A Short History of Italy – From Myth to 44 BCE (Caesar’s Death)

In preparation for my move to Italy, I wrote a book about food in Italy. In the book, I wrote a short history of Italy. The history of Italy as a country is short because Italy only became a nation in 1861. But, the history of the Italian peninsula is long, so here is my version of it, thanks to Wikipedia. 

First, the name, Italy. Theories abound, but the one I like is that the name, Italia, comes from the Oscan, an extinct Indo-European language from the area of the ankle of Italy, for “land of calves” because that area of Italy is the “calf,” to boot. Another theory is that Italy is named after a king named Italos, this spelling is based on Ancient Greek. Italos was king of the Oenotrians, a pastoral tribe in southern Italy. The myth says that Italos was the grandson of Odysseus. Yes, that guy. The King of Ithaca, the hero of Homer’s tale of Odysseus, and the guy who took ten years to get home, interrupted not by traffic but by the Trojan War. Odysseus is famous for his “nostos” which is the theme of “homecoming” in Ancient Greek literature. This demonstrates how rare it was for Greek men to return home after going off to sea. The island of Ithaca is a real island located off the west coast of Greece, across the water from Italy. Italos, the king of the Oenotrians, is mentioned in the fourth century BCE (so 2,400 years ago) by Aristotle. My favorite part of this namedrop by Aristotle, is that King Italos, not only converted his people from being pastoral to agricultural, but he was the first to  “institute their system of common meals.” Since this is a book about Italian food, that’s a factoid that I wish I could learn more about, but Aristotle isn’t answering my emails. 

Second, some metrics about Italy today. Italy is the fifth most visited country in the world (behind China, the United States, Spain, and France in first place), with 60 million inhabitants, and 61 million tourists each year. 

After the time of Odysseus, around 50,000 years ago, there were some homo sapiens living in modern day Rome and Verona. These homo sapiens were Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, Neanderthals. Modern genetics has discovered that the Neanderthals did not die out but were amalgamated into modern human beings merging with the conquering Homo sapiens sapiens, us. Neanderthals get a bad rap, but that is because history is written by the victor. In this case, the victor was Homo sapiens sapiens. Neanderthals were shorter and broader in body type and supposedly those with red hair have more Neanderthal in them than the rest of us. Homo sapiens arose in Italy around 48,000 years ago. Fast forward to Otzi the Iceman. He was found in the Alps on the border with Austria and Italy. He was a copper age hunter who lived around 3,400–3,100 BCE (imagine the candles on that cake!). 

Otzi was part of the first Indo-European migration to Italy from mainland Europe. About five hundred years later, during the bronze age, a second migration happened and these people became the famous “Beaker Culture” in areas of modern day Tuscany, Sardinia, and Sicily. Around 2,000 BCE, a third wave happened. These people, the Apenninian culture and the Terremare cultures moved in to the Po Valley in modern day Emilia-Romagna, in northern Italy. These people, named for the “black earth” of their settlement mounds, began to raise beans, grapes, wheat, and flax. A fourth wave of immigrants arrived around 1,000 BCE and moved in to northern and central Italy. These people were called “Proto-villanovans” by archeologists. Elsewhere, on the island of Sardinia, a native culture based around megaliths called, “nuraghe,” developed. The only reason I mention this in a book on food in Italy, is that it shows how local culture is a point of pride, and this includes food. It’s all local. Local pride before it became fashionable. 

In this quick trip through Italian history, we have now almost reached the Roman Empire. By 800 BCE, in the central part of the Italian peninsula, the Etruscans were flourishing. Their origin and much about them are a mystery, but they likely emerged from the Villanovan culture. Mitochondrial DNA shows that the modern day Tuscans, descendants of the Etruscans, originated from central Europe. The Etruscan language was not Indo-European and most of their writing is undeciphered to this day. The Etruscan kingdom engaged in territorial wars, mainly with its major contender, Magna Graecia, to the south.  

The story of Magna Graecia, great Greece, is also the story of Italy. Magna Graecia was the Roman term for the southern coastal parts of Italy and the island of Sicily. This area was a colony of Greece. These areas were Hellenistic, from Hellas, the name for Ancient Greece, in culture. Some of the best preserved Greek temples and remains are in Italy. The Roman Empire borrowed, stole, or bought, most of their art and culture from Greece. For an interesting example, listen to the “You’re Dead to Me” podcast about the original Olympics. It’s not what you thought you knew. 

One of the most successful Greek colonies was “New City,” Neopolis, modern day Naples. Neopolis was the first Greek colony absorbed into the Roman Republic, in 327 BCE. The last of the Greek colonies to fall to Rome was Sicily, capitulating in 241 BCE, during the first Punic War. The Punic Wars were fought between the two mighty naval empires of the third century BCE Mediterranean, Carthage and Rome. Syracuse, on the coast of Sicily, held out for another twenty years, and to this day, there are still Greek speakers in parts of southern Italy. Syracuse was an independent state and allies with Rome, until 214 BCE, on the death of the king. Political intrigue, perhaps involving Hannibal (yes, him, the guy with the elephants walking across the Alps), caused the Carthaginians to cede at the Siege of Syracuse. The Syracusans lost despite the might of the brain of mathematician and scientist Archimedes on their side. He even invented a weapon for this battle, the Claw of Archimedes. Another weapon used during the Siege of Syracuse was the sambuca. When I read this, I got quite excited thinking that they had used the anise flavored liqueur in the battle. But, they did not. The sambuca that they are referring to is a “siege engine” as in a type of “siege boat.” This weapon got its name because it resembled a harp, a sambuca. More on the drink later. I wonder where it got its name. Maybe because Bacchus, the god of drink and merriment, played a harp? 

