Saturday, December 4, 2010

Kitten in a Bag

It always takes a little bit of prodding from one of us to the other to get off our butts and go to Parque Paraiso but in the end, it's always worth it.  Brian's back has been bothering him the last few days (tall man syndrome); just something that happens from time to time and one has to live with.  We lay on our bed in the morning, after chores and breakfast, and talked about what we should do on Wednesday.  In the end, we decided on the park for several reasons:  (1)  walking on grass for some reason is much easier than walking on cement (2) it's a good outing that never fails to cheer us up (3) it's Fredi's most favourite place in the whole world! 

Upon disembarking from the bus, Fredi knew immediately where we were at.  It's one of 3 places in the city where we can get away with unleashing Fredi and letting her go.  She wiggled in Shelley's arms, showing high excitement until we walked across the road and hit the park's grass.  Off the leash she tore in 237 different directions all at once.  Now shih tzu's dogs are not noted for their smiling face.  They have no snout, like poodles & german shepards, and more often than not have a very serious, concerned look on their face.  In the park however, Fredi is giantly and obviously overjoyed.  There are people that could watch this unbounded happiness and not feel better themselves but Brian & Shelley are not part of that clan.  In any case, we walked around the park, met up with several people and a dog or two, introduced ourselves and ventured on.  We also sat on a rock & watched the sights and a little further on sat on a log watching the world go by.  All in all and generally we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Time for another down day, we simply took a walk in the neighbourhood on Thursday, dropped into La Europa and had cappuccino, enjoyed the weather & kept our eye out for a place that sold small poinsettias.  So far we haven't found one.  (We go through this every year and every year we eventually find one.)  Friday was going to be more of the same but some blog friends telephoned to let us know they were in town and had chili powder & currants for us.    (By the way, we're all stocked up on chili powder & currants now!)  We met them downtown for lunch, provided them with a city map, gave them some pointers, heard parts of their stories & in the end directed them to the indigenous sweater etc. market and crafts place in el centro.  We're going to try and meet them for supper again before they leave. 

Aside:  While sitting in the restaurant, the woman beside Shelley started to look around a tiny bit anxiously like she'd lost something.  When Shelley inquired, the woman said she was looking for her sweater.  She asked her husband and he too was sweaterless.  "You must have left it on the bench in the park" we told her.  "Go look."  Her immediate response was to say it'd be gone by then.  Brian rose from his seat and peered out the window.  "No, it's there" he said.  The blue one, right?"  She rushed from her seat, out the door and across the street to the park and picked up her sweater.  Upon arriving back she was very pleased and it set an exceptionably good note for Cuenca.  "Your cell phone would have been gone though"  Shelley cautioned the woman and we all laughed.

Brian went down for his nap as soon as we got home because he was off to the opera that evening, the Barber of Seville.  Again, this event was free, the only requirement being that you picked up your tickets ahead of time.  He had arranged to have dinner with a couple of friends and then on to the opera.  The theatre was completely full and apparently had been for all four days of performances.  The Cuenca symphony, as usual was first class, and the principals in the opera came from Argentina & Ecuador and the quality of the performance was very good.  So Brian arrived home all abuzz with news and fresh impressions of the theatre event, took Fredi for her much later than usual evening walk & then we all settled into bed.

It had come into Shelley's head that she wanted to get a Christmas centre piece for our dining room table.   So, we locked Fredi in the bedroom and caught the bus up to Coral Centro & SuperStock.  We stopped in at Coral Centro first and wandered around the store.  While there were Christmas items dotted throughout the store, there didn't seem to be any central place where decorations & Christmas accessories were being sold.  Off we went down the street to SuperStock and they did in fact have a good Christmas centre.  We looked at faux trees & angels, cloth Santas, ceramic Santas & felt Santas.  Shelley stood in front of a display of baskets and paper poinsettias, her hands on her hips, her head tilted for so long, Brian asked her if she was alright.  We walked past creche scenes & baroque jesters, snowmen of all shapes & sizes and candle displays from modest to ostentatious.  They had fine Christmas dinner sets & plastic serving plates, pillow covers & lights, garlands & tree skirts.  In the end, Shelley got a headache and we ended up leaving the store without buying anything.  It was a hot day and back on the bus going home we were both pretty quiet.  Looking out the window at a stop, Shelley spotted a woman with a small kitten in a plastic bag, only its head sticking out.  "Kitten in a bag, kitten in a bag" she said out loud.  Upon arriving home, Fredi was of course overjoyed to see us.  Brian took her out for a walk while Shelley stood in the dining room and looked at the table.  After a while she shrugged and walked away.


PLEASE NOTE:  Kitten in a Bag is the last Posting for Planet Irony.  "Planet Irony" speaks to all the machinations moving from Canada to Ecuador. It talks about the good, the bad & the ugly, and takes us through our day to day life for about 3 years (2008 - 2010).

"Those Not Complicated Need Not Apply" was started about a month after Planet Irony was shut down.  If you look to the right and up a bit, you'll see a cartoon that probably best describes TNCNNA.  Check it out.

ANOTHER NOTE:  Several of the pieces in this blog will refer to and have links to recipes that when clicked on take you to a place that says:  Sorry, the page you were looking for in this blog does not exist.  Go here:  Index of Recipes

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Then the Bus Drove Away

"I miss my kids, I miss the boat, I miss the path alongside Granville Island, I miss Mr. Plineart, Gomer Grunt & Ivanovitch, I miss the Noon Signal, I miss cheap rotisserie chicken at Safeway, I miss FloCat, I miss being at anchor, I miss the Sally Ann clothing store, I miss the library, I miss blue mountains with snow on them off in the distance, I miss..." Shelley paused after her wail and looked up at Brian.

