I saw my first condors gliding high over Chican last weekend; they were scanning the valleys of grassland often full of bubbly clouds spilling over the high country of Amazonia and gliding down a patchwork of meadows heading towards Cuenca.
I am already familiar with neaby Paute. All of my needs can be gathered within a three-block radius of the central square. The streets are cobblestone and narrow — originally designed for foot traffic and horses — two modes of transport still frequently used. The pace is as delicate as a distant heartbeat slowing almost to stillness.
Park bench conversation around these parts includes the probability that masks will be taken down around the first of the year. Azuay Province is 90% fully vaccinated, tourism is nearly what it was before the “plague years,” and many are anxious to show off their pale but shining smiles once again.
We will soon be celebrating one of the biggest celebrations in Ecuador, Pase del Nino Viajero — The Passing of the Christ Child. The tradition is believed to have begun back in the 1960s after a statute of Baby Jesus made its way to Cuenca from Rome after being blessed, and sanctified, by the Pope himself. Others believe the tradition started nearly 500 years ago when it was brutish land barons who reigned supreme. It matters not. The people of Ecuador love this holiday like no other.
I’m looking forward to writing a few long-form stories next year, knowing that I am able to devote more time to quietly observe the world of my surroundings: two resident hawks are performing soaring aerial displays flanked by shrills of pleasure, deep dives, and skewered drama; rock-steady farmers can be seen descending from the ridgeline, stooped like willows made of waist-high grass, carrying food for the guinea pigs that will soon be the centerpiece of a Christmas table; and local dogs, seen and heard and too numerous to mention by name, or even color; they are clamoring to defend the precious patches of peas, peppers, and property that they promised to protect as puppies…
Last weekend our village celebrated its collective heritage. The local school band played, of all things, “When Jonny Comes Marching Home” for nearly an hour as sash-draped beauty queens sashayed, anxious-looking politicians, nervous to check their phones, squirmed, and young children cheerily chatted and waved to families and neighbors as they were led into the town square by uniformed folks and men on horseback displaying the national flag.
Of course, cuy was grilled over charcoal and pork was carved from a whole roasted pig, served in styrofoam bowls filled to the brim. An enterprising individual set up shop next to them, offering coconut milk.
A couple of cotton candy vendors sauntered between the celebrants, followed by young men selling blow-up superheroes and farm animals. One corner of the square was piled into a tumbling cascade of hats of every variety and style. It was great fun. The evening’s music pulsated with an ebb and flow like saltwater taffy stretching all the way to the yawning dawn slicking the path home with droplets of mountain dew – a perfect end for tired folks exhausted after dancing the night away.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the grotty landscape of your home turf, California, as well. Dustbins and mudflows seem to have overtaken the landscape. It must be heartbreaking to witness a land once so full of promise wither under the shroud of spent oil and careless disregard. Even the phrase, “New Normal,” has slithered off the headlines, replaced with frantic calls for swift change to save the world — a fading possibility. I recall reading crazies like Timothy Leery suggesting that California will soon slip into the sea; I now read of the Cascadia Subduction Zone biting off huge chunks of Washington, Oregon, and northern California. Perhaps it would be best to give the whole west coast a deepwater cleansing to scour away the greed and monstrous behavior that soured some of the finest lands on Earth.
Your photo of Lola and Axel is a breath of fresh air. Lola now looks more like the woman she will become; Axel will soon morph into a bushy-haired boy stretching towards manhood. What a wonder it all is.
Alrighty then…Take a little time out of your busy day and write me a letter. Your letters always comfort me and the quiet time will be good for you.
Love to all,