Sunday, September 23, 2012

Redneck Diplomat visits Mistura Food Festival

Today’s adventure is my family’s recent visit to Mistura.  This is not a beach resort, nor a mystical location in the Amazon Jungle.  Mistura is Lima’s annual festival of food.

Most towns have a festival for something – my own home town celebrates the black walnut, which honestly isn’t all the interesting.  But EVERYONE loves food.
The event takes place in a huge park in the middle of Villa Maria district, about 40 acres of booths, where over a hundred restaurants each serve two examples of their most prized dishes for a nominal price.

We arrived at the gates, and I had flashbacks of Disneyworld.  The crowd moved fast, however, and within minutes our tickets were punched and we were handed little ad flyers that said (in EspaƱol, of course) “Welcome to Mistura.”

We opened the flyers, and attached inside were little packets of antacid.  I did not let this deter me.  

We didn’t get far and I was distracted.  “Hey, look, they’ve got rat-on-a-stick!”
“Dad, there’s no way I am eating rat,” youngest told me firmly. There’s nothing like having credibility with your kids.  

“It’s not rat, it’s beef.”  This was true, technically, and of course the child agreed.  The dish in question was anticucho, a small shish-kabob of barbecued beef heart.  And no, I didn’t mention that part until the child had polished hers off.  She still owes me for a number of dirty diapers.

Over the next four hours, we wandered about the park, sampling sushi, chocolate, breads, and other ethnic food.  A television-studio had been set up in one tent, presumably there would be a few live shows coming up.  Another tent was filled entirely with chocolate products, everything from ice-cream to liqueur.  

I then saw the coolest thing I have ever seen – I understand they have these at ball games in the U.S., but I’ve been out of the states for four of the last seven years, so cut me some slack.

A minion of the beer gods wore a keg on his back like a backpack, a six foot bicycle flag a beacon to followers.  He had a cup-dispenser on the side, and the nozzle was on one of the straps.  I paid the equivalent of a U.S. dollar in tribute, and received a 12-ounce ice-cold blessing.

My thirst quenched, we continued for another hour just as we had all afternoon:  A few minutes in line, a small, seemingly harmless transaction, and yet another entree.  Suddenly I was stricken with a moment of clarity regarding the aforementioned antacid.

My estimate of the crowd was 15K, which was close, as the newspapers later said the day’s attendance was 30,000.  Over the ten-day Mistura festival, over half a million people gained a new understanding of one particular quote in the Bible:

The serpent tempted me, and I ate.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Where were you, on this day in 2001?

Before eleven years ago, I don’t suppose I ever understood the answers to the “”Where were you?” question that would sometimes circulate at the barber shop or during a church dinner.  I had heard it before in two variations – “Where were you when you heard about Pearl Harbor?” and “What were you doing the day JFK was shot?”
I remembered where I was the day that Challenger 25 blew up.  I was home sick from high school, and Mom came up to my room and asked me if I wanted to watch the shuttle launch on TV.  I declined, and I still remember how.  “No, mom, I’ve seen it before, and this one won’t be any different.”
As tragic as that was, we went right on going to school and to work and nothing changed.  It wasn’t the defining event of my generation.  Not yet.
The morning of 9-11, I was driving, heading to Lake Ozark to check on a rental property I had there, and had just topped the hill going into West Plains, MO.  Ironically, I was within sight of the radio station to which I was currently listening.  The DJ that day was Randall, a friend of mine I had known since high school.  He came on and announced the event.  At first I thought he was joking, as he was known to do – he announced for weeks that he was going to walk naked down main street at a certain date and time, and he did indeed – “Naked” was the name of his pet goat.
I just kept driving, not thinking about it much.  When the announcement of the second attack came, the music on the radio just stopped.  I don’t think a single song played for the next two hours.  I remember thinking that this might be the “Day the Music Died.”  I started humming it.
I stopped in a little town of Richland, MO, where I briefly lived, and pulled into the police station.  I showed them my badge, and they let me go behind the counter, where they were huddled around a little black and white TV, watching the replays of the first tower coming down.
I just felt like I had to continue doing what I was doing.  As an Army reservist, I knew that we would go to war over this, I just didn’t know where and with whom.  Still, I kept driving.  I inspected my property, made some phone calls to a cleaning contractor, and started home.  I stopped to top off my gas tank, even though I had slightly more than half.  I don’t really know why I did that, but it turned out to be a good call, since the price of gasoline tripled, with lines around the block everywhere.  We still had a hundred gallons in the farm tank.
I got home in the late afternoon, and the first thing my wife asked was, “Will you have to leave?” I told her I didn’t know.  I didn’t know much of anything.  We didn’t talk about it that night at all.  I knew where all my army stuff was if I needed to pack in a hurry, but there was nothing I could do.
With the exception of the few thousand brave souls at ground zero, I would imagine that the other three hundred million Americans felt much the same way.  For then, at least, there was nothing we could do.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Book Review: Blessed are the Pure in Heart, by Jean Rosenow

