December 30, 2010


It's my first New Year's celebration in Cuenca and I'm kind of excited! So I went to Feria Libre to take a look at the hand painted masks that are on sale for the celebrations tomorrow.

There were all sorts of characters, some of whom were recognizable. Above are some of the many faces of Michael Jackson

and I think this may be Elvis?

I'm imagining this would be a good mask to put on a burning effigy for a New Year's resolution to quit smoking!

There's a tradition of men dressing as women on New Year's Eve (I'll explain why on my New Year's Day post). Here are some of the necessary accessories, since for a more realistic look a man might need some additional "padding" on his posterior

and on his prow.

Another tradition is to wear yellow underwear for good luck in the new year. Maybe I should get a pair? I'm looking forward to the burning and purging--I might even find something myself to burn as the last couple of months deserve to go up in smoke.

December 28, 2010

Chordeleg and Sigsig

A few of us had not been to Sigsig yet so we decided to go as a group and stop at Chordeleg for the one friend who had not yet been there. She was interested in taking a look at the jewelry for which the town is best known. We chartered a van but it’s very easy to get there by bus from the Terminal Terrestre as well. We first stopped at the central plaza where we saw this colorful sculpture.

A couple of us went off to walk the streets, as is our custom. Chordeleg is also known for its shoe making and we saw these cobblers working on what appeared to be their own small assembly line.

Walking up the hillside we had a better view of the town, including the church in the central plaza.

This lady’s ensemble, as well as her bearing, caught my eye as we were walking back into town.

Off we went to Sigsig, which is known for its hat making. We again stopped at the central plaza where we saw two of these gigantic metal sculptures. They must have been two stories high at least. I don’t know what they signified but they were quite creepy.

Across the way there is a small amusement park, which seemed to be closed at the moment. I asked our driver if it was actually still operating as the Ferris wheel looked to be quite old and rather decrepit looking, he said “of course”. I replied “but isn’t it dangerous?” and he matter-of–factly answered “of course”.

He told me that this covered wagon is also still in service for rides around the park.

We had heard that there is a “beach” by the river in the town so that was our next stop. It looked like it might have once been a sand beach but it takes constant maintenance to keep sand grass-free so the sand was fairly scruffy. However, it was very clean and the day was wonderfully warm and I could have spent more time there! This little boy has the right idea.

Some teens, on the other shore, had ridden their bicycles and were happily playing in the water.

One of us noticed this newborn lamb, sheltering behind some vegetation with its mother. Its coat still looked damp!

On our way out of town and back to Cuenca we saw the fibers that are used for making hats, hung out to dry and swaying in the wind.

December 24, 2010

Pase del Nino Viajero

This tradicion Cuencana has its origins in 1823, when Dona Josefa Heredia commissioned the statue of the baby Jesus. In 1961 Monsignor Miguel Cordero Crespo decided to visit the most important Christian holy sites around the world and to take the statue with him. He had it blessed by Pope John XXIII before returning to Cuenca, at which point the statue was named el Nino Viajero (the Traveling Child). And so this amazing parade, which honors all children, was born.

It was the most engaging event I've witnessed so far in Cuenca--truly rich, culturally and aesthetically. It brought out the most playful aspects of Cuencano culture and I was so happy to finally have the opportunity to see it this year. I joined some friends early on at the staging area of the parade, before it actually started moving. This allowed us to see details that we might otherwise have missed because once the parade got going the crowds became much denser and it became more difficult to take pictures.

I took so many pictures I should probably post them in two sections but I can't wait! So I've organized them into themes to reduce visual clutter. First, the floats, with their elaborate yet extremely low-tech decorations.

Offerings ranged from all kinds of produce

to children toys

to adult toys

to the ever popular Barbie for girls or perhaps, as one friend pointed out, what some men might also want for Christmas, just the human version!

Then the cooked food portion of the offerings. Not surprisingly, the standard celebratory roast pig, adorned with red peppers and tomatoes for a touch of seasonal color,

followed by a roast chicken with its cheerful red comb and flanked by cuy, all resting on a bed of potatoes (with rose petals strewn around it!),

and heart-shaped loaves of bread.

Lots of animals, including the horses the senoritas rode on

and the mounted police, bearing flags and looking quite dignified.

Then the farm animals with their very own offerings. This sheep carries a roast chicken and lots of peppers (notice the $5 bill wrapped around the chicken's neck)

and the goat and llama offer plenty of toys.

(This llama was very friendly and seemed to really want me to take its picture!)

Lots of home made animals on the floats, some were hilariously "naive" but you had to be there, I couldn't capture the charm in pictures

but I think these were quite well done.

Some women were carrying alternate children, like this doll

or this dog, who actually seemed quite comfortable and happy in its sling.

And finally, the children themselves.

All of whom looked quite spiffy

and downright beautiful.

Best parade ever!

December 22, 2010

Random Acts of...Parading

It still tickles me how parades are ordinary occurrences here. I don't think permits are necessary and sometimes the parades are tiny, just a bunch of people, children wearing what, to me, appear to be random costumes. It's often hard to tell exactly what is being celebrated. However, it is now the Christmas season so I know all these parades are to commemorate this event--what a cognitive relief!

When I first moved here the drill was: hear parade music; run to grab the camera; race up the stairs to the rooftop to get pictures before the parade passed me by. Then the novelty wore off as parades became not so special events. But the itch to run to see the parade is hard to ignore and I'm back at it. The picture above is of one of those tiny parades, which happened by yesterday, the kind that seems to spring out of nowhere and then disappear the same way. One of the things I love about them is how traffic will come to a stand still, with buses and taxis silently crawling behind the parade until it turns a corner.

This one, which just went by, was a long parade however, long enough that traffic became restless and there was some honking.

Nothing too aggressive but given that there is no traffic police to manage the flow, some parade participants had to act the part, calming the drivers and hurrying the small ones along.

This ragtag band was marching around the other day, perhaps hoping to create a parade but sadly, there were no takers on that day.

December 20, 2010

Things That Make You Go Hmmm...

So we're taking a walk, going nowhere in particular, and there's this piece of conceptual art at the intersection of the river and De Las Herrerias street. We walk around it and realize that it represents a volcano, erupting and laying waste to what remains below. There are jagged pieces of bottles, broken toys--the detritus of ruined lives. Okeydokey.

Then we notice, high up, tied to the tip of the volcano, the figure of a woman, hair blowing in the wind, looking remarkably life like. Alrighty then. T'is the season?

Walking along Herrerias street, and as always, peering into any open door, we see the longest interior hall I've ever seen. It curves and appears to have no end. It's not an alley between two buildings--the door is located in the middle of a single structure. From the outside it looks like a a building of average width and size but looking in, it seems like there's a whole other world of doorways inside it. Just how large is this building? Where does this hallway go? Maybe next time I'll work up the nerve to walk in.

And what's going on here? Why are they featuring the buttocks of a manikin on this second-story display window? Is this intentional? Did they not think this through? Why is he wearing a thong and a suit jacket in the first place?

And this intense encounter between a child trapped in a car and a horse. The light changed and the car finally drove away, with the boy still reaching out to the horse. The horse remained, curious and maybe just a touch alarmed.

Hmmm, happy holidays, I guess!