Friday, May 17, 2019

La Serenissima

This is not a movie set
Met with our lawyer yesterday afternoon about wills, then had a pleasant happy hour at Goda Bar. Can't beat the glass wall for panoramic people-watching. May is Mary's month, so we had a pair of men come by: one in front playing his accordion; the follower holding a shadowbox Marian shrine. Three little uniformed girls out of school, at large and unsupervised. Dignified Cañari women in habitual dress. Sleek young folks all in black, the women with scarlet lips and teetering on spike heels. Janet stayed busy smiling and saying hello to folks examining The Blonde Gringa as they passed. I just sat there and let her make me look good.
Another serene day.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

All Roads Lead Away From Rome

Now it goes everywhere

I got married in 1988 to a woman whom I'd known for 11 years. She was a few years older than me, and had a son; both of which I thought made me look pretty cool, which they did, and still do. We got busy doing the Stability Thing right off, bought a 1930s Cape Cod before the wedding. We did most of the fixing-up ourselves after work, made a nice nest. That first summer the son was away for a week, would return Sunday. That Saturday I said to the wife, let's go for a drive in the Smokies. So having no destination, off we went: Flat Rock, Asheville, the Parkway, Boone. That afternoon I was vaguely headed southwest out of Johnson City, Tenn. on a rolling, traffic-free 2-lane that was perfect for my new 5-liter Mustang. Janet was sleeping with her bare feet stuck up on the dashboard, hair blowing out the rolled-down window. And for a fast and serene hour it was like heaven, we could have done anything, gone anywhere. When she woke up I said, hey you ever been to Gatlinburg? Me neither. Let's check it out.
Gatlinburg was quite a pleasant surprise: a good place to forget the car, stroll, have a relaxing, beguilingly unpretentious low-key evening. I didn't want to drive back to Greenville, so we stayed at the epically modest River Park Inn, long since torn down and replaced by something sleeker. Woke up Sunday to discover the room's balcony overhung the river, with its mist, whitewater, and ducks. Had breakfast, walked a bit more, got back home in time to retrieve Jacob at the airport.
And then we made two more children, adopted two more from Russia, bought a bigger house, and for the next thirty-plus years raised a family, and it was transcendent. But that hour snaking through the sticks of East Tennessee remained a touchstone.
April 30th was our 31st anniversary. We dressed up and dined in one of Cuenca's toniest joints. At age 68, Janet more than ever is elegant and self-assured and desirable, and all the other things men dream of about women. I did so well to marry her. We talked a bit about visiting Italy later this year, and for the first time since 1988 I got that Tennessee 2-lane vibe again. For a while at least, we can go anywhere and do anything, just the two of us.
A few years ago I first heard the song 'Free,' by country singer Zac Brown. Until this week this song has been a little anthem of a future I hoped would come if I were patient. Now that future is here. 'Free' is still the same song, but now it's an anthem of the actual instead of the potential.
My life is just incredible beyond any reckoning.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

La Churona

Image result for virgen cisne  ecuador
La Churona*

We moved to Cuenca, Ecuador in 2017, and about 20 years of catechizing has been put on hold while I work on Spanish competency. In the meantime I'm in a Bible study group, and sit in on family catechesis. Plus I have developed a surprisingly cordial and substantial relationship with the nearby Jehovah's Witnesses congregation.

Once every couple of months or so,  JWs will call. At this point they know me, I know 5 of them. We don't agree of course, but I'm happy to talk about Jesus with anyone. My pitch to any evangelizer at my door is, if you are so motivated by your faith to go door-to-door, why aren't you Catholic? So we always have a good time disagreeing without arguing. They have their Bibles, I have mine. I like the chance to present the Catholic worldview in a scriptural context, which I don't think they've heard before, not even the former Catholics. I don't press them, so they can hear me without feeling threatened.

On another note, we have no car, and walk almost everywhere. Occasionally we take a cab, some of them will have a statue of the Madonna on the dash. But these aren't generic Madonnas, they are specific to a given locale, of which there must be dozens in South America. So I make a habit of asking the taxistas about their Virgens. Two days ago, after grocery shopping we took a cab  which sported a Virgen with Rapunzel-length hair. The driver said she is La Virgen del Cisne, the Virgin of the Swan. Her shrine is in Cisne, not too far from Cuenca.