While Shelley experienced some gut wrenching home sickness at about the 6 month stage of being in Ecuador, these days it's a fleeting thing and then tucked into perspective.  We've had some disappointments the last little while and it's easy to fantasize if only you were back home or somewhere else things would be better.  They wouldn't be.  Pandora follows you forever.  Last year at this time we were worried about Brian and his bout with cancer.  Everything turned out great and we were very relieved and pleased.  When you're a kid, you think that all you need to do is grow up and then you'll control your world and all will be well.  Then you do that and amid working & relationships & taking care, you have sneaky little retirement fantasies that involve freedom & security & a letting go of worries & pettiness.  Guess what (?) people are people at any age, the world does what it does without consulting you & your health is a precarious thing, hinged on more than just taking care of yourself.  (This, of course, excludes those magical people who slip through life protected by luck or ignorance (lots of people work hard) and in the end cease to be, quietly and in their sleep.)

Brian & Shelley have agreed that once Fredi & Brian have gone to their reward, then Shelley can travel the world, 6 months at a time in each country.  Fredi & Shelley have agreed that Brian doesn't really need a Volkswagon and feel somewhat and semi-secure in their 2 votes against 1.  (Brian pipes in:  Fredi hasn't decided any such thing!) We're coming to the end of yet another year and as has been the standard for more years than can be remembered, we are grateful we have made it this far and are very happy we're in this place in time that we are now (for now). 

A crazy elf dance was e-mailed to us from Shelley's youngest daughter.  A Christmas elf earnestly boogied to music with the face of daughter number two superimposed on the graphic.  A small thing but, it made us laugh and cheered us immensely.  Monday we shopped.  The store was filled with Christmas baskets & boxes and cakes & there was a special aisle with cartons of wine & rum & liqueurs.  They wouldn't let us buy wine because the census embargo continued from Friday morning until Monday noon.  Arriving home, Shelley made an appetizer and chocolate pot pudding because we were having company on Tuesday.  While Shelley was pottering away in the kitchen, Brian went downtown to pick up tickets for the opera next Friday.  He and a couple of other friends are going to see what it is all about.

The last day of the month was Tuesday and we did our rounds, paying our bills.  We have out-of-country company coming mid-December and were sort of determined to go into hibernation for a couple of weeks before that happens.  The problem is, we have company coming tonight, the opera on Friday, a soiree next week & two other outings tentatively in the works.  Once the Christmas season is over and things have settled down again, it looks like it'll be time for another holiday out to Vilcabamba or the coast or maybe even some place new.  It's nice to get away and not feel any obligation except to lie on a strange bed & read and to go for a long walk once a day.  In this sense, and many others, retirement is the fantasy long thought of.  In any case, after Brian's nap, he poached a seafood medley and Shelley set about making chowder.  In due course our company arrived, lovely people, and we ate well, drank wine, talked about this and that and generally had a very nice evening. 

It'd been awhile since we'd ventured to Parque Paraiso, so we hopped on the bus and headed there.  The bus was very crowded and as we worked our way to the back a young man got up to give Shelley his seat.  Shelley thanked him but demurred as it would have kept Brian standing in the middle aisle, not a great place for a big man to be.  We finally made our way to the back of the bus and hung on around the curves and sudden stops.  Eventually someone left and Shelley stepped over an indigenous woman's voluminous skirt and the packages she had on the floor and sat down in the seat next to the window.  Fredi in her lap, she nodded to the indigenous woman and the woman with a stern face nodded back.  We sat quietly for the rest of the ride, mostly looking out the window and when our stop came, once again Shelley stepped over the packages & skirt and followed Brian from the bus.  Hitting the side walk, Shelley turned and looked up at the woman.  She was looking back at Shelley through the window, again with her dour visage.  Shelley picked up Fredi's little arm and waved it at the woman and the woman looked away quickly and then back at Shelley and then a small small smile broke out on her ancient face.   Then the bus drove away. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Too late for Shelley, Brian took off to a concert, the French Ambassador & baritone Jean-Baptiste de Boissiere together with Columbian pianist Jacqueline Gutierra at the Old Cathedral.  This concert was 1 in a series that spread over a week and a half with concerts every night.  It was the Festival Nacional e Internacional Guitarra, Piano, Canto.  There was a strong Gringo contingent as usual and Brian raved about the technical excellence of both the pianist and the baritone.  It's quite remarkable that in Cuenca events such as this are free!

Brian went off by himself to the Dentist early Thursday morning to get his filling checked.  He put on a shirt and asked of Shelley: 

"Is this too wrinkled to go to the dentist?" 
Shelley replied in the negative. 
"Ya but" Brian shot out "Your standards are lower than mine."
Shelley laughed. 

Shelley & Fredi stayed home and did chores.  The filling was fine and when Brian arrived home he took Fredi for a walk still in his wrinkled shirt.

We'd been invited to the California Kitchen for U.S. Thanksgiving starting at 3 o'clock in the afternoon.  Several other restaurants throughout Cuenca were also advertising a U.S. Thanksgiving meal.  As Canadians coming to Ecuador, we not only had to acclimatize ourselves to Ecuadorian culture but also found ourselves immersed with U.S. citizens who comprise the greatest portion of the ExPat community.  While we've generally found the States people friendly & kind, they are from a different country, different culture and different background which shows itself from time to time in the oddest ways.  Shelley was talking about her daughter curling the other day with someone from the southern States.  They were quite curious as they had never seen curling except during the winter olympics on television.  In Canada we're still very much aligned with a British heritage, the Queen is also Queen of Canada and we have the same Parliamentary & legal systems.  We have little knowledge of American football.  Hockey not baseball is our National sport.  We find ourselves being taken seriously quite often when we're making a dry Canadian-type joke.  We need to defend the Canadian health system from time to time and are occasionally envied in that being the age we are, we understand both the metric and imperial systems.  In any case, at our U.S. Thanksgiving there was great food & good companionship.  We spent most of the time learning about yet another American relatively new to Ecuador, and enjoyed hearing his stories.  Please note:  Brian wore an ironed shirt.

