Tuesday, December 11, 2018

It Rents Itself

For Rent signs are all over Cuenca, per above. "Se Arrienda" means "it rents itself," from the infinitive "arrendar." The pic below is from Staraya Rusa, Belorussia. It says "Аренда / arenda," also meaning rent. It's a Romance borrowing. Small world.

Saturday, November 17, 2018


Cloudy now, but the sun could attack at any time.

Putting up solar LED lightstrings in the courtyard. I had been thinking of using electrical alligator clips, but these fence staples (grapas) were cheaper and easy to friction fit with a rubber mallet. The balcony belongs to my neighbor Laura. My wife was on our balcony praying a rosary, and daughter Francesca was having a cigarette (alas) in the courtyard, while I was up & down on the ladder. Laura came out to air blankets. We had a nice visit. We're odd ducks in our no-gringo neighborhood, so Laura is interested in what we're up to. 

We refilled our hummingbird feeders a few days ago. While I was putting the lights up, a hummingbird came by for a snort. They're about titmouse size here, and not as skittish as the North American ones.
Can't wait to see how the lights will look tonight.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018


Janet & I, as legal residents in Ecuador, have signed up for National Healthcare. It costs about $90 a month for us both. But as long as we don't have a crisis, we'll continue to pay out-of-pocket for private healthcare. We can afford to, and there's no point in crowding folks who don't have our options.
For the last few days, Janet has been coughy and achy in her chest & lungs, which in her case might suggest pleurisy. Or worse, pneumonia. She was too worn out to walk to Clinica Latino, so we splurged on a $1.75 cab ride.
I explained Janet's symptoms to the receptionist, who referred us to a pulmonary doc. We waited about 10 minutes to be seen by him, a personable and serene kinda guy. After a gentle and thorough exam, he said it wasn't a lung ailment, but mild sinusitis which was causing her chest to work harder to inflate the lungs. We sat at his desk while he legibly wrote out a prescription for 3 meds, and some recommendations for treating symptoms, including gargling with apple juice, which like most juices is thick and pulpy here. Once he was satisfied that I got it all, he gave me a card and said it was fine to call him anytime on his cell. No paperwork, no intermediaries, no hurry.
We paid $40 cash, and headed to the farmacia, where a week's worth of meds cost another $27.
Life is good.
As an aside, I used to wonder why it's "Clinica Latino," instead of "Clinica Latina." It's because the whole name is "Clinica Latinoamerica," and shortening the adjective doesn't change the implied feminine gender.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Cuenca Eye Candy

When we run errands, we usually reward ourselves with a drink, snack or ice cream. Walking home can involve a 250' climb from some parts of town, so a break before that labor is nice. This is a pic by daughter Francesca on the back terrace of Cafe del Museo. The museum fronts east-west Calle Larga (long street), the south limit of Centro Historico. On the back it overlooks the Rio Tomebamba, one of Cuenca's four rivers (Santa Ana de los Ríos de Cuenca/ Saint Ann of the Rivers of Basin).

One of the few places where I can get a Manhattan
The short way to the back terrace is through the museum, whose front door on Calle Larga is about 40' higher than the Tomebamba. One walks down stairs in the museum about 30' to arrive at the terrace which is about 10' above the river (which can seriously flood during rainy season). It's a very tranquil view across the river to the newer town. Even though there's a 2 lane highway on the other side, the sight and sound of traffic is obscured and muted by the greenery and fast-moving water.

Pic looking north across the Tomebamba. This isn't a shot of the Museo, as trees block that view, but it's typical. Buildings that show two stories on Calle Larga will have six on the river side. There's a walk along the river, so people can stroll and stop at one of many places to eat and drink. We had idly considered buying a condo overlooking the river, but Calle Larga is loud until the wee hours, and we're basically house people anyway. Cuenca's only 60 miles from the Pacific Ocean, but on the east side of the Andes, so the water in the photo flows into the Amazon, and empties into the Atlantic.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Panela? Canela?


