Monday, March 31, 2014

On Duty

They never sleep. They only sweep.

I tripped down the stairs — four flights or three, depending on how you count them here — and exited the building. I was once again in the realm of noise, dust, dog droppings, and diesel smoke — on the street.

No matter what hour, there is always something happening on the streets here. I haven't been out late at night, but I can hear them. They're out there, often with dynamite-sized fireworks, or thumping on musical instruments at frequent, randomly-located concerts.

I have been out early though, before dawn, and it's the same, without the noise. At the odd early hours, or during rains, people are more sparse on the streets but they are always there.

So it was this day, an ordinary day in every way. I headed out, intent on finding breakfast.

I saw a man coming toward me, draining a small white paper cup. Then, when done, he chucked it to his left, toward the street, where it fell and came to rest. One casual motion by someone who actually lives here. A true resident. I, as a visitor, was shocked at this disregard for his home, but waste gets into the streets somehow, and this was proof of how.

Oddly, I saw four more of these cups before I made it to the next corner. I began to wonder if this was a special day. Was there a holiday with its own drink, served in the traditional paper cup? I asked later, of someone who has been here a while. No, not that I know of.

But the cups would be taken care of. Cuenca has that figured out. The city has street sweepers, all over the central part of the city. Individual human employees and not machines. They wear distinctive blue coveralls, blue baseball-style caps, and many of them also use matching blue bandannas to cover their lower faces (nose on down). Each has a small, wheeled cart with a broom, dustpan, and tall cylindrical trash bin.

These people are out early, and are always at work. They stand in traffic and sweep the gutters. They hunt along sidewalks for scraps of this and that. They never stand still. They never quit moving. They only work. At times I see two together but they are not leaning on their brooms, talking, joking, or laughing or smoking. They are always working at making the city clean.

I don't recall seeing any sweepers Christmas Day, but I did see them New Year's Day, using their brooms to shape piles of ash and burned sticks, the residue of the previous night's effigy burnings, and brooming up the remains of spent fireworks. All sweepings went into the dustpans, and then into the trash cans.

They are quiet, almost anonymous, these people — they all, in their uniforms and bandannas, almost seem to be copies of one person, almost always the same height and shape, whether male or female, young or not so young, and they never pay attention at all to what is going on around them.

Except to find trash, and to remove it.

As much as anything else, they are the iconic symbol of this place.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Buzz Bath

Shower fumes.

The knock on my door came at 7:22 a.m., and I was naked.

I had just finished warming two gallons of water on a hotplate that I bought the day before. This was my bath water. I was going to use it because I'm afraid to get in the shower again. The shower head smokes, and that is never a good sign. Not for a shower head it isn't.

Marina (let's call her Marina), is my landlady. Really, I think, she's more of a go-between, a matchmaker, a wholesaler, a jobber. The apartment I'm in is one of her wares. I am the mark.

She doesn't own this place, or any of them. She only sells it, over and over, to a slow but never-ending trickle of gringos flowing through town. Sells it in the sense of advertising and marketing and talking. She makes herself available and then makes the apartments available, and then gets an apartment and a renter to stick together for a spell, a process which includes an exchange of money. But others own the apartments she deals in. Who they are is unknown.

I rented this place for two months, paying rent up front. It's OK for what it is. Mostly I have a decent internet connection and decent security. Beyond that, some things work better than others, though the things that do not work perfectly work well enough.

Except for the shower.

Have you ever seen a suicide shower? I have one here, if you want to try it, but I would advise you not to.

A suicide shower is a plastic shower head with a heating unit inside. Wires come out and water goes in. When you turn on the water, the heating element kicks in, warms the water, and, down below, you do your thing. Adjust the water flow too low and the heater turns off. Set it too high, and it's like trying to warm the Pacific Ocean with a candle. Too much or too little, and you get cold water. Somewhere in the middle is moderately warm to nearly-kinda-hot water.

Unless you try showering here. My unit shudders and jumps, and suddenly the optimum water flow makes itself a slow drizzle, the heater kicks into suspended animation, and the water temperature dives toward absolute zero. Unless I grab the knob, in time, tick the flow rate up by 1.73 to 2.14 notches, and convince the heater to re-engage before any damage gets done. Like me going into an instant, full-body pucker-and-shrivel, for example.

