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Travel and Photography by Burt and Evelyn Johnson

Nomadic Art

The Musical Nomads opened their Cuenca home tonight for an evening of art, music and food. They are one of our favorite local bands, performing "Classic Hits For All Occasions" (the byline on their business card).

They had a sold-out crowd for the event. Everyone first socialized while walking around the improvised art gallery, then sat and listened to the Nomads. The second half of the music cleared the chairs and the dancing started.

 Two artists were displaying their work, Dale Lance as a painter and Tom McNaughton showing metalwork.

Almost all the songs played by the Musical Nomads tonight were ones I have in my iTunes collection.  They included such songs as:

Here they performed Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard (Paul Simon) tonight for us.

Could be a Wedding. Could be a Divorce. Who Knows?

Another day in Cuenca, another parade it seems.  Last night we heard music blaring from Parque Calderon in the center of town, with fireworks later. This morning we heard a band going by at 5:15AM, but rolled over and went back to sleep.  This afternoon I walked out my front door and discovered the largest parade I have seen since February passing by half a block from our front door.  I walked down and snapped a few images.

I realized the parade started (and later ended) at the church by the Flower Market a block from Calderon.  I walked over to the Don Colon restaurant and talked to the owner (Don Colon...) asking if he knew what the parade was about.  "Could be a wedding. Could be a divorce. Who knows? They celebrate everything with a parade here!"

We have often noted how we only find out about celebrations when they are under way around here.  We have asked several Cuencanos about it, and always get a shrug and a statement that they don't know either.  Here was one more example of a local not knowing what was going on literally next door to him...

This particular parade took up three blocks, and consisted of six different bands playing.  They all played the same music at the same time, so at least it wasn't a cacophony, but did make it rather loud...

The parade also had a couple of floats, and horses, and people dancing, and marching with banners (that appeared to be celebrating the Pope?).  At the end was the traditional Child Jesus statue, carried by 16 military officers, which was followed by perhaps a hundred other military men in uniform. 

That statue gave the clue to the true meaning of the parade.  Each church has a celebration on its "Saint's Day," which is the day set aside for the saint the church was named after. On that day, they parade their Child Jesus statue around town.  Apparently, this was their day.  Indeed, upon further research, I found it was in celebration so "Virgen del Carmen de la Asunción."

Evelyn’s First Art Expo

After years of having friends try to convince her to have an art showing, Evelyn finally caved and had her first opening reception tonight.  After weeks of being nervous and fearing nobody would come or like her work, she sold 6 out of the 14 she displayed within the first 3 hours -- far more than either of the more two established Peruvian artists she was exhibiting with.

These are some of the paintings Evelyn displayed tonight. Sara, in the lower right, is placing the 'sold' sticker on one that she bought.

Freddy Llerena and Alexander Sucasaire also exhibited in the same show.

Turn-out was great, with pretty much everyone we knew showing up to support Evelyn

[Recipe] Chicken Tetrazini

This is a pasta dish that Evelyn used to make in California using the leftover turkey from Thanksgiving or Christmas.  When I started cooking, this is one of the recipes I got her to teach me.  Of course, I made a few modifications in the subsequent years.  For one thing, I no longer wait until we have turkey.  Since we often have chicken in Ecuador, but rarely turkey, one simple change was to now use chicken as a base.

The shopping list includes:

  • Spaghetti, 10 oz
  • Mushrooms, 10 oz sliced thin
  • Chili, 2 small, chopped
  • Butter, 5 tbsp
  • Flour, 1/4 cup
  • Milk, 2 cup
  • Chicken Broth, 2 cup
  • White wine, 1 cup
  • Chicken or Turkey, 3 cup coarsely ground
  • Peas, 1 cup
  • Parmesan Cheese, 2/3 cup
  • Bread Crumbs, 1/3 cup
  1. In a large saucepan, cook the mushrooms in the butter over moderate heat, stirring for 2 minutes.
  2. Stir in the flour and cook the mixture over low heat for about 3 minutes.
  3. Add in the milk, broth and wine, while stirring.
  4. Bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer the sauce for 5 minutes.  If the mixture is too thick, you can add more broth.
  5. Mix in the turkey, chili, bread crumbs and peas.
  6. Meanwhile -- cook the spaghetti in a pot until al dente, then drain well.
  7. Mix the spaghetti, sauce and parmesan cheese in the saucepan well.

I usually double the recipe, using a full package of pasta, giving us plenty of left-overs.  Those are packaged in meal-sized containers. When ready to reheat, add a little water and microwave until hot.  Tastes just good as the first day, as the juices get absorbed by the pasta.

33 Stages, 83 Bands, 2 Days of Music

Alliance Francaise is an international group that promotes French culture and language.  Their Cuenca branch put on a massive music festival the last two days. There was very little tie-in to anything French, but there was music for everyone -- jazz (our favorite), rock, metal, rap, electronic (actually a DJ when we went by that stage), folk, and pretty much anything else you can think of.  We offered to shoot some publicity photographs for the Alliance, and received press passes giving us pretty much free access.  We wandered from stage to stage and had a great two days of music.