I don't remember seeing panela in the States. It's unrefined sugar that's very common in Ecuador. We use it in coffee, sweet & sour pork, etc. when we might have used brown sugar in the US. Hard taffy is made from it as well. I've been having trouble distinguishing panela from another edible, canela, finally got them straightened out today. Panela literally means "little bread." Canela means "little cane." But in Spanish, canela says "cinnamon." I kept thinking that the unrefined sugar was canela since it comes from sugarcane; and then would get confused about it being cinnamon. And panela would just mean roll or biscuit.
But panela isn't typically sold in milled (granulated) form (panela molida) but in small hard bricks. Little loaf sized, hence panela. That also explains Queso Panela, small hard cheeses. Got it.
Back to canela. Canela's a cognate of Greek 'kanna,' cane. The root form shows up in all sorts of languages: Arabic al-qandi, candy; kanna, a measuring stick, e.g. canon; and cannon, a tube. Like panela, cinnamon is not typically sold in milled form here either. Instead, it's the raw inner bark product that comes rolled up. We'd call it a stick of cinnamon, but due to the shape it's called by a version of 'canuto,' which is the Spanish word for 'little tube.' Canela, little tube. Similar to cannoli and canneloni. Got this too.


Photo by Gilber Tacuri looking down Calle Benigno Malo toward Catedral Nueva. From our house we'd be headed to Mass or Happy Hour depending on the day. We looked at a house on this street, but bought one further up the hill in a quieter neighborhood.

No Más

A couple of months ago after Mass we bought some groceries on the way home. The bagger, a man maybe in his late 20s, was asking me where we were from etc. I asked if he was a Cuencano. He said no, he was from Caracas, Venezuela. We talked about the situation; he was a professor back in Caracas, taught Portuguese. I know dabs of Portuguese, we did some basic chat in that. I asked if he was teaching here. No, he just had the grocery job, but it was good, and he was one of the lucky ones.

In the meantime there's new graffiti along our walk into town: FUERA VENEZUELA (Venezuela Out). Too many refugees getting low level work in a seriously underemployed society.

Local Fauna

Say hello to my little friend.

The Glamorous Life

It could be sunny any minute now.

Cuenca is arguably Ecuador's toniest town. Odd that there are very few places to eat outside with a streetview. One of them is Goza, where we typically go for continental breakfast (desayuno continental) after Mass. The outdoor dining shares common space with a plaza, so there's lots of pedestrians: tailored professionals, average folks, college kids, tourists, and indigenous. Never a dull moment. The guard keeps street vendors out of the dining area, otherwise there'd not be a moment's peace.
In this shot it's full of young singles (not my photo), but on Sundays there's a wider range of people including 2 and 3 generations of families sitting at tables pushed together.
The three streetlight-looking objects are space heaters in case it gets 'chilly', i.e., less than 60F. Across the street on the right is the Ministerio that assists Cañari folks. At least I assume so- the only people I see going in and out are Cañari women & kids.
White tents are usually hosting a health fair. The gov't will take your vital signs for free, and try to enroll you in the health system. We have had private insurance, but are shifting over to the public system.
Out of sight to the left is a church and school that open onto the plaza. During the week, the kids are let out for lunch, they look like a million bucks in their uniforms.

Family Tree

Shot of family photos starting to go up the stairwell:

Typical Cuenca

Apropos of nothing, Parque San Sebas(tian) in Cuenca, photo by John Griffiths. One of the few spots in Centro Historico with outdoor dining options.

Dog & Pig Day at Mass

Don't see no pigs.

Today Mass started late because the priest was busy in the narthex blessing all the dogs (and one pig) that folks brought to church today. It's the feastday of St. Martin de Porres. Others brought Martin statues for blessing, and one woman in the pew ahead of me had a little homemade diorama of a farmyard with Martin supervising the animals. Big Martin (with his broom) was set up in the front off to the side, and after Mass was carried out on poles. We walked in a procession around Centro, accompanied by a brass band. About every 100 yards everyone stopped, and the porters energetically whirled Martin around and up and down. Someone would repeatedly yell 'San Martin,' and the crowd would respond 'Que viva!' Folks threw petals on him, and going around the central park, the procession attracted additional participants. Of course all this blocked the passage of traffic, but nothing was done to hurry the process along.
Right after Mass, a woman introduced herself to us, Teresita. After a bit of chatting, she invited us over this Wednesday. Very gracious of her. We've had trouble getting connected through the parish, as the social dynamic is nearly exclusively family-oriented.
A great morning.

