June 4, 2013 Corpus Christi

by guest blogger, Kezia Huseman

This past Thursday was Corpus Christi, and as it is every year, the Plaza de Armas in Cusco was alive and filled with festivity as thousands of people celebrated the Holy Host.

Ironically, this year’s celebration started with a country-wide Earthquake Drill at 10:00 AM.  As soon as that was over, the celebration got underway.  The fifteen saints and virgins from area cathedrals were already on display in front of the Main Cathedral for people to admire starting early in the morning, but before the procession around the Plaza de Armas could begin, there was a Mass, celebrating the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  Mass for this celebration is always held outside on the steps of the Main Cathedral facing the Plaza, so that all who want to can take part in it.  People crowd as close to the steps as they can in hopes of being in reach of a small morsel of bread and a small sip of wine.

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Men carrying San Sebastián during the procession.

After Mass and communion, the saints and virgins are one by one paraded around the Plaza de Armas in a great procession, celebrating the Holy Host, the Catholic Church, and ancient Incan culture.  Each saint and virgin is ornately decorated in the finest silks and other fabrics, sewn with gold-leaf and silver-leaf threads.  Each is carried around the Plaza, accompanied by incense, flowers, dancers, bands, and faithful followers.  Meanwhile, thousands of people crowd into the Plaza to watch and honor these beloved saints and virgins.

Chiriuchu is the other beloved element of the day, even for those who are non-religious.  Chiriuchu, accompanied by a cold beer or fresh coconut water, is cherished by all, young and old.  For foreigners, the dish may or may not appeal to one’s taste buds, but it is definitely worth a try, even if only for the experience. This traditional Cusqueñan platter, served with chicha or beer, is compiled of chicken, pork, sausage, cured meat, a corn tortilla, seaweed, caviar, toasted corn, hot pepper, cheese, and, the star of the meal, guinea pig – which was a common source of meat for the Incas.

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Virgen de La Inmaculada Concepción in the Plaza de Armas.

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Women dancing in traditional costume during the procession.

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Virgen de Los Remedios in front of La Compañia.

With Corpus Christi over, the season of festivities has officially begun in Cusco.  For the next couple of months, the streets, plazas, and parks of Cusco will be filled with celebrations of all kinds.

What are they celebrating?  Everything…

Some of us get so wrapped up in our lives or careers or whatever else we may have going on that we sometimes lose sight of the important things.  Peru is a simpler place than most of us are used to, but what Peru lacks in luxury and advancement, they make up for in their appreciation of life.  The upcoming celebrations involve family, friends, music, dancing, and food.  After all, aren’t those (or most of those) the things that matter most?

For more history about Corpus Christi, check out last year’s blog.

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May 30, 2013 PC’s headquarters, in full bloom!

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March 17, 2013 Carnival

by guest blogger, Kezia Huseman

Many people think of Brazil when they think of Carnival, but actually it is a celebration that occurs all over the world.  Carnival is traditionally a Catholic celebration that coincides with Lent.  Historically, the Catholic Church required all alcohol and rich foods to be discarded during Lent prior to Easter, but instead of simply discarding the alcohol and food, townspeople would gather in large celebrations to enjoy their beverages and eats prior to their 40 days of prohibition.  Today, Carnival is celebrated for more-or-less the same reasons.

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Peru, being a predominately Catholic nation, celebrates Carnival all over the country.  When asked, “What is Carnival?” many Peruvians answer with, “A reason to drink and eat and spend time with friends and family.”

On Carnival, like any good celebration, there is plenty to eat and drink, but it isn’t all about the food and booze.  In fact, in Peru, there are also parades, tree cutting ceremonies, and water.  O, yes!  Water…  A water fight, to be exact.  A country-wide water fight.  This water fight has no age limits, no escape, and no winners.  Everyone becomes some degree of wet.  Weapons include water guns, water balloons, spray bottles, buckets of water, and foam spray.

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In Cusco, the weapon of choice is foam, for its quick drying properties and far dispersal.  The culmination of the battle is in the Plaza de Armas.  Truly, this celebration is for everyone.  Parents teach their children how to fire foam aerosol cans, and complete strangers bond by dousing each other in water or foam.  The only rule is: don’t douse your same gender.  Some people may think that they don’t want to participate or get wet, but, the reality is, everyone enjoys themselves.  Getting sprayed and getting wet are just part of the fun.

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In the afternoon, after the water fight has calmed and the sun begins to set, neighbors gather together to take part in a yunsa celebration.  A yunsa is the tree cutting ceremony.  A tree is decorated with ribbons, blankets, plastic containers, tires, balloons, clothes, toys, and other prizes.  Then, people dance around the tree in a circle, drinking and chatting, and couples take turns attempting to chop down the tree with an axe.  This goes on for hours, because each person is only allowed three swings at a time.  Once the tree actually falls, everyone scrambles to claim their prize, like with a piñata.  The couple that eventually strikes down the tree becomes responsible for getting the celebration ready the following year.

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Long into the night of Carnival, even after the water fight has ended and the tree has fallen, families and friends dance and eat and drink and simply enjoy each other’s company.  As far as celebrations go, what more could one want?

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March 11, 2013 The Horses of Camargue

Our Spring catalog equine model, “Mister”, was not only a wonderful sport by patiently posing for us, but also a great ambassador for his breed, the Camargue horse.  Mister was one of the renowned white horses of Camargue, romanticized by imagery of the region, depicting herds of them galloping through the marshlands of southern France.

