Down from the Moreno bridge, this wall mural gives a quick lesson on Ecuador. All the familiar Ecuador themes are presented in public here.
There is a Panama hat that bobs its way through Cuenca. The making of Panama hats goes far back into Ecuadorian history. Oddly, the only people who wear these hats today are older indigenous Indians from small remote Ecuadorian towns or tourists from across the oceans,either direction. Teens seem to favor baseball caps decorated with professional soccer team logos or the American New York Yankees trademark symbol.
There is a pig spread eagled on a stick on this mural wall. Ecuadorians love pork and in the mercado you see roasted pigs laid out every day for the lunch trade.
A woman washes her families clothes in the river.
There are candles and a church at the top of a winding road along with Inca symbols, spirit faces, and big ears of corn that is a staple food.
This is a country that has one foot in the Amazon jungle and the other in Andes clouds.
Ecuador’s mural is not like one of Canada, the United States,New Zealand, or South Africa.
Life would be intolerable if we had to look at the same mural in every country we visited.
Learning new lessons is one of the big reasons I travel.
Some of the new lessons actually become part of my daily playbook.
This exhibit is in a Cuenca city government supported gallery, Salon del Pueblo, next to the Don Colon Restaurant, across from the New Cathedral.
The artist is a teacher of art locally. He was born in Cuenca. His art is stark and grotesque but his drawing technique is exquisite.
Here are the artist’s own words :
” The grotesque in my imagery is essential. I use it to unveil the present time situation where reality is shaped by deformation. I portray a dominant culture that imposes its perspectives in order to maintain its power. Its main instrument is media because it easily spreads ideas about the ‘others.’ Television is a good example to understand how economic and political powers try to shape our lives. They sell and impose on people their goals and dreams; they deceive us to defend their economic interest. Those ideals are false, illusion,and, therefore, there is an effect of distortion. Mass media consumers are filled with ready to consume ideas presented in spectacle formats…… The grotesque in the Spanish culture is also known as ” esperpento”, an aesthetic term coined by the writer Ramon del Valle-Inclan. He used it to describe his time as obscure and ruled by the power of the monarchy and the Catholic Church in Spain…… In my view, the idea of ” esperpento” is still a means to criticize power. I use it to understand a society where consumerism and entertainment shape the way people see their future, themselves, and others. To see life through a TV screen is to see it, distorted….. ”
” In my understanding, we are all travelers of our own lives and in that sense we are in a constant journey….. ”
” I want to portray the dream of better opportunities as a lie because it might be interrupted by death or it might never arrive. The dream portrayed by media is like a mirage, it fades away. ”
” To sum up, the grotesque in my work is the way to represent the journey in a contradictory system that sells dreams for a very high price. ”
How well drawings match words is for a critic.
A cynic would remind us that art can be as manipulative as television.
On the 24th of December there is a massive Christmas parade through downtown Cuenca.
On the 25th of December, the day officially celebrated as Christ’s birthday, there is a much smaller and simpler celebration at the New Cathedral across from the Parque Calderone.
Entering the park, you see people gathering in front of the Cathedral. In the street are decorated cars, children with angel wings seated on saddles, and a marching band of old men in suits, white shirts and ties waiting to march and celebrate with their trumpets, saxophones, trombones and bass drum.
Coming out of the church, is a small doll carried on a platform supported by the broad backs of men and women.
As the doll is carried from the darkness of the church interior, into the sunlight, believers throw rose pedals in the air and make way for a procession.
Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus and Easter celebrates his conquering of death.
Romans worshiping Caesar must have felt much the same as they watched him being carried through his city in much the same way.
The big difference is Caesar couldn’t give life after death.
Some walk, some run, some drink beer, some play golf. Others go to the weight room or swim. Old men like to play softball under lights at night and dancing is loved by couples who wouldn’t put on a pair of running shorts but will squeeze their body into nice clothes and dance to a big band sound from the forties.
This morning fitness geeks climb stairs from the river to Calle Larga, stop at the top, look down, then carry the distributed weight down the same steps they just ascended.
I watch them pass me going up, as I go down.
For a moment, I want to join , but only for a moment.
This is a three man exercise.
The fourth man on the stairs has his own load to carry and it more about survival than exercise.
You go down Luis Cordero all the way to Calle Larga, make a right, go mas y meno two blocks and look right, and you are at the Sunrise Cafe Cuenca.
