The Musical Biography of King Alfonso X, 13th Century Spain

The Following is a transcript of an annual program that I produce for public radio stations who will “purchase” it. At this writing, I do know that High Plains Public Radio, of the Central High Plains will run it on Christmas Day, usually at 9:00 a.m. Central Time. I will update this site as I learn of any station running it.

Hello. I’m Debra Bolton. Welcome to Las Cantigas de Santa Maria (The Holy Canticles of St. Mary), Songs and poems in praise of Holy Mary – and the poetic/musical biography of Alfonso, “the wise”, The King of Castile-Leon, now Spain, and who lived from 1221 to 1284, and for whom we celebrate his 800th birthday this year. I appreciate your joining me today.  We begin this musical journey with The Learned King declaring himself Mary’s Troubadour who will take her teaching to his Kingdom and beyond. Let’s hear…Counter Tenor, Russell Oberlin performing the prologue.  Please note, that at the time, the use of counter tenors aka “castrados” would have been the norm, since females were not allowed to perform in a king’s court. :

Prologue: Russell Oberlin, CSM #60 2:37

Camerata Mediterranea CSM52 and instrumental Prelude – 4:05

That was Counter tenor, Russell Oberlin, taking the part of the Learned King as he declares himself the Virgin Mary’s Troubadour and asks the “noble lady” to bestow the inheritance of eternal life and grant Alfonso’s kingdom a place in eternity.

Also, you heard Camarata Mediterranea with an instrumental to highlight El Sabio’s wise welcome to Christian, Muslim, and Jewish musicians in his court, which blended European and Arabic performance and music techniques.

Interesting to note, of the 420 Marian poems written by King Alfonso X and his assistant scribes, about every 10th poem is a song of love for the Virgin, and since this is not an “official” prologue, since the prologue has the even number #60, it would also be considered a “cantiga de loor” song of love for Mary.

King Alfonso ruled his Kingdom of Castile-Leon, now Spain, from 1252 until his death.  Scholars and Alfonsine devotees celebrate the Learned King’s 800th birthday this past November 23.  Alfonsine scholar, Dr. J.K. Knauss, who has written widely on the Learned King, spoke to me about the celebrations across Spain in honor of the King’s birth. Knauss recently released her fourth book about the King. In Our Lady’s Troubadour, Knauss took the poems and corresponding works of art, and put them into narrative stories.  Here, Knauss introduces CSM#42 before we hear the piece performed by an early music ensemble called, Sonus.

Insert Knauss’ introduction:

CSM#42 – A Virgen mut groriosa, Sonus                                  2:38

That was Sonus with CSM#42, the story of Mary as a jealous queen that rebukes those she loves if they refuse her.

Now we turn to the interpretation of CSM#116: A merchant went to Salamanca to trade at the fair.  It was his custom to serve the Virgin faithfully and to fast rigorously. On the eve of her feasts, he would not even eat vegetables or fish.

He always used to offer candles at churches dedicated to the Virgin. In Salamanca, he had his servant fetch two large candles that he had brought from Toledo. He had them lit and guarded so that they would not go out. The Virgin let them go out, but then caused them to burn once again.

We hear this performed by Eduardo Paniagua and his Musica Antigua. Paniagua, a musicologist and an early music instrumentalist, devotes much of his time to researching, performing, and recording the vast catalogue of Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, poems and songs in praise of Holy Mary.

That was CSM#116, “The Candles that Miraculously Came Alight” from Musica Antigua on their album, Cantigas de Toledo, where King Alfonso was born these 800 years ago.      6:20

You’re listening to Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, a musical biography of Spain’s King Alfonso X and his praise to the Virgin Mary.  I’m your host, Debra Bolton

END OF SEGMENT ONE

(Excerpt of The Prologue from Joseph O’Callaghan’s)

Throughout the life of King Alfonso X, he devoted himself to learning and being surrounded by the learned.  He believed a learned King and court with great knowledge of the natural world, mathematics, architecture, human behavior, and great discernment could only benefit the people of his kingdom. Being a pluralist, he employed Christian, Jewish, and Muslim in his court to advance learning.

In a recent interview with Alfonsine scholar, Dr. J. K. Knauss, she noted that the great legacy of El Sabio is that he lived up to his name, “the wise” because he was obsessed with writing everything down.  Whether is was about mathematics, astronomy, the virtue of playing board games and other leisurely activities to balance hard works, laws to govern his subjects, and teaching morality, he not only wrote continually, but he chose not to write in Latin, the language of Kingdoms of the day.  What made his legacy so strong is that he wrote in Castilian, the present-day Spanish.  King Alfonso X is considered the “Father of Castilian.” Was he that much of a visionary?  It would seem so since Spanish only trails Chinese as the most common language worldwide, flanked by English, Arabic, Hindi, Bengali, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, and Lahnda, aka, “Western Punjabi” according to The World Economic Forum.

Let’s turn to the marvelous miracles of Mary found in CSM#11, the Drowned Sacristan.  Every night a sinful monk left his monastery to take his pleasure with his mistress. Before he left he would say the Ave Maria.

One night he fell into a river and drowned. Devils and angels argued over his soul. The devils’ case was more convincing, and the angels were about to give in when the Virgin made them recover the monk’s soul. They returned the soul to his body and revived him. The other monks found him alive in the cold water.

We hear CSM#11 interpreted by Ensemble Alcatraz, a San Francisco, CA group dedicated to the research and performance, throughout the world, of the music of Spain, Portugal, and France.  This is from their CD Cantigas de Amigo, CSM#11                                      8:35

That was Ensemble Alcatraz performing Cantigas de Santa Maria #11,

You’re listening to Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, the holy canticles of the Virgin Mary in music, poetry, and art.  My name is Debra Bolton.  I am your host for this special music.  If you go out to my website https://peopleandcultures.blog/2020/10/11/cantigas-de-santa-maria-a-musical-exploration-of-medieval-king-alfonso-x-of-spain/, you will find examples of some of the art that corresponds with the songs and poetry.  

King Alfonso employed artists to create two and three-dimensional works of art to correspond to the poems and songs, which would have made the Learned King an early pioneer in multi-media.  Now, here we are putting it all in digital form!  Some scholars point of the works of art, the songs and the poems as Alfonso’s way to teach morality to the subjects of his kingdom on many levels.  While those in his court were, themselves, learned and well-educated people, there were many in his kingdom who, perhaps, could not read or write.  Hence the need for the lessons on morality in more than written forms.

The poems and songs employ the language of the time, which is Galician-Portuguese, Medieval Galician, or as some linguists and historians simply call the language, Romance, the root language of Castilian, the language of Spain. 

