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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas in Cuenca - 2015

Christmas in Cuenca.....Ecuador....South America is very different than in Seattle ....Washington ....United States of America.  Although, there's similarities, too.

Leading up to it.  Sad to say, the Christmas merchandise hits the shelves waaaay back in late September!  UGH!!

Unlike in the USA, we don't have Christmas tree lots with fir, pine, and spruce to choose from.  We don't have tree lots at all.  99.9999% of the Christmas trees here are fake because, for the most part, our 'forests' are of the eucalyptus variety.  And, those fake trees cost MUCHO dinero!!!  We're talking $200+ dollars for a 5ft fake tree!!!  As a result, you don't see many trees erected in the living rooms of many Cuencanan homes, especially when you keep in mind the average Ecuadorian wage is only around $500 a month!

I am, however, surprised at the growing presence of trees and lights in homes since I first arrived here nearly 5 years ago.  I was disappointed, then, to see how few homes were decorated with lights and/or trees compared to back home.  It seems to be a growing trend both in private homes as well as civic displays.

Also, 5 years ago, there was nary a sight of Santa.   Now, more images of Santa appeared this year as well as snowmen and reindeer instead of only religious scenes.  I even saw one display with a reindeer leaping over a nativity scene.  Hmmmm.

When I first came here, I wondered what kind of Christmas music I would hear.  I think I only knew of two such as 'Feliz Navidad' and....ummmmm.....can't remember the other.  So, do the Latins have their own array of classics that come out of the closet once a year?   I don't think so.  The music I heard played in stores was...yep...'Silent Night', 'Oh Come All Ye Faithful', and Karen Carpenter...all in their original format and English.   Again, this year, even more English Christmas music seemed to be played and heard everywhere I went....'12 Days of Christmas', Bing Crosby, 'Sleighride', etc.  One of the blocks in El Centro had speakers outside playing Christmas music for all the shoppers to hear for 2-3 blocks.  A nice treat I thought, but I wondered how the guests in hotel rooms felt about it if they were trying to take an afternoon nap?

What about all the feverish gift shopping, pushing and shoving, Black Friday, and fights over getting the last I-Phone version in stock?   You know, all those wonderful, heart-tugging, moments of the Christmas (notice I haven't said HOLIDAY once!!!!) season???  Well, 1 out of those 5 DID occur...Black Friday.   It seems to have permeated Ecuador.   I mean, Black Friday, has always been about the day after Thanksgiving and the fact most Americans have that day off from work to make a 4 day weekend, thus a great kickoff for Christmas shopping.   BUT, the Pilgrims didn't land in ECUADOR!!!  We don't have that holiday.  Everyone works Thursday, Friday, and a half day on Saturday!   Nonetheless, the merchants have been promoting Black Friday, even though if you asked people where it came from, 99% problably don't know.   I bet it got started here by the Ecuadorians who moved to NYC and NJ to find work in the past 2 decades, and are now starting to return home to EC.

I don't know for a FACT, but from what I've been able to observe, the whole notion of buying truckloads of gifts for loved ones is very toned down here.  For instance, I rarely saw any gift-wrapping stations anywhere in commerical centers.  I didn't even see much gift wrap for sale!  I didn't see shoppers walking down the streets loaded up with several large designer bags of gift-stash.  BUT, it is very common here to find in stores, several large barrels each filled with a specific type of candy or cookie and people buying those by the pound.  As well, a lot of stores provide pre-assembled cardboard boxes (envision a kitty carrier box) where shoppers can buy whatever they want (ie; canned goods, wine, pasta, fruits, candy, etc) and place them in the boxes as gifts to relatives, neighbors, friends, etc.   Stores also offered pre-packed boxes, sort of like a 'grab bag'...you get whatever is in there.

The weather.  When I lived in San Diego and Los Angeles, California, Christmas always was a smidge odd to me because it would be 78 degrees and I'd be wearing shorts and a tanktop as we sang 'Joy to the World' at the mall's Christmas tree lighting.   After all, I'm from the Great Pacific Northwest, where there was a good chance of snow and/or ice and temps down in the 30's at Christmastime.

It's not like either one of those here in Cuenca.   Christmas falls in our Summer, temps are likely to be in the low 70's, with sun and broken clouds...perfect for the huge parade that runs for HOURS on Christmas Eve day.

So, yes, there are similiarities and differences between our Christmas Season and the US's (now called) Holiday Season.  We both have music concerts, parades, lights, trees, shopping, and family gatherings.  It's just that each of those are flavored differently.