There was an unwritten rule in Vancouver, B.C. that if you weren't sure, you took a coat or sweater.  It was bound to rain or get coolish.  In Cuenca it's the opposite.  If you're not sure, you don't take a sweater.  It's bound to get warmer.  It was time for us to go down to the post office and check our PO Box and mail off our Christmas letters.  We stood on our balcony and tested the weather.  It was right in between needing a sweater and not.  We walked downtown (sans sweaters) and Shelley window shopped for shoes, even trying on a pair (she didn't buy any).  We stopped at the post office, dropped into a video place and picked up a couple of movies, walked across town and down the stairs and caught a bus home.  It had warmed up quite nicely.  That evening we went out to a friend's place for pizza.  It was a nice evening and we genuinely enjoyed ourselves. 

Inordinately pleased to have a couple of down days, we simply went for a walk around the neighbourhood on Saturday.  Sat in a park in the sun, ran into an acquaintance and talked for awhile, took a few pictures and then came home to putter in the apartment the rest of the day.  Sunday was to be Ecuador's census day and that meant you were required to stay in your home from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m.  They only do the census every 10 years and we just happened to be around for this one.  We'd received a copy of the form via e-mail and had filled it out ourselves so that when the census takers came (teenagers from the various high schools) we'd be ready for them.

It was very quiet outside Sunday morning.  No one walked the street, there were no buses, no traffic.  It had an out of this world feel to it like the movie On the Beach.  The only movement was a dog on the lawn in the park down the street.  We did our morning chores, put on a load of laundry, watered the plants, swept the floor and then spent a little while in limbo wondering what to do with ourselves.  (Normally, we'd then go out for our walk.)  Brian sneaked Fredi down to the lawn below our building for a quick pee.  We read & computered & watched CNN on TV and eventually 2 lovely young girls come to take our information.  They wanted to know how many light bulbs we had in our apartment, how many living children Shelley had, whether we had a land-line phone or cell or nothing and if we cooked in our home.    In the end, they put a sticker on our door that we wondered about getting off eventually.  We couldn't figure out if we were allowed out after we'd taken the census so decided not to chance it and spent the day at home.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Golden Roseate Glow

There's snow on the ground in Vancouver, B.C. right now.  This is very unusual.  The kids and friends show pictures on FaceBook and we marvel at their weather.  We talked about this as we were walking downtown on Sunday.  It was a perfect day.  Neither too hot nor too coolish.  A slight breeze was in the air with benign clouds in the sky.  We stopped at the market and got some roasting potatoes for supper that evening but didn't pick up roast pig.  At Shelley's shocked inquiry, Brian's comment was we had too much food in the house and he was going to eat that first.  We got to the park and found a free bench and watched the goings on:  A 3 year old girl, playing a game by walking on the low cement wall and hanging onto the wrought iron fencing; her big brother, maybe 5 or 6, protecting her, making sure she didn't fall.  Two teenage boys, one with a younger sister meet up on the path.  They all shake hands quite formally, including the younger sister, chat for awhile and then part ways.  A dog walks by on a leash and another dog sitting on the bench just down from us starts barking.  Fredi, not to be left out, starts barking too.  We ran into 2 couples and chatted for awhile and then meandered home. 

It's 5:24 a.m.  Shelley's had a bad-sleeping night, staying in twilight most of the time.  The bed shakes.  The dogs outside start barking.  Brian speaks:  "Did you feel that?" he asks. 

It's 9:45 a.m.  Brian & Shelley are resting on a bridge over the Rio Tomebamba watching the water roar over the rocks.  Brian speaks again:  "How come the earth quakes always seem to come at 5 in the morning?"  With a very serious look on her face Shelley replies:  "They're experimenting".  Brian accepts that with no question and we continue on about our day. 

Shopping, we spent the usual hundred dollars getting rum this time for our Christmas/Boxing Day Rum cake and several shampoos and soaps because they were all running out at the same time.  Fredi got walked and Shelley made potato salad.  The computer was fiddled with & several chapters were read.   We even turned the TV on and watched The Event (just because).  Late in the afternoon we sat down and translated the Census form and filled out our copy as best as we could in anticipation of the big day on November 28th.  Apparently we'll be stuck inside until teenagers come to take our information. 

There was a birthday party we'd been invited to on Tuesday evening, so we spent the day basically puttering around.  Brian had had to take a ciprofloxicin pill in the morning and he didn't want to be too far away from the bathroom in any case.  Yes, the water in Cuenca is safe to drink (be careful elsewhere in Ecuador though (!) including use of water to brush your teeth) but we do seem to suffer from gastric distress more often than we did in Canada.  We are careful and wash our fruits & vegetables and don't suffer every week or even every month, but it certainly is a part of living here.  By evening, Brian was much better and we attended the birthday party.  Fun was had by all. 

There's a myriad of things to do in Cuenca.  Often we don't attend because we're early-to-bed people & pretty content with our small little life, but just to get a taste of what goes on here (besides regular fiestas), we'll list a few of the free events that have taken place in Cuenca the past couple of weeks:  Third Annual Cuenca Puppet Festival, Creation vs Evolution Seminars, French Ambassdor & baritone Jean-Baptiste de Boissiere in concert with Columbian pianist Jacqueline Gutierra and the South American premier of the Movie "So Far".  All these free events are posted straight to our e-mail address through Gringo Tree.   Other Events are posted on-line at Cuenca's Cultual Agenda.   Many people keep busy during their first while here taking Spanish lessons & there are endless volunteer opportunities to take up one's time, anywhere from once a month to 5 days a week.  There are of course numerous good restaurants that serve anything from gourmet Ecuadorian food to French, Italian, German and of course North American.  There are night clubs & bars for those so inclined, gyms & swimming pools, good hiking & museums, golf & tennis courts, the rodeo & ballet comes through from time to time, regular concerts are held in the coliseum, religious & other celebration parades are a common sight, art & craft festivals abound and there are several parks & green areas scattered around town lovely for a quiet walk. 

All the above said, we chose to take a minor chore day on Wednesday and power down for most of the rest of the day.  It was time for Fredi to go to the vet and have a parasite dose, so we did that and got her nails clipped.  We then walked up the hill to Jo.Mar and picked up 2 packages of their seafood medley to make a chowder.  It was quite warm out and even Fredi was panting by the time we got up to Jo.Mar's. 