Alfonso X ruled from 1252 to 1284.  To put the world into perspective at the time, the English language continued to change from its Germanic-rooted Olde English of the Beowulf poet (circa 9th or 10th century) after the Norman invasion of 1066. In the next century, we hear the English of Geoffrey Chaucer and the Gawain Poet.  Europeans now use Arabic numerals in favor of Roman Numerals. In the Mongol Empire, Mongke, officially, marks the worship of his grandfather, Genghis Khan while Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity flourish. The Inca Empire of Peru is thriving. England begins the process of segregation of Jewish peoples, and other countries begin to follow suit. The Mexica people, also known as Aztecs, are building their great city on a lake in what is now Mexico City. King Alfonso X’s bid to be King of the Holy Roman Empire fails in favor of Count Rudolf, bringing prominence to the Habsburg family, Rudolf was considered mediocre as Alfonso was too ambitious and certainly too bright for the Pope of the time.

When we think about world events of King Alfonso’s time, between the 12 and 14th centuries, there was a sect of Christians called the Cathar, a

fundamentalists sect who believed there were two gods: A good one who presided over the spiritual world, and an evil one who ruled the physical world. Cathars viewed even sex within marriage and reproduction as evil, and so lived strict lives of abstention. Here I present the spoken text of the Papal Bull legislating torture of those practicing Catharism, called “Ad Exstirpanda.” As a side note, that papal bull also supported colonizing so called, “Non-Christian” countries and enslaving Indigenous peoples, which carried over to the Doctrine of Discovery launching Columbus to the Americas 200 years later.

At odds with the Catholic church, The Cathar believed in female deities and believed that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married.  The text is presented in Latin, as the Cathar of the time were in France and Italy.

Ad exstirpanda” performed by Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI followed by what sounds like a lament, Veri dulcis in tempore” translated “A true Sweet season” of the time from the CD “The Forgotten Kingdom.

Recitation: 3:14

Veri dulcis in tempore: 3:57

That was Jordi Savall and his Hesperion XXI performing music of the forgotten Kingdom of the Cathar in France and Italy.

After 1492, in addition to colonizing the lands and its people, Spain, also, colonized the languages of the Americas and the Caribbean. Since the so called, “first contact,” we saw Castilian overwhelming, and often erasing, many Native languages of the islands and the continents, thanks to the Doctrine of Discovery establishing a so called, “spiritual, political, and legal” justification for colonization and seizure of land NOT inhabited by Christians.  Again, the Spanish we hear today differs widely from that of the CSM and Alfonso X’s time.  However, you don’t need to understand Galician-Portuguese to enjoy this music, known for its complex musical structures and its use of what we now call, ancient instruments. 

Coming up in the next hour of Cantigas de Santa Maria, we will hear more songs and tunes about miracles of the Virgin Mary as we continue this musical biography of King Alfonso X, the wise, of 13th Century Spain

Go to an instrumental played by the Waverly Consort, Cut #15, to play to the end.                                                                                                 6:43

Hour Two

Hello, I’m Debra Bolton. Welcome to the second hour of Las Cantigas de Santa Maria (The Holy Canticles of St. Mary), Songs and poems in praise of Holy Mary – and the poetic/musical biography of Alfonso, “the wise”, The Kind of Castile-Leon, now Spain, and who lived from 1221 to 1284, and for whom we celebrate his 800th birthday this year. I appreciate your joining me today.

Let’s begin this hour with two miracles performed by the Virgin, as written by King Alfonso X.

“The Girl Who Ate Spiders, CSM #201:

A beautiful noble woman promised to guard her virginity.

The devil tempted her to take a lover, and she lived with her godfather and became pregnant by him. When the baby was born she killed it. She became pregnant a second time and killed her newborn baby yet again. Then she did this a third time. Overcome with despair, and hating herself, she tried to commit suicide. She stabbed herself in the breast, but the knife missed its mark.

Then she swallowed a spider, but it was not big or poisonous enough to kill her. She ate another bigger spider and her body swelled so much she was near death. As she lay dying, she repented and asked the Virgin to forgive her sins.

The Virgin appeared to her and stroked her body, making her more beautiful and fit than she had ever been. The woman entered an order and lived virtuously from that time forth.

Performed by the Martin Best Ensemble (Cut#7)         2:58              

You’re listening to this holiday special, Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, a musical biography of 13th Century King of Spain, Alfonso, the wise.  I am Debra Bolton, your host.

As we continue in this exploration of this very small part of King Alfonso X’s tribute to the Virgin Mary, my references come from the writings of Dr. J.K. Knauss, whose books continue to inspire me. On November 18, 2021, Dr. Knauss released a book which put the Cantigas de Santa Maria in narrative form.  We did hear Dr. Knauss introduce CSM#42 in the previous hour, from her book, Our Lady’s Troubadour. I now will explore Dr. Knauss’ book, Violence in the Cantigas de Santa Maria. In addition, I refer to the writing of  Professor Joseph F. O’Callahan, Mr. Andrew Casson, Maestro Jordi Savall, Maestro Eduardo Paniagua, John Esten Keller, Robert I. Burn, Editor of “The Emperor of Culture” and from Oxford Univesity’s CSM database.

From the book, Violence in the Cantigas de Santa Maria, Dr. Knauss establishes an important beginning that does not have violence to set a calm tone.  That would be CSM#97 about a slandered man who was exonerated.   However, we move into the violence rather quickly in CSM#233.  Knauss mentions this cantiga in her book about violence and in her recent book, Our Lady’s Troubadour, where she writes a wonderfully accessible narrative called, “No-Man’s-Land, ” which regales the story of the good knight, Jacinto (Ha-theen-toe), who while traveling with his men, encounter with Moors, who were so impressed with Jacinto’s faith to the Virgin Mary. The Moors spoke, “We see that you are not of this world, but we don’t think your intensions are evil.” “We honor you because you have been sent by Mary, mother of Jesus. Jacinto held his hand out to the Moorish leader, and they embraced as they forgave one another for their conflicts with one another.

Here we have CSM#233 performed by Elizabeth Pinard.  I had a difficult time finding this piece, so I turned to YouTube, and found this incredible interpretation by Ms. Pinard, a Brazilian singer with the most incredible vocal range.  Listen for her low notes, and when the choir comes in, Ms. Pinard vocalizes in ethereal high ranges.  Go to Youtube and enter “Elizabeth Pinard – Cantiga de Santa Maria 233”

 9:11

Let’s take a moment to talk about some of the instruments that you’re hearing on this musical journey of 13th Century Spain, then called, Castile-Leon. 

