I had the honor of making a return visit to a charming family over the weekend, while nominally Catholic, they are not at all religious, so I was surprised to see the hearth of their little fireplace filled with lit candles. Not just any candles, but those tall ones with religious illustrations. In this case, the favorites seemed to be the 7 African Powers, various manifestations of Mary the mother of Jesus, and St. Martha.
On front and back doors were hung odd little clumps of garlic, cowrie shells, and bits of coconut husk, and when I asked about this, the lady of the house opened her eyes wide, “El espiritu de San Pedro anda suelto!” she exclaimed, which I am informed translates to “The spirit of St. Peter is running around loose!”
Everyone was adorned with either a rosary or a scapulario, a little rectangle of brown cloth, crudely embroidered with mystical symbols in gold thread, and attached to a brown cotton string.
Patiently, the situation was explained to me. When the spirit of St Peter is running around loose, this causes other spirits to be jealous, and they decide to run around loose, too. Some of them are bad spirits, so heightened security measures must be taken, even if one is not at all religious.
The St. Martha candle is in deference to the dormitory where the cardinals will choose the new Pope – St. Martha’s house. Because everyone wants the spirit of St. Peter to find a new residence as soon as possible.
Peter, before he became, according to Catholics, the first Pope, was a rather ordinary Jewish fisherman, so culinary tributes to the sea are also in order. For this reason the candle to Yemalla, an African sea goddess who is currently associated with an evocation of Mary especially connected to the sea, is adorned with oranges, shells, and some rhododendron.
Although it is my understanding that one can eat this any time, it is especially recommended during those times when the spirit of St. Peter is running around loose.
Sopa de Caracol
Get several cans of coconut milk and dump into a big pot, which you set on the fire.
Add some guineas. These are green plantains, and they must be guineas, which is either male or female, I forget which. You should probably ask at your Afro-Caribbean store.
Cut up some sweet bell peppers of all available colors and dump those in, with some onion, some garlic, if you haven’t hung it all on the door, put in some water, and let it all cook for a half hour or so.
Then add a pound or so of caracol (conch) meat, some white wine, some salt and pepper, and cook it another little while until the conch is as soft as any reasonable person will ever suppose it might get, or you can use crab.