The Greeks who settled in Italy came from the Mani (mania in Ancient Greek) Peninsula, and claimed to be descended from the Spartans. Thinking back to Odysseus and how rare it was for men to return from sea, the Spartans had a similar safeguard system. Spartans were not allowed to go to war until they had produced a boy child, which tells you of their return rate. The Maniot Greeks were famous for their military prowess and bloody vendettas, some of which continue to this day. Another group of Maniot Greeks moved to the island of Corsica in the seventeenth century CE under the protection of the Kingdom of Genoa. Whenever I hear the word, Corsica, I’m reminded of my favorite movie, Zorro the Gay Blade, when he is showing off and says how they will, “defeat the feetless, buy corsets from Corsica…” 

Before there was a Roman Empire, there was a Roman Kingdom. The founding of Rome is a great story. Can’t rival the greatest story ever told (because then, it would be), but it’s still fantastic. The story starts in the myths of time with Latinus, son of Odysseus, he who took so long to get back to his home, and Circe, a Greek enchantress who was good with herbs. Latinus had a son, Aeneas, who became the first king of Alba Longa, modern day Tuscany. Aeneas was a Trojan hero whose mother was Aphrodite, Venus in Roman mythology. Fourteen kings later, we get to two brothers, Numitor and Amulius. The other more famous Roman brothers come next. The short of it is that Numitor was supposed to inherit the throne but Amulius prevented him, and to make sure that Numitor couldn’t gain it back, he killed Numitor’s son and forced his daughter, Rhea Silvia, to become a Vestal Virgin. 

A Vestal Virgin was a virgin priestess who served in the temple of Vestus. They were betrothed as girls to serve for 30 years. They served ten year terms as student, servant, and teacher. There were only two or four Vestal Virgins at once so it was a select group. They were responsible for keeping the fire burning at the temple of Vesta. Vesta was the goddess of the hearth, the home. Vestal Virgins were the keepers of the hearth for all Romans and they had duties beyond keeping the fire alive, including public ceremonies. They also had the ability to pardon a condemned man, or free a slave, due to their pureness. They prayed for the moral health of Rome. They were entrusted with precious documents, including the wills of Caesar and Mark Anthony. During the chief festival of the goddess of the hearth, in June, was the only time the Vestal Virgins would make their own “mola salsa.” Mola salsa was a holy paste of flour and salt. This paste was offered to the holy hearth, daubed between the horns of sacrificial animals, and sprinkled on the forehead. The Latin verb “immolare” means to sacrifice. From there, comes “mola” and that is where we get the word, “immolate” — the ultimate sacrifice, in modern English. 

The Vestal Virgins were celibate until they retired. Then a prestigious marriage was arranged for them. A Vestal Virgin was a good catch as she had a pension and was considered a good luck charm. People think that if a Vestal Virgin broke her vow of celibacy, she was buried alive, but it was worse than that. Burying alive was illegal. Instead, they would lock her up underground with a few days worth of food and water. Result was death. The men who had sex with Vestal Virgins were beaten to death. So when Amulius had Numitor’s daughter, Rhea Silvia, made into a Vestal Virgin, he did so thinking that she would not produce heirs to the throne. 

Enter Mars, the God, stage left. 

Mars was the god of war. He was based on Ares, the Greek god of war, brother of Athena. The sacred animals of Mars were the wolf, the woodpecker, and the bear. Roman Mars was different from Greek Ares, who was mostly about destruction. Mars was also the god of agriculture and he was the father of the people. The word “paternal” comes from the Latin pater. In particular Roman fashion, he was the god of war as good for you. Mars was seen as a god of war as a means to achieve peace. Sound familiar? Like today, we have peacekeeping troops, a phrase that seems like an oxymoron. Mars is also the root of the word “martial” as in martial law. The month of March is named after Mars as that is the month when planting begins. He is sometimes associated with October which is when the war season begins, after the harvest. Every year, a harvest and a war.

The Pantheon, originally temple to Mars was built in an area originally outside Rome, in the Field of Mars, but today it is in the historic center. The Pantheon was converted to a Catholic Church in the seventh century. It stands on the Piazza della Rotonda. The temple to Mars was built in the area around the Pantheon. It was meant to be a private temple for Marcus Agrippa, Roman statesman. Pantheon means a “sacred to the gods.” In 31 BCE, at the Battle of Actium, Marcus Agrippa helped Octavian, later Emperor Augustus, win against Marc Antony and Queen Cleopatra, of Egypt. Cleo actually visited Rome several times. Marcus Agrippa was responsible for helping Emperor Augustus build the Rome that he said, “He had found the city of brick but left it of marble.” 

A hundred or so years later, after a fire, Emperor Hadrian built another temple on the original temple built by Marcus Agrippa. Yes, he, Hadrian, who built that wall in the wilds of the Roman Empire at the far reach of “Provincia Britannia” on the border of modern day England and Scotland. Hadrian’s wall was probably, not only as legend says to hold out the Caledonians, modern Scots, but because it was cheaper to build a wall than to maintain an army at the border. To this day, the inscription on the Pantheon states, “M·AGRIPPA·L·F·COS·TERTIVM·FECIT,” which means “Marcus Agrippa, son of Lucius, Consul for the third time, built this.” Hadrian kept this inscription instead of writing his own. 