Blessed are the Pure in Heart
Jean Rosenow
ISBN 9781477624593 
Reviewed by Yancy Caruthers, The Pen and the Sword


For anyone who has served as a caregiver to a person with special needs, or even lived in a special needs family, life can be robust and vigorous, or sucked from one’s very bones, and it will vary with the given day.  Jean Rosenow’s “Blessed are the Pure in Heart” is a work of fiction about one such family unit, Emma Prater cares for her younger brother Rodney, who has Down Syndrome.

While not presented as the protagonist, Rodney quickly becomes the story’s most powerful character.  His intentions are pure, as are his frustrations.  Unbeknownst to him, his very existence has caused his sister to believe that she will never find love.  The first few chapters are a little clunky with regional phonetics, but by chapter three there is momentum seldom seen in a new author.  As events interlock and unfold, a possibility is set in motion that turns the pages effortlessly.

I must confess two things to this reader.  First, I have known the author for 25 years - since I was a teenager – her four sons, each with his own brand of genius, are close enough to my age that I spent a good deal of time on the farm that she tended alone, after she became a widow at a young age.  The loneliness that Emma experiences in the story is probably no stranger to Rosenow, and neither is the farm and surrounding rural area that sets the story – she stops short of naming my hometown in South Missouri near West Plains, but there are enough sly details that I can almost smell the river near the farmhouse, or hear the screen door slap closed with the sound of a metal spring.

Secondly, my brother is a special needs person, a preschooler trapped for the duration in a body now fifty.  That bias may have worked against Rosenow to some degree, as I found myself very critical of Emma in her role of caregiver.  She seemed like a Pollyanna at first, but as the author rounded her off with touches of loneliness and doubt, she became real. 
As the story approached denouement, I found myself wondering how she would end it – too soon, and I would be left hanging, but too late, and it would fall flat, or lead squarely into a sequel, which has annoyed me since Twilight.  I was pleasantly surprised when it ended precisely where it should have.

As I finished off “Blessed are the Pure in Heart,” I found myself hoping to see more from Jean Rosenow in the future - one colorful secondary character in particular has numerous possibilities, but she would have to call it "Blessed are the Old and Grumpy."  I hope she runs with it.

The work, "Blessed are the Pure in Heart"  is available on by clicking one of the above links to the title.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Penmanship Demotivational Poster

I feared that I would use this power again - ever since I made the Jabba the Hutt demotivational poster, I knew it was just a matter of time before I did it again.  This time, it's a result of a sign outside a wine bar that had me doing a double take.

I may have found my new hobby.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Street Performers of Peru, Part 3

I have to pontificate a little about Peru's Welfare to Work program.  They actually have a welfare system, but if a person is able bodied, he can forget it, and even if he is lucky enough to qualify, the program would provide beans and rice.  It doesn't pay for cell phones, flat screen TVs, cigarettes, booze, or lottery tickets.  Neither does a minimum wage job.

Even those jobs aren't always plentiful, so the people of Peru have managed to create a vibrant underground economy, with street vendors or every kind, and wandering performing artists.  The system that created the need for this is sad, but the talent that has risen above it is shocking.

Little kids do cartwheels in the intersections, and many learn to juggle before they turn ten - all in the hopes of earning some random coins as the heavy Lima traffic congeals around traffic signals.

Our feature act this evening was obviously a master in the art of the one-up.

"Oh, you can juggle?  Well I can juggle flaming sticks!"
"Oh.  Lots of people juggle flaming sticks?  Well let's see them do this!"

What would one call this without butchering the grammar?  A Flaming Unicycle Juggler?  No, not quite right.  A Flame-juggling unicyclist?  Close enough.

You can bet this guy got the change I had in my pocket.  He accepted it with a smile and a bow.

 See another impressive Peruvian street artist.