A friend of mine, a university professor, recently celebrated his birthday. It was an unusual celebration in some ways because, being 70 years old, he was finished with people singing happy birthday and cutting a cake with one candle on it.
This seems to happen here no matter your age; you could be 102 and still get the same treatment. He was fed-up with this ritual, which he feels seems more appropriate for children. Still, everyone was looking around wondering when the cake and song would begin.
Another unusual thing was that there was no music and consequently no dancing. Most parties I go to involve music and dancing. Thus, it was more like an American party; we just sat around, talked and drank. Perhaps that is why I felt so much at home.
There was mix of all ages at the party. I like to see that. Peruvian birthday parties involve everyone from Grandma to the smallest baby.
Something that doesn’t vary is the ritual on entry and exit. On entry, you need to kiss and embrace the women and shake the hands of every man in the room. You do the same when leaving. It was a pleasure to observe that even very young children follow this custom.
By the way, the food and drink were great. I had the most delicious chilcanos— a tasty beverage featuring pisco, ginger ale and lime juice. I couldn’t stop myself from having a second one. So you know that I enjoyed myself.
I remember being invited to similar parties by this friend when I first arrived in Peru. What a difference this time. It used to be painful.
First, I could never understand what my host was saying. His Spanish was too rapid. Then the babble of others talking Spanish around me confused and frustrated me. It was always the start of a headache.
Anyway, this time the conversation was good and I even joined in; in the past, I would sit silent, unable to participate, but now my Spanish has really improved.
However, the thing that I remember most from the party was the food. I am going to torture Peruvians living abroad telling about all the wonderful things that we had.
There was a table groaning with good things including:
Carapulcra, made from dried potatoes and pork in a delicious sauce;
Seco de res, beef and potatoes cooked in a cilantro sauce;
All sorts of tubers: oca shaped like a finger, yellow and sweet; yucca, white with a starchy taste; and yellow potato, the queen of potatoes;
Cau cau, a stew made of chicken and potatoes;
Aji de gallina, another chicken dish in a creamy yellow pepper sauce, served on rice
Frijoles, beans cooked with ham (one of my favorites);
Aji, a spicy sauce made from pepper;
Sangrecito, fried pig’s blood (not one of my favorites);
And for dessert:
Mazamora Morada, purple corn pudding with dried fruits;
And arroz con leche, rice cooked with concentrated milk, port and cinnamon.
All in all, it was a very good way to celebrate a birthday.
You can listen to Larry reading his stories at www.soundcloud.com/larryoflima.