Then it happens all over.

And sometimes I overshoot by cranking the water flow up by 2.63 notches, or more, and chillfully self-freeze my nubbins into dire submission.

But I can live with that.

I can also, sort of, maybe live with the bare wire coming out of the shower head. I think it's a ground. Call in an air ground because air is all it connects with. So far it seems to be harmless. I guess.

And also sort of, but less so, I can possibly survive the two live wires coming out of the wall and connecting to their counterparts reaching toward them from the shower head. Four wires. Two coming and two going. Connected. By electrical tape.

When I first saw that setup, my jeebies scared my heebies so bad I almost jumped out of my own skin, as all of them were doing, the wires. It was a multi-way panic. It took a while for calmness and equanimity to regain a vice grip on my consciousness. Good thing I have a mind like a steel trap. Too bad it's clogged with the carcasses of past misjudgments.

Well, anyway, it worked.

For a while. The shower head did.

Then the smell started. Toward the end of each shower.

There is an (get this) intrusive corner in the shower stall. By that I mean that one corner of the shower stall juts into the shower area. I think it hides plumbing. Or something I don't want to know about. And it is wood paneling.

No, I don't know either. But.

Sometimes cheap wood or wood laminate gets a particular sort of smell when wet, and this smell seemed that.

No. Sadly, no.

As the days went by, the smell came earlier in my shower time. And got stronger. Until.

I noticed that the electrical tape covering the bare wiring had melted, shrunk, and turned crackly. Because it was getting that hot. And so were the wires coming in, though their insulation didn't melt. Hasn't melted yet. That kinda official-looking, kinda-factory-like wiring only got too hot to touch.

And then a day or so later I noticed, while drawing hot (only warm, really) water into a pitcher (because the shower is my only source of heated water), that there was smoke curling upward from what was left of the electrical tape. Which is entertaining, if you have nothing else going on in your life, and also somewhat thrilling, to tell the truth.

It was about this time that Marina showed up, wanting to talk about my request for extending my stay here by two months.

She is actually quite nice to deal with. Shows concern. Treats you like the best person within spitting distance. All of that and more. And told me that the next day she would have an electrician come around to check on the shower head, which, strange as it seems, she said, was new only a little while back. But I was worth the effort, and was in my room the next morning at eleven, when the electrician did not show up.

The electrician also did not show up and 11:30, or 11:45, or 1:17, or 3:46, or any other time, but Marina was back. At 4:47 p.m. the very next day, on the dot, asking if I would be there at 5:00 p.m., because she had another electrician coming then, a very good on, better than the other ones she had scheduled, who had told her that they were afraid to touch a shower like this one, but her much, much better real electrician wasn't, and he would be by at 5:00 p.m., so would I be there for her, and for him?

Oh, sure.

And I went to bed at 9:18 p.m. that night, having missed whole herds of electricians, scared or not, who, if they passed by, did so in great silence and profound invisibility. Until.

This morning. At 7:22. When there was a gentle, mellow, and soft rapping on my door. Which came just seconds before I was going into the shower stall with a great, wide plastic tub of warm water and a scoop made from a used Chlorox bleach bottle (plastic), where I would crouch on the floor, wet my self with water, soap up and rinse and hope I had enough water to close the deal, but at least there would be no smoke, or fire, or electrocutions on that watch.

But the electrician did come, 14.5 hours late. It may be a new record. I'll have to check the registry, though sad to say, I had to turn him away.

I think it was the electrician. He did mention ducha, which is shower, but with one ear out of commission and the other operating at only half its capacity, and not being too incredibly good at Spanish, I could be wrong. But here's the deal, you see.

I was naked, alone, had a small tub of warm water waiting, and didn't need an unfamiliar guy in my room talking Spanish to me, or doing anything else. I didn't need none of it, except for the water, and nakedness (and privacy, as a pre-requisites for proper bathing technique, having found via extensive rounds of trial and error that bathing with my clothes on was sub-optimal, as is nakedness in public).

