Weather these days: Warm, alternating sunny and rainy, with a high chance of suckiness.
Well, I have been gone for a while. Just returned from balmy Florida where I went to present at a conference and spend Passover with family. Upon returning walked straight into the delicious smells, sounds and hordes of people of Holy Week pageantry in the Historic Center. An experience everybody should have at least once (they are better than the ones in Antigua, frankly). And as aromas go, imagine incense, myrrh, pine needles, aromatic flowers, sweets... what a welcome! (BTW, if you want to see really good pics of Guatemala City, check out Guatemala Daily Photo)
So. I have now two jobs, one is teaching 3 intensive grad-level courses at a private university, the other coordinating community-organizing courses for the Government of Spain in collaboration with the local City government, finishing a dissertation and conducting an investigation at the historic archives.
Because all of this amounts to pretty sizable amounts of work and I seem to be driven by demons, I registered in cheesemaking certification courses at the best trade school in the city--which complies with ISO 190 or whatever they are called, international standards--and have been taking the necessary modules in order to become a cheesemaker.
Which is kind of a joke because I won't ever really be a for-real cheesemaker. I mean, that stuff entails lots of physical work!
Most people in the course are either diary farmers wanting to commercialize their cheeses at a more cross-border level, or food chemists wanting to increase their know-how, and, in general, people who have an actual valid reason to be there. Even the Consul of Greece, who is a classmate and enjoys cheesemaking as a hobby, has a more valid reason than I do: he raises goats and makes goat cheese or chevre.
The trade school regulations are pretty strict. We have to keep our hair covered, usually wear latex gloves, short nails without polish, white shirt and black pants, black shoes, an apron. Many of the students are also in the Gastronomy School. But we all must wear the uniform. The classes are extremely inexpensive, approximately US$12 per course (plus materials).
We work in teams, and we have been lucky to all really like each other and make friends. A great mix of the very young and not-so-young. The place is steaming hot, always, but up to now we have learned to make a great many types of yogurt, butters and cheeses, including mascarpone, cheddar, gouda, riccota and many others. Unlike in the US, where we seem to like to proscribe people from places, here any foreigner can sign up for classes. They really don't require much in the way of paperwork, you just bring your passport to registration and that takes care of that.
Since many in my team got enthused with a new class offered on canning and conserves, I, like a true lemming, followed the herd and signed up for that too. Which worked out fine, for I had several really delicious jams to take with me as gifts on my trip to the US. I mean, there is just so many Mayan handicrafts and artifacts you can take to people in the US, lovely as they may be, before the houses of friends and family start looking like one of those Fair Trade shops or something.
We learned to make ketchup in that class and let me tell you, ketchup made in the kitchen lab tastes a hell of a lot better than the ketchup one buys at any grocery store. Really good. Like ketchup must have tasted originally, before it became a mass-produced item.
Separating curds from liquid (whey). That kid is my teammate David, studying to be a professional chef
So, I returned from the US on Good Friday and just in the nick of time to be able to get into Downtown Guatemala before they closed the streets to vehicular traffic. Even so, there were tens of thousands of people--locals and tourists--taking a taxi, getting off in the peripheries of downtown, and walking the streets in order to see the magnificent processions and the altars.
And yes, yes, it was relatively safe to walk the streets those days. Lots of security and all that. Needless to say, lots of pickpockets as well, but people should know better than to carry lots of cash, expensive watches or cellphones walking any street anywhere in Guatemala.
Curds which shall be separated from the liquid in order to become cheese. The liquid becomes ricotta cheese later on.
There are no words to describe how impressive the processions are, but they are much more historically accurate than the ones in Antigua--since when the Capital City moved from Antigua to Guatemala City, it brought all of the church orders and customs with them--and Antigua reconstructed its processions much later, and to a different style. The ones in the Capital City are also much grander. I also like that despite the tremendous crowds downtown, there are less than in Antigua and more local.
But hey, that's just me. I am more urban and Antigua is starting to feel, pretty as it may be, like a Disneyland for US retirees. Too pretty, too touristy. But like I said, that's probably just me.
My teammate Julio, a psychology student, whose family owns a Cheesemaking factory. We all take turns stirring that big vat of curdling milk.
Be it as it may, the processions are impressive and everybody has his or her favorite thing about it.
Some are suckers for the bands and the awe-inspiring dirges and concerts. They are actually famous and even avowed Atheists like to attend. Others go for the magnificence and artistry of the andas, the palanquins which carry the statues, some of which require 75 carriers or more on each side, all dressed in purple or black garb which strong resembles Ku Klux Klan attire.
Others love the food. For me, the best are the very intricate and blocks-long carpets made of colored wood shavings, sand and flowers that are laid down by neighborhoods for the processions to walk over. I haven't met a single person who isn't amazed by them.
Another interesting factor is that a great many restaurants close shop. That is, all commerce pretty much dies except for the markets. But on Good Friday, forget it! All is dead.
So what happens in the Historic Center is that many private houses---some really ancient and beautiful inside--open their doors and sell home-made food typical of the season. Sponge cakes baked in a honeyed liquid (molletes) and other delicious morsels that go straight to ones' hips.
Most of Guatemala flock to the beach or Lake Atitlán--it is the equivalent to Spring Break too--but there is still a whole lot of religious fervor going on. And, well, partying too. Even the most secular like to cavort around taking pictures of all the processions and of the pageantry, and then go party at night. Works for me!
Others, such as some (not all, I guess) of the Evangelical Christian churches, go ape these days, frothing at the mouth about idol worship and what not. It all adds to the entertainment.
This year I missed all that, because soon as I returned from the US I found reams upon reams of paperwork to take care of. Long papers to grade, for example, and stuff of that nature. Fun. Been inside sitting at this computer since I got off that plane, pretty much.
Other than that, the hotel has been full of big, noisy, happy families who have come camp at our place in order to watch all the processions, and some still remain here. The weather is mostly nice so they sit outside by the garden, chatting and listening to music on their radios and laughing. The apartment tenants, all young professionals and artists, also seem to be having a good time with their places full of young people, doors open, cooking.
Several of the biggest processions pass in front of the building, so they can be fully appreciated from the roof. We had some guests from Canada who just could not make up their minds if they wanted to watch them from the roof, with the full panoramic view, or dash downstairs and mingle with the people and watch them up close and personal. They kept running up and down the stairs! Funny. After a while, not so much.
Anyhow. I shall leave you for now and return much sooner than last time. Below, you may appreciate a detail from a Holy Week carpet. Perhaps you will want to come check them out in person some day in the future. Me, I need to get back to grading papers, y'all ...
Hotel - Parking - Lofts
In the Historic Center of Guatemala City
Hotel - Parking - Lofts
In the Historic Center of Guatemala City