg will continue for a week. Ah, but the lawn got mowed and I am not in the hospital. What a great day! I hope all of you had even better days!!!!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Madeleina gone, what's a boy to do?

Well, with Madeleina at Disneyworld this week--or whatever you call the Florida Disney place--I've sort of been alone. Well, not quite. On Monday, Italo, my oldest, came over to take a look at the sink that's stuffed up and which I couldn't get open no matter what I tried. He brought his baby, my granddaughter Taylor Rain and Chepa, my wife/ex-wife's babies Sierra and Alexa. So I tended kids and fed them while he worked.
    Tuesday, I came back from running errands to find Chepa, her sister Amelia, the kids, plus a niece, plus Italo all here. Chepa was cleaning the kitchen--which I'd just cleaned but what the heck. Italo was cutting new pipe for the sink. I took care of kids, entertained, fed them and then at about 9 PM fell asleep. I woke to the banging everyone was making--the kids had decided that they should have a "pot drumming session" and were banging all the pots with spoons--and nearly lost it.
   For penance, I was ordered to bring a meal sufficiently large enough to feed everyone at Italo's house, where a fence was being built. Italo, Marco, Chepa, her sister Amelia, Italo's wife Sarah, and all the kids, of course, needed food and needed it now.
   By chance I'd just bought 5 lbs of good chopped chuck and a bag of great burger buns and made a dozen 7 oz burgers. Before I put them on I threw half-a-dozen chicken legs in the oven and a pot of good rice on the stove.
   An hour later I had beautifully wrapped--individual baggies--cheeseburgers and a pot of baked chicken and rice. I also had baggies of sliced organic tomatoes, burger pickles and sauteed sweet onions for anyone inclined to add those to the burgers. I didn't have one but man, I was dying for one. They smelled so darned good!
   At the same time I put the chicken in, I put a duck in for me. It was meant for Madeleina and I so it was a fresh duck going on four days, so I knew I had to get it cooked. This was how I made it:   

   After a good cleaning,  I rubbed it inside and out with sea salt and cracked black pepper, and minced garlic in olive oil. Then I stuffed it with a cut up slice of perfect pineapple and a cut up super sweet orange. Baked it at 325 for 1 1/2 hours, then squeezed fresh orange juice--from the fruit--onto it, scored the breast to eliminate fat, reduced it to 300 for another hour or so while I went to Italo's to deliver the food and help with the fence. Came home, made gravy, cut a half-breast, served it on spinach with the sweet sauce. Man, that was good. We used to sell the hell out of duck when we ran it as a special at Wilson's Restaurant on 75th and 1st Ave in New York every 10 days or so. The slow, slow cooking is the trick. And the fruit stuffing that saturates the meat and keeps it moist and sweet. And cooking it on a bed of celery and onions. And making a great sauce or gravy. Trick to the gravy is to pour the pan juices into a container and put the container in the freezer for 30 minutes to get the fat to congeal at the top so you can get rid of that--or save as schmaltz if you're so inclined--and then use the essence for the gravy or sauce.   
    Tonight? Not sure what I'll do. I've got most of the duck and sauce left, but I'm leaning toward a few shrimp with garlic, diced tomatoes and scallions sauteed in a touch of olive oil on garlicky couscous with a nice green salad with blue cheese and balsamic vinagrette? Maybe, after I mow some lawn to earn it.
    PS: The family loved having their dinner catered by me.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Madeleina going to Disneyworld

Most people brag about the first person in their family to graduate high school or college. I'm gonna brag that my daughter, my now 17-year-old daughter Madeleina, is the first in the family to go to Disneyworld. She is going with her band, or most of them, and insisted. I relented. I'm very proud of her, even if she doesn't see it. She went to the State tourney for flutes and the chamber group she helped put together got a "1", which is the highest you get at state. Her solo got a "2", which is great. A music professor from University of Texas at Arlington told her to be in touch, that there might be a scholarship for her. Then she got her grades: She's in a lot of advanced classes and after six months of screwing off, she went to work and is leaving with all 90+ grades.
   Now she's going away on her own for the first time in her life for 9 days. She'll be chaperoned and all that but I'll be alone here for the first time  since 1994. Wow. Gonna be fine. Just have to do a few projects.
   A friend wrote to ask if she was getting ready for tomorrow's trip. This is what I wrote:

Madeleina has spent $300 of her money; $200 of mine; $50 of Chepa's. I gave her $300 for seven days and she said: Dad, you suck. I can't buy anything with that....and then fell asleep on the couch behind me. 
   The living room is a mess. Her room is worse. I've cleaned the bathroom short of scrubbing the tub--did scrub the toilet top to bottom, inside and out--and Sarah, Italo, Taylor Rain, Chep, Sierra, Alexa, plus Marco and her sister Amelia and daughter are coming in an hour.
    I was making a duck for Madeleina and I. Now I've got four burners going: Hot sausage, Polish beef sausage, two whole chickens in the oven. Cole slaw made. Rice cooking. Veggies in a pot, ready for fire. Shrimp cleaned. Salmon ready. Brussel sprouts with bacon ready to fire. All this with my right arm not working. Pulled something a few days ago and can't do anything with it. Changing gears in the car was an exercise in masochism. 
   I guess that means it's perfect. In a weird sort of way.
   No one will come over. I will give Boots all the food. Madeleina and I will have a nice duck with a good dressing and a side of rice/slaw/salad.
    I know how these stories end. 
    This is my family and we are a crazy lot. Catch us on a good day and boy, you've never been treated so well. Days like today, well, I generally do the work then hide because I know it ain't happening the way I'm told it was going to happen.
    Have a great time in Disneyworld, Madeleina. Report back to us Luddites, won't you? I love you, Dad

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Hit by Lightning

There is a video going around of a storm chaser who was filming a storm when hit by lightning. From what I gather, he lived. I've only seen one person hit by lightning, and that person died. This is the very short version of that story.
I was probably 12 and the ballboy on my older brother's semi-pro baseball team. They were playing in, I think, Crocheron Park in Queens, NY when a thunderstorm suddenly and unexpectedly came up. Instant torrential rain and lots of lightning. The coaches told the kids to walk off the field: As we did, an old couple walking on a cement walking path appeared. The woman, probably 80, and the man, same age, were holding hands. She released her hand from his and reached into her purse and took out a tissue. She wiped her face from the raindrops. In that instant a lightning bolt hit a tree in front of them and jumped to him. He was bounced off the ground and flew maybe 10 feet high and 15 feet forward from the impact and hit the tree, then fell. When we got to him he was dead. His pant legs on both legs were burned open on the back; the meat of his exposed skin was purple/yellow. The soles of his shoes had been blown off at the heel, exposing his purple/yellow feet. I never want to see another person dead from lightning again. The poor woman was inconsolate.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Meaning of the word "ayahuasca", from my point of view

You know, I'm gonna weigh in here on the word Ayahuasca and its meaning. The Quechua language was not a written language. It was only verbal, which means it was very fluid. My thoughts are that Hoasca, or Huasca actually were adapted from the German soldiers of fortune who came for the rubber boom and for whom "wasser" meant water. Hoasca or Huasca, in my mind, are bastard versions of that. Aya means soul in thousands of dialects from the Panoan language group to Quechua to the Ayamara. So to me, ayahuasca means "soul water",  not vine of the dead or anything else. Just: "Soul water", which is good enough for me.