And now a few words exclusively from Brian about the sky & light in Cuenca: 

It seems just about every evening at sunset that a unique golden roseate glow descends upon  Cuenca.   It's the kind of warm light that gives the entire landscape a coppery wash.  The kind of light that you expect might create a Gainsborough or a Turner.  It seems to infuse the buildings with an incandescence reflected in the puffy undersides of the clouds.  It only lasts a couple of minutes and we've never been able to truly capture it with our little digicam but it nevertheless rouses the poet and the painter in us.  

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Is It Safe?

Because we have been extraordinarily lucky, we have a spare room in our apartment.  In this spare room is our computer and a rescued Norfolk Pine tree and books we haven't yet read and pictures of our children & grandchildren, a couch that magically turns into a bed if we need it as well as our collection of Dowager memorabilia.  From time to time, when Brian's on the computer and Shelley's finished a chapter, she comes in and sits on the couch, feet up, with Fredi in her lap, and looks out the window.  Just outside the widow is a hummingbird feeder and often there'll be one of 3 kinds of hummingbirds flitting around, making decisions about feeding and then flying away.  Beyond the hummingbirds are buildings on a hill and a huge skyline, stretching past the window and up into beyond.  There is always quiet for a while, sometimes a long while, with Brian computering and Shelley watching the sky, Fredi content between knees and warmth.  After a time though and always, Brian will talk to Shelley, telling her of his adventures on the web, mostly seeking boats but sometimes looking beyond into other worlds.  And then it's over.  It's time for Fredi's walk, or time to make dinner, or time just to move on. 

Ok, for the third time, we awoke in the morning, did our morning ablutions, all the while steeling ourselves, and then walked up the street to the dentist's office.  Remember that Brian has a pathological fear of dentists.   He's sure that he's a reincarnation of Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man.  ("Is it safe?").  Everything was good in the office and the dentist took Brian in first.  It's a shallow cavity, the reason for Brian's return, but it needs to be taken care of.  Brian was as brave as he's capable of being and the dentist was very proud of him.  Next Shelley's turn.  With some poking and prodding and looking around, the dentist proclaimed Shelley's teeth were much better.  They didn't even need to be cleaned.  Shelley was overjoyed!  She would have turned cartwheels if she was physically capable of it and had room.  Brian has to return in a couple of days just to make sure the filling is OK and then we're scheduled once again in 3 months.  (Old teeth take lots of care.)  That afternoon Brian put together his Chinese fried rice (with shrimp) and  chopped vegetables for stir frying and boiled chicken wings to later mix with oyster sauce because we were having company that evening.  Shelley had made a pineapple upside down cake the day before as well as putting together some appetizers on Tuesday, so we were well prepared when our company arrived.  The food was good, the company was great and we had a very nice evening. 

"Let's have an 'in' day" Brian told Shelley on Wednesday morning while having a quick lie down on the bed after chores.  We compromised and just went for a walk around the neighbourhood; Fredi needs it, you know?  The rest of the day was spent reading & napping, computering & watching TV.  Shelley put together her out-of-country Christmas cards as they'll have to be mailed soon and we ate left over fried rice and pineapple upside down cake.  All things considered, we pretty much throughly enjoyed our day.  More of the same was had on Thursday, except we met some friends at Tiesto's for dinner. 

Once again it was time for a run to the CB Carolina Bookstore, so on Friday we packed up our read books and headed for the #14 bus. When we arrived, we could hear Lee upstairs conducting a Spanish class but Carol was nowhere to be found.  We wandered around the store, picking out our supply for the next while and waiting for the counter girl to tote everything up.  We then stopped in to Bananas next door and Brian picked up a turkey sandwich with all the trimmings.  The mornings see to be pretty clear and warm these days but by late afternoon it usually starts to rain.  This is good.  The river looks the way it should, but it sure makes you want to be tucked into your home by then. 

Several people have tried to get us interested in various volunteer projects.  While we're quite willing to shoot the endless projects a bit of cash, we gently explain to them that we're pretty content with our cozy little routine (Shelley's ennui notwithstanding).  We genuinely admire those who do give their time and understand how important it is (both of us have done a fair bit of volunteer work in our pasts).  It's just the thought of meetings & schedules makes us both instantly and very tired. 

A Canadian friend of ours, currently living in Manta, was in Cuenca for a couple of days, so we invited him over for breakfast.  Shelley made french toast casserole and Brian fried up some hash browns with bacon & tiny green onions.  Peach slices & yogurt filled out the menu.  We had a marvelous time, catching up on about 2 years worth of news and learning about our friend's plans to build a business in Ecuador. 

Please note, all the pictures on this blog were taken by our friend Holly.  They are the last in a series of 15 fabulous pictures of insects she graciously let us post on the blog.  Thanks Holly!

Monday, November 15, 2010

You Always Take the Weather with You

Once again we got up Thursday morning and set about our normal routine, all the while steeling ourselves for a dentist appointment.  The time came and we walked to the office and sat down, Brian wringing his hands and Shelley trying to take his mind off of everything.  As it turned out, the Doctor was unexpectedly delayed and once again we had to re-schedule the appointment.  Breathing cleansing sighs of relief, we arrived home to an overjoyed puppy.  Brian then took Fredi out to check some potential accommodations for his friend Jan when we comes at Christmas.  Late that afternoon, it got overcast and coolish out and started to rain.  The river's quite low so the rain is welcome.  Shelley never thought she'd say it, but she actually misses the Vancouver rain from time to time.  It's the feeling it engenders.  Cozy & warm in your home while it's dark & damp outside.