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Mister on the beach at Saintes Maries de la Mer

The Camargue horse is also known as “the horse of the sea” due to its native environment of France’s Rhone delta.  Its origins are generally unknown, but it is thought to be one of the oldest breeds of horses in the world. For hundreds or even thousands of years, these horses have lived wild in the Camargue wetlands.

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Trailriding through the Camargue marshlands

Adult Camargue horses appear white but are considered gray, meaning that they have black skin underlying a white hair coat. As foals, their coat is black or dark brown, but as they mature their coat becomes increasingly intermingled with white hairs. They are relatively small horses, usually 13.1–14.3 hands at the withers (4 ½-5 feet tall at the shoulder), yet they have the strength to carry an adult rider. They have a short neck, deep chest, compact body, strong limbs and a full mane and tail. Their hooves are tough and wide, well acclimated to the marshy terrain.

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A Camargue yearling, before its coat has started to change from brown to white

Camargue horses are known for their intelligence, stamina, hardiness and agility, traits developed over centuries of living under semi-feral conditions in a harsh environment. The calm temperament and athleticism of the Camargue horse has made it a popular choice for equestrian games, dressage, and long distance riding.  It is the traditional mount of the gardians, the Camargue “cowboys” who herd the black Camargue cattle. The gardians tend to the horses, with annual roundups for health inspections, branding, and gelding.

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Camargue mares grazing in the wild marshes of the Rhone delta

The Camargue breed was recognized and promoted by Julius Caesar, and was recruited by Napoleon for use by his army.  Camargue horses went to battle overseas as well, and were thought to first come to the Americas as warhorses, where hardiness and a calm temperament were required.  They were put to work again around 1865 during the construction of the Suez Canal.  In 1978, the French government began registering the Camargue horse breed, requiring foals to be born out of doors and seen to suckle from a registered mare as proof of parentage.

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Mister shares the spotlight

On the beach near Saintes Maries de la Mer, southern France, modeling the Camargue Cardigan.

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February 25, 2013 Ancient Textile Traditions of Chinchero

by guest blogger, Kezia Huseman

Chinchero is a small village in Peru, located in the departamento (state) of Cusco but it is about 28 kilometers (17 miles) northwest of the city of Cusco.  The village gets quite a bit of traffic flowing through it because of its close proximity to Cusco, the archeological site located there, and the beautiful handmade textiles made by the villagers.  Many people, tourists and otherwise, marvel at the textiles, but sadly, many never come to fully appreciate the process by which they are made.

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Hand-dyed and handwoven mantas in an array of colors and patterns.

It all starts with animals.  Sheep and alpaca are raised and tended to throughout the year; they are sheared usually just once a year.  This provides the raw material with which this process begins: dirty wool filled with pieces of earth and twigs.  To clean the wool, women wash it with a root from the jabonera (soapwort) plant.  This root is a natural detergent which creates a lather and removes the dirt.  Interestingly, it is this same root which the people use as shampoo to wash their own hair.

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Jabonera Root, used to wash wool. 'Jabon' means soap in Spanish.

Once washed, the wool is ready to spin.  They use a drop-spindle, or pushka, allowing the spinner to walk or do other activities and spin at the same time.  The wool is spun into simple 1-ply yarn.  At this stage, it is time for dyeing.

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Spinning using the drop-spindle, pushka, to ply the already dyed yarn.

All dyes used are 100% natural and hand-gathered.  Leaves, bark, moss, corn, flowers, and seeds are all used to make varying shades of different colors.  For red colors, pigment from cochineal is used, extracted from a small beetle which lives on the prickly pear cactus.  The beetle’s raw pigment also serves as women’s lipstick and rouge.

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Cochineal insects; crushed cochineal; wool being dyed with cochineal.

The dyes are added to boiling water, and then the single-ply yarn is added to the pot.   The time left in the pot depends on the intensity of the desired color.  For a mordant, to hold the color, they use collpa, a mineral found in the jungle.

Once the yarn is dyed, it is rinsed and hung to dry.  Then, the yarn is spun again to ply it.  A slightly larger drop-spindle is used to make the yarn 2-ply or 3-ply, thus stronger and able to be woven.

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Varying shades from natural dyes. Greens & blues: leaves, purples: purple corn, oranges: 'beard of the rock' moss, yellows: seeds & flowers.

To weave the yarn, they used a back-strap loom, which is simply straps, strings, and sticks fashioned together.  Tools used in the weaving process are bones and sticks.  Weaving an entire loom takes at least two months of solid weaving.  The people of Chinchero make designs in their weavings specific to Chinchero.  While other villages around Peru use the same techniques to make yarn and weave, the designs imprinted in the textiles are specific to the location where they were woven.  An outsider may not be able to recognize the subtle differences in designs, but the people of the Andes can pinpoint where someone is from simply by the designs in their clothing and textiles.

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Woman weaving with back-strap loom.

The final products consist of shawls, skirts, scarves, belts, ponchos, table runners, bags, coin purses, and much more.  All are stunning and beautiful, but perhaps the most stunning of all is the physical effort and craftsmanship that goes into making those products.

Weaving is not a simple weekend craft for the people of Chinchero.  It is definitely a long, delicate process.  At the same time, it is much more than that.  Weaving is a living testament to their heritage, proof of their workmanship, and their livelihood.

See Peruvian Connection’s handwoven textiles for Spring 2013:
Kenko Pima Belt
Ocongate Pima Belt
Tarma Wrap Bracelet

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