The Sunrise Cafe Cuenca is a hangout for ex-pats. It is a comfortable mom and pop place with good prices, basic local and American eating, and people coming and going.
In the back is a huge room where friends get together on Saturday mornings to socialize but the room is open to anyone who wants to take a seat.
Breakfast is huevos rancheros in a way I haven’t had them before.
They serve their plate with a scoop of guacamole, diced onions, fried potatoes, eggs over easy on a tortilla covered with homemade salsa.
Frank, the waiter from Cuba who sells Cuban cigars on the side, keeps coffee coming and a lady next to me is studying lines for a radio play she is reading tomorrow.
There are families and kids here, as well as married couples and singles. Some of the old guys have gray hair, pony tails, and talk Bernie Sanders. Some of the women are grandmothers and talk about last night’s smoking date.
In Cuenca, you do like Cuencanistas do.
This lady in red, walking in heels and checking her phone, is lucky. The sidewalk here is negotiable.
Her bumps, even from across the street, don’t appear to need repair.
After people watching, bird watching is one of the world’s favorite pastimes. Birdwatchers travel the globe, stand in swamps, dress in camouflage, take pictures and write bird sightings in little books, and swear there is nothing better.
In this city the most common birds are pigeons.
These survivors can be seen on top of statues, on ledges of buildings, waddling on paths in parks, holding to high voltage electric lines without a blink, and staying close but not too close to the humans who feed them, chase them, photograph them, clean up after them.
This morning, in San Sebastian Park, a group flocks at my feet.They are of the same family but their parents dressed them differently. Their range of color is from all white to all black with some shades of brown sprinkled like cinnamon on oatmeal. They show genetics at work and would make Charles Darwin dance a jig.
I don’t write morning sightings in a little book, but I take photos.
Their randomness this morning is interesting in the same way as pool balls on an unused table with a game left unfinished.
Panama hats have oddly enough always been made in Ecuador.
From the 1600’s, the weaving of hats out of the leaves of the toquilla palm has been done, at it’s finest level ,on the western coast of Ecuador.
These best hats are called Montecristo’s and are from the village of the same name in the province of Manabi. These hats are light colored, lightweight, breathable and have long been popular in hot climates where protection from the sun is essential . The price for Montecristos varies from hundreds of dollars to thousands.
It can take a skilled Ecuadorian craftsman up to six months to make one of these Panama hats. When you pick up a fine hat, it is light. You can roll it up in your suitcase and it returns to its shape when you take it out. The finer the weave the more expensive the hat.
President Theodore Roosevelt popularized the Panama hat when he wore one at the Panama Canal. A grandiose man, he was a President with an ego too large for whatever hat he was wearing.
It is said that a fine Panama hat will hold water and pass through a wedding ring when rolled up.
Machine made and cheap is the mantra of our times.
Turning men into machines and making machines do the work of men are themes of our day.
This Museo and Cafe is on a walkway, just down from one of the tortuous staircases that lead you from Cuenca;s Historical District to the Tomebomba river.
The first time I tried to visit this curiosity, its front door was closed. The second time the front door was actually open. A sign on the next door inside said to ring a buzzer and admittance was one dollar and fifty cents. I rang, but no one came to let me in.
This third visit a tall lean kid opens the front door, says nothing as I am standing on the sidewalk behind him, goes through the interior door and slams it without saying a word. He is too thin to be Pugsly.
Sometimes you have to let stuff go.
For now, their website is my only entry into their world.
Sometimes places are prohibited for good reason.
If I enter through these locked and bolted museum doors, I might become one of the exhibits.
While parents like to see their children participating in this parade, it helps their children to see their parents next to them on the parade route. When the parade comes to a stop, waiting for something ahead to clear up, families hug each other, adjust their costumes, and wave at spectators along the street.
The adults dancing today do it because they want to. Their energy expended is palpable. You can see them breathing hard as they spin, twirl, lock hands and kick up their feet in old time folk dances. They put their hands on their hips and look down at their feet, catch their breath while they can.
Dancing, their movements are precise, yet flowing, and the old time costumes are colorful, proper, and hand sewn, some passed down through families..
It is a shame that what used to be common is now worn and brought out only once a year, for a parade.
Returning to the past is like trying to stuff a Genie back into a bottle.