Sunday, December 31, 2006

More Christmas Cheer

Christmas Day I went to another Pase del NiƱos outside of Cuenca and then went with my friend Tere and her family to eat carne asado. Early the next morning I headed back down south and had lunch with Ashley and Selena in Machala. Then I spent another three hours on the bus to Zaruma, an old mining town a few hours inland from the coast, where I visited Benito and Sara. There are rolling green mountains and banana plants and old wooden architecture dating to the 1500´s and there is excellent coffee, which if all goes according to plan a few lucky family members of mine will receive in the States. We did a hike in the rain and then I lay in Benito´s hammock and read more John Dos Passos. Then it was back to Cuenca where I met up with Angie, a friend of Risa and Jordan from Quito. She talked me into going out to Cajas National Park to spend the night and I packed my sleeping bag and my heavy winter jacket (Cajas is really high up) , but after a long day of hiking with a lot of stuff on our back, Angie decided to my great relief that really all the time you needed in Cajas is one day and we went back to Cuenca and slept very soundly in my apartment. I thought that I was getting into better shape, but found that hiking at high altitude was really almost more than I could handle. Tonight we have a little dinner party with friends here and hopefully will get to see the New Years celebration in Cuenca.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

And the bells are ringing out for Christmas Day

Kirsty McCall and the Pogues have a song..."When you first took my hand on that cold Christmas Eve, you promised me Broadway was waiting for me..."

I don´t have that around here, but I did listen to 2000 miles by the Pretenders about 30 times yesterday.

Friday I had a party where 30 people came. We danced so much that light fixture in the bakery downstairs fell in and we had to pop it back into the ceiling. I´d hate to have to pay for repairs or so I hope it stays. A couple Peace Corps pals came and people from my organization came and mixed a respectable amount. I had guests who came from out of town in the house until this morning, and they were kind enough to relieve me of most of the leftover booze that everyone brought.

On Christmas Eve, they have a big children´s parade on Christmas Day here, people must come in from all over the province, because when I was walking to the parade I saw a family spreading out a big picnic on the grass, while their llamas rested peacefully by the river. You see men in short pants and the traditional hat, and lots of the brightly colored flowered skirts that traditional Ecuadorians in Azuay wear. I saw a lot of the parade, dodging in and out of the floats while I was walking to a Christmas party, there were lots of children dressed in traditional Ecuadorian costume, or dressed up like shepherds, like angels, riding in floats made from a pickup trucks draped in glistening satin. Many of the trucks are hung with crackers, bottles of liquor, packages of cookies, and the effect is dramatic, everything is colorful and abundant and glittery. I went to a Christmas party in a home for women and children in domestic violence situations where I am hoping to do some work in the the New Year. They had a mass and then gave out presents to the mothers and the children. I was pretty impressed by how nice party they had for them during what must be a terrible time, especially here in Ecuador where family is perhaps the most important thing.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Ocean Drive

Sometime its holiday blues, and sometimes its PMS, and sometimes its the neverending roller coaster of living in a foreign country. But it seems important to me to give some airtime to to the darker moments. The time when my way of being awkward, ill-coordinated, impatient, loud, anxious, long-winded, seemingly snobby (although I almost never mean to be), or self destructive (although its never anything grave, mostly gratuitous eating) rear up to form a picture of someone for whom I have little patience or affection. In New York, these times could be attributed to situation, job stress, and press of living in the city. Here, speaking Spanish everyday, doing this thing I had in mind for years, often alleviates these demons. Everywhere is real, palpable evidence that I can extend beyond my boundaries, cultivate relationships across cultures, handle quotidian and existential challenges. And I can laugh at myself and say well this thing or that thing I am just going to fuck up and that will be fine. No harm done. But your brain follows you on your travels, carrying in its suitcase its same learned habits, and screens and filters and occasional downward spirals.

And living outside of your tierra aggravates it too. Just when everything is sublime and wonderful, the tide changes and you can´t communicate with someone when you think you should be able to, or you don´t understand why something works out the way it does, but decide its better not to ask. Today I found myself being extremely new yorkish, first at the cab stand in front of the Supermaxi, losing my patience with a man who tried to take my cab, and then unsuccessfully trying to antagonize my landlady for giving me my power bills at completely irregular intervals. Then I turned my antagonism on myself by going to my first salsa class since April, on the excuse that I am supposed to be going dancing in Guayaquil for my birthday, which opened the field for self-castigation along the lines above.