More Cuenca

  1. Last night we attended the grand opening of a new park, La Libertad. It's a flat 3-block walk from our house, on the former site of the City Jail. Live music, hizzoner, fireworks, food. Among other structures, there's a substantial 3-story community center/ art museum. The main streetside entry opens into a reception space. Rooms on either side have 4'x6' windows opening into the reception. Oddly, one of these rooms is the men's restroom. So you can stand in the central space and look at mens' backs while they take a leak. If no-one is using the urinals, then you see the urinals. Another window lets you see who is coming in and out of the stalls. I have to assume that blinds will be installed at some point.
       Even if the men don't care, I can't imagine women want to have that view.
  1. In the grocery store checkout line today, I chatted with a German mother and her kids. She has taught at the local German school for two years. So here's the odd thing: usually I have no trouble speaking a language I know without English leaking in. Today I couldn't keep Spanish out of German. English didn't show up at all.
       This is progress- of a sort.
  1. Yesterday walking home, a man a bit older than I was ahead of me. As he drew abreast of a house for sale, he stopped to take a look. It's one we had considered a couple of years ago. I had measured it and drawn plans, but we decided to to look elsewhere and didn't make an offer. When I caught up to him, I said we had shopped that house. We talked about the price, the layout, the relatively busy street. That led to a discussion about the house we did buy a couple of blocks away, why we chose Cuenca, etc.
I noticed he wore a very particular dress shirt: closely fitted, and made of two striped fabrics. Same colors, but different types of stripe; such that, say, the sleeves were a bit different from the cuffs. I asked his name, it was Cristian Brito. I couldn't believe it! I said, "You're in the Brito family that makes shirts, right?" He said he was. "I read an article about your family at the El Tiempo newspaper website a couple of years ago." I had heard back then that custom shirts were pretty affordable here; and a websearch had found the piece in the paper. Three generations (Cristian's 80+ year-old father was at that time still working) in different shops across town. I asked if he was still working, he said sure, and gave me his home address and wife's phone number. As it is, I have a tailor as my next door neighbor. But I might still get a shirt from Cristian someday.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Aeropuerto Empanada

Image result for grande empanada con pollo receta

Cuenca excitement before noon:

Walked to the airport to pick up wife & daughter, who will be living with us & going to school at the Universidad de Cuenca. It's only 1.5 miles, no big deal anymore. Got there early and paid airport prices for breakfast in the waiting area: a big homemade-style chicken empanada (in-bread-ed), and cafe con leche (cf. lactos, galaxy) for $3.50. In small places like this, cafe con leche means a cup full of hot milk with instant coffee added to taste. Today they had added the coffee; other places may give you the instant in a little bowl. None of the dishes match; it's a thrifty country.

The restaurant business here is competitive (of course). Restaurants will often have a greeter outside with a menu. At the airport there are three little fastfood joints in a row. If they aren't busy like today, when someone comes in a worker will strike a Vanna White pose and feature the food, e.g., a platter of robust empanandas. No kidding, except for the unfancy attire, they look just like this:

Image result for game show hostess

The women said they prepared the empanada. I didn't ask if they made them at home, but I will next visit. The typical small eatery is a public space off of a domicile, so unless the restaurant is a full-blown business, the food is essentially home-cooked. In general, Ecuadorian food is seasoned, but not spicy. If you want spicy, you're better off at a Mexican restaurant. Yep, there are such things in Ecuador.

 I sat at a window-wall and had a lovely view across the runway of the nearby mountains. I watched the plane land, park right under my nose, and let Janet and Francie out. In the cab home I had a nice time defending the US not allowing folks to walk across the border. I pointed out that Ecuador doesn't allow it, even for starving Venezuelans. No ID, too bad; and this even though V and E have free-passage rules like say the US & Canada. Etc. Anyway that wasn't the only topic while the cabbie fought traffic, we had a pleasant visit.

