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Sunday in Cuenca

I  hear singing — a soft call and response drifting from an apartment reached by stairs, the banister as rich as mahogany, the compliments of age and usefulness.  The foyer smells faintly like a second-hand store, the sweat of work mingled with generations of tobacco smoked deep into the woodwork. It is early Sunday morning and the city is dozing under gray flannel that drifted in from the coast overnight. What I hear are prayers that will be repeated again and again today in churches and homes throughout the city; a chorus of devotion, voices raised in songs of peace and pleas for magic.

The vacant streets are a dark gray ribbon of stones laid into a four corner pattern, their usefulness a question in this hour of quiet, and then a single motorcycle bawls past me on Gran Colombia, the stutter of gas-fueled machinery casts exhaust spawned grit like sand on snowy roads.

El Centro is banked with sentinels of shuttered buildings. Restaurants that are open are few; the cooks and service workers will return home after prayers today. Sunday is a day of devotion to God and family.

Morning reveals itself as it sheds the skein of cloud and brightens to a humid day of limp clothes and penetrating heat; a gentle breeze occasionally wading through the dampness, wicking away silver beads of water glistening on our foreheads.

At last, the sun rises from her mountain retreat adding shadows and blinding light. Those who are on the streets soon remember the importance of wearing a hat and sunglasses to defend themselves against the invisible ray gun of UV light and shield themselves as best they can, sometimes holding nothing more than a newspaper or magazine over their head, while others stroll under parasols soaked in muted sunlight.

The city settles into its stride around mid-day. Parque Calderon is momentarily a pop-up carnival of photo ops, shoe shines, food vendors, folks hawking tours of the city, and trinket-makers displaying their wares on fabric that smells vaguely of incense and mildew.  Families are gathered on benches placed all around the square, many have ice cream from the shops across the street, a few are dining on picnic lunches carried from home, and  others, either singly or in groups of two or three, are content watching the floorshow of strolling people, commenting on and joking the day away.

Buskers are playing folk songs and acoustic versions of pop/ rock classics while casting for change with their overturned hats which they bait with a few coins before they begin.

Clanking church bells, oddly out of tune, begin another call to prayer. Cannon fire thunders in the distance.

Streams of people dropping down from the buttes of high-rises and through canyons of curving streets trickle into churches for late afternoon mass.

It seems almost too soon, but shadows are beginning to take root, spreading into corners and small crevasses.  Angles sharpen. Pollen and dust unseen all day begin to filter the sunlight like baby stars, all twinkle and sparkling in the warm, yellowing rays. Bulging clouds float on a river of air that will sail them far out to sea, leaving in their wake lights blinking to life in windows, scruffy dogs causing a momentary ruckus, and the chirp and penny-whistle of stoplights — one signaling north to south, the other east to west — both demanding equal attention as the light continues to fade. Those with errands mingle with others merely wandering, both crisscrossing streets and plazas following a trail that will eventually lead them home.

And then it is evening. Quiet consumes whatever echoes remain of the day. The streets are again deserted by all but the tardy and foolish. A glow like firelight streams outward from windows and under doorways now too numerous to mention. The results of dinner preparations are at last revealed and served in hand-made bowls of clay, plates warmed by the fire, or in neatly wrapped leaves bursting with steam when opened.  Prayers of thanks are murmured around the table at home and the circles of candles dance in the church. Candlelight is replacing the day and guiding the faithful.

And so it goes…another Sunday not unlike the last and similar to the next and the ones after that for as long as time will allow.

The circle is unbroken.

Sunday in Cuenca