Shawm – 12th c conical bored double reed instrument of Middle Eastern origin, a precursor of the oboe. Like the oboe, it is conically bored; but its bore, bell, and finger holes are wider, and it has a wooden disk (called a pirouette, on European shawms) that supports the lips

Recorder – Yes.  That woodwind instrument that many of us learned in grade school. We hear this in the CSM, usually, on a wider variety of wood recorders.

Organetto – a small portable organ, which you heard performed by Esther Lamandier

Oud – Literally, wood in Arabic, short-necked, pear-shaped with 11 – 13 strings grouped in 5, 6, or 7 courses.  A few of the oud players that stand oud are Driss El Maloumi, a group called 3MA and Haik Egitim Merkezi Yalova, both Maloumi and Yalova perform with Jordi Savall’s Hesperion groups.  The Oud is considered the most important instrument in Middle Eastern Music.  

Qanun (a.k.a., kanun, ganoun, kanoon) an Arabic stringed instrument, introduced to Europe in the 12th Century.  It’s played on the lap with picks that surround both index fingers, and the player can change the pitch of the strings with brass levers.

Hurdy Gurdy, a.k.a. Viola de Rueda, and the Zanfona.  Here we hear this instrument in Musica Antigua and by a group called, BIDAIA, featuring Caroline Phillips.

Vielle – the Medieval fiddle with five strings and six tied frets.

Rebec – A three-string “fiddle” often held between the legs as it’s played.

Viola de Gamba – (a.k.a., Viol or gamba), a six-stringed instrument, said to be a precursor of the four-stringed cello.  The Gamba, usually, is much larger and has frets, like a guitar.

Gaita – Galician bag pipe, also common in Portugal.  We’ll hear the Gaita in the next hour of this musical journey.

Duduk – Double reed Armenian flute, featuring those mournful, lamenting tones.

You’re listening to a musical journey of 13th Century Spain’s King Alfonso the X and his devotion to the Virgin Mary, on this public radio station. I’m your host, Debra Bolton, and I appreciate that you’re here with me today.

The language of the time, Galician-Portuguese, finds scholars today who argue that Galician and Portuguese are dialects of the same language. It tends to remind one more of Portuguese than of Castilian, the root language of modern-day Spanish.  Portugal situated directly south of Galicia, was home to the Celts and the Sephardim of the Iberian Peninsula. Stay with us…

Segment Two Hour Two

Begin with Prologue by Waverly Consort, Cuts 1 and 2: (3:45)

We continue with Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, the musical biography of Medieval King of Castile-Leon, Alfonso X, the wise and learned.  I’m your host, Debra Bolton.

We just heard an English interpretation of the prologue, where the wise King announces himself in the role as the Virgin Mary’s troubadourn.   The Waverly Consort, founded by Kay and the late Michael Jaffe performed that piece.

J. K. Knauss describes the importance of the Cantigas de Santa Maria saying, “The most appropriate single adjective for the corpus of cultural work produced under Alfonso X is ‘encyclopedic.’” He wrote books of history, astronomy/astrology, law, poetry, board games, and music.  Even his written leisure activities continue to survive the vagaries of time, bearing the King’s name as patron or author.”

For more perspective of the time, King Henry III ruled England about the same time Alfonso X ruled Castile-Leon, the greater part of what is now known as Spain.  While El Sabio ruled his lands with Christians, Muslims, and Jewish peoples living and studying side-by-side with some appreciation and great tolerance, it would not be until 208 years later that Isabella and Ferdinand would expel all non-Christians and the time Christopher Columbus would set sail for Asia but landed in the Americas, which changed extensively the lives that he touched. Before that, well-civilized Indigenous tribes had not yet had contact with European colonialists. The surnames that most people connect with Latin American countries were the surnames of their Spanish conquerors.  During and after the inquisition, many non-Christians, Jewish and Muslim people, added the suffixes of –ez, -es, or -os to their surnames. For example, the Muslim man, Alvar, became Alvarez.  The Jewish man, Martin became Martinez.  Consistent with most surnames, there remained a connection to the family trade or place of origins.   The Herrera were Jewish iron-smiths.  Those hailing from Galicia, or Galego, were the Galegos.  In the present day, an extra “L” was added to make it “Gallegos.”

The next piece takes us to Italy, of the time, with a song, in Latin, praising the Virgin Mary.  This piece, Verbum Caro Factum Est, “Word was made flesh” is performed by the Waverly Consort. I offer this to illustrate that there were other parts of Medieval, Romance Europe also praising the Virgin Mary.  Again, not in the tradition of Alfonso X, who wrote about people’s interior and exterior lives, from every social class from Spain to other parts of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East and their relationships to the Virgin in everyday life, according to Knauss.

Verbum Caro Factum Est Waverly Consort ( 4:40) (Verbum Caro Factum Est)

CSM #41/119 Capella Ministeres          (4:22)

That was Capella Ministrers, CSM 41/119. CSM#41, the story of a money changer named, Garin.  The devil scared him.  Garin went mad, and then the Virgen not only restored his senses, she gave him paradise. The story of CSM#119, tells the story of a judge who lived a life of ease.  He ate well and collected generous supports, though he did not fulfill his duties and only arrested those who were destitute. The Virgin came to the judge’s rescue when a band of brigands kidnapped him.  In the process of killing the judge, Mary intervened.  She made the judge confess every one of his sins.  He died the next day and angels carried away his soul. 

Performed here by Capella Ministrers, CSM 41/119.      4:22

That was Capella Ministrers performing CSM 41 and 119 here on Cantigas de Santa Maria, the musical biography of Spain’s 13th Century Monarch.

You’re listening to Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, a musical biography of King Alfonso X, I’m your host, Debra Bolton.                           

Cantigas de Santa Maria: Songs and Images

El Sabio, King Alfonso the X ascended the throne of Castile-Leon, now Spain, in 1252 and immediately devoted himself to the creation of new laws, the Siete Partidas (seven parts) and the Fuero Real (Royal Municipal Code), both of which continue to be in effect here in the 21st Century. 

Scholars posit that the CSM continue to be a testament by which the king wished to be remembered after his death. That means that we, also, are part of the intended audience.  Knauss continues that the learned king, likely, did not fathom this kind of dissemination, now in this digital age.  She says, “With these technologies, it grants scholars who study the CSM a place in his highly exclusive circle of apprentices.”

Alfonsine scholar, Dr. J. K. Knauss describes the importance of the Cantigas de Santa Maria saying, “The most appropriate single adjective for the corpus of cultural work produced under Alfonso X is ‘encyclopedic.’” He wrote books of history, astronomy/astrology, law, poetry and music.  Even his written leisure activities continue to survive the vagaries of time, bearing the King’s name as patron or author.”