 As we approached home the cabbie says, wow this is a nice neighborhood (which it is) and a nice big house (also true). I responded that we sold the house in the US and used that money to buy this house, and that it's the biggest, nicest house either of us has ever lived in. We think it's almost a palace. He thought that was interesting: that a gringo's house in Ecuador could possibly be nicer than its American counterpart. It was intended as a compliment of sorts, and I think he took it as such.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Glamorous Life of the Expat

We've had workmen in & out of the house for months, including times when we were out of town; nothing was ever amiss. We seem to be done with mods now, so it's time to get main locks changed.
I walked into Centro to a small locksmith shop (photo) that's across the street from where I pay the "light" bill. A few people were ahead of me, getting keys made. As it got to be my turn, a young man in an official jacket and big shoulder bag came in. He saw I was next- what did I need? Well, I need locks replaced on two steel gates at my house. We take off right then, a 15 minute walk up to the house. We have a nice conversation the whole way. This is the longest one-on-one chat I have had so far, it was pretty painless. While we are looking at the front gate, Mauro, my Italian neighbor, walks by, smiles & says hello. He's headed home from the tienda where he got his one cigarette for the day. Instead of saying 'como esta' I say 'como va su cigarillo/ how goes your cigarette?' He laughs, says 'muy bien!' and walks on.
Security locks can't be re-cored; the whole assembly has to be cut off each gate and new ones welded on. Apparently they are very hard to defeat. Total cost, $70, Patricio will come back tomorrow morning to do the job.
The new locks are in. Turns out they are welded to the backside of a plate that remains part of the steel gate, so from the front it's intact. The backsides need a little touch up painting. My house and its electrical system are 40 years old. I had to stand by the circuit breaker box, and every time the welding machine tripped the breaker I'd reset it. This was after switching off everything in the house including the fridges and computers. I turned it back on about 25 times.

Locksmith lower left. It helps to already know where it is.

Lluvia, lluvia, fuera de aqui!

Bourgeois life in Ecuador today:
I'm doing a crossword in the family room, which is a former courtyard with a glass roof. It's raining and I hear an unfamiliar drip sound. That is, as opposed to the usual drip sounds. Because the glass roof overlaps older tile roofs, two now-interior walls have gutters & downspouts. There's lots of rain-noise, but no leaks since we re-glassed the roof last Spring. I look around- don't see any issues.
But the the rain gets heavier, and the unfamiliar drip changes to a gush- water is pouring into the room from an overflowing gutter. But one can't see into either gutter from inside the room. I run up to the stairwell so I can look through its window into the stopped gutter from the outside. 

Nominal view of virtually-inaccessible gutter though stairwell window.

I can barely see a plastic bag, which has gotten into the gutter; no small feat considering the roof layout, but obviously not impossible. But I can't access the gutter from the outside- that would mean creeping over a 40-year-old terra-cotta roof. I run back inside, grab a stepladder. I can just squeeze two fingers into the gutter from the inside, and by feel pull out the bag. A mess, but not a catastrophe. Thank God that we were in Ecuador; that we were in town; that I was in the house; and that I was in the room to hear the trouble.

Interior gutter & downspout. Pushing hard, I could get fingers into the gutter from this side.
My whole life as a homeowner has been a war against water- either it's where I don't want it; or it's not where I do want it.
Rain, rain, go away!

Friday, October 5, 2018

Lingua Franca

First day in Stockholm (Winter 1988) I get my first real shot at using Swedish. At the bus stop I ask a woman which bus goes to the Krigsarkivet on thus & so street. She gives me an uncomfortable look, doesn't make a peep. Uh-oh. I ask again, carefully. She stays mum.
Then she says in English, "Do you speak English?"
"Yes, I do."
"I'm from Finland, I don't speak Swedish."
"Oh. Thanks."

I have Swedish on my mind a bit. A couple of weeks ago I was at Da Likka Sto' and overheard a couple of men discussing vodka in what sounded like Swedish or Danish. I asked them were they speaking one or the other, they said Swedish. They joked about being Scandinavians in the Vodka section. I said, "Jag talar inte bra Svensk. (I speak/talk not good Swedish)." That was unexpected! We all had a good laugh, and it was useful for me to say just that one sentence and be understood.