Here are a few of my favorite images out of the 1,993 that we shot, and 50 that we provided the Alliance.

Setenario Celebration (aka Feast of Corpus Christi)

Corpus Christi is a major Christian holiday in Ecuador. The celebration starts when the local Bishop leads a procession through downtown to the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception (aka "New Cathedral")

Following the Corpus Christi procession, the celebration of Setenario begins, as family businesses begin bullding castles.

Castles always bring out large crowds to watch -- and photograph the event.

Wherever people gather in the streets of Cuenca, you can count on blaring music and impromptu dancing.

Once darkness sets, the castles are lit. Note above how close they are to cars and people. Very little concern for firework safety here...

Fireworks are shot overhead too. I was hit twice by burning embers falling -- which is why I now always go to these with a cotton jacket (no nylon down jackets allowed!)

Setenario celebration centers around sweets, and after the fireworks, people wander dozens of newly set up tents filled with sugar in all forms.


[Recipe] Locra Papa

"Locra" means "thick soup", so one should never say "Locra Papa Soup."  Rather, it is simply "Locra Papa -- the best soup you've ever tasted!"

On May 23, I published a blog entry talking about a cooking class I took at La Warmi for locra papa.  I promised I would post the recipe once I had tried it at home.  Here is the fulfillment of that promise.

The ingredient list includes Achiote.  I have never heard of this before coming to Ecuador, and I doubt it can be purchased in most grocery stores in the US. It looks like a dark oily liquid.  The teaching chef said that its main purpose is to create the final color.  As such, if you can't find it, try making the locra without it.  Perhaps something else could be used to create the color if you really want the authentic appearance.

Ingredient List:

  • 3 cups potatoes -- peeled and cubed
  • 1 red onion -- chopped
  • 1 clove garlic -- minced
  • 1 tsp Achiote
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seed
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp salt (or I substitute Slap Ya' Mama for salt in almost all recipes)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup cheese (Original La Warma recipe calls for "Farmer's Cheese," but I couldn't find any and used Taco cheese instead)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1-1/2 cup water (important to measure!)
  • 1 avocado

Note: Be sure to measure the water used.  If you use a different amount of water than the 1-1/2 cup indicated, adjust the milk, cream and cheese accordingly.

  1. Wash the potatoes once cubed.  Rinse until water is clear.
  2. Heat the oil and achiote.  Add onion, garlic, cumin, oregano and salt. Cook until onion is soft (about 5 min).
  3. Add potatoes and cover with water (this is where you measure how much water you use, and adjust all later ingredients if needed).
  4. Cook for 15 min.
  5. Add the milk and simmer for 5 more minutes.
  6. Remove from heat. Add cheese and cream.
  7. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Add avocado to serving bowl before placing on table.

Museum Walk

While in California for Kerry's graduation (see prior blog post), a couple of friends from Oregon came down to visit. Together, we went to two museums, along with a tour of the Santa Cruz wineries.  The first museum we visited was the Computer History Museum in Mountain View (Wikipedia and Yelp both have more info).  If you have any semblance of nerd in you, this is a must-see stop in the San Francisco Bay Area.

It had a well done presentation of computers from ancient history through the present.  Personally (as a computer software developer for more than 40 years), I was most interested to see all the historic devices on display whose models I owned or used in their heyday.  The first keypunch I ever used when working in college was there.  As was my first SOL computer, HP calculator, ALTAIR, computerized chess board, PDP-8, Mac, etc, etc, etc...

The next day we went to the Disney museum in San Francisco.  It was also a bit of a surprise, taking much longer to go through than expected (we spent more than four hours there).  I basically grew up with Disney cartoons, and went to Disneyland as a child in the late 50's, but really didn't know much of the man or company other than the products that came from it.  Walt was described by almost all colleagues as "a nice guy."  He was also a visionary who saw beyond what others could, and then convinced others to follow his path.

He had several bet-the-company projects (Snow White, Mary Poppins, Disneyland), and had several setbacks. His first successful cartoon -- Oswald the Lucky Rabbit -- was stolen from him, which spurred him into creating Mickey Mouse. A strike closed the company in 1941.  Almost immediately after that was settled, the start of WWII almost closed him again.  He succeeded in changing direction for the war, which almost resulted in his going out of business yet again when the war ended.  Each time he rose to the challenge and changed the direction of the company to make it stronger than before.

School’s Out!

Kerry Jones, our favorite niece (OK, our only niece, but still our favorite!) graduated high school today.  After this week, she is officially a college student, attending University of California at Santa Barbara.  She will be majoring in chemistry in the College of Creative Studies.  With fewer than 350 students, this is a very elite school to get into.

We flew from Ecuador to California for this once-in-a-lifetime event.  After the last few cool months in Ecuador (where we are entering Winter), it was a shock to sit in the bleachers on a June Sunnyvale Summer, but worth it to see her reach this milestone.  After the formal celebrations and speeches, Kerry walked around the quad meeting friends and taking "one last photograph" with them.

Kerry with her High School friends.

The family was all there to help celebrate her graduation too.

We then went out together for dinner with the extended family, before Kerry left for her all-night Senior Graduating Party.

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