The history of Rome, before the Pantheon, continues with Rhea Silvia, the Vestal Virgin, and Mars, god of war. One day, back in those misty days of time, when Rhea Silvia, Vestal Virgin and daughter of Numitor, he-who-should-have-been-king, went to a grove near the temple to gather water. While at this grove, she saw something. It was the god, Mars. He attempted to rape her but she managed to flee to a nearby cave. Mars chased her into the cave and impregnated her. Some accounts of this myth say that Rhea Silvia claimed that she saw a woodpecker and a wolf, both symbols of Mars, and therefore it was Mars who impregnated her. Her tale is told in the Aeneid, by Ovid, and by Livy. Livy, the Roman historian, seems to be the only one who doubted the paternity of her children. Despite Livy’s opinion, most images show Mars seducing Rhea Silvia. 

Rhea Silvia became pregnant with twins, Remus and Romulus, the founders of Rome. So not only figuratively, but also literally, Mars was the father of the Romans. Apparently the goddess Vesta was unhappy about this turn of events so she caused the fire in her temple to go out. One of the sacred duties of a Vestal Virgin is to maintain the light in the temple. Interestingly, in Italian, and in Spanish, the term for “to give birth” is “to give to the light.” Makes me wonder if there is a connection to this pre-Latin myth. 

When bad King Amulius heard of the birth of his twin nephews, potential heirs to the throne, he ordered them to be killed. According to the myth, a servant took pity on the baby boys and set them on the banks of the River Tiber. There, the river god, Tiberinus, saved them and took them to a she-wolf, a “lupa” in Latin, who had recently lost her own pups, to suckle. A “lupa” is also the Latin word for a prostitute. Even then, women had a rough time. Some say that Tiberinus married Rhea Silvia while other stories say she thew herself in the Tiber. I think they might mean the same thing. 

The location of the wolf’s cave was unknown until 2007 when an archeologist announced that she had found it under the house of Emperor Augustus, located on the Palatine hill. This would be fitting as Emperor Augustus considered calling himself Romulus as befitting a founder of a new Rome. 

Later, Romulus and Remus were raised by a shepherd, Faustulus and his wife, Acca Larentia. In some versions of the story, Larentia was not a wife but a courtesan, or “she-wolf” who gave money to help the city of Rome, after giving her services to Romans.

Romulus and Remus grew up to be fine young men. As with many young men, they became involved in the hot topic of the day. The topic was a dispute about Numitor and King Amulius. In the scuffle, Remus was captured and taken to the court at Alba Longa. Both his grandfather and his granduncle suspected his true identity. Can you imagine that meeting? Meanwhile, Romulus was gathering forces to free his brother. During this struggle, Romulus also learned of his royal identity. Eventually, Romulus, Remus, and Numitor deposed the unlawful king, Amulius, and set Numitor back on his rightful throne. Speaking of thrones, the toilets in ancient Rome were communal and instead of toilet paper, they used a rag on the end of a stick. This gives us the expression, “To get a hold of the wrong end of the stick.” Yuck. 

The young men, Romulus and Remus, fresh from setting their grandfather back on his throne, set out to found a city of their own. If you are a mythical being, I guess this fits in one’s goals for life. 

What do you want to do when you grow up, little Romy? 

Found a city. 

Oh, right, go to the city. 

No, found a city. 

Eat your peas. We’ll talk later, you megalomaniac. 

Romulus and Remus arrived in the area along the Tiber River where there were seven hills (still there today) and had to pick which hill to use for their kingdom. Romulus preferred the Palatine hill above the “Lupercal” cave where he and Remus had suckled at the she-wolf’s teats. Remus preferred the look of the Aventine hill, which had the advantage of placement and could be easily fortified. Thus ensued a serious discussion as location, location, location, is at the heart of real estate, and certainly, a kingdom. As neither could convince the other of the merits of their chosen hillock, they asked for advice from higher powers. No, not their dad. He was a shepherd. No, nor their father. He was a rapist. 

But in a way, they did ask him. They sought out augury. The art of augury is the art of looking for auspicious signs from birds, guided by the divinity of the gods. The practice of augury went way back and was an old and trusted method by the time of Romulus and Remus. The twins decided to see who would see the most auspicious sign. They sat on the ground, about a foot from each other, and waited. Remus was the first to see some birds when he spotted six birds. But, Romulus saw twelve, and proclaimed himself the winner. Maybe Romulus was just a better birdwatcher than Remus. Maybe he was a typical older brother (“I was born two minutes before you!”). The brothers continued their dispute and Remus was killed, possibly by his brother. 

On April 21, 753 BCE, Romulus founded Rome. The Palatine hill overlooks the forum, which was a shopping center that grew up after the settlement on the Palatine. Romulus set up the new city on his hill of choice and went on to rule Rome, named after him, happily ever after. Oh wait. After the Rape of the Sabines. In every way reprehensible, the rape that is mentioned in the Rape of the Sabines is a translation of “rapture” or “abduct.” Not an excuse, but sadly the way of much of history. Even today, girls, fourteen year olds, even younger, are kidnapped parts of the world like central Asia. They are kidnapped until they agree to marry the kidnapper. In the case of the Sabines, Romulus, after setting up his new kingdom, with his buddies, realized that he needed women to found a dynasty. Hence the plundering of women from neighboring areas, like the Sabines, which are misty foothills northeast of Rome. 