Now, I’d like to turn to interpretations of the CSM that have a more contemporary feel.  Andre Bocelli, a mostly self-taught tenor, provides this wonderful rendition of CSM #57.  I think the addition of Spanish guitar and a children’s choir give this interpretation a light and jovial feeling to the subject, “The Robbed Pilgrims to Montserrat.” From Bocelli’s album, “Believe” recorded last year.  It features duets with Allison Krauss and opera singer, Cecilia Bartoli, on the Decca label.

Mui Grandes Noit’ e Dia (CSM #57)                                 (4:06)

#CSM 422   Robin Rolfhamre                                (5:48)

Instruments of the Time

That was Swedish Lutenist, Robin Rolfhamre with CSM 422, The Litany of the Day of Judgement.  Mostly, Dr. Rolfhamre focuses on the early music of the 15th century.  His interpretations here features the lute. 

You’ve been listening to Las Cantigas de Santa Maria, the holy canticles of the Virgin Mary and the musical biography of Medieval King Alfonso X of Spain in music, poetry, and art.  I’m the producer and your host, Debra Bolton.  I began exploring the history of the CSM, because I found the tunes, songs, poems, and art pieces so wonderfully extraordinary with their passion and multimedia approaches.  I hope you’ve found this music and its stories interesting.  For more information, please visit my blog: https://peopleandcultures.blog/?p=1369

And, if you’d like to hear the show, encourage your local public radio station to run it, and it can be found at https://exchange.prx.org/pieces/396349

To take us out, here’s an ensemble called, Calliope with CSM medley. Thank you for listening to Cantigas de Santa Maria, I’m Debra Bolton.                                                    (5:51)

Dr. Knauss’s Latest Book

In the Company of Kindred Spirits

Our friends joke about having a, “Covid bubble.” The Covid bubble contains a very small group of people who practice physical distancing, keep very serious sanitizing routines, and have little public exposure. We maintain a Covid bubble with a few friends. Since we still have to eat, often we choose to eat together…at a distance.

A few weeks ago, I had to travel to present a documentary in which I was involved. Humanities Kansas pays chosen speakers to talk about their projects. While I did not make the film, I was, somewhat, involved with its production. Strangers in Town. The film chronicles immigrants in a rural community and their positive impact on communities. Watch it and see what you think.

While I was in the area, we stayed with our good friends Mark and Kathy. The rest of the “Covid Bubble, ” Bob and Adrian, showed up for happy hour. Bob, an avid hunter, brought his smoked duck to the small gathering. Mark, another avid hunter, added elk smoked sausage. Adrian and Kathy added cheeses and crackers, and, voilà! We added gin and tonics to the menu for a lovely meal and great conversation. Here’s Bob with the duck:

He says the best way to smoke a duck:

Brine the duck in 1 cup (200g) brown sugar, 1 cup (273g) salt in 1 gallon (3.785 litres) for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, drain the duck. Pat dry, and place in smoker until the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees (68.33 Celsius). Cool and serve. The smoked duck and elk sausage offer nice changes in meats on a charcuterie board.

The next morning, Kathy served a wonderful breakfast of egg, bacon, and cheese on a multi-grain bagel. That delicious meal serves as my featured image for this blog. One of the many things I love about my friends is that we all like to cook/bake, and we all like to eat.

In this time of Covid, we work quite diligently at make our meals special. I know that I write on this subject quite often, but I cannot emphasize this enough. Find those moments where you can derive special pleasures even out of the most mundane things. That concept surely plays a key role in sound mental health during isolating and challenging times.

Weeks later, we took a special trip with Mark and Kathy. We drove to their second home in Western New York where lakes were frozen hard enough to land small aircraft and support hundreds of ice fisher persons. Of course, one cannot be near a lake and not partake in good things that come from water. We like to eat at a little place called, Guppy’s. They specialize in the bounties of lake, ocean, and sea waters. The evening we ate there, I had the mussels steamed in a delicate wine, garlic, and butter sauce. Come to think of it, one could steam an old shoe in white wine, garlic, and butter, and it would likely be yummy. I digress. The mussels in their sauce came with a side of linguine and a glass of chardonnay, naked, not aged in oak barrels, a specialty of a nearby vineyard.

I should mention that the community posted 124 inches of snow had fallen since the beginning of winter. The frozen lake and all its charms were just one of the highlights. We traveled to Lake Erie one of the days. It had large snow cliffs where the waves had lapped up against the shore only to freeze in the process. Mark took this lovely picture of Kathy standing on one of the snow cliffs. It looked surreal at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon. Later, Kathy and I trekked out onto the lake close to her house. I wore my vintage grizzly bear coat, popular in the 1970s, which protected me from the elements quite well.

We spent Valentines Day with our Kathy and Mark at this auspicious lake cottage, so we decided to prepare a loving meal of lobsters, baked potatoes, drawn butter, and asparagus. We ate like queens and kings and washed it all down with, again, the local chardonnay. I loved it. I like a meal that makes me work hard for the sweet morsels of meat hidden behind an exoskeleton. Crusty bread made its way from Kansas to Western New York, so we had that, too.

Back home again, we arrived just a few days after freezing temperatures had dipped well below zero (-15F). Our neighbors dripped the kitchen faucet for us, so we came home to a cozy house feeling lucky that no pipes had burst. We found the four bird feeders and heated water dish quite empty with only a block of feed, meant for deer, as the only remaining food for our yard visitors. They flocked back to the yard once feeders and waters dishes filled.

Thank you for reading.

Nature, Meditation, and Cooking

I hope you like my featured photo.  I took it on my way home from Nebraska in 2017.  We had traveled there to witness the total solar eclipse.  Of course it was incredible, and luckily, the sun set that day with a spectacular view in Western Kansas.

I have a list of topics on which to write in my series of blog posts.  One thing I thought of was the joy of camping.  My Father used to take us camping when we were young. Of the seven children, all of us continue to enjoy nature and all it has to offer us.  My best memories of camping with my father and siblings were the nature lessons on edible plants, astronomy, mushroom hunting, and fishing.  Cooking what we caught and gathered was the best part, and eating all of the food we prepared was the bonus.  My father used to sing to us while he cooked our camp meals.  Today, our camp sites are a place for gathering (Pre-Corona Virus times), conversing, and enjoying each detail of the natural world around us.

