A MovieRevue

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, blessings to everyone, Now let’s talk about important stuff…like movies!

And, you know what? I believe it has been worth it every time. 

Please let me explain.

One time, many years ago, I was lucky enough to be present at a taping of “Crossfire” with Chris Matthews when the guests were Matt Damon and Robert Deniro, who were doing the obligatory press flog for a movie called “The Recruit” (thank you forever, Jackie Martin). I came home to my beloved spousal unit, Ray, who asked me,”How was it?”

My reply was, is, and forever shall be: “Robert Deniro is short; Matt Damon is smart; Chris Matthews is not.”

So maybe I was a little bit impressed; maybe I have paid a little attention, but probably mostly I was interested in what people were talking about. So when Ray announced this afternoon that “The Martian” was available for download I was all over it.

And I was not disappointed.

It was a well done movie; a smart movie (I have already gone through the NASA links to get a tiny bit of a grip on the real science); and, best of all, it was a movie that gave me a breath of hope in an increasingly dystopian world.

Please let me explain again.

The news that I, at least, am recently seeing from the United States is rapidly reaching the level of horrifying. 

How can this current farce of a presidential campaign be taken as nothing other than a massive comedy of errors? 

Who cares what brought about the present situation in the Middle East; what are we going to do about it?

Why is the average working person in the U.S. working longer hours for less real income than I had 10 years ago?

I live in Ecuador, where we are well aware that we have sold our souls to China. You think maybe the U.S. Has not?

Maybe I’m just stupid; maybe I have been massively misinformed, but considering what seems to be the “news”, it was a wonderful relief to spend a couple of hours this afternoon being reminded of how good, and smart, and cooperative people might be able to be when they are allowed to do their best.

Yeah, I know it’s just a movie.

But it gave me hope.

 

Less is More

Many apologies to Mr. Thoreau, but…

“I went to Cuenca because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all of the marrow of life,to put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to Die discover that I had not lived.”

Everyone agrees that there are lot of us Expats in Cuenca, beyond that, they seem to agree on very little else. How many of us are there really? I’ll go with 3000-5000, but who really knows? Are we arrogant, entitled chauvinists who are too lazy to learn Spanish? Are we gossipy drunks who are parasites on the local culture? Are we a bunch of chem-trail sucking conspiracy theorists?

Or are we something else?

I think it takes a certain kind of person to be willing to turn your back on everything you have ever known. To say the status quo can go to hell and start from scratch.To refuse to drink the white zinfandel at 4:00 in the afternoon and believe that’s all you can expect after 40+ years of giving your best to whatever soul sucking devil you allowed to purchase your life.

I believe we are that kind of person, and I would like to tell you why.

In just the couple of years we have been here we have seen some interesting changes. One very noticible change is that there are fewer dogs on the streets. Now I must give first credit to the local government, which has at long last instituted some very good programs to help raise awareness of the benefits of neutering and spaying, and adopting a pet rather than buying. But there have been numerous Gringos at the forefront of this movement, adopting, feeding and finding homes for multiple strays as well as avidly supporting several very active rescue organizations in the city.

“Avidly supporting” is a term I can apply to Gringos here involved in half a dozen other charitable organizations. Do Gringos help the orphanages? Yup.

Do they support Hearts of Gold with their food program for the children of El Arenal and the recent distribution of new shoes for the children? Yup.

How about Helping Kids in Ecuador, which supplies much needed surgical care for children in need? Gringos there, too.

We went to a wonderful play the other night put on by the local Gringo community theater. All of the money from the ticket sales, after their minor expenses, went to a local women’s shelter.

And last week Cuenca had it’s first ever Art Walk, allowing something like 60 local artists, both Cuencano and Gringo, to showcase their works in a venue that allowed many people to see them for the very first time. Guess what? Organized by Gringos.

I could go on, but can you see what I’m getting at? Gringos are not by definition all take, grumble and whine. They see things they don’t like, and they work with the community to fix them.

And this tendency doesn’t stop with charitable organizations.

Gringos here make music, jewelry and art, and bread, bacon, pickles and booze. They group together to pick up trash and clean up graffiti. They write, and dance, and take care of each other. They take time to look at sunsets and read good books and laugh.

They live deliberately, and I’m proud to count myself among them.

So, next time you get your fill of hearing about all of the things Expats do wrong all over the world please just stop, and breathe, and think about our little city high up here in the Andes where there are so many of us trying actively not to be assholes.

