Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Heidi, the Carmelites and the Potion of Happiness

Livia, my mother-in-law, thanks to her good works and excellent connections in Cusco, was given free bed and breakfast with the Carmalite nuns on Plazoleta San Blas, less than 5 minutes walk from our hotel. Every evening would begin with Livia joining us in our hotel, before the five of us would journey out to eat. The journey didn't take long: Of 12 nights in Cusco, we spent 8 of them dining in La Granja de Heidi, a restuarant run by Karl-Heinz from Ulm, across the road from our hotel on Cuesta San Blas (it would have been 10 nights, but Karl-Heinz and crew are closed on Sunday). I know this sounds very unadventurous of us, but let me remind you that less than 24 hours into Peru, I had become, in the words of Brian Friel, tethered to the toilet. Bound by the bowels. Anchored by the ass. Karl-Heinz and Gudrun, over the course of our time in Cusco, gave back to me that which I missed the most: my good health. Thank you Karl-Heinz, Gudrun and staff, from the bottom of my, er, bottom.

Not only is their kitchen dependable, it is delicious. Their menu combines European, Peruvian and even some Asian influences, and for those who hanker after some Southern German specialities you will even find spaetzle. All of this is served in a warm and welcoming atmosphere which is made all the more beguiling by the Tower-of-Babel variety of languages you'll hear around you. The staff hails from Germany, Peru and France, and given our own familial linguistic confusion, we weren't sure any more either what to speak, or indeed in what language we were spoken to. It made cotton wool our of our brains - and all to the good. The effect worked well with the beer and wine, and plumped the cushions of our already relaxed mood.

At the end of each meal, instead of dessert, we would take things one step further by ordering a one last round of drinks: Mate de la Felicidad. Infusion of Happiness. Nobody is fully sure what combination of herbs Karl-Heinz and Gudrun put into this tea (other than they themselves, presumably). It is part of the mystery and magic of an evening in La Granja de Heidi. There is for sure some Cammomile, and surer still the ever-present Peruvian coca leaf. The rest is conjecture and speculation. While I am not normally adverse in this blog to indulging in both, it seems pointless when it comes to the Mate de la Felicidad. Nothing I could write could imitate the pleasure, the release, the undoing of mental and physical knots that this potion unfailingly effected.

And so the evening would end, sated, fluffy and softened further by a modest bill. But there was one last element to our predictable routine that lifted the experience from mere happiness into the realm of bliss. The dream of every married man: I accompanied my mother-in-law back to the large wooden door of her convent and said goodnight.

(No familial relationships have been injured in the writing of this blog)

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