It was time for our coffee run so we walked downtown on Friday and picked up 6 pounds of coffee.  The price has recently gone up to $2.80 a pound.  We were wondering how much a pound of coffee costs in Canada these days?  Since we were in El Centro, we checked on our picture being framed to see if it was ready.  The frame was finished and they only had to fix the hanger part, so we waited a couple of minutes while they did that.  Loaded with coffee & a large picture, we took a cab home.  Our cab driver took a shine to Fredi and was especially pleased because his name happened to be Freddy too.  Our internet had been out all morning, so we were happy it was back up and running when we got home.  That afternoon it again started raining hard and long. 

Nothing special planned for Saturday, we took off down Doce de Abril walking past the block of dogs (they all take turns barking at Fredi) and then walking further past the University.  We then turned in and walked to Remigo Crespo after stopping in at a plant nursery in the neighbourhood.  We didn't buy anything.  Walking up Remigo Crespo we stopped at La Europa for one of their instant cappuccinos.  They were having some sort of celebration at the school across the street and several food booths were set up doing a booming business.  As well, they were having a cooking demonstration at La Europa, the cook's voice booming out through huge speakers.  There was lots to see & hear.  We drank our coffee, watched the goings on and then headed out.  It started to rain, huge drops that Brian was afraid was going to turn into another deluge, so we caught a cab and came home. 

In a couple of months Brian is going to reach the magic age of 70.  When we were children, 70 was ancient.  These days it doesn't feel the same way.  Baby Boomers are categorized as people born between 1946 and 1964.  There's intense concern about the Baby Boomers because we've always been a bubble in the statistics.  The economy was always pretty much OK with all of us out there consuming & working and things grew despite adjustments from time to time.  There were also plenty of us out there to support an older generation.  Now, not only are there more of us than any other generation, but we're living longer too.  A quick dive into the web suggests retirement ages are going to rise, medical costs are going to spiral and in the end, after we all finally pass away, there'll be a whole new and different world left behind.  The only thing that is certain is change.  So here we sit in our tiny corner of the World, plodding away at our daily routines, waiting for change to happen.  The thing is, we've found our little corner of paradise.  We look at the huge influx of North Americans coming here and keep our fingers crossed they won't change things, all the while knowing they must.  Until now, the ancients have mostly faded away, missed by family (if lucky) but hidden for the most part during the last few years of their life.  The Baby Boomers with unprecedented access because of our numbers are now chronicling their last years through the web & other media; demanding attention & opening new doors that our overwhelming demographics have empowered us with all our lives. 

Walking downtown on Sunday, we noticed the traffic was much lighter than usual.  There was a charity event at the Mall del Rio that afternoon but we could not think of any other reason for this oddity.  We of course, got roast pig and chatted with our pig lady friend (who insists on giving Fredi multiple morsels of pork) for awhile before wandering up to the park.  We sat down in the sun and listened to pan flute on the wind and watched the families strolling down the paths.  We played "Gringo Alert" pointing out to each other the tourists gawking at the cathedrals and fended off men and young boys trying to polish our shoes.  We had just decided no one was going to show up this Sunday and were going to walk home, when we we ran into some folks.  One of the couples had recently purchased a second apartment and asked us if we were interested in seeing it.  Several people we know have now become minor land barons in Ecuador, purchasing multiple apartments as an investment.  Our friends' apartment was lovely with a huge terrace, great view & a large bright kitchen area.  We were very happy for them.  After duly admiring their purchase, we went for cappuccino & ice cream before we parted ways.

It was raining.  We were walking up the street to go to SuperMaxi and do our shopping.  We both had raincoats on and a hat.  Brian carried an umbrella.  It was deja vu to the hundreds of time we'd walked up to the Safeway in the rain in Vancouver.  At the store, we met some people we know and chatted a bit and then caught a cab home.  It was still raining.  Brian put on Fredi's raincoat and took her out for her walk while Shelley put away the groceries and made various dishes.  It continued to rain.  The river is no longer low.  This is a good thing.  Shelley doesn't miss the rain anymore.  She has however, become quite contemplative.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


On our Sunday walk down to Parque Calderon, we've taken to first stopping in at the market to pick up Brian's roast pig, as then it doesn't delay us on the other end when it's usually time for Brian's nap.  The lady who sells Brian his roast pig has taken a real shine to Fredi and always has a chunk or three of meat for her that Fredi greatly appreciates!  We got to the park and couldn't find an empty bench so ended up sharing it with an Ecuadorian man reading the newspaper.  He didn't seem to mind, even when 8 or 10 other people eventually showed up.  We met a brand new couple as well as friends that visit every few months or so.  There were also some old friends and some new acquaintances, so we all talked and caught up with each other and it was a very nice visit.  Shelley eventually had too much sun so broke Brian away from the intense conversation he was having.  "But I haven't talked to everyone yet!" he explained.  We caught a cab home and spent the rest of the day comfortable and quiet. 

Contrary to anything that points to the opposite, neither Brian nor Shelley are good shoppers.  We both just want to head for what we're looking for, pick it up with no searching and escape.  Monday grocery shopping, however, seems to be the exception.  We both enjoy the trip, never concern ourselves with the cost, picking up what we want with wild abandon.  OK...Shelley picks up with wild abandon and Brian shakes his head.  It should be noted that we don't shop together.  Shelley heads off in one direction with the cart and Brian heads off in another looking for meat and vegetables.  From time to time we meet at the cart and eye each other's purchases.  We found shopping together tended to make us cranky.  OK...Shelley got cranky because Brian would nag.  After getting home with the groceries, Brian takes Fredi for a walk while Shelley puts the groceries away.  Again, this routine was developed to alleviate chaos tension.  Two minds equals two theories about the best way to unpack & stock.  Two theories equals endless "discussion".  Once the groceries are stored, then Shelley starts her cooking project if we're having company the next day.  Note:  Shelley's NOT a great cook.  At a dinner party not too long ago, someone was talking about one of Shelley's confections.  They'd forgotten it was hers.  They just remembered the "strangeness" of it all and were regaling the party with a funny joke about its inadequacy.  Awkward moment:  Do you point out it's you or smile politely and let it pass. 