No one really knows if the myth of Romulus and Remus is true. The earliest version of the story is recorded in the third century BCE. From the mists of myth to 509 BCE. In 509 BCE, the Romans threw out their king and established an oligarchic republic. Thus continued another period of constant warfare between the peoples of the Mediterranean, except for some unity under Magna Graecia. You might be wondering why a quick romp through Italian history seems to be focusing on Rome, but this is because the Romans conquered much of the Italian peninsula, and as you may recall, much beyond, including France, land of the Gauls. The Gauls were tribes of peoples who lived in modern day France, southern England, and mainland Europe. The Gauls imported wine from the mediterranean, so it’s not surprising that Gaul became the nation of France, famous for their love of wine.

At the beginning of the second century BCE, there were great names that you recall from history class, and the movies, like Tiberius, Spartacus, Pompey, and Caesar. Caesar is so famous that it seems hardly worth mentioning him. But, in a book about food (yes, that’s what this book is about), he’s worth a mention for various reasons. He reformed the calendar that we still use today. So when making a reservation at a restaurant, we are still in touch with Caesar. 

Then, there’s that salad. The salad was actually named after an Italian immigrant named Caesar Cardini. Cardini invented the salad in his eponymous restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico, on July 4, 1924, when a sudden rush of guests meant that he had run out of ingredients. To add flourish to this simple dish of lettuce, eggs, croutons, and parmesan, he presented it at the table and tossed it live in front of the guests. Julia Child mentioned eating this salad when she was a child. Cardini’s daughter stated in the 1970s that the original recipe was to use whole lettuce leaves to lift the coddled eggs to the mouth. I wonder if they serve caesar salad in Rome. 

Gaius Julius Caesar was born into a patrician, upper class,   Alban family in Rome. Romans had three names, a first, a family, and a “cognomen” which means “together with” which is a nickname. Caesar was the nickname. According to Pliny the Elder, Caesar as a nickname came from an ancestor who had been born via caesarian. Caesar was not born via caesarian. Caesar is derived from the Latin for “to cut.” There were three other interpretations of the source of Caesar and Caesar seems to have preferred the version from “caesai” which stems from the Moorish language. “Caesai” referred to when Caesar killed an elephant in the Punic Wars, which Caesar commemorated by having coins minted with the design of an elephant. The other two meanings of his name are that he had a thick head of hair or that he had bright gray eyes. 

When Caesar was 16, his father died, making Caesar the head of his family. He was chosen as a “Flamen Dialis,” high priest, at the temple of Jupiter, also called Jove. So when people say, “By Jove” they are actually cussing. The god who was most powerful was actually Janus. New year’s celebrations grew out of the celebration of Janus. The god Janus had two faces as he was the god of new beginnings, doorways, time, and change. He was the most important god in the pantheon of gods. A prayer to him was begun before any other prayers. So really, it should be, “By Janus!”

In his job as a Flamen Dialis, Caesar had many benefits, including becoming an ex officio, which means by way of another position, a member of the senate. Being a Flamen Dialis entailed many privileges and many rules. The ones that relate to food were:

  • He might not touch flour, nor leaven, nor leavened bread,
  • He was forbidden either to touch or to name a dog, a she-goat, ivy, beans, or raw flesh.
  • It was unlawful to place a box containing sacrificial cakes in contact with the bedstead.
  • He was not allowed to be present at a table without food so that he never appeared wanting.

What I find interesting about these house rules is that they show how different a world he lived in. The purpose of  the rules were to keep him focused on his job as a priest and to not allow any distractions or temptations. Bread, beans, raw flesh, cake, food… all temptations.

Then, politics, and history, intervened. Due to political maneuvering, Caesar was removed from his position as a priest. This was fortuitous as it allowed him to become a warrior, as priests were not allowed to take up arms. What follows next is Caesar’s rise to power, including governorships, and much political fighting. In one of the many wars he got involved in, he even met Cleopatra, who was in a civil war in Egypt, which she ruled. While Caesar was winning battles, the Senate in Rome was conferring him with more and more accolades and honors. 

When Caesar returned to Rome, a massive celebration of games, “bread and circuses,” was thrown in his honor. Even then, the populace complained of the extravagance, rioting in the streets. The rioting only ended when Caesar had two rioters sacrificed at the temple in the Field of Mars. Over his career, Caesar had been in the position of elected dictator several times, but one month before his death, he became dictator for life. He was assassinated on the Ides of March, March 15, 44 BCE. 

Caesar’s greatest contributions were done in a short five year period between when he crossed the Rubicon and was assassinated. The phrase “cross the Rubicon” is used to mean that the “die are cast” or that there is no going back. The previous Roman calendar was based on the moon but Caesar’s calendar, the Julian calendar, was based on the sun as was the Egyptian, and included a leap year. My guess is that he picked up the idea from his time with Cleo. The Julian calendar was more accurate than the previous calendar and it was in use from 45 BCE to 1582 CE, when Pope Gregory XIII changed it to the modern calendar that we use, the Gregorian calendar. The Gregorian chant is from earlier, but Charlemagne, coronated in 800 CE, was a bit of a crusader and forced people to Christianity. The Gregorian chant was one of his weapons as he forced people to use it. Charlemagne’s name, Carolus, is the root of the word “king” in many of the slavic languages. 

More next time on the history of the Italian peninsula.

