Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Who Made Your Breakfast This Morning?

That near perfect colour combination: red rock and green verdura. To which can now be added the architectural floral elegance of the American Aloe, agaves that have exploded solitary, venerably stretched flowering stems. Farmscapes of immediacy and grandeur, crops of opulence and verdant stature. Corn maize that would swallow a stilt walker, brassicas with the proportions of medicine balls, squashes that number in the teens to the ton. It’s not difficult to understand why an Inca empire, and it’s antecedent cultures, settled down this valley, why it became sacrosanct. Water and an iron rich soil, combined with a microclimate, a total that exudes fecundity. Yet it’s only a narrow flat-bottomed trough, held in place by steep walls. Not exactly promising potential for extensive, globally significant agricultural development, no prairie, no steppe, no pampa, no combines, (although I did find a green tee-shirt, logo’d: ‘Jhon Llama’). Yet from these terraced slopes emerged the Scot’s national cuisine, the national condiment and the Saturday night national challenge: Potatoes, tomatoes and red hot chilli peppers. Greasy chips, red sauce and a drunken Vindaloo.  Yet, not content with sculpting a stereotypical character, not content to plant breed, these same agriculturalists turned their skills to food processing, and in this instance, the freeze dried potato.
In our quests through the myriad of market stalls, we pick up on an unlabelled bag of, what we hoped would be puffed corn; it would make a change from oats for breakfast. As all bags come unmarked, it becomes a lottery. This bag contained grey-speckled white blobs, of the anticipated size, only it was heavier than expected. Maybe they’re the PotosoƱi variation. If they are, then they’re the depth charge variant, denser, drier, blander. We both give up after a couple of experimentations, donating the stash to the next tenant of our room. Another mystery, one to stand alongside the ‘Fraternity of the Dry Tongue’. It will take time and the Peruvian Sole to drop, rather than the Bolivian Boliviano. I find an answer a few weeks later, in another country’s market: sacks and sacks of them, graded by size and colour, stacked along side the sacks of wheat, oats and the plethora of rice types. They’re ‘morayo’, dried potatoes, to be rehydrated, swollen out, in a stew, and not in my stomach as I had attempted. They were filling.

The Valle Sagrado, sacred and sad. For all this agricultural architecture and developmental endeavour has been, is still being lost. A bunch of illiterate, third rate, second sons turn up in 1532, with gold fever in their eyes. Conquistadores is the victor’s grandiloquent name, when ‘thieving bandits’ would be more eloquently accurate.  Through ignorance, the greed of plunder, and slavery, they manage to deplete hundreds of individual varieties from the gramineae, solanacea and cuburbitaceae families. An endeavour that is still on going, now under the guise of ‘market forces’ and ‘new, improved’ science. Science that might soon regret all those irretrievably lost genes from a savage’s plant breeding programme. 

You stand and stare at the masonry skills in Hatunrumiyoc, with its twelve sided stone, watching the visitor attempting to disprove their guidebook’s assertion that their credit card can’t be inserted in the mortarless joints. Marvel at the organisation required to shift the monumental, megalithic stones up at Sacsayhuaman. Wonder at the logistics of administrating an empire with the supposed ignorance of the wheel. But at the root of all these achievements is a family grubbing in an iron rich, blood red soil, mattocking between their rows of verdant green corn, perched on their narrow terraced fields.