Last night was the Festival of Lights (Festival de Luces) at Santo Domingo Plaza in Cuenca. This is an annual event, honoring Our Lady of the Rosary. However, in past years, we always heard about it after the event. This was the first year we learned about the event in time to attend.
The schedule showed that the candles would start to be placed at 6PM. Since we know that almost all Ecuadorian events start late, I wandered over a few minutes past 6 -- only to discover that the setting up was already well under way, with students already 3 blocks from the church lining them up along the roadways. To my further surprise, every part of the schedule was almost exactly on time.
A mass was given at 7:00 PM, and doors opened about 6:30. I was able to enter and see the interior of the Santo Domingo church (above right column). I tried to also find stairs to the upper floors for an aerial view of the lights, but was stopped by a nun who told me "Está prohibido."
People started lighting the candles at 6:30 sharp. As the sun set and it became darker, many people with smiles on their faces had their photos taken among the candles.
Today was the final class of the year for the Coffee Club Spanish class that I attend. Our homework for the final class was to write a short story about some trip that we have taken in the past. The instructor suggested I write about Turkey. Some other students suggested I do a photo presentation to go with it, since I have gained some local reputation for our travel photography.
I agreed, and gave the presentation in class today. I had expected it to take about 10 minutes, but with all the questions (in Spanish, of course), it was closer to 40 minutes. Since only three of us wrote any story (out of a class of four students), that was not a problem. I thought I would show the same slides here, for those interested in the our current level of Spanish.
The Orchid Wall flower show is on display this weekend, running through Sunday, November 27 at the Casa de la Provincia, on the edge of Parque San Blas. As I write this, the show still has one day for you to catch it. If you like flowers, and orchids in particular, you should set aside some time to attend.
EcuGenera is the largest grower of orchids in Ecuador, and is one of the main backers of this show. They claim to grow more than 6000 varieties of orchids, many of which are on display. There are many that are color variations on a theme, such as shown above.
Others are completely different, and I would not have identified as orchids if they had not been labeled as such.
Though technically not part of the orchid show, the metal relief mural in the Casa de la Provincia is also worth seeing.
Tonight was another House Concert from Colibri Conciertos, which are hosted in private homes or boutique hotels in Cuenca. Mara Gano (lower right) organizes these special monthly events featuring talented local (and frequently world-class) concert musicians. This month, 30 guests were invited to the home of Greg and Charlene Redenbacher.
Guests were treated to hear a rare performance combining the charango and piano. The charango is a 10-string instrument, a small Bolivian/Andean relative of the guitar and ukelele. This performance featured Adrian Ortiz on charango (middle left and bottom left), Estefani Ortiz singing South American songs (upper left and right), and Daniel Brito (the pianist and lead musician at every house concert) on keyboard (top middle and bottom middle). Gloria Uyaguari has been Evelyn's Spanish teacher for the past three years, and is the mother of Estefani and wife of Adrian. The family asked us to record the performance, which we were happy to do.
One of the songs performed tonight was Angel de Luz. If you are interested, here are the lyrics for the song, in Spanish, or course.
Tonight's show was a repeat of the sold out performances from 10/30-11/2/2016, which was produced by Laura Inks-Bodine and directed by Clay Bodine of Fishbon del Sur. Clay Bodine introduced the show by talking about how some ambitious expats got together 6 months earlier and wanted to produce a musical comedy. The result was a zany journey of two new expats, Maureen and Frank, confronting the challenges of adapting to a new culture and dealing with the family in the US. Bill Scott was the composer, and Cindy Benson played Maureen, both of whom have had Broadway experience.
The excellent singing, dancing and choreography, coupled with a multi-media presentation of scenes so familiar in Cuenca, made for an entertaining evening. It was hilarious for those of us who have experienced shopping for an apartment and walking 4 flights of stairs for a "view", the spitting healers, the shamans, the fast-talking sales agents, Sno-ball the cuy (guinea pig), experiencing the mercado scene with exotic-looking fruits, unrefrigerated chickens and roasted pigs, and dealing with the parasitos. It was delightful seeing the amount of creative talent, and knowing that expats can choose their creative paths in Cuenca.
Cuenca Independence Day #3
The 2016 Cuenca Independence Day blog concludes with a look at the annual soap box derby. This race always starts on Calle Larga, just a little over a block from our apartment. The contestants race down this gently sloped road for 4 blocks, then down a steeper incline for 2 blocks, make a high speed left turn onto 12 de Abril, and continue another half dozen blocks to the finish line. This is our third time seeing this race.
Today it was raining lightly, which added an element of slippery risk to the race, and the umbrellas came out. The race went on as scheduled (well... as close to "on schedule" as anything in Ecuador is...). After several heats of car racers, a group of four men in drag, plus one dressed as a Cardinal ran on foot behind them. I have never understood the significance of that last group, but they have been the trailing act for every race I've seen to date. (Two prior races were reported here and here)
I started watching the audience who were also patiently waiting for the start of the race. One family with four kids was clowning around and started hamming it up when they saw my camera (middle row). The parents, clearly enjoying themselves with their kids, beamed when the lens turned towards their family. Just before the race started, a group of three mimes came along, and toyed with the audience, accepting tips in an open hat to have their photos taken. They were good enough that I anteed up a bit to enjoy the fun.
Arts and crafts were being sold throughout the city during the three day Independence Day celebration. Many were under city-supplied white tents to provide protection from the sun and occasional rain. Others were in the open, such as the market at the Broken Bridge. There were literally hundreds of such tents and this year (more than in prior years), there appeared to be more "crafts" and lower quality art than in years before.