Inadequacy, nagging & crankiness deftly avoided or simply ignored, Monday we went shopping & stood in the store for half an hour talking to a family from Hawaii thinking about moving to Cuenca.  Upon arriving home Shelley made carrot cake and broccoli salad as we were having company for dinner on Tuesday.  There is satisfaction in being all stocked up, having done a good deed, dishes cleaned from the cooking project and after being on your feet for several hours, finally it's time for a sit down. 

Brian couldn't believe it, but it was time to go to the dentist again.  We got up and Shelley made potato salad and we did our morning chores.  Our appointment was for 10 o'clock, so at about 20 to, we headed off.  On arriving, we found out the dentist's office was having trouble with their water supply.  He took Brian into the examination room and semi-cleaned his teeth and advised him he had a cavity.  Brian was devastated.  It's a small cavity but still needs to be tended to.  Then it was Shelley's turn.  The dentist took her into his office and took a quick look at her teeth and then advised he'd have to re-schedule because of the water problem.  Anyone who has read this blog for any time knows Brian is deathly afraid of the dentist.  He gets crabby thinking about the dentist, breaks into a sweat going to the dentist and deep deep anxiety all the time he's at the dentist.  Having to make another appointment so soon did not make his day. 

We left the dentist's office and walked up to SuperMaxi to pick up a couple of things for our dinner party that evening that we'd forgotten the day before.  We also got our phone recharged with minutes.  Walking home, each carrying one bag, Shelley advised Brian he was crabby, would be for the next few days, and that he should be quiet.  Brian looked at her wide-eyed, acknowledged he was not pleased about the dentist appointment and attempted to get himself in line.  When we got home, Brian took Fredi out for a walk and Shelley made pasta salad.  We're having shrimp appetizers, oven bar-b-qued ribs, 3 salads and carrot cake for dessert.  It should be good.  Our dinner was nice, everybody had plenty to eat, we talked about a myriad of things and we'll be eating left-over salad for 3 days. 

Several weeks ago we'd arranged with a couple relatively new to Ecuador to take them through the Feria Libre market this Wednesday.  We met them in front of the market, put Fredi into her carrying pack and set off into the depths.  First off, past the fruit & vegetables, past the key place, past the knife sharpening place, past the tupperware and we reached the pet area.  We pointed out the chicks & the baby ducks, the cuy & the various designer puppies, the roosters & the hens.  We headed into the sea food and saw the big tubs of shrimp & crabs & muscles & fish and scooted past endless stalls of fruit & vegetables.  We hit the potato department and explained these ones were good and those ones were tasteless.  More stalls of tomatoes & avocados & garlic & papayas; more grapes & odd shaped fruits we know not what they were; more carrots & beets & cabbage & pineapple & cauliflower and apples.   Finally we reached the small plant department and looked at cacti & orchids & various bedding plants.  Pushing our way ahead, we entered the dry goods section.  Stall after stall after stall of clothes & blankets & shoes & hats & jeans & trinkets & just plain junk.  Finally we ducked into the main building and pointed out slabs of chocolate & bulk spices & walked through the meat department, chicken & beef & lamb hanging everywhere.  We emerged from the building, crossed the street, found a cement step and all had a sit down for a little while, out in the sun, the frenzy of the market behind us.  We remarked on the overwhelming plenitude represented in the market and conjectured that it's not likely that very many people in Ecuador go hungry.  Having gathered a bit of energy we walked several blocks to the Good Affinity restaurant and sat in the cool inside and had a very nice vegetarian lunch.  It was a good morning. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

And So It Goes...

The Military Parade for Cuenca's Independence Day started at 9 o'clock Wednesday morning this year, so we were up early, rushed through the chores and were out the door by 8:40.  We walked down to Solano and followed the crowd until it thickened and then found a good spot on the sidewalk.  Almost as soon as we got settled, the parade started.  The Police had to work really hard to persuade people off the road so the parade could go to its terminus.  First there was display of flag carrying soldiers (men & women), followed by troop after troop of marching men (some in deep camouflage).  Bringing up the rear was a very impressive display of motorized vehicles and weapons.  During gaps in the parade, a young man in white face, would come out and amusingly mock people in the crowd.  He had everyone laughing quite uproariously.  When the parade was over, we spied some people we know and crossed the street and chatted with for a bit, before we walked home again.  The sun was shining, the crowds all had smiles on their faces and it was a good outing. 

It's 1:30 in the afternoon.  Brian & Fredi are napping.  There's a load of laundry in the dryer.  Shelley decides to try and make a new confection that involves crushed Oreo cookies, lots of melted chocolate and cream.  (No wonder we can't lose weight!)  She's up to her eyebrows in cookie crumbs and melted chocolate and the dryer buzzes indicating it's finished.  Immediately thereafter the phone beeps indicating there's a text message.  Shelley shrugs her shoulders at the commonness of mayhem, licks chocolate off her elbow and continues to plod through her day. 

A fruitless search was made during the day for some items on Thursday.  We came home exhausted just barely in time for Brian's nap.  That evening, to make up for the annoyance during the day, we had dinner at a friend's place with several other people.  The evening was pleasant, we all played nice and it was a good topper to the day.  Friday dawned bright and gorgeous and we ended up walking both ways to downtown & back.  El Centro was hectic with people going about the business that had been delayed  because of the festivities.  We took a fairly large picture into be framed ($22), stopped for a coffee and ran into some friends, picked up some coloured felt pens and got our bus cards charged up for another couple of months. 

Brian's on a new kick to perhaps get a Volkswagon bug.  They actually made them in South America until just a few years ago, so there's a fair amount around in pretty good shape.  Shelley's not totally against the idea but wants to wait until the new year.  Mind you, she's not saying which new year she's thinking of.  Shelley's had a thing against owning a car for years and years.  "They always let you down when you need them the most."  She talked Brian into giving up his car when they first got together and has managed to live without one most of her life.  We leased a car for a few years when Brian was required to have one because of work.  Sure, it was nice when picking up the groceries & the odd Sunday drive, but...  Isn't it nice that Brian & Shelley now have something else to "discuss" for awhile?  Brian was tentatively encouraged when he detected a faint glimmer of positive response when he originally suggested a Volkswagon beetle.  It probably sparked some distant nostalgic reaction in Shelley.  If it has to be a car, then a vintage Volkswagon would appear to have the greatest chance of success.  In our discussion, we even advanced to giving "it" a name: Hermman.  Has Brian unerringly zeroed in on the one vehicle on the planet that Shelley could even countenance?  After 16 years of living in very close quarters, we have become very intuitive with each other. 

