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

Saturday, June 25, 2011


For Carlos

Carlos was right about Cuenca. You’ll find what you need there, he told me, when I complained to him about how stagnant I felt in Quito. I’m not writing anything, I told him, anything good, anyway, and he told me, just wait. Wait for the river at nighttime, the glittering lights that run all up and down it. Wait for the hippies, with their jewelry on the steps that lead to the river; wait for the flowers that twist around buildings. A smile played on Carlos’ lips as he sipped his wine and looked out on the gray clouds that lay over Quito’s ugly apartment buildings. You’ll love it there, he said, and closed his eyes.

But I didn’t expect to, not after these last few weeks. I didn’t expect to be able to see past my own two hands, past the tears I figured I’d always find in my eyes, past the loneliness that I’d prepared myself to withstand. I’d be lying if I said that June hasn’t chipped away at my heart. My relationship shifted overnight, it seemed like, then slid out beneath me altogether, and meanwhile I flew back and forth to New Mexico for a wedding in the course of five days. I visited a Target megastore there, and a little stand of cottonwoods, and the tops of the Sandia Mountains. It was all just so much, you know? Then: a midnight arrival in Quito, a ten-hour night bus to Cuenca, and I discover, gradually, that freedom can bring you to life. I ride across countries, over water, and no one knows my name. It can be so sweet, you know? Being alone.

And here, here, in this beautiful city that Carlos loved, I let the air fill me. The ornate buildings, the cobblestone streets, the huge, white churches lift me up. I make sure that the conversations I have with other lone travelers, or the man who owns this hotel, or the friend I call late in the evening, are enough. And in the spaces without words, without my laptop and a cup of coffee in a churchside café (it’s just the one Carlos predicted I’d find), I stroll up and down the streets beneath a constantly shifting sky.

I didn’t expect it, but I find, in this city, my favorite place so far. I find a place I think I could live, a place to which I know I’ll return. I find four-story buildings with delicate molding built on the sides of steep hills, and I find the muddy river, churning and grass-lined and lit up at night. I find little cobblestone paths that lead to crumbling galleries, and everywhere there are the churches, this one blue, this one white, the one at the top of the hill a rich gold. I find a bakery-tienda crammed with raisin-rolls and stacked bottles of ginger ale and the scent of cheese empanadas. The owners live upstairs and look down at me by glancing up at the mirror they’ve tacked to the ceiling. I find, one day, a dead man on the street, the rain soaking him, and then they take him away and the sun comes out and the city turns and continues. That day, I feel the most grateful, the richest in my freedom and family both.

This week is Septenario, a seven-day festival to mark the solstice. Like so many festivals down here, it’s a blend of indigenous and Catholic history both, and each morning, families arrive with trucks full of two dozen kinds of sweets. Cookies, chocolate marshmallows, biscotti, jelly candy; they set it all up in piles beneath white tents that surround the churches. They will do this each day until Septenario ends, and in the nighttime you can hear sporadic fireworks until morning.


I wait in the park, alone. No book, no friend, no phone—just the clouds that darken one half of the sky. I watch the tiles on the roof of the whitewashed building in front of me: some are amber, some are copper, some are dusted with yellow, and some are bleached white. The tiled roof sits beneath the blue half of the sky, and I think that I’ll remember these clear colors forever. I let Cuenca soothe me, let the steady murmur of it loosen my mind, let the river that leads to the mountains and the fruit for sale on the sidewalk remind me of my exquisite freedom. My thoughts run rich beneath the half-and-half sky, and I don’t feel like crying here, after all.

Esta historia está dedicada a ti, y yo quisiera traducirlo, pero ahora no puedo. Quizás mas tarde hoy, o mañana, pero probablemente tu no vas a ver esta historia en español hasta yo publico mi libro y después traduzcolo en español. Entonces, quizás puedes entender un poquito…y si no, hasta ny, cuando podremos hablarnos en ingles. Gracias por tu consejo…tenias razon...Cuenca, me encanta. No quiero salir; quisiera regresar y comprar una casa, tal vez...un día, y hasta entonces volveré a Cuenca en mi mente.

Discúlpame por mi español. Todavia es tan mala...te extraño; necesito mi amigo ecuatoriano, para practicar español…y tantas cosas mas. Espero que todo este bien con tu familia, tu vida en Venezuela…gracias por todo, mi amigo. Un beso…Katy 

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