This morning about 9:30, we were in Centro (downtown), and noticed streets were blocked off around the stadium, and hundreds of people are briskly headed to it, walking, in cabs, and in buses. I figure, soccer game. I ask someone what's up. It's not soccer: rather, the statue of the Virgin from the shrine in Cisna is visiting Cuenca, and the Cathedral is too small for the crowds. Quite the coincidence! Once home, I checked a local paper for info, here's an excerpt from an article:

"A welcoming Mass was offered yesterday, as the image of the Virgin of El Cisne visited Cuenca on the occasion of the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the Diocese of Cuenca. From 17:00 the devotees gathered in the Miraflores parish church, where the Mass was celebrated. This was followed by a procession carrying the image to la Cathedral de La Inmaculada Concepción. A second Eucharist was celebrated and youth groups kept vigil.

Today's program will begin at 11:00 with a ceremony of thanksgiving that will take place at the "Alejandro Serrano Aguilar" stadium. In this event the official anthem of the Archdiocese of Cuenca will also be presented."

So folks were already arriving en masse at 9:30 for an event starting at 11:00.

It's a good place to be Catholic.

*La Churona, the woman with lots of curls.

Saturday, April 13, 2019


In 1981 I was in West Berlin off and on, for love of all things. It was cold, the East was snotty, scared, and pitifully bleak; the Wall was grafitti'd on the free side, mined and patrolled on the other. S-Bahn stations rotted away, Turkish peasants stared straight ahead on the U-Bahn, the Vopos sported submachineguns in its dead Ost stations, punks spiked their Mohawks with glue, the Zoo Bahnhof was as gritty as the movie, and you never knew when you'd see a tank on the street instead of a taxi. The town had a surplus of war widows and elegant restaurants in Schoneberg, Charlottenburg, Dahlem, usw. They were, in good German fashion, more than they appeared to be. One frigid afternoon I had plate of venison & sides at one of them. At the next table was an old Frau kitted out in black, fussing at someone who wasn't there. The staff were kind to her, I think she and her invisible companion were regulars. And the sauerkraut was the best I've ever had.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

À la Recherche d'une Aiguille Perdue

This needle kit is my idea of au courant; but it's apparently démodé.

I've been doing basic clothes repairs & alterations with a sewing machine since I was in high school. About 30 years ago my mother let me have her Kenmore, as she was done with kids and I was just getting started. I brought it with me to Ecuador, and it's gotten plenty of use as we have no car, and have lost a mess of weight walking up and down hills at 8300'+. My nextdoor neighbor is a tailor, he takes up my jackets. He asked at some point, don't I have any pants that needed alteration? I said yeah, I can do that on my mother's machine; but I can't pin my own jackets. He thinks I'm crazy, but I explain that if you can DIY in America, then you DIY.
Anyway, sewing layers of denim requires a heavy-duty needle, more of a spike than a rapier; and I was out of them as of today, having somehow misplaced my needle stash during the move. I made yet another check of the sewing machine cabinet's drawers, no luck. But for the first time in my life, the lower drawer didn't want to shut due to some obstruction. Pulling it out completely, and shining a flashlight in the recess revealed missing bits that I had bought over the years, and also stuff of my mother's, including a supply of both hand and machine needles that will probably outlive me.

Friday, February 1, 2019


Patience Is Rewarded

Like most folks in Cuenca, we have a tankless water heater, a calefon, which is bolted to an outside wall. It is terrific, but can be finicky for safety reasons. E.g., if anyone flushes, the pressure drop will cause the heater to shut off. Then you have to shut the HW faucet off, wait a minute or so for the flushed toilet somewhere in the house to refill, and turn the water back on. So today it wasn't heating any water. Last time, it needed a new D-battery which provides the spark. but this time, plenty of spark, no gas. Took the cover off and had my daughter turn the water on and off in the house while I watched. Turned out a solenoid had got stuck, and wasn't letting the pilot have any gas. A bit of wiggling and it was happy again.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019


Janet bought 30 lemon tree seeds from Italy's Amalfi coast last year, and is ready to get them germinating in sand-filled cups. I can find tons of sand at places on the outskirts of town, but I needed only 10kg or so. A friend suggested a nearby mercado. I went by this morning. Vendors first wanted to be sure I wanted arena (sand) and not farina (flour) of which there was plenty. No, no sand here, they said, but two blocks thataway was a tienda that sold sand. Two blocks later I was there: a modest house on the corner, with the living room half full of different sizes of bagged river sand. No signs. It's good that the doors are open, so one can see inside. Grandma is sitting at a desk watching TV, papa is chatting with the daughter who's home for lunch. Pop shows me the options. This is one of those occasions where I'm the monkey who escaped the zoo. The three of them just look at me and smile, the wonder of a tall Spanish-speaking gringo standing in their living room buying sand for God knows what. I pick a 10kg fibermesh bag and pay the daughter, who gets my change from Grandma. I taxi home to avoid toting the sand up to the house, which is over 150' higher than Centro.
A pleasant & productive morning.