Spanish Immersion in Peru: exploring Cusco

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Friday February 09, 2018 - Posted by to Spanish in Cusco
09Feb
Spanish Immersion in Peru: a visit to the Cusco Cemetry

Spanish Immersion in Peru: exploring Cusco

Reflections on a Field Trip to the Almudena Cemetery with our Spanish Teacher

 

A trip to a cemetery may not be everyone’s idea of an uplifting experience. I love cemeteries of all kinds, so when my the teacher of my Spanish Course in Cusco tells us that for our field trip today, we will be walking to the cemetery, I am curious, and, a little excited. I am imagining grey slabs of stones etched with dates and epitaphs, in rows, some new, some covered with moss. This would, itself, be interesting enough.

When we arrive, however, I can see why the Almudena Cemetery—Cementario General de Almudena—has been described as “the happiest place in Cusco.” Learning Spanish in Peru and living in Cusco, life surprises me every day. I never thought I would get so much out of this Spanish Immersion program in Peru.

 

Spanish Immersion in Peru: a visit to the Cusco Cemetry

 

From AMAUTA to the Almudena Cemetry

We walk from AMAUTA to the cemetery, on the outskirts of the city. AMAUTA Spanish school is situated on a cobble-stone lane a stone’s throw from the Plaza de Armas, at the center of Cusco, Peru. This is the school where I have been following a 5 week Spanish Group Course and I have learned so much during those weeks. While we are walking, firecrackers go off, nearby. Firecrackers are always going off in Cusco, when the sun is out, and the sun is out. The drama of thunder, lightening and rain has come and gone.

 

During your Spanish lessons at AMAUTA, you will learn to understand
and speak Spanish in a constructive and fun manner. You spend some
time on speaking, listening, writing, and reading; grammar exercises
are part of this.

Visits to typical locations in Cusco such as the market, the university,
a museum, a monument, a typical neighborhood or a school are arranged
for to immerse the students in Peruvian life.

Spanish immersion in Peru: exploring Cusco

 

Questions about our Spanish courses in Peru?

Feel free to contact AMAUTA!

 

We walk under the shaded arcades that line the Plaza de Armas, then down the bustling Calle Santa Clara, where vendors sell strawberries out of wheelbarrows, hand-made jewelry spread out on striped blankets, delicately spotted quail eggs nestled in the bottom of glass terrariums. A man spray-painted silver stands outside the basilica, dressed as an Incan warrior—music plays when an interested bystander drops a coin into his tip jar as if the key to a mechanical music box has just been turned. On this cue, he poses with the woman who just tipped him, and a friend takes a photo.

 

Spanish Immersion in Peru: a visit to the Cusco Cemetry

 

Passing by the Mercado “San Pedro”

We continue, speaking in Spanish about a variety of subjects, past the Mercado “San Pedro,” where stray dogs circle the stalls selling fried fish and baskets of roasted guinea pigs. Up at the end of Calle Almudena, a sudden blush of color peaks out: these are the flower stalls outside the cemetery, our teacher, Yeliza, tells us.

Entering under the arch into the cemetery feels like walking into a village: this is not the kind of cemetery I had imagined. At the center of this village are the small, white houses—as tall or taller than ourselves—that are the family tombs, decorated with flowers and wreaths. Inside each tomb, on the other side of the child-sized front door, a short, steep stairwell descends—the inside of one is decorated for Christmas, and a family sits at the bottom, among the strings of starry lights, hanging bulbs, stuffed bears, festoons of greenery and Santas. Beyond these tomb-houses, are the many storied aisles of niches.

 

Spanish Immersion in Peru: a visit to the Cusco Cemetry

 

We walk slowly, threading through the aisles, pausing to admire. Every niche is decorated on the inside, not only with flowers and photos but with miniatures, depicting the life of the loved one. Here, the impulse toward epitaph—epitafio—is manifested not in words, but in images or scenes. I am reminded of child’s play, perhaps our first symbolizing activity, using toy-miniatures to create stories. The dioramas within these niches tell the stories of the human lives, loved and celebrated here. Almost all are graced by a vase of flowers, usually to the side, often anchoring the back corners: many include photos of the loved one.

 

Spanish Immersion in Peru: a visit to the Cusco Cemetry

 

Questions about our Spanish courses in Peru?

Feel free to contact AMAUTA!

Spanish Immersion in Peru: Exploring Cusco

 

Evoking Long-Lasting Love

In one, a miniature typewriter and desk suggest the loved one was a writer: in the foreground, a mail carrier with a handful of envelopes suggests that this person delivered mail, or waited for it often. In another niche, a tiny sewing machine seems to wait for the woman who once loved to sew; in another, an elderly couple sitting on a bench evokes a long-lasting love. In many, there are animals—usually dogs and cats.

I take photos, but soon find the photos do not do the scenes justice, because of the moving parts within: some of the miniatures are battery-powered. Before one somber, black-and-white photo of the deceased, looking out at us from that position only the dead occupy— of being finished, complete, of seeming to stand still, for all of time—a yellow, plastic chick waddles in place, while a toy hula dancer perpetually thrusts her hips left and right, left, right. This element of whimsy is somewhat surprising, but the juxtaposition between the grave and the whimsical also reflects the juxtapositions of life—of all that bustles along Calle Santa Clara.

 

Spanish Immersion in Peru: a visit to the Cusco Cemetry

 

Sublime Chocolate Bars

As above, so below. If the loved one ate the typical Peruvian Sublime chocolate bars in life, perhaps he or she will enjoy one in the after-life, too. There is a quality of making an offering at send-off as if the loved one has boarded a pretty ship that will take them across an eternal sea. Many of the scenes include a cup of water, a chocolate bar or wrapped cookie, and I think, also, of sleep, another dark passage, and how children are often given a snack and a story before a nap because both sustenance and narrative are needed before a journey into the unknown.

 

Spanish Immersion in Peru: a visit to the Cusco Cemetry

 

I know I will return because the stories told by the dioramas are worthy of return. And I do, a couple of days after my last day of Spanish lessons in Peru. I go back on a Sunday morning when families go to visit, pay respects, and clean the niches. The atmosphere is busy and festive. Ladders have been leaned against the walls of niches, and along one aisle, a boy polishes the glass of a niche. Flower petals are strewn along the aisles, and the sinks, where family members come to wash and cut their offerings of flowers, are speckled with petals. An accordion plays distantly, and I go in search of the song: a man is strolling the aisles, playing a leisurely waltz. In the midst of all the activity, I see as the dioramas are cleaned, shined, rearranged, and given fresh flowers, how the scenes within them are not fixed. They change, just as the reflections in the glass wobble and blur with the passage of visitors. They change, just as memory changes.

 

Spanish Immersion in Peru: a visit to the Cusco Cemetry

 

By Diana Fisher

Cementario General de Almudena
Huayra Calle 310, Cusco, Peru

 

Questions about our Spanish courses in Peru?

Feel free to contact AMAUTA!

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