My Father’s favorite and best meal was, “Sheepherder’s Delight.”  Basically, it is a one-pan meal, and was cooked over an open fire.  It was a favorite of Dad’s for camping trips since it was a staple meal for sheep herders who lived in the mountains of Colorado with during the summers, as was my Father’s life as a young boy.  Today, when my family goes camping, we prepare the meal the way Dad did, but when we make it at home, we change it a bit.  Here’s my Father’s recipe for Sheepherder’s Delight prepared in one large cast iron skillet or Dutch oven:

1 pound (0.45 kg) of bacon.  Cook until crisp.  Remove cooked bacon, and set aside.  Cube two to four potatoes, depending on the number people that you will feed.  Figure about one small potato per person or two people for a large potato.  Place the potatoes in the hot bacon grease, and fry until soft with crisp edges.

Next, open a can of prepared baked beans, pork and beans, or beans in tomato sauce.  Pour the beans over the potatoes, and add the cooked bacon.  I don’t have a picture of it, but it’s best served after a hard day of hiking, fishing, mushroom hunting, or what ever you do to enjoy nature.  We have a slightly different take on Sheepherder’s Delight when we’re at home.  We change up the ingredients:

1 pound of ground beef (453.592g) I’m sorry if my metric measurements are not quite right.  I look them up on the web for the conversions.  Cook the ground beef with some diced onions, salt, and pepper.

Prepare the potatoes for oven baking.  I cut mine into strips, and toss them with salt, pepper, some oil, and some malt vinegar.  Bake the potatoes in an oven set at ~365 degrees Farenheit (185C). Bake until brown and crispy at the edges.

While the potatoes are baking, finish cooking the ground beef.  Drain of any extra fat.  Then you’re ready to add the canned baked beans, pork and beans, or with what you’re familiar.  It should look like this.

Now, to assemble this wonderful comfort food, bring the potatoes out of the oven.  Arrange some of the potatoes on your plate.  Then serve the bean-meat mixture over the potatoes.  We make this for camping trips.  We use one pan by cooking the potatoes first.  Set them aside while you cook the meat.  Add the beans, and serve over the potatoes.  I forgot to take a picture of the finished product until I had but one bit remaining.

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Another thing we do to enjoy nature is hike up to my Father’s fire circle.  It’s in the same mountains of his childhood and that of his children, grandchildren, and the “Old Ones,” our ancestors.  The Fire Circle is a place to drum and sing our songs, and honor our beloved ancestors.  The hike to our sacred fire circle is about two miles from the main forest service road.  We pass stands of quaking aspen trees, scrub oak, pinon pine, and Ponderosa pine trees.  The fire circle overlooks a canyon where my people hid when the U.S. government was removing them from their ancestral lands to reservations in the 1800s.  It is a very sad time in American history, that is not taught in the schools today.  Here’s a glimpse of those lands.  Our grandson enjoys his time there.

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Speaking of “Indian Removal,” there is the reality that the people were moved away from their hunting and gathering grounds, so there was no way to raise their food.  So the government provided commodities, food surpluses, which included white flour, powdered milk, lard, and a variety of canned meats and vegetables.  The food was highly processed, and we can trace obesity and diabetes back to this down turn in our physical health and food sovereignty.  Having only white flour, dry milk powder, and lard, fry-bread was born, out of necessity.   Though it is a symbol of a bad time for my ancestors, we use it today to symbolize that we are resourceful, and we are still here!  Here I am frying bread at my Father’s fire circle.  My grand nephew was learning how to roll out the dough.  It’s never too early to teach the “younguns” as my brother would say.  He was the one hauling the cast iron Dutch oven up to the circle.  The elevation is ~8,000-plus  feet above sea level.  The beauty contributes to the meditative state in which we find ourselves when we visit this place.

It was a good day to be alive and a good day to honor our ancestors while celebrating the children.

Thank you for reading.

It’s Geography Awareness Week!

Every year, around the second or third week in November, National Geographic Society celebrates Geography Awareness Week (GAW).  As a National Geographic Society Explorer, I have made it one of my missions to promote the study of geography in the class room.  In the U.S., the study of geography is not mandatory.  This sad reality means that many young people, mostly our Anglo students in the U.S.  have no idea that they  possess culture or are part of the human continuum that we call, “diversity.”  Geography teaches us that our respective cultures become part of us as we mature from infants to adulthood, gathering preferences, inter-sectional identities, belief systems, and ways-of-knowing, depending on what part of the world we call home.

It’s a great honor to be part of National Geographic Society as an explorer.  While I don’t get to travel to the far reaches of the globe, I help students look at the world with geo-spatial lenses.  I teach them to ask questions, which we call, “geo-inquiry.”  I have an example:

  • Ask: Framed question from a location-based perspective so that you understand the challenge
  • Acquire: the resources needed to study the question further, such as research data
  • Examine your data, and watch for patterns that begin to emerge
  • Analyze the data to see which factors influence other factors
  • Act on your knowledge to determine a problem-solving approach

–Develop your message for your intended audience to create visuals to communicate information

Let me break this down even further.  Suppose I parachute out of a plane, and I don’t know where I am.

  1. Where is this place? (Ask)
  2. What is the topography? What is the climate?  Am I surrounded by mountains?  Can I see snow on those mountains? Why am I surrounded by a treeless sandy plain but I can see mountains about 25 miles (40.2 km) in every direction? What else can my surrounding tell me? Have I been to a place like this previously?  (Acquire data)
  3. After I take in all this data, I can begin to examine it to create a hypothesis on my location. (Examine)
  4. Analyzing my data, I begin to realize that I am somewhat familiar with the surroundings.  About 25 years ago, I remember that I climbed Blanca Peak, a 14,000 Feet (4267.2 meters) peak at my 11:00 o’clock as I face south.
  5. I can now act on my knowledge to find my way to the nearest town in this valley.  Where am I?  I am at the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, United States.

Geography asks us to consider all our surroundings and to recognize how we humans interact with our environments.  It asks us to consider place and what makes place important to us.  Here are some other questions we ask through geography:

“What is?  or Which is?

“Where is?”

“What has changed?”  “Since when”?

“How has it changed?”

“Which spatial patterns exist?”

“What if?”

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My students pointing to their places of origin!

Here are some other geography “tid-bits.”

  • Did you know that Geography is considered the “Mother of Sciences”?  Geography’s study field embraced the entire universe and later bore many children, among them astronomy, botany, geology, and anthropology.
  • Did you know that Climatology is the study of how climates are created and what they do the environment?  Climatology is a long-term study of the geographic world.
  • Did you know that Human Ecology, the study of humans in their environments, is a unique field of Geography?  This form of geographic inquiry aims to clarify the relationships between natural environments and varying activities of humans.
  • Did you know that geography explores human systems, which include culture, economics, migration, and politics?
  • Did you know that geography explores physical systems such as land forms, climate, and rivers?