I didn't need no stinkin' company, and so convinced him to bug off. And bathed, and it was fine. As in OK-fine. Good enough. Passable. Mostly effective. Warm, at least, and completely lacking in electrical excitement or smoke.

Which illustrates the value of two things.

One is planning.

Yesterday I decided to buy a hotplate, and did, and used it to heat my bathwater, though it took nearly an hour to do that.

The other valuable thing is money. Which I have enough of, for here, for now. So it was easier and cheaper for me to spend $21.72 on a hotplate than to find another place to stay for two months, and then to move there, and then to put up with other, as yet unknown things going wrong.

Because, aside from the possibly homicidal shower head I have, and the strangely sticky tap water which I've quit drinking, and the occasional fly or moth that comes to visit, and the odd few minutes of cigarette smoke that comes up the stairwell and hunts for my room, and the dead cable TV, and something else I can't quite remember now (OK — got it — the sour-smelling bedspread and comforter that Marina gave me for the bed, and the blanket with so much hair on it that it effectively has its own pelt), you know? Not that bad here.

The internet connection is adequate, and I'm afraid to lose that by going elsewhere, so unless Marina and the local gremlins find something else to torture me with, I'm getting by.

I am, aren't I?

Monday, March 24, 2014

May I Interest You?

Sell it on the street if you can.

Out front of where I live you can get yourself weighed. Twice.

There are two guys there with scales. One has a scale and that's it, the other also sells lollipops, chewing gum, cigarettes, and coca tea.

They're out there at least five days a week, standing in the shade of the white west wall of the church (Iglesia del Carmen de la Ascención), and they know when to fold. Early afternoon rain showers slide in quietly from the east and from the west, circling the city in a gentle headlock before wetting it. Much of the sky is hidden from these vendors but they know their turf and begin packing up long before the downpour pours down.

Around the corner, north, is Plazoleta del Carmen, also known as Parque de la flores, or simply "the flower market". You want flowers, go there. They gottem.

Continue east on Mariscal Sucre, along the facade and under the pale blue domes of la Catedra de la Inmaculada and you might see anything, or nothing special. It depends. Festivals and holidays come and go, and with them the vendors. Near Christmas you'll find white, aluminum-framed tents where small women sit behind piles of plush toys and dolls, and myriads of other small items, and collections of children's clothing, and tinsely bits and odd things that tiny persons are attracted to, or that are sold only here, though most of these things are made in China. It's cheaper that way.

Around the next corner, turning right, is a covered walkway, which continues at the next corner, if you turn right again, so that you are once more headed west, but still under cover. People wait here for their buses, which come to them in great thundering herds and lay down intense thick black clouds of diesel smoke that spread along the street and turn whole blocks a dirty blue-gray.

A few women, crouched on steps there, sell cookies from small baskets, waving away the occasional fly, and readjusting the single layer of plastic wrap they might have as protection for their goods from the smoke, dust, bugs, and trampled, powdered dog excrement. At the corner there is another woman selling espuma in ice cream cones. Looking like a great, basketball-sized lump of white cake frosting, it sits, gathering in and accepting without discrimination everything that the air carries to it, until she scoops a scoop of it out, and relocates that scoop to a crispy cone. Which she hands over to the customer.

Lately she too has taken to covering her goods with a bit of transparent plastic, which helps to ward off the greater part of the exhaust effluvia that wash over her corner like smoke from forest fires.

She works all day and has nowhere to wash her bare hands, with which she handles all food sold.

And then, across Padre Aguirre, still going west, is Plaza San Francisco with its half-acre of sheetmetal roofs, and secret runways darting among the tiny puestos, the stands, heaped high with shoes or sweaters or tin pots. Not to mention the line of similar goods across the alleyway to the north, where you can find knit gloves so small you can barely fit even a single finger inside. And knapsacks, and jewelry, and ice cream, and a small pharmacy squeezed in among all the rest.

It's like that all over. Wheelbarrows full to the brim with grapes or strawberries. Women plunked down anywhere with a basket of custard-apples, a pile of newspapers, unidentifiable odds and ends. Freelance vendors roam up and down, pacing, calling for all to buy lottery tickets while they can. Everywhere. All over the city. All day.

