01 January 2012

Happy 2012!

Twenty twelve is here, and I’m looking forward to an exciting new year! But before I start documenting the events of the new year, I want to share with you how the old year finished off here in Cusco.

As with most countries and cultures, Peru and its people have some traditions that they follow when celebrating the beginning of a new year. In the run up to New Year’s Eve, everyone in Peru likes to buy new clothes and burn their old ones – if they can afford it, that is. Though many of my clothes are becoming tatty (the washing machines here are hard on your clothes, as are the daily activities at school) this is not a tradition I can afford to follow.

Everything yellow is lucky – there were silly hats and plastic spectacle frames, tinsel and garlands. On New Year’s Eve and the first day of the new year, you are supposed to wear yellow underwear for general good luck, though if you are hoping for love in the coming year, you should wear red underwear and, if more money’s what you desire, you should wear green underwear. I went on a photowalk around parts of the city yesterday and found stalls selling lots of underwear, mostly yellow. You can, of course, cover all your bases by wearing yellow underwear, with red and green flowers or writing on them! This is also not a tradition I am following – yellow is for flowers, not for bras and knickers!

So, one tradition I have followed is the buying of yellow flowers, mostly chrysanthemums. A bunch often comes with a couple of stems of barley – presumably for a bountiful harvest, plus a branch of rue – called ruda here, and a traditionally lucky plant (more on that in a forthcoming blog). You can also buy individual sticks of barley, pinned with fake paper money.

And, speaking of fake money, another tradition is to buy imitations of the items you would like to receive in the coming year. Money is one, but you can also buy small model houses and cars. Most houses have a sacred place, like a little shrine, where they have religious memorabilia, perhaps paying homage to baby Jesus or a favourite saint. The imitation houses and cars are placed near this shrine, in the hope that their patron will help them achieve their desires in the coming year.

Another local custom that I will follow is the sprinkling of yellow confetti around your house. I think my landlady would frown on my doing this around my apartment as she keeps a very clean property but I will be doing it around the entrance to Picaflor House.

Also for sale in the markets were the seeds of the various legumes people eat here. You could buy these in individual packets or as ornaments, in glass vessels or attached to little clay pots, varnished and sometimes adorned with glitter. Presumably the seeds represent the desire to have sufficient food in your house during the coming year.

As in many countries around the world, here in Cusco there were many parties to welcome in the new year, and people gather in the main squares to enjoy the music and dancing, and to count down the hours, minutes, seconds to midnight. The partying actually started well before midnight – when I was walking home at 8pm, after dinner with a friend, there were already many drunken people on the streets. The alcohol of choice seems to be a particularly sweet and syrupy red wine, which I sampled in the market yesterday. It was more like port than wine so I imagine the drinkers will have huge hangovers today.

A young guy selling alcohol at the market, who was happy to give us a free sample and to pose for a photo

The fireworks also started well before midnight – even though they are illegal here, everyone still lets them off. Their illegal status is due to previous accidents that caused large numbers of fatalities. In December 2001, a fireworks explosion set off a huge blaze in central Lima that killed more than 200 people and, in recent months, two unrelated incidents involving vehicles carrying fireworks resulted in the deaths of 16 people, with many more injured.

A small selection of the fireworks available

To celebrate the first day of the new year, you should eat pork as it attracts money – think, for example, of the piggy bank – and piggy banks were also for sale in the markets yesterday. You should not eat chicken or, indeed, any poultry: just as birds can fly away, so can your luck and your money!
Before ... for sale in the market

After ... ready for eating

For some reason that I haven’t figured out, you are also supposed to eat grapes, and there were barrow-loads for sale around town this week. Maybe it’s just the right season for them.

The locals here don’t seem to bother with New Year’s resolutions ... but I always like to have a few things to aim for when I’m thinking about the year ahead. For 2012, these include some new ideas for the wonderful children of Picaflor House, some extra challenges I’ve set myself for my photography, as much travel as I can possibly afford and, later in the year, a move to fresh pastures. Oh, and with the help of a new friend, I am planning finally to climb a mountain (or three), something that’s been on my bucket list for a while now.

Feliz año nuevo para todos mis amigos. Espero que el 2012 sea lleno de amor, dicha y prosperidad.

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