For all my time living and studying in another country, the international experience I had this past weekend was by far the most insightful into cultures that are vastly different from both the Czech Republic and the United States. Last Saturday, over forty embassies opened their doors to the general public. The embassies showcased food, drink and culture including music and dance. The event was completely free and there was a lot of buzz surrounding the event. Being students of the world, we decided to partake and see what the world had to offer us. We decided to stick to the Western Hemisphere as it has been our home for the last four months and none of us have been south of the boarder, it also ties into my studies and I felt that it would be rewarding to get a little closer to the cultures I was learning about in my classes.
Our journey began in Peru. We were greeted to the unique musical sounds of a Peruvian pan flute band. This is not unlike the sound that one can find in the Renaissance era of the old world, but it had it's own South American feel to it. Everyone representing the embassy was dressed in very colorful traditional clothing. We saw llamas, an animal that has been extremely important to Peruvians for hundreds of years. Native to South America, these animals provide fiber for making clothes and blankets as well as their use as pack animals. After viewing the wildlife, there was a showcase of native Peruvian dancing, namely, the Marinera. Somewhat similar to the tango, this dance uses a handkerchief instead of a rose and represents courtship between the two dance partners. Finally, we indulged in the edible offerings of Peru. Most enjoyable was our sampling of quinoa, prepared with basil and Inca Kola, a sweet lemony soda that tastes a bit like bubble gum. We also tried Pisco, however we were not overly impressed with drinking this straight.
After Peru, it was a short trip to Trinidad and Tobago. Like Peru, we were welcomed with traditional music from the national instrument of Trinidad and Tobago, the steel drum. While it is a well known sound, we were quite impressed by hearing it in person and the musicians ability to make such wonderful sounds from a seemingly simple instrument. After the music, we looked into the native dress of the small island country and were surprised to find that we were able to wear them ourselves. While we found them to be a little tall for our tastes, they were intricately and beautifully made. Finally, we once again were treated to some food, although this time much sweeter. Traditional sweet bread and a not so traditional coconut cupcake made for a great tastes of the Caribbean.
Then it was back to South America to visit Chile. There was a large presentation and video screening about the folklore and the countryside of the country, which was quite interesting, but was a short stop to the best part of the visit to the Chilean embassy: the food. They are known for their wine and the red was excellent. It accompanied the smoked salmon excellently. While it is very possible to get fish in the Czech Republic, we are a land locked country far from the ocean and fish is not a major part of our diet. When we find it prepared by people who have been doing it for generations, it is really a treat. The small meal was topped off with a Pisco sour, yes the same Pisco that we did not enjoy in Peru, but when mixed with some lemon or strawberry juice and a hint of sugar, it was much more pleasant.
Finally, we saved the best for last. All day we had been hearing that Nicaragua was the best that everyone had been to, so we finished the day there. The lines were long but very well worth it, mostly from a gastronomical point of view. There were loads of samples of excellent Nicaraguan food and drink. Namely, the sweet bread, served with some jelly, accompanied with Nicaraguan rum. We make rum in the Czech Republic, but like the fish, sampling it from it's origin, prepared by time tested methods gave us a very different and authentic taste. Finally, we had some coffee. I don't mean to write a short sentence about the coffee, it might have been the best coffee I’ve ever had and my friends will agree with me. While not native to South America, they have been growing coffee for hundreds of years in a climate that is perfectly conducive to it's growth and cultivation. And it really shows. Like Peru, we were able to try on some head wear from the country.
Finally, our trip around the world came full circle with a little trip home. The embassy of the Czech Republic was not open (that's next week when the EU embassies will host a similar event) in our wanderings, we found memorial honoring the first president of Czechoslovakia Tomáš Masaryk. While Czechoslovakia has split, Masaryk is still a very important figure to the people of the two new countries and after a day of traveling around the world it was very nice to see a little piece of home at the end of our journey.