Today, returning from Spanish class I saw a few things I hadn't before.

First, a man carrying four large and hefty magnifying glasses in one hand, each at least four inches across, while touting them loudly as he walked, to any passersby. It was another WTF moment, but that's only what I think. Maybe I just have not been paying attention.

Or maybe it was my day to see things, like the four-foot-tall yet well-proportioned woman who went by just before that. And then, immediately following magnifying-glass man, and across the street, there was a man carrying kerosene lanterns, and offering those for sale using the same standard technique of calling out to other pedestrians. You know (or maybe you don't) — the clunky old, cheap, pressed-metal lanterns that have been manufactured continuously for 150 years. Those. As if anyone needed them. And they might.

And again, after I interrupted this post to go have lunch, and while executing a mid-course trajectory change, I skirted a corner where a man was standing in place and advertising rabbit-ear TV antennas, with a box of them at his feet and a fresh display model sitting in one hand, which he waved around. As if. And maybe it is.

Best of all, I think, are the New Year's effigies, the ones made for burning. Cloth, and stuffed.

Stuffed with sawdust or leaves or straw. Or manure, in some cases. They are burned when the year ticks over, but before that can happen they have to be sold, and. You guessed right. They are sold all over — on street corners, in stalls, in empty lots, in shops.

You don't see much of that back in North Dakota any more.

Friday, March 21, 2014


In relation to the moose's orifice.

Creepy Ed and Vangeline have a blog. It's called something like Being Cheap-Ass in Cuenca Ecuador, and they're proud of how little money they spend living here, compared to Dink Spot, Arkansas. Or maybe it's Oink, Kansas. One of those places.

They go out to eat a lot, pay a dollar each, and complain to management because the food isn't made to their standards, with the ingredients they prefer. So they bring along some of their own food from home and add it to what's on their plates. Then they eat, and after that they complain. And write about their experiences so other expats can go, eat, and complain.

Ed and Vangeline also do a lot of videos. Maybe you've seen some. They're the ones with that distinctive photo-epileptic look. Every twenty seconds or so the camera stops shaking and you get a glimpse of someone's jacket sleeve or shoe, or a door frame, just to re-establish context, and then the camera begins convulsing again and it's back to heebie-jeebie time.

Yeah, so they pretty well have the video market cornered here, but they aren't the only ones with opinions no one wants to hear.

A person named Becky-Ann or some such put up a post on the GringoTime forum here. Something about "Do you leave tips and how much, because I do and I think people deserve it? And being an 'economical refugee' doesn't mean you have to be cheap."

She might have been a ringer, a kind of troll, because I saw a post some time later which was totally hard-butt and opposite in tone, but I didn't know that at the time and answered anyway, partly because of all the retro-moose-fart comments that showed up calling her all kinds of names. Saying she should go the hell back where she came from, that people like her were spoiling it for the rest of "us", that she didn't know the culture, which was dirt and poverty and should stay that way.

All the, like, you know, fun stuff that smart people say. Which they do on on-line forums, where they can remain unidentifiable and out-gas endlessly.

Especially Anonymous. That Death-to-All-of-You Anonymous person. And Anonymous's best friends and supporters, Anonymous and Anonymous.

So I said what I thought.

Isn't it odd how eager "Anonymous" is to reply, yet how little s/he has to say?

I am an economic refugee. I never tipped in my home country. I tip here.


  • Now I can afford to.
  • The people here need the money more than I do.
  • Laying money on the table is why I am allowed to stay.

No expats are encouraged to come here and live because they are intellectually, physically, spiritually, or morally superior. Expats are encouraged to come here to inject money into the economy.

Buying goods and services is one way to do this. Whether or not we "overpay" is beside the point. The point is for us to spend money, which helps the economy. Tipping does the same - it moves money from our pockets to the pockets of Ecuadorians.

That said, how I spend my money is my business and no one else's. If anyone disagrees, then let them post all their tax returns, bank statements, and medical histories here. After that, I will decide whether to criticize their private and personal decisions.