Never pass up a chance to practice a second language.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Equatorial Affliction

I bet he's got 'em

If you've read much English lit, you're probably aware of 'chilblains,' a cold-weather ailment of the extremities (ears, toes, etc.) with symptoms such as redness and itching.

Long ago at a sister's wedding, I spoke to her new English mother-in-law, who had attended boarding school in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, where it was always cold. Sherpas would meet the girls at the train, and take them up to the school. Anyway, she said it was so cold all the time in the virtually unheated buildings that everyone had these bad rashes....she couldn't remember how they were called. I said, 'chilblains?' and she perked right up, yes indeed they were chilblains!

It's winter here in Cuenca, and our unheated house gets to about 64F during the day. Lately my second toes have been red and itchy with chilblains just like folks get in Charles Dickens novels, or Jane Eyre: "Our clothing was insufficient to protect us from the severe cold: we had no boots, the snow got into our shoes and melted there: our ungloved hands became numbed and covered with chilblains, as were our feet: I remember well the distracting irritation I endured from this cause every evening, when my feet inflamed; and the torture of thrusting the swelled, raw, and stiff toes into my shoes in the morning." I don't have chilblains that bad, but will be more attentive to keeping my feet warm. I've been in the habit of getting up, putting on boxer shorts and heading to the kitchen for coffee, not getting dressed for at least an hour or so. I hope that adding thick socks to that morning outfit will make for happier toes.

Monday, June 11, 2018


Recently I was in a discussion on workarounds, i.e. how to say what you mean in Spanish if you don't know the right words. For example, if I couldn't think of a Spanish counterpart to "fast," I'd say "velocidadamente," "no despacio", stuff like that. But part of my problem was thinking "fast." It's from the Germanic side of English, which doesn't have much in common with any Spanish words. On the other hand, ever since the Norman Conquest in 1066, English has had thousands of French words that often have a sibling or cousin in Spanish.
So for "fast," I should look for related French-English that might suggest a Spanish word. Quick? No. Speedy? No. Swift? No, all pre-French. Rapid? Rapido sounds good, yes, that works. This approach doesn't work every time, but it gets close often enough for me to stick with it.
Some examples that have worked for me, some spot on, others close enough on the fly:
height> altitude> altitud
wind> breeze> brisa
strength> force> fuerza
might> potency> potencia
smell, scent> aroma> aroma
easy> facile> facil
hard> difficult> dificil
hard> durable> durable, or duradero.
fear, fright> terror> terror
get> obtain> obtener
horse> cavalry> cavalo? Close, caballo.
likely> probably> probablemente
unbelievable> incredible> increible
friendly> amiable> amable
winner> victor> victor? Well, no. But the person I spoke to understood, and suggested ganador or vencedor.
sturdy> stable> stable? Close, estable.
stiff> rigid> rigido
sky> celestial> celesta? Close: celeste and celestial are adjectives. Cielo's the noun.
speed> velocity> velocidad
skill> ability> abilidad? Close, habilidad.
tired, weary> fatigued> fatigado.
weak> debilitated> debil.

Monday, June 4, 2018


My Neighbor the Tailor is roofing his house. I don't say re-roofing because this will be the first time the house will have tiles. Like our house, It's about 40 years old. Instead of a tiled roof, it has had corrugated fiber-cement boards that come painted in a terracotta color. They have about a 30-year lifespan if they are exposed to the weather. Here's a similar roof across the street:

Eventually they will leak and need to be covered or replaced. The direct sun and thin air is tough on them. It's very common here to build a nice house, and postpone the rooftile expense until the deck is so worn it needs protection. On my neighbor's house I'd say they replaced 25% of the deck as it was too beat-up by the elements to serve as a reliable substrate. I can hear the workers cutting out old deck right now.

Here's some of the new roof:

Viewed fullsize you can see each tile is an s-tile, i.e. each tile curves like an s in section. Its makes for a very clean appearance.

This is a roof on our house, built with traditional tiles. There are drain tiles and cover tiles, they don't install as easily as the more modern s-tiles, but I like the irregular presentation and glazing variations. Plus the draintiles aren't glazed, which adds some interest.