Shelley wants to point out that Brian has had the cash to buy his helicopter for several months now.  He has chosen not to.  She'd also like to point out that one of our friends who purchased a motor cycle has put the beast down on the ground twice now.  His elbows and arms are shredded.  The trip to Europe vs Fredi's welfare is still in "debate" mode.  When we take a straw pole on the "discussions" Shelley & Brian have, almost invariably the consensus from friends & blog readers is on the side of Brian.  WHAT THE HECK IS THAT?  Brian tells Shelley she's cheap.  She doesn't disagree and it does nothing to change her mind.  Shelley tells Brian he doesn't think of all the variables.  He doesn't disagree either and the fact makes no difference to him.  The latest argument goes to Shelley's ennui; a car would provide a new variable in our lives.  And so it goes...

On our way out for our morning walk on Saturday it was spitting outside and there was much open-hand-up-to-the-sky gesturing & discussion between us before we decided it wasn't going to do anything more.  In the end we were right and the day turned warm and gorgeous.  We walked downtown and Shelley got a haircut (expensive at $5) and then we stopped for a couple of cappuccinos.  After the coffee, we walked home but first stopped into a video store and picked up 3 DVDs to watch with the pizza we're planning on getting delivered this evening.  Brian talked with his friend Jan on Skype and found out that Jan was planning on being in Cuenca for Christmas.  We were surprised but pleased and look forward to seeing him and his Peruvian lady friend. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Expats in Ecuador

There was a new display of artisan booths (set up for Cuenca's founding celebrations) that we'd spied across the street at Otorongo Plaza the day before, so on Saturday we set off to see what was happening.  Most of the booths were same-old, same-old, with beaded jewelry, cloth aprons & dish towels, carved wooden kitchen utensils, sweaters & hats, etc.  We did however, manage to pick up a fish weaving to use as a coffee table cover.  Venturing our way home, we stopped at the stationery store to buy some red paper for our Christmas letters and Brian headed off to the new empanada place just down the street from where we live.  (Just off Unidad Nacional on del Batan, a couple of blocks down from Doce de Abril.)  Arriving home, Brian got on Skype and talked with his friend Jan for over an hour, setting to right all political systems & most things in the news.  After that a quick heat in the microwave for his empanadas was in order.  When asked how they were, he declared they were even better than the ones he'd been getting at the other place.  Later on, around 5 o'clock in the evening they started to set up a band stand on Tres de Noviembre right across from the Latino Hospital.  Around 6:30 there were fire works and the band started to play and then hundreds and hundreds of runners came down the street.  Traffic was being re-routed and dogs were barking and it was all quite exciting!

Finally got up the wherewithal to check with the web and find out why, about once a year, you'd see bread shaped like people.  What we found was: during the week before the commemoration of the deceased or dia de los muertos, the fruit beverage Colada Morada is typical, accompanied by Guaguas de Pan, which is stuffed bread shaped like children.  When we first came here, there were only the most token of decorations and costumes for sale around Halloween.   Each year though there seems to be more.  Christmas decorations too, have been popping up for several weeks.   The town itself didn't do as many Xmas lights last year as the year before.  There was an austerity campaign going on set up by the then new mayor.  We wonder what will happen this year?  

The walk downtown on Sunday was punctuated by several stops so Shelley could adjust the bandages on her heels due to blisters caused by the new shoes.  Brian couldn't understand why she'd worn them and Shelley's only explanation was that she was a girl.  Brian continued not to understand.  We stopped at a display by the Peruvians, who seem to come to town whenever there's a festival of any sort.  We picked up roast pig and continued on to the park where eventually we met up with 3 other couples.  The gab fest was on!  As time meandered, one couple set off to see the fine arts & crafts display down by the river and eventually we all broke up.  The 2 other couples also headed off to the arts & crafts exhibition and we returned home for Brian's nap.  The weather was gorgeous, music was in the air everywhere and the company was great.  Upon arriving home, Shelley dug out her sandals, which she rarely wears in Cuenca and declared them perfect, as the straps did not hit near any of her blisters. 

The following is going to shock you!  Hang onto your hats now!  We did not go shopping Monday morning!  Instead we went to a friend's place for breakfast and had perhaps the best omelet we've ever eaten, plus an excellent brewed coffee, juice, fried potatoes, a fruit mixture and pretty good sausages considering it's Ecuador.  There were 5 of us for breakfast and we talked about how we met our spouses, how we made our decision to come to Ecuador and how wonderful we all feel about both things.  Finally, Shelley tapped Brian on the shoulder and explained to him if we were going to get the shopping done in time for him to have a reasonable nap, we had to leave.  Shelley enjoyed the coffee so much she had 3 cups.  Shelley hasn't had 3 cups of coffee in a row for perhaps 20 years or more.  During the shopping exercise she felt a great need to explain to Brian that everything was so bright and shiny it was almost surreal.  WARNING:  DO NOT give Shelley 3 cups of coffee in a row ever again!

While idly surfing the web, Shelley asked Google to "define: expat" and came up with the following:  (1) exile: a person who is voluntarily absent from home or country;  (2) In computing, Expat is a stream-oriented XML 1.0 parser library, written in C. As one of the first available open-source XML parsers, Expat has found a place in many open-source projects. Such projects include the Apache HTTP Server, Mozilla, Perl, Python and PHP. ... (3) An expatriate; a person who lives outside his or her own country; The noun used (4) An expatriate (in abbreviated form, expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person's upbringing or legal residence. The word comes from the Latin term expatriātus from ' ("out of") and ' the ablative case of '''' ("country, fatherland"). (5) Short for expatriot - someone who lives in a country other than their own.