Geography is wonderful!  Some people think that technology, such as map programs, will do away with maps and atlases.  I hope not.  The joy of exploring the world through maps remains a great excitement for those of us who grew up with maps.

If you would like to hear geography linked  with music, listen to High Plains Public Radio, online at hppr.org.  Silver Rails: Music of the World in the Folk Tradition airs Saturday, November 9, 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Central Time.  Lynn Boitano and I will be your host for music, geography trivia call-in, and lots of geography information.  We will be celebrating Geography Awareness!

Thank you for reading!

 

The Wonders of Traveling to the City – Los Angeles

We landed at LAX, the international airport of Los Angeles, California today.  I love traveling.  Yes.  There are delays, many personalities, and some inconveniences.  Those little “bothers” dim when compared to the phenomenal wonders of witnessing the human experience in the process.  There are those who are laid back, as I tend to be, because we know we cannot hold back the tide, such is air travel.  There are those who appear to be stressed and uptight, perhaps, because they have no control over time and space, such is travel.   And there are those who appear to be oblivious to the process of travel and other life realities, in general.   

On the flight from Colorado to LAX, I had the pleasure of observing all three.  First, there was my seat mate who was traveling to LA to meet up with friends at Disneyland.  She amused me, not because she was unaware of direction in her home town of Colorado Springs (I mentioned that Cheyenne Moutain is always on the west, and if she faces it, her right would be north, and her left would be south.  To which she replied, “I don’t know what that means”.  Okay.  I get that, I think.  She appeared to be a nice young lady, no matter how unaware of her surroundings.  The great perplexing thing was that, once we landed, she did not know how she would get to Disneyland.  She thought of taking an Uber or Lyft for the 35 miles to Disney.  I suggested public transportation.  We were glad to help her get there, through a little research.  I was glad to help an elderly lady get her three big bags to the curb queue for waiting on family to fetch her. 

What I enjoyed the most, was the train ride to Pasadena.  Los Angeles has a very nice light rail.  On the ride, I spoke with homeless people who rode the rail for most of the day.  I interacted with some who were suffering from untreated mental illness, and with hard-working folk who toiled long, hard days to support their families in jobs that contribute to the economy, put food on our tables, and tend toward jobs that most of us do not want to do, nor do we raise our children to do such jobs.   

On the train in LA

I loved watching a little girl explaining to her mother, in Spanish, about her Russian Nesting Dolls, which she received as a gift from her teacher at school in the first day.  The little girl explained to me, the origins of her gift, in perfect English.  She was about 9 years old and very bright.

Little girls with nesting dolls on train

The first train from LAX takes us to Union Station, built in 1939 as a Passenger Terminal.  Called the “Last of the Great Railways, LA Union Station gained notoriety in 1980 by being place on the National Registry of Historic Places.  When we took the train from Kansas City to Los Angeles two years ago, we had the pleasure of departing from a great Union Station and Arriving at an equally great Union Station.  If only the walls could speak! 

The ride from LA Union Station to Pasadena afforded the observer with great contradictions.   Hibiscus “hedges” lined the streets while on those streets were small microcosms of tent “villages” inhabited by homeless people.   My heart breaks for the many circumstances that render one homeless, , and I believe we can learn much from them, because I witnessed great survival skills and resourcefulness in those with whom I’ve interacted.   

By the time we reached our destination of Pasadena, CA, I had spoken to 15 people each with a story to tell.  If we, but, listen, the voice of humanity shines, and we walk away a little smarter for the experience.   

Not only does the city offer the continuum of the human experience, I like to go to grocery stores to see what the locals purchase.  I like a well-stocked grocery with a wide array of ethnic ingredients, and Los Angeles does not disappoint!  Opportunities for dining out are fabulous!  One of my favorite hamburger spots is In-n-Out Burgers!  Opened in 1948 by the Snyders, the franchise boasts that it has no freezer or microwave.  Each “store” provides a viewing window, where we wait and watch each burger assembled.  The “double-double” has two freshly cooked patties that are place on buttered-toasted buns, freshly sliced onion and tomatoes and a chunk of lettuces pulled from the freshly broken head.  The fries come from a potato placed in a chopper directly into the hot oil.  All this is washed down with a sparkling cola.  There are even items from a “hidden” menu such as “animal fries” and a patty cooked for your dog! 

In and Out

After sitting with my brother-in-law, as he received chemo-therapy infusion, we treated ourselves to a snack of “inari-sushi” from a “stand” that has been in existence from Dale’s (my spouse) childhood. He’s 69 years old, so that Inari-Sushi stand has been around for a while.  One orders from a window, and the person brings the order to the car.  Inari-shushi is sushi rice, sesame seeds, with seasoned rice vinegar tucked into a tofu pocket.  Eaten with soy sauce and pickled ginger, it’s a taste explosion you won’t soon forget.  Now, I’m on the hunt for recipes on making the tofu pocket!   

Thank you for reading.

Regional Foods of Patabamba – Peru

A few years ago, I went on a study trip to Peru.  I wrote about it previously.  Of course, I’m always up for a new adventure in eating, though I love interacting with people with different backgrounds from my own. (Which is every day, really!  I don’t have to go to another country to do that!). My study group and I took many trips in-country, so I will talk about those from time to time.  This story begins in Cuzco, and it includes food, too!

The Cuzco church bells pealed at 4:00 a.m.   We ate a lovely breakfast of ham, cheese, eggs, fruit, granola made with puffed millet in place of our traditional oatmeal, liquid yogurt, and hot espresso.  Espresso is the only type of coffee served in Cuzco!  Having only been a consumer of coffee for a few years, this was strong for me, but it proved to be beneficial in the high altitude.  Cuzco is considered the Peruvian Andes and is 11,152’ altitude.  Coming from a mountainous region in Colorado, I adjusted quite well.  As for the espresso and any coffee in Peru, I must say that there was no such thing as a bad cup of coffee in Peru.  After a lovely breakfast, we chewed on some coca leaves for good breathing, and then, we boarded the bus to Patabamba.

Patabamba, in Quechua, means “upper flat.  Originally, it was Patapompa, but the Spanish colonizers changed it to Patabamba.  From what I could gather regarding Quechua, it is a complex language, which was largely replaced with Spanish after Spain’s invasion in the 15th Century.  Many of the remote villages around Cuzco are functionally monolingual speakers of Quechua.  It is a beautiful language with only three vowels (i, a, u), and in some words the vowels are completely devoiced (silence, a stop, or a sort of throaty sound).  I was able to observe the language in action when village members relayed instructions to one another as they prepared our most sumptuous and interesting meal of the whole trip. At first, I did not understand that the, aforementioned, stops, hisses, and throaty sounds were part of the language.  Then after, I learned to listen for the “devoiced” part of the language that is Quechua (Ketch-wah).

