Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Bubble, Turn, Soak: Carnival and Cosmos in Cusco

David Knowlton

Couples dance around trees covered with gifts and planted for the occasion in Cusco’s neighborhoods these days. The pairs turn and spin and they chop with an axe.  Turn, turn, chop. Turn, turn, chop. A band, contracted for the occasion plays and a beat marks the way. Turn, turn, chop.

After a long time the tree falls, creaking and moaning. The couple striking the last blow gets a new task, one filled with responsibility and obligations. They sponsor next year's feast. They find and organize to put up the tree. They coordinate the people of the neighborhood who bring drink and ingredients for a meal boiled in a single, very large pot.  It is a feast in a pot and on many plates.

The meal has two names; it is a couple dancing: turn,turn, chop. It is both puchero and thimpu, the one Spanish and the other Quechua. Both refer to boiling, especially foods boiling together in a pot of water.

It rains these days. Water falls from the sky and when it does, the streets fill like the pot, splash, splash, fall. Youths, un-married, un-coupled go around together, boys with boys, and girls with girls. They throw buckets of water, or colored water balloons at the other. They spray them with chisquetes which means squirts, guns made to squirt out water. The one side squirts, the other squirts back, and both laugh.  

Squirt, squirt, laugh, while married couples turn, turn, chop. They all boil like water in the pot or like a wind through leaves as the squall comes in. Bubble, bubble cook.

Into the pot go meats. You get beef loin and mutton ribs, as well as dried flesh.  It is a composite of two or three different animals—cows, sheep, and maybe llamas or alpacas—as if one, the first two fresh and still red, the other salted, dried, and white. Into the pot they go, like couples, woman from one family and man from another, turn, turn, chopping together in the rain.  

You get foods from under ground, yellow potatoes, orange carrots, and pale yucas, along with freeze dried and white moraya (special bitter potatoes soaked in running streams to take out the bitter and dark before being frozen and dried). 

You get foods from above ground, white ears of sweet corn, yellow garbanzos, and green heads of cabbage, leaves rounded together. From up in the air, hanging from trees, you get fruit, yellow peaches and white pears, sweet to go with savory. 

All together, a cosmos united, they boil, boil, cook. Water dances in the pot, youths laugh and squirt, couples turn, turn, and chop, and the band plays, plays, and plays. 

Chicha is served, yellow fermented juice of corn. Frutillada is served, red from strawberries blended in chicha. They effervesce like the breeze, like the water in the pot, bubble, bubble and cook, or the couples when they dance some more, turn, turn, chop.

Strangers appear, look, look, snap. Give them food, give them drink, turn, turn, chop. Wet them. Cover them with color, laugh, laugh, play.

The tree will fall, children laugh and rush for its gifts, run, run, grab. A whole world will be dished up. First comes broth. Then a plate with tubers and meats on the bottom, corn and fruit by their side, rice and garbanzos on top. All covered with a cabbage leaf, a composite, well-dressed food like an ear still in its husk. A bowl of ground hot sauce waits on the side to spice the food. 

First the tree falls and people eat. Then Christ dies, and people eat. From neighborhood to “nations”, they dance up to the mountain’s top to welcome a new sun, new son.The Lord of Temblors comes out from the Church and Maria Angola tolls: boom, boom, boom. Red flowers splash and people go home and eat, six savory dishes and six sweet. 

No trickery here, no inside out. Carnival turns to Lent, then Easter. Corn grows high and lush, then it dries, bright colors all around.  

Rain falls, then sun shines, seemingly without pity, and people dance, dance, and eat. New trees sprout and rise in sun, rain, and breeze. They turn, turn, grow. 

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