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.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Day in Washinton, D.C. September 30, 2011

I had been to Washington, D.C. on a number of occasions, but not since the 1980's. While visiting with my son toward the end of my month in the states, we had a cloudy but warm day to visit the sites that had not existed in my previous visits to our nation's capital: mainly, the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, Dr. King's Memorial, and the F.D.R. Memorial. I actually took out my camera and behaved like a tourist. I thank my son, Marc, for a wonderful weekend and a great Friday for our walking tour, because the temperature highs dropped into the upper 40's in D.C. the next day, Saturday.

It seems a little lame to depict photos of Washington, D.C. when a number of expats from Cuenca are touring places like Japan, China, Spain, and Morocco.  Nonetheless, Marc and I had a great time,  The day gave me a chance to use my camera, and most of all attempt the arduous task of transferring, uploading, and posting photos.  If you want to learn or refresh your memory on a little American history, just click on the link below, (or cut and paste in your URL at the top of the screen) and click on each photo, and a commentary will be provided.  I hope all this works.  If it does, I owe a special thanks of gratitude to Jose Cortez and Lenny Charnoff.  If it doesn't, I still owe them thanks for trying guys.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Life's Incongruencies: Plus Two Things to Consider if you Plan a Move to Cuenca

The incongruencies of life certainly are being demonstrated to me at the moment here in Cuenca. If you read my last post, you know that I spent a month back in the states visiting with friends and family. When I left Cuenca, the weather was wet and cool. Kind of that damp, cool weather experienced in Chicago on rainy days in the spring when temperatures are only in the 40’s or 50’s. Homes in Cuenca are made of concrete and plaster with no insulation, and no central heating; so they are a poor conduit for retaining heat in cool weather. Because of La Nina we had our total average rainfall for the year by the end of June, so the damp, cold humidity feeling was more prevalent this year than usual. Upon returning to Cuenca about ten days ago, the weather has become a whole new experience.

The weather has warmed up significantly. I no longer need to wear layers of clothes or my robe over them to keep warm during certain parts of the day or evening. There were days when I actually felt warmer when I was walking outside, and the movement would raise my body temperature. That was then. This is now. The nights now have been quite warm since my return. I get by with just a sheet, and leave the comforter at the foot of the bed. I’ve been soaking up the sun, and enjoying the warmth a great deal. Yes, we still tend to get afternoon showers most days, but the precipitation is not as prolonged as in previous months.

So what are the incongruencies? Well, just as the weather is warming up, what do I bring back with me from the states but an EndenPure Heater. I would strongly recommend this heater to anyone who wants to stay warm in Cuenca during the cool months of April through September. Granted, I only had the chance to try it for fifteen minutes at a moderate heat setting just to make sure it was working, before it became way too hot in my apartment for this time of year. However, my brother has used the EndenPure heater in his home through at least two Chicago winters. I find it works very effectively and efficiently, and my brother has been most pleased with its performance. The EndenPure will heat 1,000 sq. ft. of living space. I have a 1,700 ft condo. But since I like a cool bedroom while I am sleeping at night, and the fact that Cuenca’s cold periods or nothing like Chicago’s, the EndenPure should more than do the job of taking the coolness out of the air during the day or night.

The price is currently $397.00. From my perspective, the cost is well worth it. It is cool to the touch, safe for babies and pets, and heats evenly throughout the house from floor to ceiling. The heater also does not suck oxygen out of the air leaving people with that droopy tired feeling. The EdenPure USA 1000 is the only quartz, infrared portable heater made in the United States. Can you imagine, a product that is actually manufactured in the U.S.A.! Furthermore, Bob Vila is the spokesman for EndenPure. I mean, what could be a greater testimonial for a product than that.