Blurbing It Out

This time around, I went with Blurb. To read about the last time I published books, and how to do so yourself, read here. I published a few books in the past month, Do You Dare Eat That, PorFA! (ISBN 9781715282417),on Amazon, M’s Adventures in Peru — A Love Letter (ISBN 9781715299149), on Amazon, and Tales, Tall and Short, About Food in Peru (ISBN 9781715324087), on Amazon. I published them all on Blurb.com — you can too.

It is fairly easy to publish on Blurb. You can upload a print ready PDF with photo and illustrations all included or you can use their software to layout your book. I found that the layout program was a bit clunky for me as I find it easier just to use one of the book templates in my word processing system. The only tricky thing so far has been figuring out the sizes. Luckily, the Blurb computer figures it out for me. Unlike in the old days of the printing press when the broad sheet could be folded and cut into 16 pages, Blurb uses six as the divider. If you upload less, Blurb will add blank pages at the end.

You can even upload the cover and back cover in the same PDF. I did and Blurb worked with me. It even troubleshoots pre-flight (printing). My page size was not quite what it was used to using for the “bleed” (variable area around the outside of the page) even though I made the size of the books according to what I thought was a Blurb size. Blurb’s computer just quickly says that it is not a standard size. When you see this message, you just choose the option to have it auto-fix it and it does. The books turned out great. Blurb also tells you if the images you are using are too low quality, too low in pixels for printing. You can adjust them right there by replacing or re-sizing. I still went with one that was “lo-res” and it turned out fine. I was concerned that it would look pixelated, but it did not.

The minimum page count is 20 pages, but you can go as high as you want. I think, but do you want to publish a 600 page book?

For the photo type of book and the hardbacks, the prices are higher. The cheapest, with the highest profit margin for you, is paperback. The good thing about these paperbacks is that it includes color photographs in the cost. If you buy more than 10 books at one time, you get a discount. Blurb will even mail out the books for you! Once done setting it up, you can buy it for yourself and send out the link so others can purchase it. Books are hard to find on Amazon so it’s best to search by ISBN or author name.

Then, when you get to the next process which is where you set it up for sale or not. If you do want to sell it, you can choose to hard back, paper back, paper type, and your profit margin. You can also choose an ebook for five bucks. The book will then be on sale on Blurb with an ISBN of its own. Yay! If you click on the “Ingram” publishing option, the book will be distributed through the Ingram distribution system, a central warehouse system. It takes about two weeks for the book to show up on Amazon. When it shows up on Amazon, they add their markup.

My children’s book, a 7 x 7 inch photo book cost around $26. If I buy it and send it through Blurb, I can get a quantity discount but it’s rare that I’m sending more than ten books to the same place. The “coffee table book” of M’s Adventures in Peru cost $42 because it’s a hardback with outer sleeve. Wowsa. The cheapest was the standard paperback size for the Tales, Tall and Short, About Food in Peru, at around $16. I set a small “profit” on that and marked it up accordingly.

The paper versions of the books look good and even the images that the Blurb software warned me were “low resolution” turned out okay. I will be printing more with Blurb, but I’ll probably move all the books to the paperback size.

The Honey Shot and Food Lust

The honey shot — a riff on the money shot. I was scrolling through old photos from back when I “lugged” around my DSLR camera and this got me thinking about name calling. While I understand where it comes from… I think it’s sad that the hobby of food photography is called, “food porn.” Maybe we could call it “foodlust” so that it’s more about the passion and less about bodily fluids. Equally so is the term, “money shot” which derives from the same business (and it is a business), so I posit the term, “honey shot” instead to denote something sweet and in keeping with the food field.

In that vein, I present to you, one of my favorite honey shots. It’s a photo of home made cabbage salad and egg pie from a picnic in New Zealand. Hark, how regal (purple is a royal color) and how glorious (gold like honey) it is!

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Do a Little Good While Shopping

A few friends told me about Amazon Smile, smile.amazon.com, where for every purchase you make through Amazon’s charity, a percentage of the cost on eligible items goes to the charity of your choice. You have to go to smile.amazon.com and choose your charity and then from then on, shop through that portal. Easy peasy. At 0.5 percent, it might not seem like a lot, but I bought a book recently and $13 went to my charity of choice.

In preparation for my move to a new adventure, where all roads lead to, I am buying lots of visual storytelling equipment, and now I am doing a little good at the same time (pats self on back). If you want to use it on your iPhone app, you will have to allow notifications. I prefer to use smile.amazon.com from my computer.

IMG_4437

As an aside, I bought a bespoke iPhone SE 2020 case on Amazon Smile from MTRONX Direct. The ink job on the case is well done and the case has the flat sides, like the iPhone design from the 5 SE. Good old days. It took almost two weeks to get the order, but it was worth the wait. Plus, the little holes for my lanyard/hand leash are an added bonus.