Enjoy the photos and the videos that follow.  To play the videos (Maxine....listen up!) double click on the white triangle (arrow) in the middle of the black image.   Once the video starts, click on the little square box in the bottom right corner to make the video much larger to view.  To exit the video at the end, press the ESC button in the upper left corner of your keyboard.  Then, you can play the next video.


PS...I said 'Christmas' 20 times (ooops, now 21), and Holiday only 3 times (now 4).  Please don't have a hissy fit, call out Homeland Security, and/or send drones over my house!!!

Cuenca International Chorale Concert in the Old Cathedral

Parque Calderon

Parque Calderon

River Tomebamba
The city erected a lot of large poles on either side of the river in order to string these (new this year) lights.

A relatively new image emerging more and more each Christmas.

Trees of Parque Calderon with Old Cathedral in the background.

Glorieta in Parque Calderon with young adults practicing break dancing.

Lighted trunks of the original 8 trees that form a circle in the middle of Parque Calderon

The New Cathedral
Notice the size of the cars and the people walking in front of it, in relation to the size of the Cathedral!
Moon over Miami....errr.....over the Old Cathedral

Spectators watching the parade from balconies.

I thought Roy Orbison died!!!   Ummmm.....is.....that.....fake....or....real hair?   Nawwww...it's REAL!!
(I just COULDN'T resist!!!)

A boy carrying a bull over his head that regulary snorted fireworks out its nose!

Many of the young boys were fashioned with moustaches, beards, and/or goatees.

Most of the horses were festooned with candies, bottles of booze, fruits, etc in a very artistic array.
Notice the 'driver' of the horse is totally conked out.

Can you imagine walking the entire parade in these sandals?   Not even for a Marlboro would I !!!

Notice the huge whisk he is enteirng and pulling out.
Roughly translated.
Rich creme of apple.  Something, something.  Good for the anemia and pain of the head.
.50 cents

She's riding atop a beautiful carriage.  See next photo.

Not sure how this fits into the Christmas theme, but I do know if this were in a parade in the US of A:
-  All hell would break loose
-  The internet would implode
-  Al Sharpton would be shouting from the podium
-  Attorneys would be rubbing their greedy hands together (thinking $$$)
-  CPS would take the kids away from their parents



The wooden rails on their shoulders are not even PADDED!!

Yes, my friends, what you just saw is CHRISTMAS (no, not 'Holly Days') in Cuenca..... Ecuador ...... South America.

I rest my case, no further questions Your Honor!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Day Before The Day Before Christmas

I've heard over and over and over that there's always something going on in Cuenca....Ecuador....South America.   It's true.   And, I don't know the half of it!  It's frustrating, being a 'farn-ner', to know what, when, and where things are happening.   There doesn't seem to be one central source to go to.  Then, add the language challenge.  Many times, the newspapers report on events AFTER the fact.  GRRRRREAT...I would've like to known 'that' was happening BEFORE it happened.    So, many times, we find ourselves experiencing 'on the fly' here...meaning...you just happen upon them if you're in the right spot at the right time.

Such was the case the day before the day before Christmas.  I met up with an Ecuadorian friend of mine in the park in front of the cathedral.   Traffic had been horrid getting to the parking lot where I have a pass card (for my short-term apt rentals).  Then, when walking to the park, I had to go around the block because of some event happening at the flower market which blocked anyone from being able to traverse through it.

So, I suggested we go check it out.

Two branches of the military were represented.   Plus, a military band.  I mean to tell you, when the military come out they are polished, crisp, and verrrry impressive.  Several men were on horses, holding flags, while others were in STRAIGHT lines on foot.  So...wassup?

Apparently, in a very rough, and il-informed way, this was a formal event (celebration?) to honor the baby JC....errr....sorry for the acronym....Jesus Christ.  While I didn't understand a word the announcer was saying, my friend told me this was about honoring the baby Jesus.  A helicopter flew overhead, slowing down as it arrived right above us, and unleashed a torrent of rose petals for the BJC.  Then, a military group proceeded up front to present a small military General's hat/cap.  It was sitting atop a pillow much like you would envision the Queen's crown being delivered.

More speech.   More pomp.

The band played, and everyone sang along, the military saluted.  I didn't recognize the music.  Shame on me!!!  It was the national anthem!!!!  I've heard a few other songs played over and over and over and over in other events and presumed it must be the NA, but it wasn't the same song. So, who knows what I've been hearing blaring a gazillion times the past 5 years!!!!

It was all very impressive.  But, I had to wonder.  What do all these military people DO?  I mean, we're not at war with anyone (like the USA) and we don't have constant threats against us (like the USA), no one seems out to get us (like those out to get the USA) soooooo?  I asked my EC friend.   He explained to me it wasn't all that far in the past that EC had conflicts with Peru...maybe 15 years ago.  They must always be prepared.

