This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Dia Cinco en Ecuador

Finally, got a real good night's sleep. Between the noises inside and out, combined with the unfamiliar bed, sleep has been a reluctant guest. But last night either exhaustion or fewer noises or both combined to let me sleep through the night for the first time since arriving. I awoke to find Leslie sitting up in bed making preparations for her next session. She had been as quiet as a mouse and I was grateful. We hopped up and headed downstairs for the usual breakfast of croissants, scrambled eggs and cafe con leche. They don't have a very creative kitchen but it is gratis and it's good, so why complain?

The older Jorge picked us up. All seemed forgiven regarding Leslie's innocent slight yesterday. In fact part of our conversation, in Spanish, on the way to the capilla was about
how fast paced life seems to be. Everyone is in so much of a hurry they don't take time for the truly important things in life such as family and having fun! Work, work, work isn't so important. Jorge's point is well taken.

We arrived at the convention center and
Jorge walked us over to a courtyard where a celebration of some sort was about to begin. Tables of local foods were laid out and a band of guitars, drums, pan pipes and wooden flutes were about to begin playing. Eugenio suddenly appeared and motioned for us to come down the stairs and join him. Costumed locals strolled around and Eugenio handed us paper plates and we got into line where the food was being handed out. Three grupos de Ecuador were represented. The three represented the roots of the Ecuadorian people. First, the Indigenous group were the the people of the mountains. Somewhat akin to our Native Americans. The second group were the African-Ecuadorians who represent the African influence and finally the group that represents the melding of these groups. The food was all small samples of food indigenous to each group. I was able to sample my first Cuy (guinea pig) which tasted much like rabbit. There wasn't much meat on the bone. You had to work at it but it was okay. We also sampled a variety of empenandas and a delicious African dish that had rice, fish and shrimp in it. It was the best of the samples. Lastly, we were offered a cup of a fermented corn beverage. It was fine but I think a rather acquired taste. We were told about another beverage made of yucca which is chewed until a mouthful of the extracted liquid is literally spit into a pot. This process is repeated until enough "spit" has been gathered and then the liquid is fermented and drunk. A real acquired taste I would guess. It was a delightful hour or so but we needed to leave to set up for class.

We wondered how many would show up for class considering the fiesta taking place down the hallway and what a buen dia it had turned out to be.
Today Leslie finally got a pianist for her class which was to take some of the stress off of her trying to teach in Spanish, allow her to move around the room and offer suggestions and advice AND play the piano. Impossible but she had done it for two days so far. The pianist turned out to be quite accomplished. Funny that all we have really seen of the city so far has been from the window of the car that has taken us to and from the class. Our mornings have been reserved for Leslie to make necessary adjustments, plan and rehearse in her mind (in Spanish) what she would do in class that day. The students are so far behind what she was lead to believe they were capable of and each day she must adjust her lesson to what they were able to accomplish the day before. It has just taken every waking minute for her to plan and execute each day's lesson. It's fine.

This weekend we will spend time roaming the museums and other attractions we have read about, some of which are within an easy walk of our hotel.
Dinner this evening was at the same spot as last night--Orquidea Restaurant, but this time we took a walk to get there. Turned out to be only about 3-4 blocks away. Dinner started with a small plate with 3 small empanadas, each a different flavor and with different ingredients. Then the main which was spaghetti carbonara. Disappointing. Dessert was a very unimaginitive flan. We did have a delicious fruit juice with our meal. After dinner Jorge left the table and didn't return until we found him in the hotel above the restaurant. He had taken a tour and so we were all invited as well. The rooms were all differently designed and beautiful. Rates were $150 per night and well worth it! We thought of maybe staying their instead of the old town hotel we booked when we return from the Galapagos.