 

M’s Adventures Useful Contact Info for Lima

Contact info for drivers, dentists, estheticians, mani-pedi, waiters, classes, chocolate, vets, furniture-makers, and other services you might be looking for while living in Lima. Some of these are services I have personally enjoyed and others are highly recommended. Most like Whatsapp as a form of communication. If they do not speak English and you don’t speak Spanish, use Google translate. (A note on Peruvian names: Peruvians spell their names with a creativity that has been written about in the national newspapers. So John can be Jhon, Jon, Yon, Yhon, and beyond.) To learn about some of these entrepreneurs, watch my video about them on the video page of this website or on YouTube.
CATERING/Waitstaff
Private chef and sommelier: Jasmine (speaks English): 944 534 074
Catering: Try Miski: 965 217 210
Waiters: Jhon Vasquez owns JJ Waiters (speak English): 993 163 866
Javier is a professional waiter. His daughter is also a waiter and she speaks English: 999 185 037 (about 100 soles for an event)
CLASSES (food and drink)
Chocolate and coffee classes at El Cacaotal with Amanda and Felipe. They speak English: 937 595 812, 939 447 367
Cooking classes: Sky Kitchen: 943 701 874
Buda Bakes: Amelia speaks English: 921 924 236
Masas Salvaje for sourdough breads, beer, and classes: Francisco speaks English: 933 790 881
Wine tastings: Jasmine (speaks English): 944 534 074
Wine tasting classes and certification in enology, and sensory analysis classes, try taking class with Jorge (speaks English) the Peruvian Sommelier School: eps@sommeliersperu.edu.pe 
WineBox, owned by Gonzalo (speaks English) also does monthly subscriptions of wine delivery to your house.
DRIVERS
Most taxi drivers can be hired per hour or for the day (30 soles per hour is the normal rate).
Yuberlyn: 923 484 172
Orlando (speaks English): 936 034 508
Michael (speaks English): 979 349 077
GUIDES
Brenda Ortiz (speaks English): graffiti tours and other tours of Barranco: 962 373 975
Miller (speaks English) has a fleet of vehicles and guides: 977 654 348
Dyan: While not a professional guide, she can take you for a hike, or fishing, or babysit your guests around town (speaks English): 937 210 084
PERSONAL HYGIENE SERVICES
Again, there are many places to get all these things done. But these are some that I know of.
Dentistry: Dr. Angeles speaks English: 998 237 144
50 soles for a checkup and cleaning with Dr. Miriam: 991-590-656.
Hair: Many places, but try Mariela who makes house calls: 942-961-464.
Thomas Bennett is an American hair stylist, speaks English: 970-740-639.
Mani-pedi: Monica is the best: 950-070-925. She makes house calls. About 60 soles for a mani-pedi.
Massage: Whatsapp Dora and she will send someone for massages and facials: 999-353-381
Facials: Brian Douglas speaks English: 987-727-133
PETS
Vets: For international transportation, I’ve heard good things about Petwings.
For house calls, Dr. Cols speaks English and can get your pet’s papers in order as well: 959-189-949.
SHOPPING
Like in many places, if you like to customize, personalize, design, then you can do that here, at reasonable prices. Let the inner designer out!
Ceramics: want those plates from Central? Jallpa Niña is the most famous store that sells ceramics but you can also find it at Dedalo and other locations. Almost all of these vendors only speak Spanish which is a good mix with Google translate.
Fashion (clothes/shoes/jewelry/handbags/leather): there are so many places that can make you hand made clothes, shoes, jewelry, handbags, and leather products. Here are some:
— seamstress: there are many shops, or try Miriam: 957-383-230
— jewelry: many places on Petit Thouars avenue. Try Petit Thouars Avenue 5321, interior shop 103. 100 soles for custom made earrings and 200 soles for a custom made necklace.
— handbags, shoes, furniture, and leather repair. Try Luis: 981-025-192
— shoes: Kaleydo shoes has ready to wear but you can also design your own. Carla also speaks some English: 988-027-111
Furniture: can be bought ready made at places like Don Bosco. They can also make customized furniture. Some of highly recommended furniture makers are Casa Rustico (Juan Carlos at 977-188-057), and Tharina Kaspi. Customized furniture is not cheap but you can get what you like and it will be cheaper than in many other countries (U.S., Germany, Australia). You can also get your furniture repaired and refurbished here. I even had a “vintage” plastic poof re-sewn, re-stuffed, and re-polished, by a shoe repairman. He also re-upholstered a footstool and added a leather seat.
Frames: get your photos, awards, diplomas, etc. framed here. There are many, many, shops that frame. A diploma sized goldish frame is about 50 soles ($17).
Metal: it seems like every street has a metal working shop. Every building has a handmade door so, you could get one too. Or get a headboard or staircase made. The only limits are your Spanish skills and patience.
Fabric and yarn: alpaca, llama, and vicuna products are the main shopping item in Peru, but you can find fabric and yarn by the yard in Gamarra, La Victoria. This district is infamous but after the mayor cleaned it up, it is on its way to gentrification. The fabric can still be bought for great prices. A yard/meter of fleece for 6 soles (under $2).
Souvenirs: at Dedalo, Las Pallas, and at the Inka Market/Indian Market/Inka Plaza etc. on Petit Thouars. These stores also sell high end items and ceramics.
Other things: black salt, mangosteen, anyone? I wrote about it somewhere…

Independent Storytelling

A few years ago, when I published my book on my time in Bangladesh, I received so many questions about publishing. Back then, in 2013, self-publishing was called “vanity press” — publishing as if it was for one’s own vanity. That seems an age ago as social media has made us all creators and storytellers — Instagram and its television channel, YouTube, and Facebook Stories (watch my month-long farewell to Peru on those channels or on the video page of this website), are all “vanity press” as they are self-published. Of course the paper book did not disappear as some feared. We simply gained more independence in how, where, and to whom, we can share out stories. Maybe we are more vainglorious…

Even with all these new choices, some media are still harder to edit than others. Take PDFs. Adobe Acrobat owns that format almost completely. One can buy a license for $180 per year. It does, however, make editing PDFs acrobatic (had, had, to play on the words!). As I work on my many projects, and my next book (a paper version about Peru), I am glad to have the freedom to be flexible.