So, with that, here's some lousy photos and lousy videos (with lousy sound) of that event I stumbled upon.


Remember (Donna), click on the arrow to play the video, then click in the lower right-hand corner to expand the video to full-screen.  Be sure your volume is up.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Cuenca International Chorale Christmas Performance - 2015


(yes, we can still use the word CHRISTMAS here!)

I'm constantly amazed at how much Cuenca has changed in the nearly 5 years I've been here!  When I went to my first Symphony concert a few years ago, at Christmas, I was surprised at the low attendance...for a city of nearly 1/2 million!!!   Now, it's growing by leaps and bounds...the Symphony attendance, that is!   Also, inside of the past 2 years, a chorus (or chorale) has been formed.  The 'Cuenca International Chorale' is made up of people from all over the world who've moved here and made Cuenca their new home, as well as local Ecuadorians.   CIC is completely 'self-funded'.

Last night was my first time attending one of their performances.  I was warned by friends that we needed to be there early as last year it was standing room only.  WHAT?   You mean they filled the entire Old Cathedral?   GET OUTA HERE!   MORE than then Symphony attendance??   NO WAY!!!


I went to the Old Cathedral about 45 minutes before the start of the 8pm concert.   Yep, there was a long line waiting.  Luckily my friends were already there in line and saved me a spot.  We got a seat maybe 15 rows back.  By the time we sat, I turned around and all the rows behind me were filled and folks were starting to take spots along the wall.  Due to last years performance popularity, the chorale expanded this years performances to two, in different locations.

I must admit, though, of the 400-500 attendees, 90% of them were foreigners.  I find it curious there's low attendance by Ecuadorians of both the Chorale and Symphony performances...especially when they're FREEEE!!!   Are they not aware of the dates/times?  Are they intimidated by music they're not familiar with?  Is it because they're already home from work, having dinner with their family, and don't want to go out again?   Who knows?

It was such a treat to attend a performane in such a beautiful setting...a cathedral more than 400 years old.  The acoustics are great!  The chorale did not use any amplification system.  Some numbers were performed a cappella (without accompaniment), some with piano, some with a small ensemble of strings and flute.  There was a male quartet and a female quartet.  Some songs were sung in English, and others in Spanish.  Variety is the spice of life, ya know!  The group was conducted by Andrea Lyman, who herself came to Cuenca (from Idaho) to visit nearly 2 years ago and now lives here.

My favorite part of the evening was at the end when the chorale, instrumental ensemble, and the audience performed together several classic Christmas songs...again....in English AND Spanish translations!   The mood was enhanced all the more by each audience member holding a lighted candle and the lights in the sanctuary dimmed to the minimal.


Once the performance was over, it would've be normal to bring up the house lights and we'd all get up and leave, right?  The experience didn't end there.  Ushers started at the front and, row by row, the audience got up and slowly walked out of the cathedral, holding their lit candles, humming along to Silent Night played out by the string ensemble.


Enjoy the photos and the videos below.   Remember (Mom), click on the arrow to play the video, then click in the lower right-hand corner to expand the video to full-screen.  Be sure your volume is up.

Again, apologies for the shakiness, blurriness, and grainyness.   One of these days I'll buy myself a better camera, and not drop it a hundred times!!!  Besides, I doubt Santy Claus will be flying over Kilometer 5 of the Highway to the Cajas, light green house on the dirt road, Cuenca, Ecuador, South America.  He'll be too busy delivering version I-Phones to all the kiddies in America!!! Maybe when they throw away all their outdated I-phones, one will find its way to moi.

But, I digress.....


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Cuenca Symphony Concert

Ok, I think I'm picking up steam, little by little.  I think I can, I Think I can, I THINK I CAN (write another blog)!!

The Cuenca Symphony is a wonderful treat in our cultural scene.  They have about 55 musicians and their concerts are usually spread around in various venues in Cuenca and even some outlying towns. And, maybe best of all, the performances are FREEEEE!!!!  Granted, their concerts are usually only an hour long, but who cares when it's FREEEEE!!!   I love the fact they don't always perform in the same venue.  It gives us all the opportunity to experience a cathedral, then maybe a park setting, or in a courtyard you never knew existed because it's tucked behind a facade, keeping it a secret.

The latter was the case earlier this month.  They presented a tribute concert for the sixteenth anniversary of the Declaration of Cultural Heritage and the inscription of Cuenca in the book of UNESCO (world heritage sites).  The setting was the beautiful courtyard of the Old Seminary San Luis, adjacent to the Cathedral.  What made it so unique is, a few years ago the Seminary nearly burned to the ground! 

