Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark | Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Monday, May 30, 2011

Passing through

            The man who cleans our house is washing the kitchen floor now. He’s scrubbed soapy water over the  boards and now he’s mopping in slow, circular motions. He never says much, but I saw him in the Patria park today, and he grinned at me. He looked different there, somehow. Buenas, I tell him as I’m leaving. He looks up from the wet floor and barely nods. Buenas, he replies. Once I made him a cup of coffee at lunchtime and left it for him on the kitchen table while he wiped down the bathroom sink. Outside, the sun is just starting to go down. It’s one of Quito’s most flattering lights, with the rays that fall between the mountains.

            There is the man who works at the Saborico tienda on the corner; today he is sitting behind the counter, his girlfriend on his lap. Both are on their cell phones. There are the junkies who lean against the graffiti outside and smoke cigarettes. They wear puffy down jackets and have thin faces and stringy hair, and they are talking loud as I pass them. There are the hippies who lay their necklaces on blankets on the sidewalk; there are their macramé necklaces, their silver cuffs set with stones they found in Nicaragua, maybe, or Peru. They sit, cross-legged and barefoot, weaving their thread. Tom Miller, in his book ‘The Panama Hat Trail,’ recounts a conversation with Alejandro, a man he meets in the lively port city of Manta. “Why do they act the way they do?” Alejandro asks the narrator. “Their dirty long hair! Is it really true they’re from the families of the rich?”

            There are the two white-haired men in black suits who stumble, a little drunk, in front of me. The taller one has his arm around his friend’s shoulders, and as I pass them on the sidewalk one says, Buenas Dias, senorita. I walk past a little faster. Buenas, I mumble, knowing that if the guys were younger I wouldn’t say a word. Despite being drunk, age garners respect here. I hear one of them inhale sharply, and then ‘Que bonita,’ he murmurs, slow and clear. The other one cackles, and I want to laugh too. How smooth he managed to sound, and how young.

            Couples stroll past, or women in suits on their lunch breaks, or groups of guys in skinny jeans and black t-shirts and gel in their hair. I catch snippets of conversations: After I dropped her off at school…he paid eighty dollars for that? My friend Sam told me that, during her junior year abroad, she finally started to feel good about her French when she began understanding conversations she heard on the street. Maybe I am learning something, I muse. Here come two women in cardigans carrying canvas bags full of groceries; I asked her what she was going to do, I hear one say as we pass each other.

         There is the man I saw on my way back home from the school this morning. He's still sitting with his wife at the same outdoor table, in front of the Cafe Amazonas. They're still sharing a 40 ounce Pilsener, still smoking cigarettes from the pack of Marb lights on the table between them. They seemed so white, with their light hair and heavy bellies, but as I walk past them now I see that they've gotten sunburned. I wonder whether they've left the cafe all day. They lean back in their chairs without speaking, their eyes concealed by dark glasses, their cigarettes balanced over the ashtray.

        There is the woman I saw on my way to the bus this morning. She is still crouched against the corner of the Banco Central building, still selling nail clippers and combs and tubes of lipstick and lollipops, cigarettes and gum and unrefrigerated bottles of water. She has laid all of these things out in even rows on a blanket. She wears the typical black wraparound skirt of the indigenous, with the white blouse and navy shawl and folded cloth on her head. Around her neck, she's looped dozens of strands of tiny fake-gold beads, and she wears gold studs in her ears. Her wrinkles cut deep lines into her face, puckering her mouth and eyes. She doesn't glance up at me either time I pass.

            At the edge of the Patria Park, the shoe-shiner is shining the newspaper vendor’s shoes. They sit there in their respective seats, the shiner crouched and working efficiently, while they quarrel. A woman is selling sunglasses from a rack that must hold two hundred pairs. A man with slicked back hair in a gray suit eyes me unkindly as we cross the street. We run a little to make plenty of room for the bus, which careens towards us with the names of its many destinations plastered to its windshield. As it passes, I watch the ayudante – the driver’s helper – who stands in the open doorway, clinging to the bar with one hand as he flies past, his blue tie flapping, his mouth open and ready to shout.

   The man in front of me on the path through the Patria staggers along. There’s something wrong with his foot—it’s twisted inwards somehow—so he must lope unevenly, swinging the bad leg. He’s wearing dark green pants and an old brown t-shirt and he uses his arms to propel himself as he walks. In the grass, a man in a camouflaged army uniform sits with a young woman and a small child. The child stands, wobbles, sits back down, then stands again, and each time the man and woman laugh. Lovers tug at each other’s hands, kiss in the grass or against one of the park’s many sculptures, or shove and then embrace each other flirtatiously. Quito’s not Paris, but it’s a city of lovers, especially if you go to the park.

    The artists aren’t here today, the ones that line up their canvases on weekends and sunny days and then lean against their cars and smoke pipes and chat with each other, one eye always on their paintings. Most of the painters aren’t that good, and a few, to me, are brilliant.

No comments:

Post a Comment