Just as story telling has moved beyond the book, so have other media, like chocolate, taken on the terminology of books. My favorite chocolate shop in Peru, El Cacaotal, calls itself an “edible library” — that should encourage reading!

Keeping up with all the forms of communication is a bit like a chariot race. In between my website/blog, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and podcasting, something may have to go by the wayside when I get back out exploring in my next country…

M’s Adventures Love Letter to Peru Movie Trailer

As I mentioned in a previous blog posting, we are all content creators now. I started the M’s Adventures blog/website when I moved to Bangladesh in 2011 (you can read one of my early blog postings here), and since then, I’ve created a book for each country I’ve lived in. As I will soon depart Peru, I was looking through photos to put together my book. The previous books have been published on Lulu.

But, this time, as I’m learning how to make movies on iMovie, I thought I’d make a “videobook” or moving picture book, a love letter to Peru. I may also make a paper book, but I’ll see how I feel when I’ve edited 8,000 photos and taught myself more iMovie. For now, here’s a film trailer so you can see what how it’s going. Don’t worry, the content of the body of the show will be less dramatic (film production really teaches one how much music changes the mood of a piece).

Here is the video trailer for “M’s Adventures in Peru: A Love Letter”

Or if you prefer to watch it on my YouTube channel, here is the link.

 

Becoming My Own Film Crew

I have become my own film crew, my own makeup artist, director, script writer, sound crew, caterer, gaffer (okay, not yet), lighting director, film editor… you get the idea. Recently, I needed some new headshots. What, I have to put on real clothes?! So I took out my makeup and put on “outdoor” clothes, set up my studio, and did a photo shoot. I even did two wardrobe changes.

The photo is from an art exhibition at the Ministry of Culture in Lima called, “Peruvian Beauty” by Yayo Lopez, and it included people from Peru of all ages and types, but the beauty on the poster shows a good example of a headshot.

What I learned from doing the photo shoot was that I’m glad that I bought a remote control for my phone, use good lighting (nothing beats sunlight), use plain backgrounds, have the camera at eye level, and take many photos. A trick I used to get a smile to reach my eyes was to do some silly photos as these would make me laugh thus causing some of the jollity to reach my eyes for the more normal headshots.

Staying indoors is giving me time to look through old photos and try to organize them. But mostly, I’ve been teaching myself how to use iMovie, GarageBand, and other tech tools for my blog.

A friend suggested that I name my studio space (my dining room table). Clearly it has to be Madventures Studios.

Food, a Performance Art Form, and We Are All Content Creators Now

With the rise of social media, everyone with a smartphone is now a “content creator.” Most of us have become entertainers as we “direct” the photos of our food (north light is always best!). In Korea, they have “mukbang”, an “art form” where people pay to watch others eat. This has been ridiculed by many… but look at us now, as we all zoom happy hours and dinners with each other.

Going out to eat is a performance art where you as the customer are the audience, but also part of the experience. That is why it sort of makes sense that many actors work in the restaurant industry (a working actor = can be someone who works in a restaurant but also works as an actor) because a live “show” every night is superb practice! Everything in a restaurant from the lighting (lots of dishes now involve fire and smoke), decor, and seating is evaluated just as one would in a theater. In a theater, there is that expression, “smoke and mirrors” and that is also true of most restaurants. But, at a restaurant, on top of smoke and mirrors, there is smell and taste involved along with the other senses (plus that “something” like the umami of the whole event), are engaged as part of the experience.

In a natural segue, some of the food influencers, like David Chang, have their own shows. The Danish influencer, Claus Meyer, did a lecture/show at a theater. With the advent of videos and “stories” on Instagram and Facebook, the food industry has become an entertainment producer online, not just in brick and mortar. Both these chefs/influencers are active daily on Instagram. That’s more interaction than you could ever get back when you had to wait a year for a reservation at one of their fine dining establishments. One of my friends commented that due to COVID, she is able to get food delivered to her house from restaurants where she could not even get a reservation!

In the time of COVID, and all the zoom and whatsapp virtual gatherings, the paradigm has shifted. Perhaps, we have all become, oddly much more connected, but more than that, how we see each other has changed. We are seeing more people in their pajamas and without makeup or dyed hair. This, like things, has good sides and bad sides. Maybe we don’t want so much contact?

I’d also posit that we’ve become more egalitarian as well… well, if you have mastery of social media…

Traveling on the Worldwide Web

During this time of quarantine, many of us are “artist in residence” or “banished from the realm” — all depending on how you want to phrase it. I have been in splendid isolation. Free to travel the worldwide web. Armchair traveling is actually one of my favorite forms of travel because it’s comfortable, cheap, not sweaty, and I don’t have to get on a plane. Deep in the outer galaxy of this blog, is my travel page where I list many of my favorite travel writers and quotes. I revisited my travel page and actually re-bought a paperback book of one of my favorite travelogues.

Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” –- Benjamin Disraeli

Much of the Internet, podcasts, YouTube videos, Instagram, Facebook, IGTV, etc. reminds me of that book, The Diary of a Nobody. Most of us are nobodies. Equal among other nobodies. Driveler among drivelers. So why not add my voice to the cacophony? On my media page (and here on Google Podcasts), there are links to the other platforms from where I’m catching the virtual cyber train. In preparation, I’ve been exploring, adventuring, and I found there are so many new places to visit, people to talk to, and things to eat. After my residence as “artiste in residence” is done (or “digital content creator” as is the new name on the street), I’ll be back out there.