Maybe that will even make you smile.

Namaste, y’all.

 

How We’ve Spent Our Summer Vacation

So with a title like like that maybe the first thought that comes to mind is, “What do you mean ‘vacation’, these people are retired! Since when do you need a vacation from retirement?!”

Well, in the last two years we have (please bear with me here):

-Sold our home

-Worked through the process of officially retiring from the US Federal government (me, anyway, and believe me, it’s no mean task)

-Divested ourselves of two thirds of our worldly goods

-Packed the rest into storage along with the excruciatingly detailed inventory we knew we would need if we ever wanted this stuff to make it into Ecuador

-Circled the US by car, visiting friends and family and double checking to make sure there was no place in the US that was calling to us as a place to live

-Collected all of those lovely official documents and stamps and Apostilles and notarizations needed to get a residency visa in Ecuador

-Schlepped ourselves and the dog off to Cuenca

-Got our residency visas

-Bought and extensively renovated an apartment

-Bought and had built a house

-Schlepped all of that stored stuff to Ecuador to fill said house and apartment

-Moved into the apartment

-Rented the house

-Completed End of Life paperwork 

-Learned enough Spanish to almost not sound like fools

-Made a whole circle of new friends

-Got into perhaps the best physical shape of our lives

-And basically adjusted to an entirely new culture

DISCLAIMER

The above mentioned actions were the result of the highly personal decisions reached by two individuals after literally years of research, discussion and planning. This is not meant to be interpreted as any sort of advice or recommendation for anyone else. We realize now more than ever that everyone’s situation is different.

 

But back to our story.

 

We had briefly been back to the States to oversee the packing of our containers (yes, the plural there is not a mistake; we never said we were minimalists), and we did treat ourselves to a Valentine’s Day trip to the beach in Peru and a long-awaited trip to Macchu Picchu, but other than that we just kept plowing through stuff that needed to get done. You have to be an Expat here to truly appreciate the amount of beauracracy that must be dealt with to accomplish anything and be sure it’s legal.

 

So, we think we got all of that right pretty much just as the coldest time of year rolled in. Now, please understand that “cold” in Cuenca can mean anything under the mid 60s. The coldest day I remember last year had a high of 54 and a low of 42 but, given that central heating here is almost non-existent, I spent that day under a down comforter in front of a space heater, whining. This year I wanted my July and August to be spent someplace considerably warmer.

Welcome to Loreto, Mexico.

 

No, we have not been here since we left Ecuador a month ago. We actually just rolled in last Sunday; so let’s backtrack a little.

 

Seeing friends was our main agenda for this trip, so we started in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle is lookin’ good

 

Too many people, though. Cuenca is just the perfect size for me these days; big enough to have schools, museums and symphony orchestras, but small enough that you bump into people you know almost every time you leave the house.

 

Anyway, we saw my college girls and my dear niece and, like always, we were so busy talking I forgot to take pictures. It was as easy as ever to find Cathy and Doug’s house,

and the weather was beeootiful!

 

We did some power shopping, of course. Merry and Andrew took us to World of Spices near the Pike’s Place Market and we loaded up on some things that are hard to find in Cuenca (Guajillo Chilis, curing salt, etc.). Since Ray has lost 60 pounds in the last two years he pretty much needed a whole new wardrobe (clothes to fit a 6’3″ man are not so easy to come by in Ecuador), and I was sick of the same long sleeved t-shirts and light sweaters I’d been wearing during that same time frame, so I did some serious damage to more than one Chico’s. I was also lucky enough to reconnect with a friend from my home town that I’d lost track of for quite some time, so I can proudly say my best friends have been my best friends for almost 50 and 60 years, respectively. How lucky I am!

After about ten days it was time to head down the coast to Portland to spend a few days with Lynn and Harry. They are starting to work on the whole sorting out and downsizing thing themselves. Not for expatrition purposes, but the work is the same, and the work is daunting. How did so many of us accumulate so much stuff? Probably by doing too much of that power shopping from the last paragraph; you’d think I’d learn…sigh.

And God bless Lynn and Harry, even with all of that to concern them they took time out to make sure we could get some of our favorite foods that just don’t seem to make it to Ecuador, like Dim Sum and fresh Alaskan salmon grilled on the deck and six kinds of yummy cheese with wine beore dinner. Have I mentioned that I’m very afraid of going back to Pilates after this little vacation?

