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.