Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Fortuneteller of Cieneguilla

September 4, 2011 – The Fortuneteller of Cieneguilla

Not to give away all my secrets right off the bat, but the main trick to divining the weather is to look at what the sky is doing. At my last job I had some celebrity for my accurate atmospheric predictions.

"Do you think it’ll rain today?” a coworker would ask.

“I’d say there’s a ninety-three percent chance of precipitation,” I’d reply. “It’ll probably come in about one o’clock and it won’t last very long. There’s the possibility of some accumulation but most likely not enough to keep you from having to water your lawn.” Sometimes my coworkers’ eyes would glaze over and I’d replay in my head the scene from Groundhog Day when Phil asks the bed & breakfast lady, “Did you want to talk about the weather or were you just making chitchat?”
“Chitchat,” she says.
But whatever, that’s what they’d get for asking me.
During the Colorado spring(s) I sent out nearly daily emails to warn people of rain so they could roll up their car windows if they’d been daring (aka foolish) enough to leave them down. After one such message the CEO responded to my email saying he very much doubted it would rain. Seven minutes later the raindrops pummeled their fists against the windows and the wind blew the water about with such a blustery fervor that an untethered child would have been spirited into the troposphere. He sent a “reply to all” that said, “Well, Amanda, you’ve won.”

That just about cinched my status as the all-knowing-weather-guru of USA Swimming.

The key to my success was that I had a window. I had a partial view of the mountain. I could watch the clouds roll over Pike’s Peak. I could see the first drops of rain. I could watch the sky turn white with snow. I could see the tree limbs flinching from the slaps of wind. I could observe the graupel melt from little snow-hail balls into puddles on the cement.

I got such a reputation that my coworkers stopped asking me what the weather would do and began to ask me to control the weather directly.
“Could you make it snow a lot tonight and through the morning so we get a two hour delay tomorrow?”

“Sure. No problem,” I’d say with an obliging shrug, “but better yet, I’ll make it snow so much we get the whole day off.”
I was really popular.

In the 2011 Relentless Purging of Things I didn’t throw everything out. When I packed my bags and left the United States I brought both my inclemency and clemency skills with me to Peru.
These skills, or secrets, are kept at the bottom of my proverbial carpet bag and I can pull them out at will like Mary Poppins did with her lamp, plant, mirror and tape measure (which measured her to be practically perfect in every way). Like I said before, I don’t want to give everything away in one go, but another of my secrets for good weather divination is knowing the seasons. If it’s winter, it will most likely be cold. In Peru winter means cloudy days, damp chill, rain and an occasional day of sunshine stuck between the dreary ones like a bookmark between the pages of a thick book. If I happened to be in Texas during the summer months I could bet that it would be hot. My basic assumptions of what a season normally brings combined with my knowledge of a place often appear like a fortuneteller’s predictions. I don’t usually dissuade people from their belief in me. It’s fun to feel powerful.  

My own interest with the weather swirls around my undying love of the sun. I have an obsession with sunshine. I yearn for it. I pray for it. I seek it out. There are not many things I love better than basking under our star. I once told my sister that I’d book a flight to the sun if I could.

The first week I was in Cieneguilla--ages ago in June--winter was just beginning, but the sun still came out most days. When it did, I’d take my notebook and go sit at the table by the pool at Casa Del Gringo. One of those first times Jose came over and asked me if I’d like for him to put the umbrella up. “Por favor, no (please don’t),” I said, slightly horrified and afraid.  

“Tu vas a quemar (you’re going to get burned),” Jose said.
“Si,” I replied, putting my sunglasses on to hide my eyes just like Lady Caroline Dester did in Enchanted April when she was reviving her soul under the Italian sun. I’d thought then that I was in Enchanted June.
“Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York,” or this sun of Cieneguilla, I could have said. Months folded over covering other months and in my country home at Casa Del Gringo, I sat on the front patio working nearly every day on Walter’s memoirs. The instant I caught sight of a true ray of sunshine I’d shut down my computer and go to my spot by the pool. I’d roll my jeans up to my knees and slowly discard coats and jackets until I was down to my shirtsleeves. Then I’d sit with my face to the sky and close my eyes. Thoughts would tumble softly in my mind like clothes in a dryer. If they got too loud I’d write them in my notebook. This time was Zen. It was me reviving my soul in the Peruvian sun.
“You were in pretty bad shape when you got here,” Walter told me once. “They must have put you through the mill. I could see you needed the rest.”

I never asked him to clarify who “they” were, but I did need the rest, the slowing down, the touch of the elements on my bare skin. I’d been caged up inside for too much of my life.
It became expected that the instant the sun peaked out from behind the gray mist garúa I’d desert my office post and burst from the protection of the porch’s canopy. Sometimes I’d take a book with me to read. Sometimes I’d go get my lunch. Sometimes I’d just sit by myself. By myself with the sun.

In July, after a stretch of cold, dark days, the clouds broke and the sun came out. I slammed my computer shut, and, faster than the speed of light, there I was in it. I might have fallen asleep. I might have been in that static-world between dreams and wakefulness when a voice broke my meditation.

“Amanda, estás contenta (Amanda, are you happy)?” Jose asked me.
My smile told him that I was. That I was contenta, tranquila, emocionada.