Anyway,after some fine meals and finer talks with the Beloved L and H our next stop was San Jose and the gorgeous and brilliant granddaughters.

Baby Zoe is due in October and Alexa is very excited, as we all are. I’m sure she will be yet another beautiful and smart addition to the family. Ray Lewis does make beautiful children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren!

 

And Laura has this friend John, who happens to be with the Oculus Group at Facebook, sooo…

we got a little tour. That place is amazing! How would you like to work here?

They have racks of bicycles so you can just grab one to ride between buildings,unless you have to go under the freeway to the newer buildings. For that you take a shuttle that starts playing the theme from “Jurassic Park” as you enter the tunnel.

Anyway, Oculus has been developing Virtual Reality programs pretty successfully, and guess who got to play?

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have entered the Matrix.

At any rate it was awesome fun. thank you guys!

There just aren’t enough pictures in this post, are there? 

So let’s move on to some more.

Next stop was Los Angeles and that great view from the top of the Standard Hotel. We only had a few days here, but they were busy ones. Our friend Michelle is not just an artist, she is a force of nature. So there were amazing exhibits to see and stories to hear and possibilities to discuss, culminating in a birthday celebration for the Bishop of her church. Concerning organized religion, Ray and I have always just said we’re not very good joiners, so we had never experienced anything like the phenomenon that is the West Angeles Church of God in Christ. Michelle has been a member of the choir there for years and credits the Bishop with getting her through some very rough times very successfully. Obviously she is not the only person he has ever helped. It wasn’t a full house; there were only 7000 people there, but there was some major celebrating going on. It was technically a church service so I didn’t want to take a bunch of pictures, but this one I couldn’t resist.

That is a picture of Stevie Wonder singing Happy Birthday to Bishop Charles E. Blake as Bishop Blake is blessing him. This being after a bunch of birthday tributes from all kinds of people, including Samuel L. Jackson and Magic Johnson.

It was just an amazing experience. The service lasted five hours and it seemed like minutes. And what does a good bishop do when he has kept his congregation in church until midnight? Why he serves them sandwiches, punch and cake before they head home.

Speaking of food yet again, Perrin and I REALLY wanted Ethiopian, so our final day Ray and Michelle indulged us.

Do I detect a look of long suffering patience on their faces? I don’t care; it was delicious!

 

So now we’re here.

And we can be slugs for two more weeks. But we’re starting to miss home now; we’re definitely missing Commander Barkley of the Lost Planet Canines. Gringo Post is the first thing we look at every morning because that’s kind of our home town news, and I’m in withdrawal from Trivia Night at Roux. So thanks for reading all the way through this saga. I’ve really not kept up with the Blog thing for some time now. Maybe I’ll try to do a little more in the future because, as always, we miss our friends and family no matter what continent they’re on, and we want to poke our noses into your lives every twice in a while so you won’t forget us.

We still love you, Man.

So this Happened

John and Pam Stivers had over 30 years together, the last one of which was spent here in Cuenca. We met them one night when the two of us were having a quiet dinner downtown. This woman just suddenly walked up to our table and asked, “Are you two newlyweds?”

We smiled and explained that we’d actually been together 25 years.

“But you’re still holding hands! John! Look! They’re still holding hands!”

At which point the man at the next table who was obviously her husband smiled, nodded, and raised his glass.

And so it ever was: Pam, the life force; John, the pillar of calm and strength.

We were friends from that moment on. Not in- your- pocket- everyday friends, but friends who were always glad to see each other. One of the best parts about living here is that there seem to be a great many of us “Gringos” who enjoy getting together but still cherish our independence and quiet time alone, just with ourselves and our life partners.

So it’s easy to imagine that when Pam woke up in the dark of the wee morning hours before dawn on Easter Sunday to answer Nature’s call (as we all do more often now), she noticed that the covers had slipped off John’s arm and, not wanting him to get chilled, on her way back to bed she stopped on his side of the bed to tuck his arm back in. But his arm was so cold… so very, very cold.

There was panic, of course. And frantic attempts at CPR; waking the neighbors;, calling the ambulance, and then the many, many phone calls to friends and family. Pam did it all with strength and grace and unimaginable grit. We didn’t see her in person until John’s memorial service yesterday, where her main concern seemed to be that we all appreciate how much so many people had done to help her in this difficult time. Pam was her own pillar of strength and calm.

