My View in Cuenca

A beautiful morning here at 8,300 ft in the Andes. Brilliant blue skies dotted with pure white marshmallow clouds provide a backdrop to my landlady’s towering and quite laden avocado tree. Large hummingbirds flit between their feeder to the right and the moira bush to the left. And I see no evidence of any shortage of bees here in Cuenca.

window 2
Our back patio butts up to Josefina’s lovely orchard

Their existence may be in danger in the US, but down here, they seem healthy, happy and loaded with bzzzz.

Margarita, my friend and weekly cleaning lady, arrived just a little bit ago.  She came in bearing a small bag of rolls, fresh from the panaderia.  She gave me two.  David received just one.  “Shhhhh, don’t tell,” she communicates, flashing a huge grin as she heads to the kitchen to get her coffee.

A bright yellow/orange tablecloth hangs on the line outside my window.  Not handmade, but still beautiful, the fringed cloth has multi-width stripes of vibrant purples, greens, blues and reds. The weaving is a traditional Ecuadorean design.  I had wanted to cut the cloth up to use for curtains, but Margarita would have none of that. “No, no, no,” she insisted some weeks ago.  She speaks no English, but she looked like she wanted to say, “It’s a tablecloth, dammit!”

One thing I’ve gathered in my limited time here is that most everything and everyone has its place. People have roles. Things have a purpose. And one shouldn’t try to mix them up.

Getting curtains made for our home, for example.

My former landlady, Susana, has taken me to several fabric stores to select curtain material.  At one shop, I found a fabric and design I loved and wanted to purchase it for the living room.  But they wouldn’t sell it to me because it is not intended for curtain material. It is for muebles. Furniture. Now, I’m a person that uses what I like for decorating. Corrugated cardboard and brass tacks served as wainscoting in my dining room in Arkansas. Brown craft paper has papered many a wall of mine with amazing effects. I had painted concrete floors before it was cool.

So, when I saw this material, I knew it would work. But I couldn’t buy it because Susana and the sales clerk knew I wanted it for cortinas and this was NOT cortina material.

Our windows remain curtainless.

The same for my bright colorful tablecloth. It is fated to serve one purpose and one purpose only–covering our mesa.  Do I dare tell Margarita I’m thinking of buying two more tablecloths to sew together for a bedspread?

This single purpose idea isn’t totally consistent, however.  The other side of the coin is to make do.  Just make things “good enough”, as my friend Jody says.

When we first moved into our current home we had a few plants in the front of the house that proved impossible for our dog to ignore.  Within a week or so, the succulents had been unearthed and left for dead. Josefina (our new landlady and next door neighbor) noticed the bald spot in the garden and offered me something to cover up the blight to prevent more digging from our sweet Punky.

Good idea, I thought. “Thanks”, I said.

imagesJosefina brought over a wooden toilet seat lid, with fake-brass fittings. She speaks no English but her look implied, “That should do it.”  I plopped it into place in plain view of our front door and every guest who visits and there the toilet lid sat for a few weeks until new potted plants could be arranged. It remains out there somewhere. I think I hid it behind my towering rose bush.

Now, I imagine in this city of anywhere from 400,000 to 600,000 (who really knows) there are people who wouldn’t dream of using  toilet seat covers in their front lawn to protect their gardens.  There are the rich who live in enclaves behind tall pristine walls and iron gates. Their shrub and tree-lined streets absorb the incessant barks of neurotic dogs confined to tiny spaces, block the smells of belching diesel buses as well as the tone down the bombardment of car alarms. These people live in a more perfect world. No bald spots in their lawns. They have full-time gardeners who tend to the gardens and mini-paradises that surround the family estates.  Not a potty lid to be found.

Friend Jody and I talked not too long ago about the “good enough” attitude that seems perfectly acceptable in our new city.  We got to laughing at the ways we see it around us every day.  For me, a visit to my hair salon brought me face to face with “that’ll do.” I went to the bathroom and was met with one of those beauty shots that appear in every salon in the world.  A stunning woman, a kick-ass hair style and a body that won’t quit.  The pièce de résistance was that my stylist had hung the poster up with what looked like duct tape.  Good enough, indeed.

I experience less pretense here. People are people. It’s hard to put on airs when a toilet lid sits in your front yard. Or a poster promising unlimited beauty is held in place by bulky grey tape.

51967999_Alt01And one more thing.  Next to almost every commode in this city stands a covered wastebasket. A silent reminder that everyone has crap in their lives and we just have to deal with it.

Toss, not flush.  It’s a great equalizer as far as I’m concerned.

14 thoughts on “My View in Cuenca

  1. Now you’ve got me wondering. Would your friends be uncomfortable sitting in a room with curtains made from a tablecloth? And what is it about their culture that permits a toilet seat to be used as ground cover–clearly not its intended use–but fabric to be so strictly relegated to one purpose?

    Once again, you paint wonderful word pictures. Best wishes to you all there!

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    1. i know, right? the contradictions! guess that’s the human condition worldwide. i approached the subject with margarita yesterday – -about sewing two tablecloths together for a spread…she said ok. i just she just doesn’t want me to CUT the fabric!! crazy. she’s a gem. another thing i’ve discovered…don’t know if it is her or if it is cultural. we have a hand carved nativity set (mary, joseph and manger) in my office. it’s primitive design, very colorful. every week, she turns the manger upside down when she dusts — or else she slides the manger to the back of the shelf. i keep meaning to ask her. i love this place!! trust you are doing well.

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      1. Well enough, except for the extreme fear I feel in this political climate. Thank you. How interesting–about the manger. Will be interesting to learn what Margarita tells you about that, if she ever does.

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      2. david and i both are thankful we are here. i hate what i hear is happening in the US…i know it must be difficult to be in the middle of it. a group of women i meet with here have been talking about focusing on a conspiracy of good…in every single aspect of our lives. sending out positivity is my focus and goal now…only thing i know to do. take care.

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  2. This gave me several chuckles; you are right – some people have a hard time when a creative person/quick thinker thinks outside of the box. Years ago, when I couldn’t find fabric anywhere close to what fit my mood, I bought hammocks and used them for tablecloths, napkins,pillows… You’ll find ways to politely dodge what they suggest and will illustrate other options.. Once they adjust to your own unique ways of seeing Life, they’ll slowly embrace it….

    An Ecuadorian told me last night, “When I stepped into the apartment you decorated, I thought, “I have to meet this lady.” It makes me feel so good to be in that space…”

    They will say that about your own gardens and home as well.

    Thanks, kindred spirit, for the follow, which led me here!
    Lisa – btw, ‘Neighbor,” I’m from Mississippi

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    1. yeah!!! when you are ready to take your next steps, please get in touch. would love to show you Cuenca. we have quite a few expats here…but there are other wonderful places in south america (and central america) as well. we so enjoy it! thanks for reading…and responding! i love to hear from people who read my blog. thank you.

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