The heater is not available for purchase in Ecuador. Nor does the company provide international shipping beyond Canada. I had the heater shipped to my son in Maryland, and brought it to Cuenca in its original box and packing. It weighs thirty pounds, and there are no custom or duty charges when you bring it to Ecuador as part of your flight baggage in cargo, since it is under $500.00 in price. Be sure you have your invoice or receipt to prove the price is under $500.00. However, if the product is taken on American Airlines, which is the airline flight which brought me to Ecuador, you will have to pay an additional $150.00, if the box is excess cargo baggage beyond your first two pieces of cargo luggage. Each person will have to decide for themselves if the cost is reasonable or prohibitive. For me, it obviously is well worth the cost. Expats who come to live in Cuenca, and especially find themselves living in older housing stock which frequently can be quite drafty should especially give consideration to such a purchase. There are currently no heaters available for purchase in Cuenca, including the more expensive models that come close to the quality of EdenPure.

Cuenca can also be a very noisy city. In my neighborhood,the worse generally comes at 6:00 a.m. The rooster crows, and that gets all the dogs into the act. There is one dog. I have no idea what happen to his vocal chords. His bark, if one can call it that, is this prolonged, desperate wailing sound of pain and agony, one would expect from an animal that has just been quartered and attacked by a larger animal that has begun to devour the smaller animal. Now, along with the occasional car alarms that go off generally for a short time, or the weekend parties in the neighborhood, I no longer have my sleep interrupted by the sounds of man or nature.

God bless “white noise” with the invention of The "Original Sleep Sound Generator" of which I brought two of them back with me to Cuenca. One is in my outer wall guest room, and the other is in my master bedroom. After ten nights of using the one in my room, no more listening to dogs bark throughout the night, roosters crowing in the morning, car alarms, ambulance sirens, and traffic noise. There are two levels of white noise. The lower level works just fine for me. The higher level is more appropriate when I’m sleeping and I have my window open, which is almost every night now.


The Original Sleep Sound Generator - Hammacher Schlemmer
This device produces a gentle noise that helps block annoying sounds such as tra...See More

The beauty of this little machine is that its light and you can easily pack it in your luggage. You just plug it in, and turn the switch to high or low. That's all there is to it. There are no 1,000 variations of complications that cameras, computers, blackberries, and IPOD's offer; which definitely beyond a doubt makes the Sleep Sound Generator my kind of technology.

Ironically, here in the Southern Hemisphere we are entering the warmer months with abated breath, so I wasn’t thrilled to find upon my return that the stores and shops are loaded with Christmas stuff; which, of course, is so Norte Americano. What really took the cake today, however, was to walk into the lobby of the Palermo this evening where I live, and to be greeted with a very large and utterly beautifully decorated Christmas tree right smack dab in the center of the spacious foyer. It’s only early October! Talk about overkill! Thank God, so far I have not heard any Christmas carols, but as Scarlett would say, “ Manana is another day”.

Disclaimer:The above products are presented to you for your consideration if you plan a move to Cuenca and the Andes. Neither I nor any member of my family have any financial connection with the companies mentioned.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Travels Home and the Return to Cuenca

Well, at the end of my last post I stated that my month in the U.S.A. would go by quickly, and how incredibly quickly the time passed. I had a fabulous month, and couldn’t have been more pleased. In fact, I could have used an additional week in the states. The traveling to the states and back again was totally uneventful, which is good. Everything ran like clock-work, and except when I watched a very good movie entitled, “Midnight in Paris”, I studied Spanish all the way to Chicago. From that point on I was wired for every moment of time, and had no time for Spanish studies or blogging. I consider long flight travel days as my Zombie Days, just something to get through.

The weather in Chicago has been much like Cuenca’s this summer as far as lots of cloudiness and rain. The Indiana corn was truly as high as an elephant’s eye due to all the rain. Occasionally, some beautiful weather days appeared as well. I am so glad in hindsight that my residency was delayed. I originally had planned to return home in August, which would have been during a time of great heat and humidity. The days in September, which ranged from the 50’s to the low 80’s were generally quite pleasant.

