“It’s called guadeado. You take the whole head, without the skin, of course. You dig a hole. You build a fire. And when you have hot coals, you put the head in the hole with the coals, and you can put in herbs, if you want to, and then you cover it up and wait for 24 hours. Then, you uncover it. The skull will come out clean and white. And the meat, with the brains will be delicious.”
Thus did Javier explain a local culinary tradition. When a cow is butchered, the head is interred with hot coals until it is ready to eat.
It sounded quaint and folkloric. Until we were invited to eat it.
Yes, dear reader, we continue our pilgrim’s progress. We arrived as dudes from the big city of Baltimore. Our delicate digestive system, our light Irish skin, our flatlander legs and sea-level lungs, our E7 sentiments (we eat animals we never met; we never point at cripples and laugh), our sweet business and investment life, cocooned, cushioned and cottoned by a credit-fuelled bubble that began practically on the day we were born and continues to this day – all have been challenged by the harsh conditions of Andes life.
No one here expects to borrow his way out of a financial bind. No tears are shed for the lamb we have for dinner. No one wears sun-screen. No one thinks twice at a four-hour walk – up and down mountain sides or blinks at the bother of getting up at 5am to get a head start on the cattle round-up.
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Little by little, our greenhorn status is giving way to dysentery, callouses, weight-loss and light gain. Our F-150-adapted derrière has been hardened by the saddle and our softy business instincts have been tempered by the unforgiving math of a marginal mountain ranch. Even our gentle Episcopalian God is being shoved out of Heaven by an older, tougher deity.
Margin? Forget it. We can’t compete on price. And we’re a long way from a product that can hold its own on quality. Our wine is still a work in progress. And our beef is as lean as the farm that produces it.
Not that we’re complaining. We’re just trying to understand and beginning to realise that most of what we thought we knew was phoney, false and artificial. Every year of our life has been spent rolling along on fully inflated tires, on smooth-surface highway with the top down and gasoline at 25 cents a gallon.
We grew up, entered the business world and reached retirement age; the whole thing in a kind of bubble, where earning money was relatively easy and made even easier by the biggest credit binge in the history of mankind.
People had money to spend, thanks largely to the eagerness of the authorities and the financial industry, who were happy to lend money even to people who could never pay it back. These consumers bought our books, our newsletters, our ideas and our recommendations. (Thank you very much, dear reader!) We earned a decent living while hardly breaking a sweat.
How many of our instincts and reactions, formed in this bubble world, are honest and worthwhile? How many are bent, misshapen by a grotesque and unnatural economy?
And now, when most men begin collecting Social Security and prepare for a life of visiting grandchildren and walking on the beach, we find ourselves face-to-face with the real world. This authentic world has a tough, hard face. Not the pudgy mug of a man who has spent his life in air-conditioning and government employment. This is a face lined by worry, creased by hard experience; a face that expects little.
This is the world as it must be for most people, where every centavo must be scrapped out of the dry, barren dirt as if it were deliberately hidden there by a cynical and unforgiving God.
“It’s ready,” said Marta, our cook.
The cow’s head was ready to pull out of the earth. She had innovated. Rather than dig a hole, she had put it into an adobe oven with cans of water for moisture, and then had sealed the door closed with a large flat stone and mud.
The mud quickly dried and hardened, leaving the head entombed with the hot coals. 24 hours later, we went to the oven, broke the clay seal, and rolled the stone out of the way. We drew the head out of the oven, took it to the kitchen and cut off the meat.
It was time for lunch.
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