The Broken Bridge (all of the above block) was probably my favorite area this year, with some better art work and some pleasant music being played by street musicians (lower middle and lower right). We stayed away from the battle of bands throughout the city, as the music there is extremely loud and distorted, with little focus on quality. This year, the higher quality art and food booths were concentrated around the Pumapunga Museum, the Mercadito behind the Todos Santos church, and the plaza next to the Catedral Nueva across from Parque Calderon.
I recorded this one song at the Broken Bridge, as a reminder of the pleasant afternoon.
Cuenca Independence Day #2
The Cuenca Day Independence celebrations continued this morning with a military parade. Apparently, the military parade only occurs every two years. Prior to this year, it was very difficult to discover what special events were going on, and catching them was mostly through serendipity, unless you read the newspapers or listened to radio in Spanish. This year, there were 50,000 copies of a 150 page booklet available at special locations, plus online, which made it much easier to plan to catch events such as this.
As with most parades in Cuenca, this one started late. What was more unusual was the barricades along the sidewalk, with the military police enforcing the audience to stay behind them. While most parades have the participants and audience freely co-mingling, the MPs made sure there was clear separation this time.
The parade opened with various "first responder" units -- primarily bomberos (fire fighters), including an impressive display of forest fighting vehicles (lower right). Then, the parade seemed to just end... Nothing else as far down the road as I could see. After about 10 minutes of nothing, I was about to leave, when I saw a single convertible with two women sitting on the back seat, waving to the crowd. Before they were a block from me, the crowd broke ranks, rushed past the PMs, and surrounded the car to get their selfies taken with Miss Ecuador. ☺
Another half-hour went by with nothing happening in the parade, but when I asked an PM (upper right), he insisted that more was coming. Sure enough, eventually the PM got control of the crowd again, moving them back to the sidewalks. The light military then arrived. These involved the Ecuadorian Special Forces, in camouflage fatigues, some with masks, some with rappelling gear (upper left). Others were riding bicycles or motorcycles, for urban maneuverability.
The heavy artillery unit ended the parade, complete with bazookas (upper left), artillery (upper right), anti-missile rocket launchers (lower left), and anti-aircraft guns (middle bottom). The faces of these soldiers looked ready for a major war movie (middle).
Most of the audience stayed on the sidelines patiently to watch the parade...with vendors hawking plastic seats, umbrellas, bubble makers, baseball caps, food and drinks, with the military police trying to keep a path clear for the parade vehicles.
Cuenca Independence Day #1
The battle for the independence of Cuenca was held 196 years ago, on November 3, 1820. Though the battle only lasted one day, in typical Ecuadorian fashion, the celebration lasts three days each year. One of the first events of this year's celebration was the Desfile Estudiantil, or Student's Parade.
Most of the students in the one-hour parade appeared to be middle school or high school age, with each school having one to three groups of dancers in various matching costumes.
There were also a few marching bands and floats in the parade.
After the parade was completed, I walked to another location where another event was being held. I never could find that other celebration, but did find that the Tranvia (Cuenca's new light rail train) work was continuing at full pace, regardless of the festivities. This project has been plagued with problems -- mostly of political origin -- and the mayor has put the workers on overtime to try and complete it by mid 2017.
We ended the day by attending a show titled "A Night of Comedy and Magic." We have seen a few magic shows in Cuenca, and they are almost always entertaining. From the show title, we had expected three magicians performing magic with a touch of comedy. Unfortunately for us, instead it started with an hour of stand-up comedy, all in Spanish. The theater was packed with Ecuadorans laughing and clearly enjoying the show, but our Spanish was limited. We picked up a word here and there, but it came too fast and with too much cultural nuance for us to really appreciate any of the humor.
The Russian Circus (Circo de Rusia) is in town this week for the Cuenca Independence Day celebration. We went to the Sunday matinee show yesterday, and had a grand afternoon. There were no animals (other than a small dog masquerading as a lion), however there was cotton candy, candied apples, popcorn, hot dogs and chili eggs. This circus is along the lines of a lower budget Cirque du Soleil -- a venue we have seen many times in the States, and always loved.
As with most circus performances, we love watching the reaction of the audience, especially the kids. One little girl emulated the performers in the ring and the mom did everything she could to keep the little girl from running into the ring. During the 150 minute show, the kids (including the older kids like us) were enthralled with the talented acrobats, the jugglers, the quick change performers, and of course, the clowns.
Before the show, rides on the aerial slings were sold for $5 (upper left) and kids lined up for the chance to be part of the circus. Of course, selfies are everywhere (upper right), and the circus is no exception... Starting the show, and appearing throughout during set changes was the inevitable clown, with his ferocious lion (lower left). The lead clown frequently pulled people from the audience -- some of which were playful (middle left), while other times, the volunteer was left in the center stage minutes after the stunt was completed, which was very humorous for all, except maybe the volunteer.... The lead clown later showed himself to be an accomplished juggler(juggling plastic wash basins), with his assistant (middle right).
And, of course, what circus would not be complete without a series of high-wire acts. The show opened with the entire entourage of (very Russian-looking) performers entering the ring (upper left). As the show progressed, there were several high ring and wire performers.
We spent most of the afternoon either smiling or slack jaw in awe with the skill of the performers. We heartily recommend anyone in Cuenca who enjoys being a kid again to see this high quality act. (And, be sure to ask for your senior discount.)
This is a a quickie post to help out those in the Cuenca area. This weekend launches the 196th anniversary of the independence of Cuenca, Ecuador, and whole slew of events over the next couple weeks. You can get an electronic version of the official schedule by clicking here.
It can also be read online is a somewhat different format by clicking here.