When I get to the airport to fly back to the U.S., my plane home has already taken off without me.
The change of my flight times was buried and unread in an e mail from the airline so I am left grounded and have to purchase another ticket home. The airline assigns the blame on me and I’m not getting any sympathy.
I get online, book another flight to get home, sit around the Cuenca airport for half a day before boarding my new flight, left to try and get a refund through their Customer Service department.
In the sky, miles are chewed up quickly. This new plane flies at 35,000 feet and over six hundred miles per hour, standard for commercial flights but nothing near the speed of a fighter jet. It is dolled up on the inside like a modest economy car and is full of passengers who will make connections to reach multiple destinations.
Above the clouds, life is peaceful. The clouds have multiple designs and swirls, loop de loops and pilings on. Occasionally there are glimpses of terra firma, often vast reaches of brown or green broken by freeways, lakes, rivers, or mountain ranges.
When my third plane of this return trip reaches Albuquerque,home shakes my hand and asks , ” What took you so long to get back? ”
My ultimate satisfaction will be not using Travelocity or American Airlines on future trips.
I’m not going to blame myself for my screw up.
Finding everyone else accountable and responsible for making your life perfect is the new American way.
There are dining opportunities available this morning.
This girl is carrying, on her head, confections to sell in front of the New Cathedral to afternoon crowds the day after New Year.
The mounds of whipped cream with ice cream cones stuck in the top, look like curlers and wiggle as she walks.
This treat doesn’t melt, tastes good hours after it is made, and doesn’t cost much for consumers- little kids and old timers.
By the end of afternoon the mounds of treats will be more than half gone.
It will be as if a giant reaches down, with his right forefinger, and scoops up a sample, gives an appreciative nod, and rumbles off towards the mountains for an afternoon nap.
Walking in the Cuenca Historical District wears your standards down.
This is an old part of Cuenca and you gradually become accustomed to deteriorated appearances.
After a few weeks you don’t notice worn doorknobs, peeling paint, plaster coming off walls, windows with no curtains, roll down steel security doors with graffiti. You look instead at flower pots on balconies, colorful flags flying from hotel entries, mannikins in doorways wearing hip fashions.
You accept old and un-maintained as old and charming.
On a turn through town,sidewalk chalk paintings are beautiful in their delicacy, their colors almost camouflaging them against the brick sidewalks.
” Support art and culture, ” the words say.
The chalk is going to vanish in a matter of days, walked on, washed down and swept away by women cleaning sidewalks in front of their shops. The drawings are light and little can withstand the sledgehammer of a modern city on the move.
I am careful not to walk on the faces. They are cheerful, hopeful, and fresh.
Supporting art and culture are good goals, anywhere in the world, any time.
The 31st of December begins quietly.
As the day moves forwards it changes like your favorite radio station whose volume keeps increasing as the variety and quality of the songs gets better and talk gets more inflammatory.
As night falls there are effigies being burned, in front of a hotel, by the flower market, on your corner. There are satires performed, bands play, and revelers dance in the street. As dark comes, city folk in masks and costumes parade the streets in gangs looking like escapees from a Michael Jackson Thriller video.
New Year crawls in and the Old Year creeps out.
This year has not been bad so I don’t have joy in seeing it burned up.
The old year goes with a whimper and the New Year lies before us like a baby in a manger.
This affair starts early.
Usually, people wait till dark to do their exorcisms, but this bunch has already laid their body in the street in front of a business and are stuffing papers down its pants.
In a world of camera phones, nothing goes un-noticed and un-reported. These participants don’t care if people are watching. It is probable this is a replica of their boss and they are, as a group, telling him what they think of him. It takes a few matches before smoke comes with fire close behind.
There is something eerie about seeing a body set on fire, even if It is a make believe body.It calls up images from the Mid East where real people are set on fire, heads cut off, and people blow each other up with explosives..
This bloodletting will be over tonight and tomorrow shops will close, streets and sidewalks will be hosed down, and people will spend time with family.
Exorcisms are best finished quickly, and remembered for a long long time.
Ecuador doesn’t celebrate Halloween but they have New Year’s Eve to take Halloween’s place.
Today there are bad spirits about.
They are atop cars, seated in chairs in retail stores, looking down from balconies, slumped on curbs and grouped near churches. Some are fully dressed and have ears and noses and eyes and mouths. Others are misformed aberrations that somehow have survived termination. The tradition is to stuff them with messages, good and bad, light them on fire in the street, then jump over them to make your wishes come true.
The effigies have been appearing early. In a spirit place like Cuenca, with churches and crosses in every part of town, one has to accept that there are Demons as well as Angels.
Getting rid of bad has good consequences.
In a place where there were only five murders last year, there is still a reservoir of pent up anger that has to be released.
We need our rituals and traditions.
Certain things in our certain world are unpleasantly uncertain.
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 in Ecuador.
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 reason to travel.
Some of my 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….. ”
” 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. ”
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.
People work out.
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 his burden is more about survival than exercise.