We walked back to hotel together in the dark which made me nervous since we had been warned not to walk in Quito after dark. But we did fine. It probably helped that there were four of us.
Sleep, when we got to our room was difficult at best. The dog at the Casa de Musica next door barked nearly all night, plus the traffic noise was especially bad for some reason. We have had enough, so at breakfast the next morning we asked to be moved.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Dia Quatro en Quito, Ecuador

Had a bit of extra sleep last night. Leslie brought me breakfast in bed. Showered and sat out near the front desk waiting for our ride to the convention center. Myriam came in but instead of taking us at the agreed upon time she told us another, older Jorge would pick us up and take us to lunch. By the time he arrived we had less than an hour until Leslie's session was to begin. Our driver seemed to have specific directions to take us out to lunch. Leslie was equally insistent that she needed to get to the capilla no later than 20 minutes before her session in order to have time to prepare. This didn't seem to sit well with the driver who couldn't find the restaurant he was supposed to take us to anyway. The Jorge from Mexico talked him into stopping at the Fruiteria we had eaten at yesterday.

We quickly gobbled down another bowl of fruit salad and added an empanada verde w
hich turned out to be very different from the one we had on Sunday with Myriam and Matteo.

Leslie and I hustled up the hill to the capilla with the feeling of our rushed lunch still sitting heavily on our tummies.

"Should I go ahead and start?" was Leslie's question to me when at 2:00 there were only 4 people in the room. "It depends on what statement you are trying to make," was my reply. So she began and slowly, a few at a time, students wandered in. It is 2:20 still only about half the class had arrived.
This might be a good time for me to talk about my theory of time as it pertains to different parts of the planet. I have long held the opinion, and it is thoroughly based on anecdotal experiences I have had over 30+ years of traveling the world, that t
he closer you are to the equator, the less important time becomes. In Italy trains never run on time, museums are closed even when the sign on the door clearly states it should be. I have found the same to be true in Guinea, West Africa and Morocco. Now go to Germany, Scandinavia, the United States, Japan, all countries whose borders are a good distance from our equator.

I know, it is a generalization, but again, like I said, it seems more often true than not.

Is there something wrong with these other country's time "impaired" sensibilities? Well, it depends on your personal perspective doesn't it? No one in those slower paced countries seems to mind their "problem." They are generally as happy as anyone I've met in any other country I have visited whose "fortunate" geography has placed it furthest from the equator and as a result (if you buy my theory) operate on time nearly to the minute.

All of this, of course, drives us folks from the northern climes crazy. We feel guilty if we haven't started on time, as if we have not lived up to a promise. In fact we expect to be fired if we are negligent in our duty to time.

So what's the right answer? Hell if I know. I guess you go by the adage, when in Rome…!

I spent a bit of time writing to friends on the wi-fi network this morning. Otherwise, I am sitting in my little corner here in the capilla writing and reading and being Leslie's gopher, mostly fetching water and taking photos for her office door back home.

A personal observation of the choral situation here in Ecuador. There are a lot of talented singers in this country. But, like anyone, anywhere, they wi
ll only get as far as they are willing to work at their art. The apparent general disregard for pitch, learning to listen to each other, having directors who establish a higher standard of performance will all be necessary before any choir we’ve heard thus far will receive the respect they have the capacity to achieve. Walking into rehearsals a half hour, even over an hour late with total disregard to the director or the other members of the team, never bodes well for the future.

Our day was topped off with dinner at a lovely tapas and wine bar near our hotel ca
lled the Orquidea Restaurant. Eugenio hosted Jorge Cordoba who we have discovered is a world renowned composer. He is also a great story teller and a really down to earth guy. Also joining us was Zulyamir Lopezrios who is a voice teacher from Mexico City. She had passport issues that kept her from arriving until today. We enjoyed a lovely dinner that started with an incredible spinach soup topped with potato chips. The main was a delicious sea bass topped with a creamy remoulade sauce and accompanied by a spinach infused rice, fresh tomatoes and sliced hearts of palm. A postre or dessert of chocolate layers in a creamy pie finished the meal. We sat around sharing stories until about 8 when Eugenio drove us all back to the hotel.

Buenos noches to dia quatro of our adventure!