During one of Cuenca's festivals, 'Globos' (sort of a cross between a kite and a hot air balloon) were lifted into the night skies by lighting afire dry material aboard the Globo.  The hot air lifted the works of art into the skies and illuminated them at the same time.   Stunning to watch.   When the fires burned out, so did the lift, and the Globo would drift to the ground without any harm as the fires extinguished themselves before landing.  BUT.....one Globo didn't do what it was supposed to do and ended up landing on the roof of the Seminary which was in the midst of being restored and just so happened to have part of the roof opened to the outside, exposing the dry timber inside!!!!   Luckily, the fire department units saved the structure.

Back to the present.   Like many structures around Cuenca, there are hidden gems the public doesn't know exists or has never seen.   Because there are shallow tiendas (stores) lining the sidewalks, you don't realize there's something 'more' back there.   You either have to be 'in the know', or hire a helicopter to fly you over the city so you can gaze down at all the spaces you've been unaware of. Then land, go find the 'magic door', and pound the hell out of it pleading 'open, Open, OPEN!!!!'

Oh wait, that was a Mervyns commercial from the 1990's.  

Such is the case of the Seminary.  So, you can imagine the public delight to be 'let in' to see the newly restored Seminary AND experience a symphony performance!   The line wrapped around the corner with people anxiously waiting.  The doors opened and everyone filed in and marveled at the beautiful gardens.  As we moved along, I noticed inside a large room, waiters feverishly working on filling a couple hundred wine glasses and others arranging whores de oovers on platters.  I wondered where the party was.   Then, the line stopped and a lady made an announcement in Spanish.   Those of us who didn't get in were trying to figure out what was going on.  Some thought she told us it was a private party and we couldn't go in.  But, that didn't make sense because no one had tickets so why did the first 100 or so get to go in, but not us?   Some people left in a huff thinking they were mis-informed by the words 'public is invited' in the announcements, and by being turned away, apparently it was not 'public'.

I decided to wander around the gardens and admire the lighting, and took the opportunity to take stairwells to the unknown (after all, they weren't blocked off!) to admire the restored architecture. When I was about to leave, I noticed a group, who chose to wait it out, was being led into the concert (which had already started).  I dashed over and joined them.

Well, here's what it all boiled down to.  They had set up only a certain amount of chairs on the ground level where the symphony stage was located, and it had filled up fast.  So, they decided to open up the decks that wrapped around the courtyard on the 2nd level for the rest of us.  COOL!!!

All that wine and snicky-snacks were for US!!!  Servers tray-passed wine and snacks amongst the audience during the performance.   FREEEEEE!!!!

It was a stunning setting, under the night skies, in the renovated gardens of the Old Seminary San Luis.  One more new experience for me to mark off the list.  CHECK!!!

Now, for the photos and a couple of videos where THIS time you actually get to HEAR the music since THIS TIME I actually turned the microphone ON!!!

Disclaimer:  I broke my camera, so I'm back to using an old camera (that Ellen DeGeneres personally gave me...thank you very much) but doesn't focus very well anymore.   And, my tablet which I also use for photos and taking videos but, too, has lousy clarity.  Add to that, it's virtually impossible to move the tablet and not have the video shaking all over the place!!  Maybe I need to set up a 'GoFundMe' account to get a new camera!!!   At least you can get a taste of the experience, abeit through gauze and 7.3 richter scale stability.  Oh, and the sound quality....awww never mind, forget it.
Waiting in line.

The banner translates to "Cuenca...with the people always"

One of two large courtyards in the Seminary complex.

Video of the entry courtyard.
Click on the arrow to run the video, then click on the box in the lower right corner to make it full-screen.

Look closely at the top of the photo, you'll see the blue domes of the Cathedral next door, looming over us.

We had to pass through this chapel inside the Seminary, to gain access to the wraparound decks overlooking the concert.

...And now, Ladies and Germs...The Cuenca Symphony!!!

The audience under the tents and the overflow on the balconies above.  About 250 attended.

....and now, a snippet of the performance (during an earthquake).  Click on the arrow to run the video, then click on the box in the lower right corner to make it full-screen.  Be sure to have your volume up!


Hi Myron!!!!

About Me

My photo
Palma, Mallorca, Spain
This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Spain, in the city of Palma on the island of Mallorca in the middle of the Mediterranean sea!! I moved from the USA to Cuenca, Ecuador, South America and lived there for 7 years before moving here to Spain in early 2018. To read about my adventures in Ecuador, check out my other blog "Ahhh Cuenca!!". I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live in Europe....across the pond.

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