Beannachtai lá le Pádraig, constant readers — or, for you English-speaking lot, Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
In Irish, the way to say “Once upon a time” is O fadó fadó — “Long, long ago…” So, for St. Patrick’s Day, an Irish story:
Long, long ago — or, by the calendar, in 1824 — the territory know as Peru broke Spain’s last hold on the New World. The nascent Republic needed trade relationships, and quickly: It had borrowed heavily from banks in Europe to finance its 3-year war of independence. But after 300 years of colonization, all it had to offer, bluntly, was crap.
No, really, crap. Bat and seabird crap, otherwise known as guano. In the centuries before the establishment of the chemical industry, guano was a precious commodity, a potent natural fertilizer packed with nitrate and phosphates. There were enormous deposits of guano on the Andean coast and offshore islands; they provided the currency that Peru’s new government leveraged into a web of trade relationships with England, the United States, and France. Guano quickly became Peru’s leading export and the basis of its entire economy. In 1841, the government nationalized the guano deposits, selling the stuff to its European and American partners in hundreds of shiploads — tens of thousands of tons — per year. [Read more…]