Sunday, March 27, 2016


I'm in them, through them, under them all day, approaching and leaving. This is a city of doors and of doorways.

This is a city of handles and grasps, of latches and locks and keys, of knobs and knockers and bangers and hasps. It is a city of permissions.

You are either allowed or you are not. If you are known, you enter. If you are not known, you are left to yourself, out there, outside, on the street, where the world is public, and where you are but another passerby.

If you are known, and are welcome today, you may enter and find another world. You see the walls as the owners do. You find coolness on a hot day, or warmth after an outside chill. You are admitted to silence. The traffic, the dogs, the screeches and moans and shouts and hoots of life in the street remain in the street when you enter through a doorway. You shuck it, let it slide, let it fall behind you, allow it all to stay where it must stay, out there, when you move from one world to another. From public to private. Through a doorway.

It is mystery you never even speculate on, when you arrive in this city. There is no reason to wonder, because you have no crack or crevice or walkway or tunnel or view to entice you. There is no visibility. You see the pavements of the street, you see a slit of sky, you see walls. Walls exterior and smooth, with closed doors. Locked doors. You see nothing else. There is nothing to speculate about.

Then, if you watch, if you look, if you remain alert, you catch a glimpse. Of businesses set back, inside buildings, of bits of the normally external world wrapped inside architectures, used to house vehicles, temporarily. Now and again you do see a dark inside stairway through a door left open for a moment. You do see one or two coming or going, but usually you do not look, deliberately, for that would be a curiosity too forceful, too intrusive, rude. You do not try to intrude or to be rude. This is a city of privacies after all. You respect that. But you do, without intent, now and then, see a slice of one, of those other worlds, in there. Behind the doors.

From above it all seems different. It is different. That is where you realize the successive shells of multiple worlds, when you see them. Below, laid out before you like mazes, but that perspective is hard to achieve. The high places are also private, unless you are invited in, but if you should find yourself up high, and can look down, then you see. The walls within walls, the courtyards behind and within and side-to-side with the other courtyards, the gardens wrapped in gardens, the hanging laundry, broken windows, blind balconies unseen from the level of the streets, from outside.

All, all this is mediated by doorways, which are everywhere, of all colors and sizes and shapes and locations — opening onto the steepest of stairways, fronting onto walls, behind walls, leading to empty tiled spaces, choked with vendor's wares, full of purses or shoes or flowers — it's all there, but yet it isn't. Everything can fold up and close in a minute, a second, an instant.

Which you may see or not see. It depends. On when you are there, and if you are going to or going fro. Whether you are looking ahead, or around, or full of your own thoughts, or whether you are lolling your head free of thoughts, allowing your eyes to wander without intent. And then it is there, or not — it all depends. If you see it, something, whatever, it is because of the doorway and its door and the state of the doorway and the door and the time of day, day of the week, season of the year, and chance.

You never know.

But if you walk here and walk there, and watch, eventually you see this and that and the other — bits of evidence fluttering. Doorways opening onto — what? Something? Nothing? You never know. So you wait and watch. Slowly, you learn.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Guardians Of Darkness

The guys hanging out inside the planetarium. Them. They're guards.

I haven't been to the planetarium in Cuenca, but I'm familiar with the idea. Planetariums are dark inside. That's the point, confirmed by my one sighting, in Moorhead, Minnesota around 1971, when I took a sort of astronomy for noodle-heads class.

Planetariums are dark so you can see better. Which I don't have to explain because even if you think about it and come to the rational, reasonable, sensible conclusion, you know better. You know that inside a planetarium you don't want to see everything. In fact, you don't want to see much — just a few tiny points of light.

Which means that the darkness helps you to see better.

Another characteristic of planetariums is that they're empty. They have seats below and a dome above. And air. Most of the place is air. That's about it — like a movie theater. The place is about ideas and not things, and is full of dark air.

So it's funny (to me, still) to walk past the Cuenca planetarium and see one or two or three guards just outside it, or just inside it — What?. I should know by now. Guards. They're everywhere.

I did, during a previous incarnation here (at least a couple of years ago now), finally realize that guards, even armed guards, who are everywhere here, aren't so much armed guards. They are receptionists. And as with receptionists everywhere, their primary role is to maintain order. Their secondary role is to provide information. Their tertiary role is to control access to whatever inner sanctum that particular place has. And in Cuenca, a receptionist's ultimate role, the one of last resort, is to shoot you if you misbehave.

But only if you're exceptionally naughty, you see. Not usually.

