2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage

2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage


My mission in publishing this blog is first to provide a living history of my settlement and life in Cuenca, and to provide myself and the reader with a journal account delineating my reasons for why I have chosen to settle in Cuenca. Second, the posts are my way of staying in contact with family and friends back in the states, and to provide them with an understanding of a country and culture that most North Americans have little knowledge and awareness. Third, the blog is open to one and all who wish to compare and contrast the experiences of expat bloggers living in Cuenca, so that you can determine whether or not from your perspective Cuenca is an appropriate move for you. Fourth, my blog provides another example of how expats view and interpret life in Cuenca. Ecuadorians and Cuencanos who may read this blog are especially invited to post comments that may enhance all expats understanding and appreciation of Cuneca and its people, or to correct any misinterpretations in my assumptions and perceptions of Cuencano culture. Finally, I hope I can convey the feeling of love and appreciation that grows within me each passing day for this heavenly city nestled in the Andes and its very special people.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Celebrate, Celebrate, Dance to the Music!

Oh man! Talk about time flying. It’s already been a week ago today that I spent the day in Quito getting my sedula and censo. I swear it feels like I was just there two days ago.

My attorney was Gabriela Espinosa. I arrived to her new office, where she relocated her staff in early August. Gabriela’s new address is 18 de Septiembre E7-26 y 6 de Diciembre office 82. Before I could even approach the building receptionist/security, a young man behind me introduced himself as Andreas and announced that he was Gabriela’s assistant. He speaks English very well. We made a short stop in Gabriela’s office, procured what files we needed and we were off and running. The censo was taken care of first. Andreas went ahead to meet with officials to be sure they would have my birth place in the computer, so the process would not be hampered when my turn came up to answer the questions on the form, since my place of birth was not likely to be already listed in the computer.

The next stage was the long process. Over 400 people with numbers ahead of ours. The waiting was going to be hours. Andreas disappeared for about forty minutes to take care of paper work unrelated to my case. When he returned we talked for about thirty minutes. With still over 200 numbers to go, I suggested we go across the street where there was an arena. The entire front of the arena was ensconced with one restaurant after another, with the vast majority of them in the fast food milieu. We stopped at a Chinese restaurant. I assumed it was a franchise, because we went up to the counter and had a choice of about eight different meals from which to choose, as they were displayed on the wall high above the counter. Andreas and I both went for the “Big Buddha”. We highly recommend it. Lot’s of variety of tantalizing, generous portions on the plate. The dinners were quite good by Ecuadorian standards of Chinese cuisine. We followed lunch with about a six block walk, anything to prevent us from having to return and sit any longer than was necessary. It wasn’t too long after our return that our number was called and the sedula business was taken care of.

Andreas did say that criminal records are now once again required by those seeking residency in Cuenca, but medical records continue not to be required as they once were.

We returned to Gabriela’s office. I signed a form giving them power of attorney, so they could pick up my sedula and send it to me with a routing number where I would need to pick the sedula up at the Cuenca Airport. Just take it for granted that you will have to call the law firm to determine when the sedula was forwarded to you and what the routing number is. I picked up my luggage and headed out of the office to discover that there was a monster storm raging outside. Then it began to hail heavily. Not golf ball size, but large enough and plentiful enough to encapsulate Quito in a sheet of white that reminded me of Chicago in March when one might find everything suddenly covered in an half an inch of snow. It was such a stunner, after such a beautiful day of sunny weather.

At the slightest hint of a slow-down in the rain, I realized I had to get about fifty feet from the front of the office building over to the corner to hail a cab. By the time I reached the corner the rain was mercilessly pounding down again, and the streets were so cover in water that I didn’t think any cab would come close enough to the curb for me to throw my luggage and myself into the taxi. Almost immediately, a cab stopped to pick me up. I was surprised, because the driver already had a female passenger sitting in the front seat with him. They both were cordial. We attempted some conversation, but the language gulf was too big.

The fifteen minute ride took fifty minutes to the airport. The streets were flooded something awful. I hadn’t seen flooding this pervasive since my monsoon days in Mumbai back in the 70’s. Of course, Mumbai had no storm sewers back then. Some shop keepers were using push-brooms to keep the water from flooding into their store entrances. For other shop keepers, it was a lost cause. Their sidewalk levels were lower than the street, and the water forged its way right into the stores. At times I saw children pounding around with their shoes in the hail, and attempting to pick it up just like kids would pick up snow in the states.

The flight was twenty minutes delayed. I arrived in Cuenca. There had been no rain, let alone a storm. Everything was Cuenca. Everything was tranquil.