Each of us who comes here in the “Tercera Edad” has to have had a scenario like this briefly run through his or her mind at least once. At least in this Time-Space continuum, there is always a final curtain. We can only hope to rise to the occasion as bravely and gallantly as Pam has. I know I have repeatedly requested of Ray Lewis that he promises to let me die first, and he has repeatedly replied that he really doesn’t have the power to make that promise. I hate that answer.

So today my promise to myself and my wish for anyone reading this is to have enough good sense and awareness to appreciate every, and I mean EVERY, moment with our friends and loved ones. And, even more importantly, to be kind to one another. I know it sounds sappy but I just don’t have a clever way to put it. Whatever comes after we leave this life, I hope we all have the good sense to leave without regrets.

And, if at all possible, to leave still holding hands.

That Was the Year That Was

If you had told me ten years ago that one day I would be standing on my terrace at midnight, with the person I love most in the world, watching while the sky over an entire city came alive with fireworks…well, I imagine I would have looked at you funny.

But here we are:

  

 

 

Every holiday here is pretty special, but the whole Christmas through New Year time frame seems like a true through the looking glass experience.

Like that top picture up there a ways is an “Ano Viejo”, or “Old Year” effigy, burning. You see, whatever bad JuJu you may have collected in the past year you can just magically transfer into the effigy and then just burn up; start fresh; take a Mulligan, as it were. I think that tradition should spread everywhere. And look, you can choose the face of your evil:

 

 Cool, huh?

This is also the  season that this town that loves parades really kicks that part into gear. I posted many pictures last year from the Paseo del Nino parade that lasts literally seven hours or more. This year we were charmed by the little mini-parades that seemed to pop up everywhere. Maybe a dozen people, a clown if you’re lucky, and always the beautiful children: 

 

How can you not be enchanted? 

Of course, in between all of the photo ops there is party after party after party. Being retired is wonderful but it also means that every night can be Saturday night if you choose. I’m choosing to give my liver a little bit of a rest now, although I enjoyed every minute of this whole holiday season. 

Our holiday season also always includes our wedding anniversary. This year our marriage came of age, twenty-one years. Every day I am still so very grateful for the funny, brilliant, talented, exasperatingly eccentric man who stood in front of a greasy Justice of the Peace with me while I shook in my shoes with trepidation (What am I doing?!! Save me!!!). It’s been an amazing ride that still seems to get better each year. Case in point, we get to live in Ecuador!

Look how cute we were:

 And how young!

So many adventures since then. What is that thing the Chinese say about living in interesting times? I don’t care; I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

So I hope your holiday season was as fun as ours. I hope you didn’t hurt yourselves too much. And I truly hope this year will be one of the best of your lives.

Make it so.

 

Happy Holidays

Hope everyone back in the old stomping grounds made it through the holiday travel rush, Thanksgiving dinner, Black Friday and all of the football games with nary a scratch, as they say. It honestly makes me tired just to think about that holiday merry-go-round. My thankfulness this weekend is mostly for the ability to redefine how we celebrate the holiday season, just as we have redefined almost everything about our lives over the past year.

That certainly doesn’t mean we missed out on turkey dinner; we are enormously grateful to our friends Max and Stephanie for inviting us to share dinner with them. Mostly because they are excellent cooks, but also because we were otherwise engaged in the days leading up to Thanksgiving:

 Yup. Macchu Picchu is now off the Bucket List. We had a five day trip centered in Cuzco and got to see almost everything we wanted in the Sacred Valley. I’m so glad we did it, and even more glad we did it now, while we still can. As you can see from the background in the picture it was all down, then up, then down again every day. And impossibly chirpy guides saying things like, “Only 200 steps up this staircase to the Temple of the Sun!”

Don’t these people realize I peaked thirty years ago?

But look:

It was way worth it.

And of course, idiots that we are, we chose a walking tour of Cuzco itself. Now Macchu Picchu is at about 8400 feet, just like Cuenca. But Cuzco is at 11,000 feet and change. And, of course, we happened to share that tour With two dozen kids in their twenties who were leaving the next day to do the four day hike into Macchu Picchu through the Sun Gate.

See us? Second row on the left? The old ones? But we kept up, by God, and never needed oxygen once! 

So we have that to be thankful for.