Our menu of lamb, chicken, llama, potatoes, sweet potatoes, lima beans (cooked in their pods), plantain, and blocks of farmer cheese were baked in a rock “oven” especially built for the occasion.   We watched as the hole was dug, and then lined with the rocks.  The most impressive was the dome built by the large stones leaning against each other. The crowing touch came when the “keystone” was placed in the ground oven.

Peru Oven

The domed rock oven was filled with wood fuel and burned until the rocks were hot.  When the rocks reached the target temperature, the dome was deconstructed by first removing the cap stone which held all the stones in place.  The rocks that made the dome were removed, and the raw foods were placed on the hot stones.  The cheese was wrapped in brown paper before being place on the other ingredients.  When all the food was in place, green branches with yellow flowers still in place, were spread on top of all the foods.  Then large sheets of heavy plastic were laid out on the green branches.  Then the moisture-rich soil dug to make the cooking pit was spread out on the plastic until nothing, but soil was visible.  The food stayed in the “oven’ for 35 minutes, and voilà!  We ate the most agreeable meal with cups of coca tea to wash it all down.  The meats, plantain, and vegetables cooked to perfection.   We ate with our hands.  I ate my potatoes with the peelings still intact, and I noticed that the villagers peeled their potatoes.   It was my favorite meal of the trip.

Peru cooked in Patabamba

While the meal was cooking, my fellow travelers and I met the elders of the village.  The elders, male and female, invited us to try on their beautifully dyed and woven dresses, ponchos, capes, and hats for photo opportunities.  One of the featured photos in a past blog was me and one of the elders.

After interacting with the village elders, we went for a walk to gather plants and flowers.  That was followed by a lesson on the plants used for dying wools for weaving.  The flowers gathered that day became the dyes of brilliant reds, yellows, and blues from which all other colors were made.  After spending a fine luncheon with the villagers, they set up a store for us to purchase handmade clothing, wraps, and hats.

What struck me most was the happiness of the people.  They seemed to be quite contented.  As they told us about their plans for promoting the village for tourism, which includes home-stays, I wondered if the influences that would inevitably follow would interfere with the peace they appeared to possess.  I wonder how they are faring these few years later.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

Pizza: Origins of the “Humble Pie” and Whipping up a Pizza After Work!

According to the History Channel’s website, there’s a great history of the pizza.  In the town of Naples, in the 1700s, the working class devised a way to get eat large amounts of calories in an easy way: flat bread with oil, cheese, and other toppings.  It was an inexpensive and portable meal that could be consumed in haste.  Seen as a food for the lower classes, pizza became popular when Queen Margherita visited Naples in 1889, and fell in love with the “pizza mozzarella”, which now bears the name of the young queen. Word has it that the queen, especially, liked the fact that the pizza bore the colors of her country’s flag!

Pizza can be made quickly, after work, for a delicious and special meal for you, your family, or for friends. You don’t need fancy ingredients, just be creative with what you have.

A few days ago, I told you about my windfall of basil and about dehydrating veggies for use as seasonings in my cooking and baking.  Last evening, I fixed yummy pizzas after work.

Pizzas from scratch are quick and simple, and the activity can easily contribute to a fun party with guests.  All you have to do, is make the dough, and seal it in a large bowl, for up to an hour, until you’re ready to divide it for your visiting pizza makers.

For my pizzas, last night, I made a pesto and added extra ingredients to make it more zippy, than usual, for the sauce.  It was delicious for lunch, today, too!  We ate it cold!

Pesto Pizza Sauce:

One bunch basil (about 1 cup of leaves)

¾ cup olive oil

¼ cup parmesan cheese

¼ cup of ground hazel nuts with two juniper berries (I did not have pine nuts, so improvised)

3 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon of dehydrated onion, celery, tomato, and chili peppers

Blend to a liquid consistency – set aside

Pizza dough:

2 cups flour

Warm water

¼ cup Honey or sugar

Mix and wait until bubbly

When it’s bubbly, add 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp salt, and 1 TBS oil

Add enough flour to make a thick dough – let rest

Knead and add enough flour to make a nice dough

Roll out flat and place on your gas grill to set the pizza dough – turn over to slightly brown on the other side. Grilling the dough also gives it a wonderful, smoky flavor.

Remove from heated grill and spread pesto pizza sauce on browned pizza dough, add cheese and other toppings.  Place back on grill until finished.

Enjoy with a nice salad and a glass of wine.

Thank you for reading.

Reference:

Turim, G. (2012). A Slice of History: Pizza Through the ages. Access date: August 10, 2018,

https://www.history.com/news/a-slice-of-history-pizza-through-the-ages

 

Traveling Alaska with Friends and Granddaughter!

About four years ago, we set out on an adventure to travel Alaska in recreational vehicles with a total of 16 travelers, one of whom was our, then, 6 year old granddaughter.  I will call her “Ditto”, since she will play an important role in this story.

Well, we have some close friends with whom we have traveled to Mexico, the Texas Gulf Coast, and other place not-so-far-away.  The trip to Alaska was about a year in the planning.  My friend, Kathy, has a knack for organizing trips, for which I”m grateful since I don’t like that kind of detail.

All but four of the travelers flew to Alaska.  The other four drove to do some sight-seeing along the way.  Our flights and car trip converged in Anchorage, where we rented the recreational vehicles and began the drive across the state, as best can be done in two weeks.

This story focuses on our first stop, from Alaska, was the Kenai Peninsula and Resurrection Bay.  It was overcast and cool, which was a nice welcome coming from July the Midwest.  July in southern Alaska was wonderfully wet, and the air smelled fresh and moist!  Part of the group went fishing for halibut and salmon, which was prepared in the smoker that Mark brought from the “Lower 48” in their SUV.  We enjoyed the freshness of the fish prepared other ways, too!

One of the most exciting activities we shared was that of teaching “Ditto” how to harvest mussels during low tide.  After gathering the bi-valve moluscs, we cleaned and “de-bearded” them.  Inspecting the mussels before cooking is important.  Any that are open already, should be discarded.  That indicates a dead organism.  When your mussels are cleaned and inspected, set those aside.  I like to soak them in fresh, cool water as I’m preparing the “soup” in which I cook them.

Put a pot on the stove, saute four cloves of garlic in 3/4 stick of butter.  When the garlic is soft, add two cups of white wine.  Once the wine, butter, and garlic are simmering, add the cleaned mussels to the broth.  Put a tight fitting lid on the pot, and let the mussels simmer for 10 – 15 minutes.  Remove the lid, and you should see that all the mussels are opened to reveal the steamed moluscs.  Discard any that did not open.  That means they are not edible.