I was now a resident of Ecuador, and more excitedly a genuine Cuencaneo. Mucho orgullosomente! My good friends Gil and Deborah Castle threw me, and Larry and Karen Schunk a celebration dinner in honor of the three of us just completing our residency process. With Deborah cooking one of her fabulous meals, we couldn’t have asked for a nicer evening. (Sorry D, P, S, and L back in the states. No photos of the celebration.) I’M A CUENCANO! VIVA CUENCA!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Beautiful Cuenca in Photographs

Ever since I arrived in Cuenca back in March of this year, I have at various times received emails from friends and family members wondering when I was going to take my camera out and begin to include photos of Cuenca with my posts. Well, I took my camera out more than a month ago. I have been taking photos from my balcony, and I have been practicing with my camera. I also was waiting for all the rain to stop along with the endless cloudy days. My one day of photo posts from my original excursion to Cuenca last summer happened to be on a cloudy, dreary day.

Now that we are enjoying more sunshine as of late, I can no longer use cloudy weather as an excuse for not using my camera. The truth of the matter is I just am not in the mood, nor wish to take the time to snap photos. Keep in mind too, that I am not vacationing in Cuenca. This is my home now, and living everyday life for me does not allow for frequent picture-taking.

I suppose after eighteen months of reading and seeing so many Cuenca links of articles and photos by bloggers; it’s like, gosh do we really need one more photo of the three domes of the New Cathedral, or whatever else captures someone’s fancy as worth another photo shot in Cuenca. I would not be at all surprised if Cuenca in the last two years has not on a per capita basis been more photographed than any other city in the world, particularly since it first had been ranked as the number one desirable city in the world for retirement.

I do want to thank those of you who either by post comments or emails appreciated my writing as being expressive in imagery to make you feel as if you were actually a part of the experience. That means far more to me than compliments on a good photograph. On the other hand, there are those like one good friend of mine, who said I had no idea how beautiful Cuenca is until I clicked on one of your links to another blog. I realize that many friends and relatives in the states who read my blog, may not take the time to read any of the other blogs. Therefore, the continuous repetition of photos to me may be novel to them if they haven’t looked elsewhere. I realize also that it is difficult to refer to specific links for photos of Cuenca, since you can find many fine photos on the various blogs, but unfortunately have to wade through various posts to see the photos.

Well, today a new blog was introduced on “South of Zero”. It is entitled, “Pachamama Spectrum of Treasures” by Ernie and Deborah Millard. It is excellent, with a very professionally done blend of beautiful high quality photos, short videos, and brief but poignant texts of what you are viewing that is comprehensive and awe-inspiring. How the Millards were able to accomplish all this from just a one week visit to Cuenca, I find amazing. If I were still a World Cultures and World Geography teacher, I would not hesitate to use “Pachamama Spectrum of Treasures” as a classroom resource tool.

So now those of you who need literal pictures of Cuenca to envision what I have frequently written about in my various posts, I highly recommend that you take a look at the Millard post of August 16th about Cuenca. You will find all the photos in one place, all in one post. That’s not to say I will never post photos, but it’s just not my priority among my interest of activities, nor among the things I need to get done right now. So take a look at the Millard's post and enjoy--really enjoy.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

An Unpleasant Side of Cuenca

Every day is something new in Cuenca. That’s part of the excitement of my living here. Yesterday was no exception. I planned a low-key day of basically reading and responding to my emails, depressing myself with the financial news from back home, and preparing a post for my blog. For a little exercise, I would make my weekly trek over to Coopera. A walk that normally is about one mile round trip. Coopera is an excellent organic food cooperative, where I planned to pick up some meats, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Much of the remainder of the day was to be spent studying Spanish which I had promised my tutor I would do while he is out of town, and which at this moment is a promise I have yet to keep.

We have had four beautiful days of incredible weather. Sunday was sunny non-stop all day and very hot. Monday and Tuesday were mostly sunny and warm. It has been wonderful for the first time since I arrived in mid-March that I could actually eat my breakfast on my balcony. What a sense of freedom to open up all the windows and leave them open throughout the day without the worry of it being too cool, and where the feeling of the inside of my condo and the outside become as one. Today, Wednesday, has been cloudier, and a little cooler. Nonetheless, it’s another beautiful day. Cuenca has received all of its annual average precipitation by the end of June. July has involved less rain than the previous months, but much cloudiness, and both June and July were well below their average annual temperatures. I would like to believe we are on a new trend, but I also know that August and September are suppose to be our coldest months during the year in Cuenca. I hope I haven’t jinxed us with a good weather report, or lots of expats will be growling at me if things start getting cold again.