But probably not, because I have a life.

So I guess I can be a dick too. But I try to be a decent one.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Water World

The leaking wall.

Why does la Asociación de Hoteleros del Azuay stink of urine?

That is the question, one I had often wondered about, especially when passing on the south side of the building.

What was it about the Hotelier's Association of Azuay Province, specifically, that made it reek? Could it be their bylaws? The shape of the building? The color of the paint? The plaster used in its construction? The building's specific spatial orientation? Its fung? Its shway?

Evil spirits?

Maybe. Anything is possible, and not just here, but everywhere. Anything at all.

True. And that is what makes life special.

Life is special because it is composed of living beings, each and every one of which, in its own way, is capable of noticing odd situations and strange events, and then (again, each in its own way) of understanding the weird, and reacting. Even plants.

Plants can tell that the sun moves across the sky. This is basic understanding. We, of course, know that the sun does not move across the sky because we are brighter than plants, and confine ourselves to speaking about the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, but not about it traveling across the intervening distance. In other words, we are more perceptive, and are wrong in a more subtle way.

But the real point here is that plants (even plants) are sensitive and smart enough to know when something is going sideways, and are capable of dealing with it. By bending their stalks to compensate, in this case. Rocks can't do that.

Now, with regard to la Asociación de Hoteleros del Azuay, I noticed. I noticed the funk. You can't avoid it, sometimes even from across the street, but I didn't catch on.

Some clues follow.

  1. Every now and then I see cab drivers standing side by side, facing the river, with their backs to the street and their hands down in front of their crotches. I know what that means.
  2. Occasionally I'll notice a pedestrian or bicyclist, facing the river, and so on. I.e., ditto.
  3. It's common to see a vehicle stopped along the highway with the driver and passengers standing, hands down in front of their pants, facing away from the road. Check.
  4. Downtown, guys facing a building, wetting it, in plain view of everyone else. OK, right, got it.
  5. A mother at a bus stop, coaching her five-year-old son on how to do it right. He is standing next to her, facing a wall, letting fly. She is there for him.

Hmmm. But what do those so-called clues have to do with la Asociación de Hoteleros del Azuay and why it stinks of urine?

Boy, that's a real pisser of a question — I had no idea. Really I didn't. Could there be any explanation, I thought?

Well, maybe. Maybe not, but maybe.

La Asociación de Hoteleros del Azuay stands at the corner of Presidente Córdova and Padre Aguirre, two thunderingly congested streets in the very center of Cuenca. Padre Aguirre is a major bus route. I finally caught on to that, and now walk one block north, on Mariscal Sucre because of the diesel smoke. Because there isn't any on Mariscal Sucre. Seriously. I do this now. You don't know diesel smoke until you try walking along Padre Aguirre. You can't.

You have to swim. While holding your breath, with your eyes closed. At the right time (about every 10 minutes, all day) you can see it. You can't avoid seeing it. Two or three buses heave themselves up onto their feet, tumble forward, roar, and spew gigantic black clouds out of their rear orifices. Eventually these clouds thin to the point that light again reaches the street, but leave the entire street blue and hazy for blocks. North American buses don't act this way. Not at all.

And on the northwest corner of Padre Aguirre's intersection with Presidente Cordoba is a large public market, taking up a full city block, so it's really busy there. People. Cars. Trucks. Buses. More people.

Guys stand on that corner, behind la Asociación de Hoteleros del Azuay and bleed their lizards.

That's it.

Guys standing approximately 10 paces from one of the busiest intersections in the city, whizzing away at the back wall of the building. But it's OK, because their backs are to the world at large. Only their backs are visible, and their other parts are not, since they face the wall, and around here, it's proper etiquette.

A stream flows under their feet, diagonally toward the street, trickles over the curb, and puddles.

And really stinks.

That's it. I finally caught on, though I had to see a guy out there going at it before I realized what the cause was. Of the pungency.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

How Today Smells

I scream, you scream, we all stink.

It's that hint of coconut, or verbena, or butterscotch, the one that removes paint from buses, that knocks pigeons from ledges, that cracks pavement. That one. That's how I know you're coming. And my nose is no longer that good, but here it needn't be.

