One of the many great things about Cuenca is that I never know how my day is going to go. Of course in the states when I was a teacher and an administrator, I never knew how my day was going to go either. However, this is retirement, a more insouciance time, when I am more in control of my time. Yet, getting together with friends, having someone call, meeting someone new, running into people I know while walking or eating in a restaurant, there is always an abundance of people in my life that can send each day on a trajectory I did not anticipate. It’s nice not to have a daily routine of the same old grind. It’s also nice to see my daily plans altered on a frequent basis by circumstances and by the people I meet throughout the day, by friends and new acquaintances who generally promise an interesting or exciting or adventurous time of conversation or activity.
Friday was one of those days that brought me into El Centro to have a late lunch/early dinner with a friend in a restaurant that was new to me “Indigo”, which has good food, nice atmosphere, and very reasonable prices. The evening was upon us and it was time to head to Gringo Night at Zoe’s. The crowd was relatively sparse. I hadn’t been in attendance in over a month. Some of the usual mainstays were there, as were newer couples I have met before who only recently moved to Cuenca.
As I made my rounds talking with people, I had the opportunity to reacquaint myself with one gentleman I had met in Parke Cauderon one afternoon where we spent hours talking. Meeting him again at Zoe’s led me to some new acquaintances, a young Argentinean from Buenos Aires who hopes to remain in Cuenca, a Californian from San Francisco who will be returning in September for good. We had great time of conversing, joking, and bantering. Eventually we invited a Patti from Washington with us, who is often a mainstay at Carolina Bookstore, as we made our way to La Vina’s for an evening dinner and wine over some very fine traditional Italian fare.
The evening of conversation went from political to philosophical interspersed with occasional jokes and more friendly banter. In typical American fashion, our intellectual discussions jumped from one topic to another, without remaining on any one topic long enough for any depth. The evening was fun, the company enjoyable, the work experiences, the life experiences, and the sense of humor of such a diverse group only added to the enjoyment of the evening. Next time we only need to add some song to the wine and food.
The fun of Friday evening was followed with a day in the country with Ecuadorian friends who invited me to a pig grill. Mercifully, I was spared the slaughter of the pig, an eighteen month old, who met his demise about three hours before I arrived. Much of the day was watching Patricio, our host, butcher his first pig solo, as he hacked away at the various parts with a large knife that would cut right through the bone. Patricio seems like one of the nicest guys in the world you could ever meet, and yet when I saw him go to work with that blade in his hand, I wouldn’t want to meet his alter-ego. The legs and hooves sat in a nearby bucket. The pig’s head sat on the table, with his snout aimed upward, and his lips all puckered like he desired a kiss. (Sorry, folks, that I don’t have any photos for you. I still haven’t taken my camera out of its box, so you’ll just have to use your imaginations.)
Different parts of the pig were cooked at different times. The skin was among the first served with corn and potatoes. Ecuadorians have a habit of heavily salting everything. The skin was also prepared in minute junks similar to pork rinds back home. Other parts were grilled. Some parts were boiled. Whenever a pig is slaughtered and prepared, all the women of the family gather together to do the preparations and cooking. I watched as the intestines were washed with water and lemon juice, and then stuffed with rice. One set was packed with a more salted variety of rice, while another set of intestines was packed with raisins and sugar for a sweeter variety, and then both sets were boiled. Then there was whatever part of the pig that was cut up into chunks and fried in a very large pan, which required that the chunks of meat be frequently stirred to balance the cooking of all the pieces and to be sure that the meat would not stick to the bottom of the pan. This dish was served, of course, with rice and potatoes. Meanwhile, other women were charcoal grilling long thin slices of pork on a grill. The family offered me a plate to take home with me, which I enjoyed the next day as well.
Short of the bones, just about every part of the pig would eventually be utilized. The pig’s head eventually met the chopping block as well. I didn’t watch to see what part or parts of the various dish preparations that part of the pig was mixed in with. I figured what I didn’t know, wouldn’t hurt me, or at least not adversely affect my appetite.
Throughout the whole experience, we were sitting in a half unfinished home which was being built as money allowed for further construction. Some of the relatives were in the states, and as money came home another step of construction could take place. There were children everywhere running around, playing, and enjoying themselves. I was mesmerized by a two year old, a nephew of Patricio’s. He had such a sense of curiosity, was into everything, and wanted to do whatever he saw the adults doing. He attempted to move a full-size wheel barrow that was loaded, and what energy, he never stayed in one place longer than a minute. It was enjoyable watching how the little fella was constantly exploring, and figuring out how things worked. Toward the end of the afternoon, his mother changed his diaper, and bundled him up and placed him on her back. I couldn’t even see his head. Either she suffocated him, or that bundle of energy was finally out cold, against the warmth of the garments and his mother’s body.
The beauty of it all is when on occasion any of the parents corrected the children, the children immediately fell into line. No shouting on the part of the parents, no unheeded warnings, no spankings, no time-outs. The children just immediately corrected their behavior and went about their play. The parental corrections usually came more of a nature to be careful and less risky. The children all played well together. The Ecuadorian children are truly a blessing to behold. Ecuadorian parents are doing something right that sure is missing in most homes in the states.
It was a wonderful day despite the cold and rain, and I have already been invited to Patricio’s fourteen year old nephew, Gabriel's confirmation next month. I’ve got to get that camera ready. Patricio’s mother-in-law was the only woman wearing the traditional indigenous dress. She was a warm and inviting lady. My only regret is that I speak so little Spanish.
The last three days have been rainy, cold, cloudy, and damp. I miss the Equatorial sun; but even on a cloudy, rainy day, I look from the expanse of my condo windows and enjoy the beauty of Cuenca and the mountains. Tomorrow will be a people day, come rain or come shine.