It was great to spend time with all the family and with friends. I must admit it was an eating marathon for the entire month. It was like I ate in every ethnic restaurant imaginable that I cannot find in Cuenca. I was astonished that I only gained six pounds during the month. I had a dinner with former colleagues of mine before I retired last January that you can’t find in Cuenca--authentic Chinese food. We had an enjoyable evening of conversation, and I look forward to seeing them again on my next trip back to the states. With my brother, Leo and his wife Carla, we made our way to our favorite Thai and Indian restaurants; not to mention a new Scottish restaurant as well where the young lovelies who composed the wait-staff wore very short kilts and bare midriffs. It took many deliberate efforts while I was seated to look beyond our waitress’ bejeweled navel and find my way up to her eyes. I never ate in a Scottish restaurant before. The shepherd’s pie was all right, but this was a place which was more a feast for the eyes rather than its gastronomical offerings.

I enjoyed visiting with my niece, Jennifer, and her husband, Dominic, as we ate Italian at a restaurant in Naperville, Illinois. It was also great seeing my nephew Brian, his wife, Christie, and their precocious not yet two year old son, Joshua. My grand nephew will be inviting a new sibling into the family by next April.

We were blessed with two absolutely beautiful days while in the city proper of Chicago. The first day was utterly beautiful, sunny with temperatures in the 70’s, and not a cloud in the sky. The city never looked better. Everything was so green and clean-looking from all the rain,which left me surprised when I first arrived that there had not yet been any sign of autumn appearing. One corner building with a restaurant and outside sidewalk café had out did itself in the plants and blossoming flowers that it had on display. The two corner sides of the building and the entire partitions separating the outdoor patio from the public sidewalk were spectacularly arrayed in hanging flowers and plants from top to bottom. It was one time I was disappointed that I did not have my camera with me. We had dinner at my friend’s sister’s daughter’s home, which was a lovely loft-condo overlooking the Chicago River on the second floor of the former Montgomery Ward warehouse building. This reconstruction of the building into condos is just one example of how much Chicago has changed tremendously for the better over the last twenty years, at least in appearance if not in politics.

Our second visit to Chicago brought some of my family members and friends together to visit the Art Institute, which had added another wing a couple of years ago for all of its modern art collection, but which none of us had previously visited. As an adult, the Art Institute became my favorite museum in Chicago, with the finest Impressionistic art collection found outside of France. However, Chicago is no Cuenca. After spending $28.00 for parking, we each then had to pay $18.00 to enter the museum. We then ate at the Russian Tea Room, where meals averaged in the $20.00 range just for the main entrée. Needless to say, I had to smile when I think of friends in Cuenca who consider it an expensive night out kept only for special occasions when the entire dinner minus drinks may run ten to fifteen dollars.

Everything is expensive in the states. While I have seen prices creeping upwards in Cuenca, expats who have not recently been back to the states need to keep in mind that everything has been going up in the states as well. In fact, restaurant and grocery prices had already increased sharply at the beginning of this year before I had even left for Cuenca in March. If the weather in Chicago was as beautiful everyday as it was the two days we spent in the city, and if everything was not so ridiculously expensive, it would be difficult to move from a city which has so much to offer culturally, and in the beauty of its lake and the shoreline, the park system, the Chicago river and its walkways, the prolific growth of outside eateries along the river and along Michigan Avenue south of the river, and of course, the city’s spectacular architecture. However, once one factors the ludicrous cost of renting or buying property in Chicago and what little you get for the cost compared to what property has to offer in Cuenca. Once one factors the luxury of not having to own a car in Cuenca, and the very low cost of public transportation with the great savings that allows for investment or spending on other amenities; Cuenca is a no brainer for a retiree.

My brother, Ron, and my mother filled me up at steak and beef restaurants, which was about the only time I did not eat ethnic. I drove my mother to Wisconsin Dells, her home town, as we visited with relatives. It’s always a pleasure when we go to the Dells. My fondest memories as a child were the times I spent with my grandparents and my cousins in Wisconsin. My mother, who is eighty-nine, really enjoyed the chance to visit with surviving family members. Unfortunately, we did not have sufficient time to travel to Dubuque, Iowa, so we could visit with her other surviving brother and his wife and family. I hate to see my mother’s generation pass away, or to be reminded how old I and all my cousins are becoming as well. Sooner or later, one generation always has to make way for the next—such is life.