I digress. My day as usual would go much differently than I planned. I did not study Spanish, nor did I get this post done. One amigo called, soon was at my door and we went out for dinner, then while we were eating, an amiga called and joined us as well. I had absolutely no intentions of wanting to go into El Centro last evening, but she insisted. Little did I expect to find myself standing ten feet from Presidente Correa as he was leaving a meeting in the municipal building across from Parke Cauderon. No limo in which to ride for this president. Ecuador may not be a wealthy country economically, but that hasn’t stopped government officials from parading around like they are kings in countries far less affluent than Ecuador. I was duly impressed. Before entering his car, the Presidente and I sat down over coffee at Fruitiladas to discuss a very pressing problem in Ecuador, the epidemic of major graffiti over much of El Centro in the past month. (Well, the coffee conversation didn’t quite happen, but then again it depends upon your view of reality.) At any rate, I am now prepared to share with you my original post that did not get completed yesterday.

When I came to Cuenca from Quito in March, one of my comments was how little graffiti there was in Cuenca compared to Quito, and how thankful I was for that. I don’t know if it’s because school is out for two months and some, most likely teens, have too much time on their hands. However, the spread of graffiti has been a contagion, particularly the last couple of weeks. Calle Larga from one end to the other is mired in graffiti hardly without a building that hasn’t been sprayed. Paint has been sprayed on the walls along the river. Rich and Nancy pointed out in their post today, that even monumental sites like the New Cathedral have not been spared from the tagging.

I don’t know if South Americans have a different attitude toward graffiti than gringos. While I know discussing the problem with four Ecuadorians at different times in the past few days hardly makes for an accurate survey, none of them seemed concerned about the tagging, and basically shrugged their shoulders. Yet I know one thing the Cuenca taxi drivers want to comment about all the time is how beautiful and tranquil Cuenca is.

Among gringos, especially from the United States graffiti is not only viewed as an eye sore, but often and accurately is associated with gang activity. Areas sprayed in graffiti are usually viewed as more dangerous and personally unsafe. While Cuenca has little if any serious gang problems at this time, the perception can be harmful to Cuenca’s tourist trade, if tourists view the city as unsafe, which it is not, or if photos of everything tourists take are mired in graffiti. It also doesn’t make much sense to spend all the money that in recent years has been invested into the beautification and restoration of El Centro; the constant picking up of litter by city workers; and the washing, soaping, scrubbing, hosing down of public and some private squares every evening; what good is it if the positive efforts are cancelled out by a bunch of punks with nothing better to do than tag, or who wish to exhibit anti-social behavior.

I was walking along the river park just below El Centro where construction workers have completed new walkways and terraces with benches that allow strollers to sit and enjoy the beauty and sound of the Rio Tomebama. Yet at the same time, the walls that form the foundations for El Centro above the river basin have become degraded in places with sporadic tagging.

I am not a fan of graffiti art. I don’t find it all that attractive and usually it’s too cartoonish-looking for my tastes, but when the effort at art is done legitimately and with some oversight, I can tolerate it. I am not attempting to force my tastes upon others. In fact, as I was walking along the river on Sunday, two young man where spray-painting the wall along the area. One young man had about eight cans of paint spray. I assumed since they were actually working on something meant to be art and doing it in broad daylight, that they must have had some official’s permission.

Most tagging, however, is just an eyesore performed by people with no artistic talent, and with no concern with being artistic, just destructive. In fact, these taggers will not hesitate to spray over the more artistic graffiti, just to act out their negative energies. I watched one man out on Grand Columbia outside EL Centro repainting an entire wall, as he painted over the graffiti, and I couldn’t help but wonder if by morning the wall wouldn’t be tagged all over again. Even beautiful homes in some of the nicest neighborhoods, with nice clean and relatively new paint jobs find their outer walls spray-painted.

In Rich and Nancy’s post “Good Art and the Ugly” (August 2), they stated that some Ecuadorians had mentioned that city officials may be preparing to take actions against these hooligans, with possible fines by the parents and jail time by the perpetrators. I don’t believe this solution nary will make a difference in the recent prodigious proliferation of graffiti in the city. I would suggest to city officials that they investigate what some cities like New York City or Chicago have specifically done to minimize graffiti in their cities.

Generally, actions need to be taken to make spray paint less available to customers. Some cities have done a combination of the following: limit the number of stores that can sell spray paint, require that purchasers of spray paint be at least eighteen years of age, require the spray paint be kept behind the counter, require an identification with a recording of the purchaser and paint purchased in efforts to minimize cans falling into the hands of ill-intended violators of aesthetic destruction of the beautiful city of Cuenca.

I hope that this is an issue that the city officials and the chamber of commerce will take seriously, research seriously, and act swiftly before Cuenca is turned into the graffiti capital of the world. There, now maybe I'll get my Spanish homework done.