One of my newest gadgets is a tripod/selfie stick with light.

On Facebook, there is a group called, “View from my window” and I’ve enjoyed it. Very positive people and it makes one realize how beautiful, and similar, this world is.

On Instagram, I’ve delighted in the mother-daughter E. and S. Minchilli (yes, that’s their last name!) cook, talk, answer questions, and adore Rome, and everything Italian.

On YouTube, I discovered that I could pay for programs and get really high definition videos (much higher definition than when I watched the original shows in the 1990s).

On Stitcher, I’ve been listening to The Fantastic History of Food (who can resist a title called, “Piracy, Witches and Hot Chocolate.“?) Plus, since I’ve learned so much about cacao from Amanda at El Cacaotal, I see/hear about cacao and want to learn more. Also, on Stitcher, it’s comforting to hear Christopher Kimball (from when I watched lots of PBS) on Milk Street.

On Podbean, I listened to surprisingly entertaining banter about hunting and nudists on The MeatEater Podcast, Ep. 220.

As I’ve explored podcasts, I realized that this is basically radio, that old fashioned technology that like many technologies, can change the world, or bring comfort (like FDR’s Fireside Chats — check out the film of him giving a chat). I would call podcasts, “audio-blogging” and you are welcome to call it that too.

And as the quote above indicates, much of life is stranger than fiction so why not read, see, hear, more of it, without the hassle of airplanes (for now). Happy adventures from splendid isolation!

Masking the Face of Fashion

Face masks are are mandatory in Peru (please see vendors on my list of delivery places from my last blog posting). Peru’s internationally renowned fashion designer, Meche Correa, is finally making masks (long after many small unknown entrepreneurs). Sadly, her design is in fashionista black and not in her normal Peruvian design.

But, others are using native Peruvian designs. I see all over social media that people are celebrating their own cultural designs, like the ones from Ayachucho in the Twitter photo.

It is delightful to see that art is flourishing during the quarantine.

Fashion is fashioning itself as it does. I would add that I predict that gloves will come back in fashion. And handkerchiefs.

Gamarra

The single word, “Gamarra” elicits a volatile reaction when uttered here in Lima.

Gamarra is an area of Lima located in the district of La Victoria, just a few miles from Miraflores and other posh neighborhoods of Lima. Gamarra is known as the textile or fabric district of Lima. Essentially it’s a giant open air pedestrian-friendly fabric and clothing shopping area. The main areas are several streets that are closed off by metal fencing and gates creating a pedestrian zone (I predict that in ten years, this area will be gentrified and quite chic). Gamarra is named after Jiron Gamarra (named after a Peruvian president) and La Victoria was incorporated as a district in 1920. There is a metro stop in Gamarra, plus, a witch’s market (famous for frog smoothies and other talismans). Read more on Gamarra here if you wish.

When reading about Gamarra, the warnings are to watch your wallet. It is true that like any crowded place in Peru, you need to watch for pickpockets. Never put anything in a backpack that you can’t afford to lose. All this said, the young mayor of La Victoria, George Forsyth, of a renowned family, cleaned up Gamarra in 2019. He has taken some heat (even threats) for what he did. Some might say that he made Gamarra not as good a deal as it once was, but it’s still good for your wallet (if you can keep anything in it). Speaking of deals, fabric can be bought for as low as three soles per meter (maybe less?). Most fabric is 1.60 meters wide. That’s a lot of fabric. You can find any type of fabric but each type has an area so I’m not sure if they sell silk (having never been to the silk area). The names of the fabric are perhaps different from what you might call them (I like “chalise” — a cotton blend — for shirts), but go ahead and touch the fabric. There are many forms of fleece which is fun as it needs no edging. During the summer, the mind turns to linen (mine does), and that can be found in Gamarra as well (in Dhaka, linen and spandex were hard to find by the meter — even though Bangladesh is famous for sewing much of the world’s clothes).

There are shopping centers within Gamarra’s pedestrian streets as well stores that sell ready-to-wear clothes, toys, bags, and there are places that will custom print your bags or clothes. The area also sells plus-size clothing (as Peruvians are generally shorter and smaller than most gringos) and some of the signage will even say “ropa para gorditas” (I don’t know where the “gorditos” shop). Some of these stores sell up to XXXL size clothes, which is about a 20-22 in U.S. sizes plus sizes, but the selection is limited so it’s better to get your own clothes made.

Gamarra is also a place where one can buy thread, tailor’s equipment, sewing machines, and yarn. It’s also possible to buy alpaca and llama yarn in Gamarra but again, I have never made it to that area.

Gamarra also has restaurants and many restrooms, as well as lots of security. Like any shopping area in Peru, there are also street stalls. Gamarra was famous for the street stalls until the mayor pushed them out. The street stalls are now a few blocks outside the gated area. The busiest day in Gamarra is Saturday and most shops open around 10 a.m.

Gamarra is also famous for the “informal” market. The use of the word “informal” is actually code for black market and knockoffs. I only shop for fabric.

 

The best fabric prices are to be had in Gamarra but the prices will vary depending on how foreign you appear. What can cost 12 soles ($3.75) per meter for one gringo, can cost six soles per meter for another, less gringo-looking, foreigner. Learning to haggle helps get the price down but also shopping in the less crowded areas as well.