We also had the time when we got home to decorate for Christmas. Again, thankfully, gone are the days of so many decorations it took a week to put them up and another week to take them down. We brought with us only the special ornaments we have been buying, one per year, to commemorate big occasions in our lives. They all fit on the tiny fake tree we bought a couple of weeks ago (live Christmas trees here…not so available).

And our ornament for this year? Glad you asked:

So here’s wishing you a holiday season as pleasant as ours has been so far. We are having an Open House December twentieth; I promise to tell you all about it.

In the meantime, please hold each other close and smile at strangers in the street; it’s good for your blood pressure and even better for your Karma.

Happy Anniversary

This week we have officially lived in Cuenca for a year. So it seems like a good time to do what every ex-pat who reaches this point probably does: sit back, reflect on the past year and think about what may be to come. This may very well be the most boring and introspective post I’ve ever done, so be warned… it could be that beyond here there be monsters.

Let’s divide this up into three areas:

New country, new language, new culture.
Spending 24/7 with the same person for a whole year.
“Mom, will the kids at my new school like me?”

Every person who decides to expatriate to anywhere does it for a unique set of reasons. That’s actually one of the best parts about meeting people here; everyone has his or her own story. Now that I think about it, of course everyone everywhere has his or her own story, it’s just that here we seem to have both the time and the inclination to listen them. The question “So what brought you here?” is pretty standard and, I believe, mostly welcomed. And, Oh, some of the stories you get to hear!

For myself, coming here had a lot to do with a secret belief I have that people are a lot like sharks; if they don’t keep moving forward they die. So why retire and live in the same place doing the same things you’ve done for so many years? Go big or go home. Immerse yourself in everything new and see how you do. Choosing Ecuador was one of the best things we ever did. There is so much to see and do just within these borders it will take years to see it all, and every day is  a new adventure. And look:





Not bad, Huh?

The new language part is still hard. Our Spanish speaking friends tell us we’re doing much better, but the old brain just doesn’t seem to glom onto things as easily as it used to. We will actually be starting the Intermediate level in our Spanish class next week, but there are miles to go before I will even feel conversant. As usual, I have no problem just diving in and trying to say something but, more often than not, as soon as the words are out of my mouth I realize I used the wrong conjugation or mispronounced something or used a feminine article with a masculine noun or, or, or. Good news is they say learning a new language is one of the best ways to combat an aging brain. Lord knows I need that.

Adapting to a new culture is a work in progress. The people here are gracious, and welcoming, and rarely on time, and horrific drivers. They invite you to their homes at the drop of a hat, and walk down the street arm in arm, taking up the whole sidewalk and leaving you no room to get by. They party until four in the morning, and complain if your dog barks when someone knocks on your door. Do I get it? Hell no…but I always remember that the first rule of retirement is “Try not to be an Asshole”. It seems to be working.

Spending 24 hours a day with the man I promised to Love, Honor and Cherish is a much easier thing. We always said we were best friends, but for over twenty years we spent what?… maybe five hours a day together when we were actually awake. It was a great relief to find that we truly enjoy each other…after all these years. I hear some people get an unwelcome suprise when they get here, and some of them don’t make it. We’re very grateful it was easy for us, but then, I’m so lovable who wouldn’t get along with me, right?

That brings me to the last thing I wanted to talk about: “Will the new kids like me?”. The good news with that is that at this point in my life it’s more about “Will I like them?”.
There are several thousand of us Geezer Ex-Pats here; exact number depends on what source you’re looking at. It stands to reason that some of those people you’ll like, and some you won’t. We’ve found those people we like to be around (and we are around them often), and those people we just kind of smile and nod at. Isn’t it the same for everyone everywhere? This isn’t rocket science. I think making new friends gets easier the older and crankier you get because at this point I, at least, am in no mood to suffer any fool gladly. That being said, the First Rule still stands… sometimes I REALLY try hard not to be an Asshole. Hopefully it’s working.

So, so far, REALLY good. What’s next? Why, the Bucket List, of course! Next month we head to Macchu Picchu; I promise to take pictures. We’ve booked a cruise for next year that leaves from Buenos Aires (Paris of the Western hemisphere) and goes all the way around the continent to Lima. Galapagos Islands we will fit in between, along with Banos de Ambato, where I promise to go zip-lining through the jungle.

Still miss everyone back home, though. Please know I have become a Facebook junkie, and I peek in on all of your lives with great interest. Stay well, stay happy, and know that a couple of strange old coots send good thoughts your way everyday.

We love you, Man.