While walking through the city, we come across this oddity: Poles in the street propping up a crumbling adobe wall. Seems that the local antiquities laws prevent "historical" buildings in the central district from being torn down and rebuilt. Adobe isn't really historic, its the lowest grade of building: Inca fine-cut stone is the best, and is usually the foundation, if it wasn't torn up or destroyed by the conquering Spaniards. Then is not-so-fine stonework, followed by stones and mortar, then bricks, and finally adobe. The owner is prevented from rebuilding the adobe wall that is pooching out, so he has to prop up the wall with poles, and hope that nobody hits them (maybe he is hoping they do). Anyway, the poles remain unscathed for at least 10 months. If/when somebody hits them, the whole building is coming down.
On one of my trips to the Saturday baratillo (local market), some of the varieties of products available for sale are seen: First a wheelbarrow full of fresas (strawberries). These are 5 Soles per kilo, or about $1.50 per lb. Unfortunately for us, strawberries are specifically banned from our diet, because there is really no way to clean them properly, and no way to get rid of the pesky little microbes that hide under the seeds. Anyway, they are a pretty picture - I am sad to pass them up.
There is the auto parts section, where you can get everything from engine blocks to tires.
Snakes and snake parts - evidently ground up boa will cure most everything.
Roasted plantanos (plantains) and roasted papas (potatoes), sandia (watermelon) and choclo (giant corn) these are really good, and cheap.
Green parrots. These are not eaten, except in the jungle areas of the Amazon basin.
Cuis (guinea pigs). When I get home, I'm going to get one for a pet, and then when I get hungry - I'll eat a bowl of cornflakes. They are too cute, but a local delicacy here. There are even restaurants that serve nothing but Cui. On Mother's Day, they ran out of 500 by about 2pm.
Helados (ice cream). A little dry ice keeps it cold all day. Several flavors to choose from. These vendors and their pushcarts are everywhere. Cusquenos love helados, they will buy it during a rainstorm. 2 small scoops for 2 Soles (65 cents). We like it as well, but not when it's cold.
Got your tool store around the corner. Most of these are made from rebar, leaf springs from junked cars, or sheet metal. The handles are usually eucalyuptus, which has been introduced as a fast-growing tree, as the old growth has been cut down long ago Never underestimate the ingenuity and cleverness of the Peruvians to make useful items from what we would throw away.
Since first going to the baratillo with Elder Rhoades, I have, at his encouragement, been on the lookout for Spanish dubloons. These are the "pieces of eight" that were minted from the 1600's for a couple hundred years, and became the world's standard currency during that period because they were plentiful and widely circulated. Most of the sliver came from what is now Bolivia, the entire region was controlled by the Spanish. Some of the silver did come from what is now Peru and Chile. The coins were minted in hand-struck, hand made dies so they vary a little bit from what we're used to as standard coinage. When a die was made it had the year engraved in it, and it was used til it wore out or broke, then a new one was made with the current date. To make "change" a coin was cut with a chisel along the perpendicular lines. Thus a half-coin was known as "4 bits", and a quarter-coin was known as "2 bits", terms that have carried over to our day. This day, Elders Rhoades and Hasler were elsewhere on other assignments, so I went by my myself and:
I found a vendor whom I hadn't seen before, and she had some coins for sale, mostly original soles intis from the previous issues just a few years ago, which are only worth their weight in copper, or there are some that are actually silver. BUT she had a few old coins on a cloth, and there they were: 3 dubloons and a couple triangular coins. I pretended to be interested in the other coins, but after a few minutes inquired about the old ones. She named a reasonable price, so I bought the best 2 dubloons, and passed on the others.
Here they are. Look at the date: 1706. This means that they were made with this die, but could also have been struck a few years later. Anyway, they are certainly more than 300 years old, and in remarkable condition for their age. They are shown larger than real size, they are larger than a quarter, smaller than a dollar, about the size of a Kennedy 50 cent piece or Susan B. Anthony dollar, but not as thick.
These are the others: I passed on the dubloon on the bottom that was worn quite a bit more, the two triangular coins, and the one with the hole punched. After I got home for a few days, I thought about it and dang, it, I wished I had bought them all, as the triangular ones are quite rare. I went back to the baratillo the following Saturday, and the seller was nowhere to be found.
To console myself after missing this opportunity which likely won't be seen again, Dawn and I walked to Plaza de Armas for lunch. There are frequent art and cultural displays going on. This day, the weavers from Chinchero - just a few km out of town toward Urubamba were set up in the street displaying their goods for sale, and crafting new ones on the spot. They drive a nail in the street, then hook their hand loom on that, the other end around their back, string it with the colors of hand-made, hand dyed wool or cotton, then start to work. I am fascinated by weaving - that has to be about the oldest technology in the history of the world, since people started wearing clothes that weren't made of skins. It can be done entirely by hand, or with a simple loom, but the craft and art can also be remarkable and very beautiful.
We made a new friend with Paolina, whom we watched work for a while on a beautiful piece. To keep the design consistent, the weavers have to keep a mental count in their head, that changes with every new thread line. How they can do this while talking, and never get out of sequence is pretty amazing, and how they actually work the loom is very clever and skillful. After watching for a while:
ANOTHER SCORE!We bought the in-process work and loom. I had been looking for some time for just the "right" piece, and this was it. Even though her loom was quite well used, she was happy to part with it for the right price, which I'm sure she thought was quite a bit, but for us it was reasonable for the art value of a work-in-process which is quite beautiful and will always remind us of our year in Peru. Paulina wouldn't budge from the price she named, and even pointed me to tht ATM in the building behind us, which I had to go to for enough Soles to buy it. She was happy, we were happy, everybody won!
Here it is handing temporarily in our apartment in Cusco. It will occupy a place of honor and prominence in our St. George home when we return - Hna J. has decided exactly where it will go.
If you've been following our experience in Cusco for the last months, you'll know that our motto is
"a new adventure every day", and it has always been true. The spiritual experiences that we have, coupled with the cultural and historical things we have seen are making this truly a major experience in our lives. And there's still more to come - stay tuned!