Usually you see guards standing around hour after hour, five or six days a week depending on the hours of the business, or seven days a week even if the place is closed but important, like Banco del Ecuador down the street. You don't want anyone kicking their way inside that place and making a mess, so you leave at least one guard in place after the lights go off and the doors go into lockdown.

Which still, despite my getting used to a lot of things, or at least at least my witnessing of a lot of things, many of which I remain completely and eternally clueless about, leaves some room for wonder about the guards at the planetarium, because For why?.

I don't know why.

If I wasn't functionally deaf (meaning that I can hear but not too good no more) and thereby incapable of becoming functional in Spanish, I could ask. Most receptionist/guards seem happy to talk and why wouldn't they? They got nothing else to do all day, but I can't ask, you see, so I'm going to guess.

My guess is that to get into the planetarium (legally) one has to buy a ticket, pay a fee, pony up some coin, so. So this means that somewhere in there they have a box full of money. A box with a bunch of money in it. Some cash. At least a little. Possibly. Though who can say for sure? It's a guess.

Therefore the guards. In case someone might think that there is enough money in there to make robbery seem like a reasonable thing, even if there might be only $25 in quarters and dimes in there. This isn't a rich place, and people don't walk around throwing $50 bills in every possible direction — it's more like a dollar coin, a quarter or two, and a handful of pennies. If you can find pennies, but then again, if you do manage to find pennies you get really cautious about spending them, so maybe not. But maybe.

Again, I'm guessing. It's called for in this situation, so let's keep running with it and see what happens next.

So in essence, the guards at the planetarium are there protecting an idea. A potential. Putting up a barrier for anyone who gets his own and opposing idea. It's an intellectual standoff, a practical application of performance art: We are here with guns and clubs and uniforms and a big room full of darkness and you are out there, misguided, misinformed, with no income but not lacking in ambition and an urge to try something desperate on spec. And we say No — probably not a good idea there — don't try that, OK? Please? Just keep moving, go somewhere else if you would.

Maybe that's it. My best guess for now. Go figure.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A Recommendation for Robert Dog's Obedience School

Dear People Out There: I want to say a big Thank You!!!!! in the direction of Robert Dog's Obedience School.

The staff at Robert Dog's Obedience School are absolutely the best!!!! When I dropped off my two kids last week I was at Wit's End. I had no idea what to try next, so when a friend suggested Robert Dog's Obedience School, I said Why not???? and called Francisco, my facilitator. He picked up the kids, put them in a bag, and trucked them over to RDOS right away.

I love Francisco. I never need to call him twice, and he's always on time. Maybe I should buy him instead of renting. I'll have to think about that. Anyway, there I was at Wit's End, fasting, having a piña colada, getting my weekly fingernail massage, and waiting for my spirit cleaner to arrive.

I tell you, Rosa, my spirit cleaner, is the best. A few minutes spent with her, receiving a light whipping from a bundle of herbs (santa maria, eucalyptus, poleíto, chilchil, walnut leaf and various wild blossoms), and you know you've been cleansed of stress, for sure, and maybe more, if she's in the right mood.

And then Donald called, disrupting everything. He's my son. I've had it with him and his phone calls for help. He always needs something. It's not like I haven't already given him everything, but he always wants more. Last week it was a hug. Me? He thinks I have time to hang around with him?

First it's Mommy, read me a story. and then it's Mommy, let's play a game, or Mommy, why don't we go to the park. Always something, you know? It's a huge drain on my energy level just listening to that all the time.

So this week I finally had enough. Time for Robert Dog's Obedience School. One call to Francisco and both Donald and Clarissa where whisked over there for some training. They'll be put up in separate kennels for a couple of weeks and after a few rounds of daily training, I expect to get them back acting like proper young children. (Sometimes I have my doubts about Clarissa — all she seems to do is sit in a corner and moan — so we'll see about that.) Anyway, I'm free of them for a while and will have time to focus my limited resources on the important things again.

My ex-neighbor, Francine and her now ex-husband first told me about Robert Dog's Obedience School. They had a daughter who just wouldn't potty train or calm down, and sometimes she'd bite or howl all night — the situation looked hopeless is what they said, until they shipped little Doris off to Robert Dog's Obedience School, and then things were suddenly different. You know, mostly from not having the kid running around the house all day and night, but when they did get Doris back she was totally different.

Hair color, eye color, skin color, all darker — and lots of other things. She was a foot taller and quite a bit heavier than just a month earlier, but now she obeyed every command — fetch, roll over, bark, shake hands, clean your room, do the laundry — the whole nine yards. And no more accidents on the carpet either. She understood what that newspaper in the corner was for (finally), and used it diligently.

