Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dec. 13

Waiting. Doing a lot of it lately. For the officials from el municipio to come connect the water lines; for los oficiales y inginieros del EmelNorte to string the wires para la luz across the 3 eucalyptus posts I put in weeks ago. And, at the moment, waiting for Carlos, the roofer. Carlos always says 1pm, or 7am, but he really needs to attach :45 to whatever hour he promises. For now, I am grateful for the brief respite, my body exhausted from weeks of some of the hardest physical work I´ve made it do in years, and my brain somewhat frazzled from learning a whole new vocabulary of construction terms and from weeks of making decisions about materials and design.
Despite all the waiting we are making some progress. I am spending money at an alarming rate (and not earning any at the moment,) but I knew ahead of time that this would be the case while putting on the roof, which I think (hope) will be the most costly part of the construction. Carlos is a local carpenter, and he builds very nice and very simple furniture. He also does a more than passable job with doors and windows, and I will have him make all of mine. Roofs, however, are not his specialty, as I am finding out, and I´ve made some major changes in the design of the house in order to get Carlos on his way as quickly as possible without hinting that he seems to not know what he is doing and without hurting his feelings.

All of my roofing lumber (vigas) were cut from a massive old eucalyptus tree about an hour up in the mountains from here by Carlos´ brother Rene. Using only a chainsaw, Rene cuts the vigas to length (3-4 meters) and roughly squares them up out in el bosque. Then he hauls them (80 – 110 lbs. apiece) one by one on his shoulders down from the woods and into the bed of his old truck. He brings them to Carlos´ taller, where they are planed down to their finished dimensions, then loaded back on the truck , and then again on his back, for the trip up to my house. I tried to shoulder one of the shorter pieces and nearly crumpled under the weight. I am a full foot taller than Rene and outweigh him by 50 pounds, if not more. The strength of every man woman and child who is helping me on this project is simply mind boggling.

So, to make a long story short, lumber can be somewhat hard to come by here in Cahuasqui. When mistakes are made or when you find you may have miscalculated, you face either a long wait or a long trip to Ibarra to try and make it up. Imagine my chagrin when Carlos ruined 2 beautiful vigas by erring egregiously in his measurements and cutting the birds´ mouths (with the chain saw) a good handspan from where they needed to be. According to Carlos, to say the vigas are “ruined” is a bit strong, after all “we” can just cut off the bad parts and bam!, good as new - - except of course that they are now rather short and will not serve their intended purpose, a fact that Carlos does not really want to talk about. I tell him that in the US, when I frame a roof, or anything else for that matter, if I make a mistake (and I´ve made plenty) then it is my responsibility to replace, out of my own pocket, the wood I have butchered. His eyes grow wide and his face tightens as he considers what I am saying. I am not asking Carlos to do this of course, because he is poor enough already as it is, but I do take a few moments of perverse enjoyment watching him try to grasp this awesome concept of taking responsibility for mistakes.


Carlos was to meet me in town after lunch, but he didn´t show. I walked up the hill and found him at the house, working along with his brother Segundo and his son Estefan. There were 2 sets of vigas in place up on the roof, and while not perfect, and really not even very good, they will do. Certainly they are far better than the first attempt made yesterday.

Carlos´ sister-in-law Anita is also working up at the house, helping to clean teja. She has become very concerned about my estado civil (marital status), and claims to be a little worried about my living up here on la loma without a mujercita to cook or clean for me, and to take care of the place when I am not around. But what really worries her are the mumias, fantasmas, y duendes who will come to haunt me every night. According to locally accepted folklore my land and house are up on a tola - - a kind of lookout hill constructed by either the Incans or the Caras. In years past a few pieces of ancient pottery, both large and small, have been found up here, along with a smattering of human remains, including the skull we found within the first hour of our excavations around the house. When I showed the skull to Anita she gasped “dios mio” and crossed herself several times to make sure the evil spirits will stay away from her.

All the rest of us had a nice laugh at her expense, and Anitas´ husband Segundo suggested that I find a very ugly woman to marry, one who can not only cook and clean but who can also keep the ghosts at bay. I told him I would keep an eye out for just such a woman . . .

Thursday, December 2, 2010

odds and ends

Odds and ends, in no particular order.

Cahuasqui 5 PM. Oct 31. Up at the house en la loma. It´s a beautiful day, and I´m punching 10 inch diameter holes through the 2 foot thick rammed earth walls to see just how hard it´s going to be to put a few windows in the place. Right now there are none;imagine generations of the same family living in a house almost continuously for almost 100 years and never once thinking “hmm, a window over there might be nice.” Well maybe they did think about it, who knows. Perhaps so many hours were spent outdoors in the daily routine that when sunset came it was a relief to go inside, shut the door and forget about the damned fresh air, the sun, the heat, the cold, and the rain for a little while.

Down below in town the weekly soccer game is in progress, the rivals to the locals having come in by bus from Pablo Arenas or Urcuqui. The sound system as usual is blaring away, and everyone up and down the entire valley is at this very moment listening to “Call Me” by Blondie. I wonder who chooses the music at these things. . .

Ibarra 6.30 AM Oct 1 - The day after the “attempted coup” and I am in the Ibarra bus terminal on my way to Natabuela to work at the hogar de los discapacitados. President Correa has made his triumphant return to the palace and given his rousing and defiant speech, denouncing the striking police and as well his political foes. In the “battle for his release” from the police hospital 4 or 5 young men have been killed, several more badly injured. Correa calls them heroes; he takes no responsibility for the series of events and his own provocations which led to this senseless, and some say choreographed, violence. In Guayaquil, Quito, and throughout the country dozens if not hundreds of stores have been looted, banks robbed, automobiles burned or overturned, etc. etc. Correa, standing late last night on the balcony of the presidential palace - with large screens, cameras and sound systems somehow, mysteriously, already in place - pounds his chest and vows to punish those responsible. . .

The terminal, normally bustling at this hour, is quiet. Wafting sweetly from the overhead speakers, heard only by a few and likely understood only by me, comes a poignant lament from the band REM - “Everybody Hurts.” So true, on this particular morning.

Salinas de Guaranda 1.30 AM Nov 5 - Someone is ringing the church bells. The Padre is out of town, in Ambato, so I figure that one or two of the local delinquents or borrachos are out having a lark and a laugh - but the peal of the bells is so sweet and soulful, totally without malice, honestly one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard. On and on it goes, or so it seems in my half awake state, and before the mysterious bell ringer tires of his folly I drift back off to sleep.

A day later there is an afternoon mass. A matriarch of the town, 90 years old and whose name is unknown to me has died the night before, about 20 minutes before the sound of ringing bells gently roused me from my sleep. And although it is not at all original, I found myself for several days thereafter recalling lines from John Donne “never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”