A few days later, the sun tried its best to visit and failed. I’d taken my spot at the poolside table only to write this:
I look up to the sky
the sun shines, a white globe
behind the nefarious clouds
and it looks all the while
like Sauron’s all-seeing
and frightening

On the coldest days of my second winter of this year, I worked hard squinting at the words on my computer screen, squinting into the misty rain, pulling my coat tighter around me. I entreated the sun to triumph over the clouds to no avail. It was an unusual and extraordinarily cold July.

“No te amargas, Amanda, no te pongas triste (Don’t be upset, Amanda, don’t be sad),” Jose told me on all those days the sun never shone through.
On a Friday before he goes to lunch, Jose stops to grab his motorcycle helmet off the patio counter. “I have to go buy some things in town. I’ll bring back some sun,” he tells me with a smile.

“Por favor (please),” I reply.
When he comes back from his lunch Jose returns his helmet to its spot.

“Cuánto cuesta el sol (How much did the sun cost)?” I ask him, reaching into my pocket as if to pay him back.
“Un sol veinte (one dollar twenty),” he grins. “Pero no hay (there isn’t any).” He laughs at me and repeats my joke. “Amanda, cuánto cuesta el sol.”

I stay serious. “Maybe tomorrow there will be some in stock?”
“It’s hard to say,” he says.

It becomes our routine every day for him to ask me if there’ll be sun.
“Ojalá (I hope so),” I say.

Each morning he checks with me. “Amanda, will the sun come out today?”
“I think so,” I say with hope, always with hope. “I’m praying for sun right now.”

On a Saturday, after getting a much needed dose of sun, I gather the things I need to take with me into Lima for the Film Culture class with Katrina then I hunt Jose down. “Will you open the gate for me please, Jose?” I ask.

“No te vas (don’t go), Amanda,” Jose says. “Si vas el sol va a ir tambien (if you go the sun will go with you).”

“I’ll come back tomorrow,” I promise. “And I’ll bring the sun with me.”
Day after day I tell him when the sun will come out. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t. But what matters is that he believes that I know.

It's another day and I stand at the stove watching the kettle. It’s a chilly morning and I am tired and in need of coffee even if it is Nescafe.
The screen door squeaks and Jose comes into the kitchen.

“Buenos dias,” I say.
“Buenos dias, Amanda, que es tu pronóstico (what’s your prediction/forecast)?”

I give my forecast. It isn’t a hopeful one. The sky has all the indications of a full and dreary unsunned day. I sit in front of my computer trying to ward off the chill. I put on the alpaca wool jacket I’d bought in the market in Pisaq and sit huddled in it wishing for summer.  
“You’re wearing your Cusqueña jacket,” Jose says, stopping his sweeping of the stones to make his observation. “Creo que tu vas a quedar in Peru (I think you’re going to stay in Peru).”

“Do I look Peruvian?” I ask him with a grin. “Do I blend in?”
He answers my grin with one of his own.

“Is it okay if I stay?” I ask.
“Si,” Jose says, “esta bien.

His response makes me happy. It’s nice to feel accepted and welcomed into a place that isn’t originally my own.
He has to work more now that Geraldine is gone and Mariella only works the hours between school and dark. A little later, he passes by me again. 

“Amanda, manaña va a salir el sol (Will the sun come out tomorrow)?
I purse my lips and think.

“What do you say, Adivina de Cieneguilla (Fortuneteller of Cieneguilla)?”
I give my prediction. I’m sure it will come true.

I work on Walter’s memoirs. I blog. I spend five days with Katrina in Lima following her around as she teaches English classes. All the while, I dream of the sun. I return to Cieneguilla for my last days as a country kid. I am about to head into the big city to start a new segment of my life and I want to enjoy the tranquility of the provinces as fully as possible. Preferably in the sunshine.
I sleep in. I wake to the sounds of the doves cooing. I make my way into the kitchen, fill the kettle with water and light the gas. I count the second hand as it makes its way around the clock’s face while I wait for the water to boil. I watch Jose sweep the steps to the big bungalow and fill buckets with water to clean who knows what.
The kettle makes its best attempt at a whistle and I add the hot water to the grounds of instant coffee in my cup. I stir it up with a small spoon.

“Amanda,” Jose stops just inside the door to talk with me. “Tu sabes el pasado, el presente, y el future (you know the past, the present, and the future) will the sun come out today?”

His words make me feel all-powerful. “Today it will come out,” I advise him with confidence as I look up from my caffeinated task.
He leaves the room and I take my coffee with me out to my office on the front patio.

I blend the years between Walter’s youth and early twenties into something that reads well. I am so engrossed in the work I almost don’t hear Walter when he walks by. He opens the door to the main house and stops.
“Jose says that you…,” he pauses. “What did you tell me?” he calls past me to Jose.

Jose leans against the broom handle. “I asked my adivina (fortuneteller) and she said, si, va a salir sol (she said, yes, the sun will come out).”
And, for five seconds that day, the sun does come out.


  1. Ah, great fortune teller, what do you predict of my life with a fifteen year old girl in transition from childhood to adulthood? Will we survive? Kevin Leman says I am doing everything wrong and I think he is right. Am I too old to change?

  2. Randy, I see that you are raising said 15 year old in a house filled with love. The forecast for a transition with those conditions is highly favorable. And no one is ever too old to change!