I'm looking forward to similarly spectacular results with my two. I can only hope I'm as lucky as Francine and Walter. It was Walter, right? I forget. Well anyway they're still thoroughly satisfied by the outcome of their situation even if Walter isn't around any more. If there was anything even remotely like an issue, it was that when they got their daughter back, somehow she didn't understand English anymore — it was only Spanish. How that all happened in one short month no one is sure, but even that's a plus.

Besides keeping quiet, providing entertainment on command, and doing all the chores, Doris is now helping Fran and Ed (Fran's new live-in) with their Spanish. So, yet another plus.

Based on what I've seen, I can't recommend Robert Dog's Obedience School too highly. Know what I mean?

Sincerely and ta-ta,

The Fabulous Deanna

Sunday, March 6, 2016

US Ambassador Locates Ecuador

For U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador Watt C. Muffly, it's all about relationships and opportunity.

Apparently. That's what he says.

The new U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador speaks softly and has an easy smile that generally makes him immediately approachable, but today it's somewhat different. He's still speaking softly but (for a while) his tone was uncertain, evidencing perhaps a slight amount of trepidation. Perhaps confusion. Disorientation. He was not exactly sure where he was, exactly. For a while.

True, the Ambassador has heard of Ecuador, a smallish country sitting on the left shoulder of South America, and did know that he had been posted there, and was sure that his plane had been pointed in that direction. But he wasn't sure that he had actually arrived.

The map, his map, didn't seem to match up with anything he saw, which was initially somewhat confusing.

But this was all straightened out when he turned the map over, and then things got even better when he put north back where it belonged — on top. Everyone sighed. Some with relief.

According to those who know him, the Ambassador is is the kind of man you would invite to dinner at your house, just because you know he would be a good addition to any mix of company. Which may be why he got the job. Or maybe his map-reading skills indicated that a posting to France could be problematic for various reasons.

Anyway, he's here (or there, depending on where you're standing at the moment), and things are looking better now.

Last week the Ambassador was in Cuenca, a city known as a U.N. World Heritage site, due to its funky old buildings, and also known as possibly the cleanest city in all of Latin America, and the one with the best drinking water. All good things.

Once in Cuenca, the Ambassador introduced himself to local authorities, expats, and members of the news media while becoming more familiar with the city. By stepping in a pile of dog excrement. Which happens, even in Cuenca, because clean is a relative ranking, compared to other places, which can be much worse.

But it happens. You have to get past it. Which he seemed to do by way of a short hop following a brief utterance. Before wiping his shoes on the mayor's lawn.

Coincidentally, and possibly felicitously, Cuenca Mayor Marcelo Cabrera was traveling, out of town at the time, so no one other than second-rank flunkies saw any of this, and an introduction to the mayor will have to wait for another time.

This is also good, most likely.

Other than that event, as noted, the Ambassador said that he has had a smooth start in building those relationships that he views as critical to his work. The prefect and the governor presented me with no complaints, he said, smiling with a satisfaction that presumably represents his government's views about right and wrong.

I really tried to get them to tell me if anything was not going well, and they said 'no, the American expats who have settled here are all great — they seem to do nothing but eat, and deposit gobs of money from their retirement checks, right here in and around our city streets, and since they had to leave their guns at home, we mostly don't fear them so much any more'. And that's wonderful to hear — just the way we like it, the Ambassador concluded, pretty much amicably.

In an expat media interview Saturday morning, Ambassador Muffly continued to express his approval, suggesting only that U.S. citizens could advance the work of the U.S. State Department a bit by integrating themselves even more into the city and its efforts at improving education, health, the stray dog situation, whatever, like helping to fix up some of these old buildings, maybe getting a Walmart or two out there — that sort of thing. Couldn't hurt, as long as we bring here only the best that American culture has to offer.

Also, of course, whenever anyone coming to a new country experiences things that are a bit different or that we don't like, the Ambassador said, continuing to wipe his shoe after moving to a fresh patch of lawn.

I would hope that expat media would not use its platform for complaining about Ecuador. Saying 'why don't they have this here' or 'why don't they do that' makes our job as relationship builders more difficult, he said, seeming to be only slightly distracted by this time.

And now, a full two weeks after arriving, how does Muffly feel about his new posting to Ecuador?

I'm excited. Terrifically excited. Really. I am. Just going on a brief walk around Quito (where the Ambassador resides) I found two shoe shops that carry footwear in my size. I can't wait to get back there and do some serious buying, he said, shaking his left foot as he spoke, perhaps unconsciously. I'm definitely not looking backward, or downward, only forward toward a successful resolution of all issues, he said, continuing to smile weakly, though diplomatically.

Which might be why he got the job.