Upon my return from the Dells, I was next off with friends to Mishawaka, Indiana to visit with a dear friend of ours. Sister Barbara Anne Hallman, a retired nun of the Franciscan order. Sister had recently had a book published, which is entitled “Hands that Hold Hearts”. With the help of a Franciscan brother by the name of Kevin, who helped with the layout and art work. Sister had used illustrations of the hands of various elderly nuns as a way of presenting daily reflections for meditation.

Sister Barbara Anne is a cancer survivor and has been blessed with a special mission of service in reaching out to other cancer survivors as well. One such survivor has been a recent Boston College graduate football player by the name of Mark Herzlich, who survived cancer and has been drafted by the New York Giants. He will be featured on Sunday, October 30th. on one of “60 Minutes” segments. I don’t know if we get “60 Minutes” in Cuenca, but if not, I hope someone back in the states will make a copy and send it to me. Not all of sister’s prayers have always resulted in healing. I believe Barbara Anne has the makings for a second book. Not so much about prayer or healing, but primarily about the human dimensions shared between her and those with whom she came to care and their families.

Needless to say, while visiting with sister, who is very witty and always has a million stories to share, we kept with tradition and went to our favorite Italian restaurant in Mishawaka, "Papa Vino's". Since our last visit, a two million dollar renovation had taken place over the summer, and the decor was breath-taking. Extremely beautiful Venetian glassware of contemporary design was hanging on the walls over-lapping frosted glass partitions. Each Venetian design was unique. There was also among many of "Papa Vino's" art displays a very elegant, colorful contemporary design of metal work on the wall that I would have taken in a heart-beat to have hanging on the wall in my condo here in Cuenca.

To Vickie whose blog is "Smile Away", and who is currently visiting in the states. I know you intend to see "II Volo", the teen Italian tenors during your travels. You will not believe that I learned they were appearing at the Chicago Theater last Wednesday, the day before I was to leave for Baltimore. If I had known, when I was in Cuenca, I would have bought tickets. I can't wait to hear about your experience in hearing live this fabulous group of young talent. Missing this concert was the only disappointment during my entire trip.

Before I knew it, after a few more days in the Chicago area, it was time to travel to southern Maryland and spend an extended weekend with my eldest son, Marc. We had a spectacular time of visiting, eating, and touring. Marc really outdid himself in his dining selections: from eating at "Hank's Oyster Bar", in Dupont Center outside of Washington, D.C. proper; to feasting on Lebanese food in Baltimore at Lebanese Severna; which was a suave restaurant with fine service and food. and dining on Afghanistani cuisine at a restaurant called “Maiwand Kabob”, My son also took me to a place called “Wawa”, where we used a computer to build our own monster sandwiches. "Wawa is a store/deli combination with nowhere to sit and eat, so we went next door to McDonald’s, bought our drinks, and ate there. Marc was in disbelief that I was not impressed with “Five Guys” hamburgers, which only recently made their way into the Mid-west. My second time around left me quite impressed. How I only gained six pounds is beyond my understanding? Mind you, I’m not complaining. I am just so relieved that the damage was not greater.

Life is made up of so many precious moments, and it’s all so fleeting. Life is very much like a steady stream of consciousness. The past is memory, the future is anticipation, and the present is fleeting. I have moved to so many places during my life, and I have as an educator held positions in so many schools and systems, that I sometimes wonder where home is for me. Certainly home is with my family and friends, which is where the heart is, and I have been truly blessed with a wonderful family whom I love and appreciate more than they can know; but home is also wherever I am at that moment, and the moment for me now is Cuenca.

Next: My Day in Washington, D.C.