Even I can smell you. Through the door. If you bathe.

Because if you bathe here you use their soap. And it's based on an alternate reality.

I'm south of the equator. This is true, but there is more afoot than being physically upside down. Other things are askew, inverted from what I used to think was right side up.

Walk along any U.S. street as you are, today, South-America scented, and you will leave a trail of dizzy citizens stumbling and swerving, crashing into one another, dazed and blinded by your aroma. The aroma of Latin America. And we are not alone, you and I, it is not a thing we and only we two share.

We broadcast it. We have to. Our industrial florescents follow us everywhere. We are neon-odored.

I chose my soap as carefully as could be, given my location, given what was available, and now I am using bars labeled blanco and also neutro. Blanco they may be, but neutro is relative. Not neuto. No. At all.

Neutro here, in the realm of scents, is practically an anti-aroma, a nothingness, merely imaginary. But on an objective, absolute international scale, even the thought of it is more than sufficient to kill termites by mail.

The soap stinks in a way that is beyond stink. It stinks by day and by night, never stopping to rest, or to sleep, or to go for a walk, or to take a break. It is on the clock more than 24 and on the calendar more than 7, stronger than my ability to resist. It lunges at me from the bathroom every time I come home, and when I go out, if I have bathed, it rides on my shoulders and scurries to and fro under my clothes.

Resistance is futile. I have been assimilated.

And compared to the other options, the other bars, the other soaps on the shelf, at the store, all of which surged toward me and left me gagging for hours, well, the soap I did buy is only a slow death — the mere hint of a distant, intriguing, inviting fragrance by comparison.

Damn. I don't know how they stand it here.

Ivory I get. Ivory Soap is what I've used for decades. I can't it get here. Ivory too has a scent, but you have to hunt for it, to stalk it, to search it out — it is furtive and timid. It hides away. It does not come for you, leaping for your face whenever you stray too near. Ivory is a rare and ephemeral wisp of almost imaginary olfactory stimulation, and refreshing. I miss it.

I miss, too, the other things I once used. Unscented laundry detergent. Unscented diswashing detergent. Unscented sunscreen.

Yes, even the sunscreen.

I bought a tube. You have to. Or you pay with significant sheets of skin that die and slide painfully away after only short outings, the sun here is so fierce. When I use this sunscreen I become Falana Banana Coconut Man.

This is not how I want to be remembered.

Too bad then.

This is my life now.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Blowing Hot Blowing Cold

While sitting here growing old.

Winter is a hunting beast, stalking dark streets in search of heat. It patiently treads on silent feet, padding from home to home, sniffing for that first hint of escaping warmth, that initial taste of what it seeks, before it begins to gnaw at a loose shingle, pull at a weak window-frame, rip at a crooked door, hoping to gain entry and have its prey.

Things are not like that here.

I arrived on December 5, sixteen days before summer began, if I can imagine summer or winter here. The city is 2° 53' 57" south of the equator, and seasons are opposite those of the northern hemisphere, but on the other hand — what seasons?

There is a time when there is more rain, and another time when there is less, and sunrise and sunset times oscillate by a few seconds per month, and some days are sunny and some are not, but winter? No winter. No spring, summer or fall either, only minor variations.

Probably the most amazing thing is how hot the sun is. I left at the end of last April, and walked out into the sun of northern Washington state on the first day of May, 2013, and was shocked. The day was bright and clear and nearly perfect, but the sun did not pound against me with its raging hot hammer. I immediately missed it. And kept missing it until I returned here seven months later.

In every practical sense, I am on the equator. But I am also over a mile and a half high, above 7710 feet (2350 m). This makes a difference. I have spent time in Guayaquill, at 2° 11' south, and an elevation of 13.2 feet (4 m). Guayaquill is tropical. Cuenca is not. Cuenca is nearly perfect that way.

The average high is 68.5° F (20.3° C). Pleasant. Hot if the sun is shining. Stinking hot at times, but then, to deal with it, you cross the street and walk on the shady side, and it is as cool there as you need it to be.

