August 6, 2013
August 6 is Bolivia’s Independence Day. The practice parades start a week or two in advance: high school bands marching down the streets, baton-twirlers first, then drummers, then brass, mostly playing “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” Then, on the fourth, the kindergartners march, neatly militarily dressed in single bright colors, with sharply rectangular backpacks and wooden guns. On the fifth, the colegios (grade schools) march in spiffy uniforms; it’s hard to get around downtown with all the bands. I still haven’t been able to figure out why an American Civil War song has become the Bolivian marching band song. Then, on the sixth, the adults march, mostly in suits and ties—the supreme court, the other government officials, the university staff, the police, the blind.
Sunday we go with Philly to La Palma, a village about a half-hour away, and wander through orchards fed by a wide, rocky, and mostly dry river, in which families wash their clothes. We walk through a picturesque village, Tejahuasi, built on a hill, with a former Dominican monastery, cotton bushes growing over walls, papaya trees hung with heavy fruit, and goatherders leading their flocks down the roads. We roll up our pants to cross the river, then eat lunch in La Palma by the main road. The restaurant’s owner is probably in her seventies; she dances with a joyous boy of three, and tells us she used to be a dancer. She has the prettiest smile. We eat sopa de mani (peanut soup): a flavorful chicken broth with penne, french fries, garbanzo beans, beef, herbs, and, of course, peanuts. It’s one of the three best meals I’ve had here (the other two being at Sabor de Criollo and the Condor Café, a nonprofit vegetarian restaurant near our house). View this photo
Huari is the good Bolivian beer, but they don’t have any, so I drink Paceña, a bland pilsner, and so much of it that my altitude sickness gets worse, and on the minibus ride back up to Sucre I feel pretty bad. I’ve been feeling breathless on occasion for weeks now, especially when I drink too much alcohol or don’t eat enough carbs. My belt is tighter than it’s ever been, despite eating three large meals a day.
Monday is a day of missed connections. Karen and I go to the university to get Mariel’s help with the police, to whom we’ve applied for our domicilio, proof that we live here, but Mariel (who has been so good to us, bringing us to all the offices, even once to the clinic, which we had to visit five times in order to get our blood sampled for HIV and chargas) has to help Anita, her boss, who is leaving on a trip. So another person from the Office of International Relations, Jaime, accompanies us to the police (his brother-in-law works there, but turns out to be absent) and there we discover that we need to photocopy a form we hadn’t photocopied, we need a voucher to show we’ve paid (at the bank, to avoid corruption) our two dollars for the form that the police have to fill out when they come to visit us (on the back of which we had to draw a map showing the location of the apartment), and we need testimony from neighbor witnesses that we live at our address, along with signed photocopies of their identification cards. I go home while Karen hunts down the witnesses at UNICEF (where they work) and I tell the kids to take the laundry to the laundromat; when they come home and give me the receipt I realize that they haven’t asked for the laundry to be dried, so I ask them to go back, but by the time Jacky manages to get through all the parades, the laundromat (by the way, not the one I told them to go to) has closed for lunch. Karen comes back with the witness testimonies and we go to the police station again but we have to wait for nineteen German students to each apply for their background checks. Finally we turn in the multitude of forms—the signed and notarized lease, the handwritten testimony of the landlady (who lives in La Paz—it had to be couriered here), the electricity and water bills, the receipt of taxes paid, the aforementioned voucher, the signed photocopy of the landlady’s ID, the testigos, etc., etc., two copies of everything since they need to check on both of us—and the policewoman tells us she can’t visit our apartment to make sure we really live there until next Wednesday, a week after our visa expires. We go home frustrated. In the afternoon Karen goes to the university, but they've closed early; the kids climb up to the Recoleta while Karen tries to get access to JSTOR via the NYU alumni e-library; after a couple of Skype calls—to NYU alumni services and the reference desk at the NYU library—she finally gives up and goes to join the kids, but the kids come back via a different street, so I send them back up to join her. I go to my Spanish class, but the director asks me if it’s all right if it’s postponed until Wednesday; I tell her I’d prefer to have it tonight, but she argues that she forgot that the office would be closed on Tuesday for el día de la patria and there’s nobody to lock up after my lesson, so I give in and go look for Karen and the kids at La Recoleta. Karen had mentioned they might have dinner up at Casa Kolping, very close by, but there’s no one there, nor at the Café Mirador, so I go back down to Napoli, a pizza place Karen mentioned, but they’re not there either. I wait at home and they come back with the laundry, having taken a different street down and eaten at Café Florin; I have leftover quinoa and black-eyed peas and fried eggs and raw green peas while Karen goes to bed. Then I start writing this, but am unhappy with it; finally I turn in. It’s almost midnight, and I can’t count the connections we’ve missed, the trivial things gone wrong.
Today we take a bus with Philly, her lovely friend Roxana, and Roxana’s son Tonio, who is Jacky’s age, to the Mercado San Antonio on the outskirts of town for lunch. There about a dozen outdoor eateries are grilling fish; we choose one and sit down at plastic tables on plastic chairs. We each get half a hot, grilled, and well-seasoned fish, complete with head and tail and bones, on a plate, with no forks or knives; on another smaller plate are a couple of handfuls of boiled corn kernels (white, tough, and about four times the size of the yellow kernels of US corn) topped by a large boiled potato, all cold, unsalted, unbuttered, bare. We eat with our fingers, putting the bones in a plastic dish; the fish is divine; the corn and potatoes we douse with salsa; and then there is cold Inca beer, a bi-cervezita, a dark, sweet, and only slightly alcoholic malt beverage. Philly has been helping indigent children here for years, and one of them got married young and had a baby and moved to Chile to earn money, leaving the child with her parents, who live nearby, so we go see them and bring them mandarins; the infant, eighteen months old with a name none of us can quite get right (Rosariedne, I think), is wandering around eating from a bag of potato chips, saucy and happy. Philly is relieved that none of the men are in the house, since last time she came they were all falling-down drunk; the grandmother and cousin insist on giving us cups of Fanta. Then we all go back to the mercado with its wandering pigs and men selling bags of charcoal to take a taxi home.