Dia Tres en Ecuador--Quito

Awoke to the usual coccophony of sounds--the telephone ringing at the front desk downstairs, the dog barking at everything that passes by, the traffic sounds of the city. My but I do appreciate the quiet of my little Bellingham. Today, however, new noises were added to the familiar ones. A grupo of American high school and college aged estudiantes were up and having breakfast. They were a loud group, having a good time, getting to know others of their own age, having come to Ecuador for some unknown common purpose. Still, couldn't someone teach them to be quieter? They have such difficulty with their self-awareness, talking at the top of their lungs in public places, laughing aloud drowning out the conversation you are attempting with your table mate.

Another addition to the sounds of the dia was the arrival of the members of the Quito Symphony at their rehearsal space right next door to our hotel in a beautiful classical style building som
ewhat resembling our White House in miniature. Suddenly, the sounds of individual instrumentalists warming up, playing scales and passages of music wafted in through our windows.

breakfast, as I mentioned, we were surrounded by a large group of young people visiting loudly. We were served croissants, scrambled eggs and coffee con leche. Our waitress had a difficult time giving us the milk and coffee in the combinations we wanted. She poured the hot milk from one pot so that it nearly filled the cup, then topped it with a tiny bit of coffee!! We had to ask for a refill and this time asked for media y media, leche y cafe. She didn't seem to understand, pouring the milk until we told her to stop, then she wanted to pour only a few drops of coffee in. We kept insisting on more and she poured a tiny bit more before stopping again and we'd make a sign to keep filling, back and forth it went until we finally got what we were asking for.

Back upstairs we showered and dressed for the day. We thought we had asked to be picked up at 10 am, but by 11, still no one had arrived. Hmmmmm?

It is another beautiful day. The weather is about like Bellingham. Highs in the 60's or 70's and lows in the 50's. If I could only breathe! The altitude plays tricks on you. At nearly 10,000 feet above sea level, headaches, difficulty breathing, even flu-like symptoms are not uncommon here. So far I have only suffered from the occasional need to stop and take in a few deep breathes in retaliation for my lungs in
ability to capture enough oxygen. It feels like I am suddenly drowning and can't quite reach the surface for air. Ever had that feeling? It's a bit scary, but then the oxygen begins to reach your blood and spread to your brain. The fear goes away finally and your desperate need for seemingly non-existent air subsides. Whew, I'm still in the land of the living!

Finally, at about 11, our ride showed up and we were off to the Central de Convencion. An old hospital, the campus of buildings
are connected by covered walkways. The capilla or chapel is a simple but beautiful building with faux marble pillars, a floor with pale yellow tiles accented in each corner with a green triangle that overlapped with adjacent tiles creating a larger triangle. The ceiling is of wood lathing painted sky blue and dotted with gold stars and three painted rose window looking decorations. The alter of wood had touches of gold leaf here and there. A large cross above is surrounded by a gold leaf sun burst. Above the alter is a dome of the same wood and decorations as with the ceiling. The acoustics are very live making it difficult to hear rushed speech. It is a lovely space that would be fun to sing certain genres of music in. Jorge, the morning presenter, was from Mexico. When we walked into the capilla he was running the participants through scales insisting they sing in tune. He was having each section do it, having to stop sometimes several times and restart them until he got what he wanted. The participants all seemed to be working at a pretty basic level which is definitely driving his instruction and causing Leslie to do some serious, quick rethinking of her approach for the afternoon.

Lunch was a walk down the hill to the Fruitaria Monserrat, a cafeteria style place that specializes in fruits of a
ll kinds, many of which are native to Equador or the surrounding countries. We ordered a beautiful, big bowl of layered fruits topped with whipped cream. Peaches, apples, pineapple, watermelon, papaya, grapes and strawberries filled the bowl. Deliciosamente!

Eugenio walked us back up the hill to the capilla in the convention center where we found it locked and Matteo, his son
, was sent to look for the keeper of the keys who appeared after a while.

When we got in we started setting up for Leslie's session.
The session began with her introducing herself (and me, us, our family and our life in Bellingham) and then she got them on their feet and moving. I won't go into any details about how it went (it went great!). Ask Leslie for all the details. Her session ended, we were whisked immediately off to the opening concert of the festival. It was held in a theater that looked on the outside like an ancient stone temple. Nine grupos were to perform starting at 7pm. We got home by 10:30 and immediately headed for bed.

Another buen dia!