Although Monday was wet & a bit cool, Tuesday turned out to be a beautiful day.  We caught a bus to Calle Larga y Hermano Miguel and walked down the stairs to check out the paintings & crafts displayed in the park there.  We ran into people we know & chatted for a bit, and took a few pictures and pointed to the paintings we liked but ended up not buying anything.  At the place we're at now, putting much else on our walls would crowd them.  We walked down to a Banco del Pacifico to see if they had any money as the machines near our home were out.  That Bank was empty too.  We suppose the Banks have been closed since Friday and they didn't fill them up enough for the long-long-long weekend.  We caught a cab home as the buses are all being re-routed due to the festivities.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fireworks, Frenzie & Fiesta

It's difficult to explain new comers.  Those excited and wide eyed about everything around them.  Busy buying furniture & a new life.  Busy discovering new restaurants & shops & places to go.  Busy organizing "new" events and telling friends & family about their discoveries.  Busy renovating old adobes or planning new apartments.  Busy meeting new friends & discovering ancient monuments. 

On the Road to Paute
The thing becomes everyday, normal, just a part of your life and then there's another adjustment.  The one where you slow down and it becomes your regular life.  What do you do beyond?  Some continue to travel, some integrate into their new society, teach or take on a business or develop routines that satisfy.  Some wait.  Some leave. 

The thing to remember is that life is dynamic not static.  Never think your move to Ecuador is an ending.  It must always remain a new beginning. 

It was time to take Fredi to the vet to get her nails clipped so we headed off to Remigio Crespo.  First we stopped at the spice store to see, if by chance, they had any oyster sauce without MSG.  We'd managed to find some in SuperMaxi awhile ago and bought several bottles but now that we're getting low SuperMaxi only has the kind with MSG.  The spice store only had the MSG kind as well.  We stopped at Fybeca to buy a young friend (under 5) a toy Shelley had spied in the window. "Look!" she told Brian.  "That's really cool!"  Then we finally headed down the street to the vet's office.  Our vet was in, happy to see Fredi, and we practiced English & Spanish on each other while Fredi got her nails clipped.  We also bought some Advantage because we'd used up the last package when we took our trip to the coast.  The fleas are relatively scarce in Cuenca but fleas & tics can easily be found at the beach.  (PS:-  A couple of days later we were walking down Simon Bolivar and spotted a grocery store flying an Ecuadorian and a Chinese flag.  We thought they might have oyster sauce without MSG and they did.  As well they had Chinese liquor, crockery & noodles.)

Most of Wednesday felt like it took place on the bus.  We met some friends at the bus station and then travelled to Paute to have lunch at Corvel.  The trip is really only about 45 minutes and the cost is $0.75.  After lunch we wandered around the town a bit but mostly walked to the bus station and caught a bus back to Cuenca.  In the morning when we started, Cuenca was quite cool and Paute seemed quite warm but by the time we arrived back in Cuenca it was warm there too.  It was actually a nice day, looking out the window at the new scenery and watching all the goings on at the side of the road.

Shelley's shoes were beginning to wear out and all her looking in the Chinese clothing & shoe stores resulted in nothing she liked.  Most of the fine Ecuadorian shoe stores supply high heels & pointed toes.  Thus, on Thursday, we headed off to Payless Shoes and paid close to Canadian prices for a perfectly fine pair of shoes that fit her.  We then walked down to the Post Office for our monthly check in.  There was nothing there.  It's an odd thing, this living with virtually no mail.  We then walked across town, down the long stairs to the river and caught a bus home.  We'd been invited out for dinner that evening with a couple we haven't seen for ages, so of course we needed to get home in a reasonable time for Brian to have a good nap.  He'd missed his nap entirely the day before and fell asleep in his chair (Shelley prodding him awake) all evening.  We ended up having an absolutely lovely evening, helped along by 2 vodka martinis!  We also met a delightful couple relatively new to Cuenca who instantly fell in love with Fredi.  Fredi sneaked cheese appetizer from the coffee table while we were eating dinner and our hosts were lovely and gracious about it!  The food was great (ask Fredi), the company was wonderful and we really enjoyed ourselves although as usual, Brian & Shelley couldn't decide whose turn it was to talk.

Children in Traditional Costumes Dressed up for the Founding of Cuenca

Over the next week there will be a myriad of events commemorating Cuenca's founding, including music and dance concerts, firework shows, jewelry, crafts and food fairs.   Brian is planning on seeing Cuenca's Symphony Orchestra play Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture in the park Friday evening.  We've been told they shoot off real cannons!  As it's a bit too late for Shelley's comfort, she and Fredi will stay home and listen to the fireworks being shot off all over town.  Friday during the day, we trudged around paying our bills and then went to Parque Calderon to await the appointed time to meet a couple of friends across the street for lunch.  While waiting, some other friends came by and we chatted quite merrily for 15 minutes or so.  Finally the people we'd arranged to meet for lunch arrived and we settled into sandwiches as well as catching up on all the gossip.   It'd been awhile since we'd all been together so there was much to talk about.  The fact was, we were "forced" to order a beer each after lunch just to give us an excuse to keep on keeping up.   That evening, before Brian went out, there was a parade of  probably just about all the emergency vehicles in Cuenca going down Doce de Abril with sirens blaring.  Oblivious at first, we thought there must have been some terrible catastrophe before we realized it was just another display for Cuenca's birthday.  Still later on in the evening, after Brian had returned home, he reported the Symphony was great, the fireworks stupendous and that he'd bumped into several people we know.  By the way, the fireworks were set off right in the street in the heart of downtown Cuenca beside the Cathedral.  Imagine any main intersection in North America where they set off a stupendous fireworks display!  No doubt the Fire Marshall would shut it down immediately.  Here, there seems to be an almost gleeful disregard for such regulations.  It should be noted however, nothing untoward did happen because of the display.