Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Caught in Celluloid

Image result for the spy who came in from the cold movie

I was born in 1957. When my parents went to the movies they almost always took me. Of course, none of the films were aimed at little kids. Regardless, many of the ideas made very vivid lasting impressions on my young mind. I still remember them with that little boy's worldview, which makes them all the more compelling. Some I've re-seen as an adult, but the original imprints remain.
These I can recall off the top of my head. Not every movie I remember by any means, but the ones that still matter:
Lord Jim
The Subject Was Roses
Mutiny on the Bounty
The Quiller Memorandum
A Man for All Seasons
Taras Bulba
Sabrina
Pillow Talk
Dr. Zhivago
Fistful of Dollars
Shenandoah
Spy Who Came in from the Cold
The Sandpiper
Dr. Strangelove
Fail Safe
Zorba the Greek
Lilies of the Field
Lawrence of Arabia
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Miracle Worker
Breakfast at Tiffany's
The Train
The Sand Pebbles
Alfie
Fahrenheit 451
A Man and a Woman


"There's no hiding in my memory/ each thought and gesture are caught in celluloid"
The Carpet Crawlers, Genesis, 1974.

Just Hair

We are usually not out and about when schoolkids have lunchtime. I don't play close attention to the schoolday schedules, but I think they get out from 1 to 2 or so. Many, if not most businesses, close between 1 and 3; so we have learned to run errands before and after.
On Friday we were headed home from erranding right when schools let out. My impression is that the schools physically close, so students either walk home to eat, or get food from street vendors who are ready and waiting right outside the gates. They are entirely at large until school restarts, a virtual antithesis to school in the US where kids are typically forbidden to leave campus.
So as we drew near one school, a torrent of teens began to spill out, overflowing the sidewalk, around parked cars, and into the street. Everyone is in dark navy blue uniforms with white shirts. And the hair- as we slip into and through the crowd, we're surrounded by dozens of long, thick, and glossy tresses of straight black hair played against the navy and white. Long feminine hair is a kind of wealth, a splendor; and the gleaming ebony opulence is on luxuriant display for the couple of minutes it takes us to pass through the crowd.
It's the same at Mass every Sunday, but not with such density, and not so uniformly long. The indigenous women all keep their hair long regardless of age. Mass is a great place to see the older women, usually with braids, but some with hair unbound. They're always so beautifully turned out.
So anyway, we're squeezing through the kids, and I was saying to Janet, "Look at all this awesome hair, it's so healthy and affirming. You see how good it looks? That's how good your long hair looks." When we got married, Janet's hair was long, i.e., between the shoulder blades. It was the best, I felt good about life just by looking at it. At some point she thought it was too long, and cut it short for at least 15 years. But it's been full and long again for the last 5 years or so, and I remind her daily how glorious it is and don't miss a chance to compare it favorably to all the competition.

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, as the song says, Just 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: not of the family, but the marriage.
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

Träumerei

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.
Nice.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Calefon

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

Arena



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.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Gringolandia


Oh dear: https://www.amazon.com/Gringolandia-Lifestyle-Migration-Capitalism-Globalization/dp/1517904927/ref=sr_1_1
"Matthew Hayes focuses on North Americans relocating to Cuenca, Ecuador, the country’s third-largest city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site...Regardless of their individual motivations, Hayes argues, such North–South migrants remain embedded in unequal and unfair global social relations."
We live in a bourgeois Cuencano neighborhood, so most days we won't even see another Anglophone. We don't know enough expats to have an informed opinion about their lives. But still, much of what's in the review and the Look Inside excerpt at the Amazon link seems alien to us.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

евангелист



Ran into this image today. One needn't be able to read Old Church Slavonic in order to know who it is. A halo'd man writing in the company of a lion can't be anyone but St. Mark. That said, with a bit of patience one might translate the overlapping letters as well, from left to right.


св. is a standard abbreviation for святой, svyatoy, saint. The tilde over св means it's an abbreviation.
апост. is short for апостол, apostle, although it's hard to separate all the overlapping letters.
и, i, means 'and'.
Another jam, the letters are еван. a shortening of евангелист, evangelist.
And last, Маркъ, Mark.


related: The Forerunner

Friday, January 18, 2019

La Skina



yes we have no bananas

Near my house is a tienda (small grocery store) which I pass by once a week or so. It's called La Skina. I assume it's a translation of Greek η σκηνή, ee skeenee. It's where we get the word scene. In Greek, skēnē/σκηνη is not a uniquely theatrical term. It essentailly means tent; what the Romans and the King James Bible would also call a tabernacle, or a booth, a plain little shelter. I imagine that itinerant Greek theater troupes would set up a skene, a tent to house their stuff; have one side painted, and would act in front of that painted side. Anyway I'm also assuming that the owner of La Skina knows at least this much Greek. All that being so, he took the Spanish word 'tienda,' which primarily means 'tent,' and translated it into the Greek word for tent, skini. Because skini is feminine in Greek, it's adjusted to suit a Spanish sensibility: La Skina.
I keep walking by without ever going in to confirm all this. Hoping that writing it down spurs me to do so.

Update: I went into the tienda recently. They don't know any Greek. La Skina is a play on La Esquina, the corner. Because the tienda is, you know, on the corner.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Boda

Plenty to eat at the reception
Spectacular day on Dec 22 at the wedding of our, what, godchildren? In Ecuador the church requires padrinos (godparents) for the wedding couple, and we were it for a young man and fiancee whom we've known for a couple of years. Had a great nuptial Mass at La Iglesia de la Virgen del Milagro here in Cuenca. The padrinos accompany the couple through the whole Mass, and once the couple is married, the padrinos put a rope yoke of sorts over their heads. Right behind the church is a small lot with a garden and tiny rough-lumber house, maybe 200sf that a Cañari abuela (grandmother, but also an honorific for any older woman) lives in. Cuenca has an unusually high proportion of indigenous people. Folks like this woman manage to live in a big modern city while residing in a patch of countryside. On any given street you can't see where this could be happening only a few yards away.
Then off to the reception with lots of food, dancing, modest alcohol consumption, and visiting with family members. Many of the older women were traditionally turned out in embroidered blouses, velvet skirts, braids, and Panama hats. All the younger folks wore dresses and suits. I couldn't ID the liquor, it was dark red and reminded me of sweet Vermouth. It was served in 1/2 oz. or so plastic cups which I imagine reduces the chance of anyone getting drunk.
Right before the meal was served we each got a small plastic bag. This was so we could take home what we couldn't eat of the pile of food that we were served: rice, potatoes, grilled pork, salad.
As is typical for us in social situations here, everyone was gracious and interested. Janet's long blond hair always draws attention, and a couple of boys had their pictures taken with her. We are very lucky to always be so well-received.