By Robert Bradley
I rarely agree to write time sensitive features because I don’t appreciate the, “gotta get it out by… ” deadlines that some people thrive on.
Immersing myself in the rhythm of Cuenca is not the same as being absorbed in the tempo of Cuenca.
The social scene is important here, but I lost a considerable amount of interest in such ballyhoo years ago. I am no longer thrilled by urgency. I find greater enjoyment in the tonal qualities best defined by the oboe and viola, deep undertones that are woven into the necessities of life. Like acceptance.
This is among the many reasons I so enjoyed dinner at Casa Azul Galeria Cafe, San Sebastian Plaza, on Saturday, July 7. It was hosted by Greg Kluyskens and Marcela Bravo Abad of Casa Azul, and Bob Kezer of Bonobo Bob’s: Tribu de Amour.
The event was billed as an appreciation for CuencaHighLife, Gringo Post and GringoTree for their consistent support of their businesses this year, but what it really celebrated is the community of folks living in Cuenca.
The packed-full audience, rich in texture and variation, was escorted “south” under the slow hands of Paco Lightfoot and Matthew Hart whose mastery of acoustic blues, both Delta and Chicago, gave the evening a very smooth vibe that drew rapt attention from the crowd. The spontaneous shoutout and hand clapping added a deep groove, a humid satisfaction like Mississippi prayer. As Bob poured drinks, the musicians poured it on.
But that is not the half of it. Chef Andres Noriega Sanchez and his staff presented a fabulous dinner, rich in classical presentation as only professionals can. A tied bouquet of fresh blanched vegetables supported fork tender chicken draped with an understated buerre blanc aside pureed potato flowerettes. Each component of the beautifully composed plating complimented the others — each flavor distinct, light and very fresh. Delicious. The stomach stretching dessert, shared by many, was truly a tribute to a beautiful evening.
I’ve mentioned Casa Azul in a couple blogs for very good reasons — it has become as much a clubhouse as a cafe to me. I am drawn to the amusing serenity of knowing that the “the boys” will be sitting at their daily table playing dice and lying to each other, a young couple will be sipping cafe con leche while they stare at their smart phones and text back back and forth, a well-dressed woman will be neglecting a clubhouse sandwich and reading, a 60 years old man tucks into waffles for a late breakfast with mutual enthusiasm for the meal and regret for the night before.
What is not to like?
The last two times I chatted with Greg, I asked him, “Is there anyone in here right now who has not been in before?”
He gathered it all in, paused for a moment, and answered, “No”, with a satisfaction that only comes from dreams fulfilled.
I will leave it to him to wax rhapsodic about Marcela.
Greg Kluyens is tied to one of the threads pulling people to Cuenca.
Born in Belgium and into a family that treasured world travel, Greg spent more than ten years working as a tour guide in India and Nepal. He enjoyed the land and the people, but simply could not find a place he loved enough that he could fall in love with. His decade on the road burnished a keen awareness of himself and qualities he needed to settle down and flourish. Following his brother who moved to Ecuador a couple years before, Greg quickly found a place that perfectly suited his sensitivities — for beauty, ease of style, and gracious people.
He discovered a community that supports and appreciates his creations of a gathering place that nourishes and entertains everyone regardless of origin, age or influence. He clearly loves his Casa and it shows in his — and Chef Noriega Sanchez’s — devotion to providing excellent service and satisfying cuisine.
As for me, my lesson is that, once again, this magical Andean city, swaddled in a long mountain chain, sparkled with cleansing rain, and woven into a fabric that comforts and adorns, continues to fulfill its promise. Greg joins a distinguished group of people with energy, a creative mind, and attention to detail who have chosen to stay here, in this place, at this time. Their collective sense of value, community spirit and sustainable living spin the thread that will make our future. We will only be better by their presence.
People who move abroad rightly ask, “What advantages does a place offer me,” What is of equal importance is what you bring. History will reward those who assist and support with far greater riches than those who simply gather and critique.
Come join us. Bring your tools.