Tremors have caused some of the tiles to shift (most of them are friction-fit); those I can safely reach I've pushed back in place and sometimes applied some silicone to keep them there.

Here's the underside of our roof, semi-modern with small fiber-cement boards and rough lumber. A lot of light leaks in through the roof, but water doesn't. A full-on trad roof has no decking and a lot more wood, very labor-intensive. Plenty of older buildings have that, along with wattle-and-daub walls. Oddly enough, there's one a couple of doors down from me, it's the oldest structure in what's a relatively-new neighborhood. The wattle shows in places, but it's not bad enough yet to fix.

Even today this kind of semi-dimensional lumber is readily available along with bamboo. About a mile away there's a lumberyard that sells both.

The nicest trad roofs are heavy timber construction with cathedral ceilings. They tend to be small-span with no bottom chords. One of the additions to our house is like that:

Ours is the only heavy-timber roof I've seen with skylights. BTW, these aren't factory-made units, but panes of tempered glass built into the roof. Yep: no leaks.

BTW: τέκτων, tekton, Greek. A builder, especially a carpenter. Tectum, roof, Latin. Tetto, Italian. Toit, French. Techo, Spanish.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Allusions, etc.

Long ago I first saw the movie "Aguirre, Wrath of God," about a Spanish conquistador going nuts amid a disastrous Peruvian expedition.  Here's a memorable image from that film:


It's Aguirre regarding the wreck of a sailing vessel in a tree. Why is it there? How did it get into a tree? What can I say, it's a peculiar movie. Even so, the ship is a very odd element that makes no contribution to the plot beyond weirdness. Of course everyone remembers the ship years after having watched the movie.


Today Google's doodle visually remembered the author Gabriel Garcia Marquez: 

 91.º aniversario del nacimiento de Gabriel García Márquez

Right away the tilted ship that seems perched on the letter "l" reminded me of Aguirre's wreck. Given that the movie and Garcia's stories take place in South America, are the two ships related? An article about the doodle linked the ship to Garcia's best-known novel, "One Hundred Years of Solitude." Checking online, I found this relevant bit from the book:

"Always following his compass, he kept on guiding his men toward the invisible north so that they would be able to get out of that enchanted region. It was a thick night, starless, but the darkness was becoming impregnated with a fresh and clear air. Exhausted by the long crossing, they hung up their hammocks and slept deeply for the first time in two weeks. When they woke up, with the sun already high in the sky, they were speechless with fascination. Before them, surrounded by ferns and palm trees, white and powdery in the silent morning light, was an enormous Spanish galleon. Tilted slightly to the starboard, it had hanging from its intact masts the dirty rags of its sails in the midst of its rigging, which was adorned with orchids. The hull, covered with an armor of petrified barnacles and soft moss, was firmly fastened into a surface of stones. The whole structure seemed to occupy its own space, one of solitude and oblivion, protected from the vices of time and the habits of the birds. Inside, where the expeditionaries explored with careful intent, there was nothing but a thick forest of flowers. The discovery of the galleon, an indication of the proximity of the sea, broke Jos Arcadio Buenda's drive. He considered it a trick of his whimsical fate to have searched for the sea without finding it, at the cost of countless sacrifices and suffering, and to have found it all of a sudden without looking for it, as if it lay across his path like an insurmountable object. Many years later Colonel Aureliano Buenda crossed the region again, when it was already a regular mail route, and the only part of the ship he found was its burned-out frame in the midst of a field of poppies. Only then, convinced that the story had not been some product of his father's imagination, did he wonder how the galleon had been able to get inland to that spot. But Jos Arcadio Buenda did not concern himself with that when he found the sea after another four days' journey from the galleon. His dreams ended as he faced that ashen, foamy, dirty sea, which had not merited the risks and sacrifices of the adventure."

Which is very much like the mood of the movie. So I wonder:

1. In general, did this passage have any influence on the movie?
2. In particular, did this passage prompt the inclusion of the ship in the tree?
3. Did the doodle artist regard his ship as an allusion to the ship in the tree?

I like to answer yes to all three.