The average low here is 48.6° F (9.2° C). This is overnight, of course, so you don't much notice. Unless it's one of those cloudy mornings following a clear night, and especially so given a breeze. Breezes are light here, but they are breezes. When this happens you have a chilly day. When this repeats for a second day, you have an annoyingly chilly day.

Not outdoors, but indoors.

Outdoors you are moving. Most people walk a lot. Everyone walks, even the rich who have cars. They still have to walk, and the rest of us have to walk more than that. We wear sweatshirts or sweaters, or a windbreaker over the top of whatever, and walk, and a bit of walking is enough to deal with a cool day.

But that doesn't work indoors. Being indoors here is like patio time in Wisconsin. Many buildings are always open to the sky, and windows close fitfully and imperfectly, and none of them even have screening to buffer puffs of air. No residence has a heating system. North sides of buildings never see any sun.

Take a building, warm it in the sun, and still, overnight, the next morning, it is comfortable. Let that building cool for a day, or for two days, or longer, and all of it, inside and out, reaches ambient air temperature. If that temperature is 55° F (31° C), then you are not comfortable inside your home, and there is not much you can do about it except to put on all your clothes and wait.

This is surprisingly unpleasant. Even for me, and I lived almost 20 years in an apartment that I did not heat, winters. I ought to be used to temperatures between 55° and 65° F. But I'm not, somehow.

I guess that I'm used to my friend the sun, which thumps me most days with its large glad hands, and keeps me feeling young and fluid and welcome.

It's a beating I always welcome.

Friday, March 7, 2014

What's Pink And Has Whiskers?

Lap it up.

My sister gave me a cat in a can.

I was hoping, when I opened the can, that it would be

  • A live cat.
  • Not dead.
  • Etc.

But of course I knew better. Right on the label, under the Cat-In-A-Can logo, it says Inflatable Feline.

No live cat, even one small enough to fit into a can of that size, even one that small and which would hold its breath while traveling through the U.S. Mail system, would let itself be inflated, either before or after the can part or the getting-mailed part, let alone both. And I wouldn't put my lips to either end of such a cat to try inflating it.

Or any cat, really.

In other words, I was onto that game. I was clued. I was dialed in. I knew it was plastic. And thereby OK. (Clean, non-scratchy, low probability of hissy fits.) And gladly inflated it, and gained a new friend.

But it wasn't the same as Ernie.

At this point in my life I don't remember anything about Ernie except for two fairly important facts.

  • The cat's name was Ernie, and
  • Ernie was a real cat, and
  • Ernie was not made of plastic nor was she inflatable.

Sure, those were three facts, but when you're dealing with facts, more is always better. And the extra typing gave me a few seconds more to recall some of those fond memories of Ernie.

Wasted seconds, I guess, because I still don't remember who in the hell Ernie was, cat-wise, aside from the name. (I threw in the she part because it sounds better, though I don't remember requiring Ernie to stand for a close inspection, nor was I ever inspired to put my lips there and blow, either. You don't do that. I don't.)

So, ultimately, we are left with a residue of things we may say we understand. In this case, they are that real cats are real and not-real cats are inflatable, and as far as I am willing to take this research, I hereby declare that there is a difference, and real cats do their own inflating, after supper, if they do it at all.

The same goes for things that you do put in your mouth. Like horchata. I've had it in tea bags. It's good. It's OK. It's acceptable. It isn't all that bad. Well, if you get "horchata con miel". I like the "miel" part. That's honey. Or something honey-like.

I hear that it can also be a sugar-based syrup, which is fine by me, since horchata tastes good that way, regardless of how it actually got to that particular address.

The straight horchata I had in tea bags was not my favorite, but with honey-like sweetening, it's yummy. But still too much like honey and herbs in a can, waiting to be inflated by the correct amount of applied liveliness, in order to achieve OK-ness, not-all-that-bad-ness, a level of mediocre acceptability with hardly any bitter aftertaste.

And in the other corner, there is live horchata, fresh-brewed — it requires no blowing. It self-inflates and breathes on its own. It's good.