Eat the mussels with crusty French bread, which sops up the broth!  Our granddaughter is now 10, and still loves having mussels as a treat when she’s with us.  “Ditto” is seen in the feature photo enjoying her third bowl of mussels of the trip.  I love cooking and camping, especially when I get to do those with the people I love.

Thank you for reading.

Another Exciting Day in Peru

Yesterday, I introduced the topic a trip I took to Peru as part of a leadership program focused on agriculture and rural life.  Our first stop was Lima, which was the central travel point to each part of our journeys across the country.  So, from Lima, we departed to Chincha by bus, to Tarapoto (the jungle region), by airplane, to Cusco (the high Andean region) by plane, and back home, by plane.  Those trips will be outlined in due time.

As previously mentioned, our first day included a U.S.D.A. country briefing at the U.S. Embassy with Ambassador Rose M. Likins and her staff.  After the briefing and tour of the U.S. Embassy – Peru, we departed for lunch at the Casa Andina.  We were fed one of Peru’s favorite dishes, chicken. We ate chicken in many dishes.  This was a delicious baked chicken place atop a sautéed vegetable medley of onion, eggplant, zucchini, and sweet red pepper all lightly touched with a savory butter sauce. A baked and quartered potato accented the dish, which we washed down with Inka-Kola, a cotton-candy-flavored cola (caffeine) drink.  This dish is my featured photo today.

We departed for the Corgono S. A. flour mill in Callao.  It was a fascinating tour.  It made me think of the sugar factory at Ayala, in the state of Morellos, in Mexico where very old equipment was handled with the most care and “babied” to get the most out of it.  Similar to that sugar factory, the flour mill in Callao ran three shifts per day, and one shift was set for maintenance of the milling machinery and equipment.  Otherwise, the grain went through all of the steps that one might imagine in any flour mill.  Before the tour, we were asked to wear long pants, no open-toed shoes, and to bring no cameras.  Apparently, I didn’t take copious notes as I look back to my journal.  I do remember great pride that each person had in his work at the mill.  It was very loud, and there were no women employed on that day.  One wondered if that was the rule for this mill.  I neglected to ask.

After the flour mill tour, we boarded two buses to Chincha Province.  Our bus journey was along the coast line running south from Lima.  Interestingly, the coast line was dotted with what looked like chicken houses.  Remember, Peru eats a lot of chicken.  Also memorable was lots of eating establishments named for their proprietors: Restaurant Betty, Restaurant Oscar, Restaurant Wilbur, etc.  I delighted in the entrepreneurial spirit of the Peruano (How they refer to themselves.  We had been saying, “Peruvians’).  We stopped for snacks at a gas station along the way.  One could buy a bag of puffed corn, sweet potato chips, or lima bean “nuts” (similar to Corn Nuts) with a bottle of beer.  That was interesting, so most everyone availed themselves of the opportunity.  Our scheduled two-hour bus ride took a bit longer as one our buses had a flat tire.  I didn’t mind.  It gave us time to get out for a look about.  We watched automobiles and “Moto-Taxis” whiz by.  The salt-filled air was comfortable, and many aromas arose in the evening air.

We made it to our hotel in Chincha that evening.  We cleaned up and stayed in for dinner at the hotel. We ate lovely chicken or beef dishes and drank Pisco Sours.  We were first introduced to the Pisco Sour when we had visited the Embassy of Peru in Washington, D.C. the previous year.

I hope you found this story interesting.  Thank you for reading my blog.

 

 

 

 

Travels to Peru

I had the great fortune to travel to Peru a few years ago.  It was part of a leadership program that focused on agricultural and rural living.  I did learn a lot while in the two-year program, but I felt like it was more like conservatism 101.  I am grateful for the opportunity, however.  It was an investment made in my by the institution for which I am on faculty.  So, I will tell you a bit about my trip.  When I’m not trips, I take copious notes, so my plan is to share those with you, sporadically.  I should tell you that my journal notes were mandatory reading for a U.S. Army Command who had an assignment in Peru about three years ago.  That was very exciting!

“If you smile at me, I will understand; ‘cause that is something everybody, everywhere does in the same language.”    That is David Crosby’s first line of his song, Wooden Ships, and it was my greeting to security at Wichita Airport, and thus began my 4,234-mile (one-way) adventure to Peru.  The quote was on the paper liner in the plastic boxes where travelers put their personal items to go through x-ray while they step through the metal detector.  Other than being greeted by one of my all-time-favorite songs,  I thought, “What a perfect way to begin a trip!”

My philosophy of travel is to view every experience as an adventure, and I’m always grateful for whatever happens.  I think it’s important when visiting other countries to go without expectation and to leave the lenses through which I see my middle-class life at home.  If I expect that every part of the world should be just like home, then I should stay home.  What would be the point of travel?

With that said, I must say that Peru was absolutely delightful.  The food was marvelous no matter what part of the country we were in.  The people were beautiful, happy, and welcoming.  They were eager to share their culture, their food, their drink, and mostly, their country.

I will use this space, occasionally, to tell you about what I learned in Peru.  We were greeted at the Lima (the capital of Peru and its largest city with 9 million people) airport by many people waiting for loved ones to return from trips.  When we loaded the bus, an ambitious young man helped us load our luggage.  I appreciated his ambition, and I was glad to offer a tip.  You see, Peru is a country of working poor.  One-third of the population lives in poverty.  Most affected are rural and inner-city people, so one becomes ambitious and entrepreneurial at a young age.  Nationally, poverty is measured at 100% when a family of three earns the U.S. equivalent of $2,640 annually.  Compare that to U.S. where a family of three is at 100% of poverty earning $19,530 annually.  However, we must remember that poverty is relative to average earnings in a country.

In Lima, we visited the U. S. Embassy, where we heard from the Ambassador and had a USDA briefing.  In the years since the horrors of Alberto Fujimori’s “reign”, Peru has seen a 6.4% annual growth in its gross domestic product, and it’s had a 1-2% budget surplus.  Poverty is pervasive, because many people are still not convinced that democracy and prosperity are real.  Right now, the Peruvian currency is appreciating against the U.S. dollar.  The greatest booming economies are agriculturally related.  Right now, the U. S. is not exporting as much wheat as usual because of the drought.   Peru has a moratorium on genetically modified organisms, so that hurts some U.S. exports to Peru, too.

I am sharing a photo of a moment I share with a lady in the village of Urubamba.  The people there still speak their native language, Quechua.  Luckily, the village escaped colonization by Spain those centuries ago.