And I know from long experience that the respite is not hard to come by. Drinks with a friend, a new shirt, a distracting book, a good journal entry all usually do the trick. Sometimes just sleeping it off or letting my hormones readjust makes all the difference. The sun comes out or my period comes and I´m quirky, smart, provocative, and well-travelled again.

We all have little heartbreaks that we never recover from entirely, whether its a family member, or a lover, or a life circumstance that didn´t go the way we wanted it to. And embracing the sadness that sometimes comes from them is, I suppose, part of the fun of it all. Lucinda Williams says, If we live in a world without tears, how would scars find skin to etch themselves into?...How would broken find the bone?

PS. Fabulous Ecuadorian souvenir for the reader who correctly determines the musical reference in the title line!! Anyone can play!

Santa Claus

So yesterday I got three slamming packages, two from my folks and one from Jenny, my childhood friend. The one from my folks had Ivory soap, the Pretenders greatest hits, Paul Mitchel hair product (no product placement here, folks) the Metropolitan Art Book and Desk Calender, which for the first time in fifteen years has something other than "Flowers" or "Impressionists" as its theme. Finally there were all three volumes of John Dos Passos´s U.S.A., which I asked for without realizing it is actually three separate books. I have already read a third of the first one, and its really cool. So much cooler than his rival and one-time friend Ernest Hemingway. OK, I have only actually read books about Hemingway, spedifically how much of a jerk Ernest Hemingway was, so take my commentary with a grain of salt. The point being, if you´re interested in American history or labor history so far this is a book for you.

The other package from Jenny was vintage Monopoly which the kids from downstairs have already discovered and taken full advantage of. Last night found me aggressively pitching to sell two railroads for Boardwalk, to Gabriela, who I think is like twelve, and later in the game I felt bad for taking advantage of her. And later in the game I just wondered when it was going to be over. These kids were way better sports than I ever was. Watching Jefferson, the older brother cheat so that his little sister wouldn´t lose brought back my faith in humanity, or at least kids.


Assorted things I have been needing to blog about, worth mentioning:
  • Following the bad haircut that made me cry, I had one completely free from the drama or overpaying, not getting what I wanted to, or having to summon the volition to get myself to a hair salon. The hairdresser that does HIV prevention with transvetite sex workers here in Cuenca was in the office for a meeting and afterwards I noticed he was unfurling an apron to give the secretary´s teenage daughter a haircut in the middle of the office. Dumbfounded, like it was almost too good to believe, I asked him if he could cut my hair too. Not only could he, it turned out he would do it for $2. That was about 4 weeks ago and I´m still savoring my good fortune and very happy with how its growing out.
  • Going way back, the first week or so I was in my apartment, I half woke up in the middle of the night because there was a mariachi serenade going on, in what sounded like my guest room. It was basically under my guest room, for the house next door, and I would have thought that I dreamed it, except that I got up and looked out the window and saw them in the street. Mariachis are naturally not the least bit Ecuadorian, but they seem to turn up at festive events now and again.
  • Helping the kid whose parent run the bakery downstairs translate three paragraphs on Simon Bolivar from English into Spanish. He has no idea how I cool I thought it was. I found out I know, um, less than your average seventh grader in Ecuador knows about Simon Bolivar. The next homework he needed help with was about water supply, which was nowhere near as interesting. A side note about the state of English teaching here, its absolutely wretched. I can´t think of a worse way to teach a language that to translate it from the intended into the one you already know, but no one is asking me.
  • Except in my office, they kind of are. I have taught a couple English classes to them and find that my practice teaching workers in New York was good prep for Ecuadorian and Chilean professionals. The two classes I have come up with stuff that seemed to be surprisingly engaging and fun. The first class I taught Woody Guthrie´s Birds and Ships, set to music by Billy Bragg and performed by Natalie Merchant. For about three weeks the white board on the ground floor had my class notes up on it and said. "Leftist" and "This Guitar Kills Fascists" and then had the lyrics. My soul grows stormy/ and my heart grows wild/My love rides a ship on the sea.