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.