No, I haven't said what horchata is. Here are a few words on that subject from someone who does know:

The herbs and flowers that are part of this drink include some better known herbs such as chamomile, mint, lemon verbena, lemon grass, and lemon balm. Some of the flowers that are included in this tea are rose geranium, small roses, violets, begonias, carnations, fuschias and malva olorosa/malva blanca — which are flowers from the mallow family. The horchata herb mix also includes some lesser known and harder to find herbs which include cola de caballo or horse tail (also known as shave grass), llanten or plantain plant (not to be confused with plantain bananas), borraja or borge, linaza or flax, a red leafed herb called escancel, in English it is known as bloodleaf, this herb gives the drink its red pinkish color. Another plant used in this tea is called ataco or red amaranth, this one also contributes to the color of the drink. There are a few other plants that are used, however these seem only grow in Ecuador and, at least according to my mom, don't have known names in English, in Spanish they are called pimpinela, shullo, and cucharillo.

Mine was tall and cool and pink, like pink lemonade, but not lemonadey. Not like something liberated from a can, or brewed in a tea bag, or retrieved dry by the handful from a box under the sink in the back room before boiling.

And it did not require me to put my lips on it and do anything but suck. So that's what I tried.


I'll have to do it again.

More: Horchata lojana or herbal tea mix

Monday, March 3, 2014

Drip Grind

When water, when?

We had rain yesterday. All day.

Then all night.

Not this morning though, or this noon, or this afternoon. I think the sky ran out. It can happen.

Things run out if you use too much.

Like the other water. That too. The stuff in the pipes. That ran out, though I don't know the exact true cause.

As a believer in cause and effect, if I see the effect, such as no water coming out of the tap, then you betcha, right away I'm guessing there is a cause. And sometimes — maybe a lot of times (I'm not absolutely clear on this part, but maybe a lot of times) — you never find out what that cause is, and you have more important things to deal with at the moment anyway, so you forget about Why? and begin thinking about What the eff do I do now?

Like today.

My fallback What now? position notched over to drinking water from the toilet tank. I mean, if there was no alternative. If there wasn't a better alternative, then that would have been it.

Scoop, boil, drink. Like that, with the boiling part providing the KO punch to any residual cootie-bugs hiding down there in the water, but it would have been a little hard to swallow nevertheless. Especially tomorrow, after having gone to bed bathless, with unwashed hands, and being generally pissed on principle. You can imagine, right?

But there were alternatives, two that I could think of, and they went like this...

  • Take my knapsack and hoof it the better part of a mile over to the supermarket, and buy bottled water there. If the place was open, which it might not have been, because this is the second-to-last day of Carnival, and almost everything is closed because when they have a party here, they close everything up tight and leave town. All that's left behind is hungry, confused tourists wondering where the party is, and where to find food.
  • Or, option two, my preferred choice, which was to go over to the WH Cafe, buy lunch, and see if I could cadge two Platypus 2.5 L bladders full of water, or as a last resort, buy it from them. If their water was working. And if they were shut off too, then I couldn't get water and also couldn't get anything to eat, because they would have been closed — can't run a cafe without you have water, you know — but then there was still SuperFutzi and the possibility of bottled water. If they had been open, which was uncertain, but definitely a second option.

Yeah, Life In Paradise, Episode XII: The day of WTF.

Now for the happy ending. I got eats at WH Cafe and tanked up on water too, so's I be OK now.

On the way to the WH Cafe, wouldn't you know, down by the corner of where I live, almost right outside, there were three guys in the street with a slab of pavement pried up, and one guy had a long iron bar and was leaning into that bar, which was stuck in the spokes of a large wheel, which I'm guessing was the underground faucet for here. And it looked like he was turning that faucet.

Anyway, after lunch the guys were gone and the water was on.

Now I only have to wait a day or so until the pipes get properly flushed before daring to drink the water, due to backflow or back-sucking or whatever it's called, which contaminates water supplies when this happens, but meanwhile I have five liters of WH Cafe's Clear And Sparkly Best sitting on the kitchen counter, waiting to duke it out with my thirst, whenever that may come along again.

So, once again, could be worse, you know?

I don't want to be speculating, but maybe that's why they call it paradise here.