June 22, 2014

Cuenca, Ecuador: Two Years and Counting

Hummingbird exhibit at
Plaza de Otorongo
Last month, we signed the third lease on our apartment in Cuenca, Ecuador. Landmark! (Hey, for us, two years is longevity. Those who know us well realize that for the sake of their address books, our information should be written in pencil.)

So far, so good. Cuenca is a lovely small city and has attracted and kept a large amount of North American expats. Every week there seems to be a new restaurant, new people arriving, and local festivals. Of course, right now we are in the middle of World Cup frenzy as Ecuador is still hanging in there. On match days, you can see people all over town with tri-color face painting and wearing the bright yellow Ecuador T-shirts. Couple this with the annual week-long Corpus Christi celebrations, and it is one busy town. Many fireworks to commemorate both.

Beautiful globos
Photo by
Connie Pombo
We have been fortunate to make new friends of all ages and from all over the world, we have adapted to some of the challenges inherent in moving to a completely different culture, and have even improved our Spanish. The Spanish is rocky, but at least we can get by on the usual day-to-day things.

But the best part for us is that K. W. and I get to do work that pleases us, rather than work insisted upon by others. Also, our schedule is in our control. For example, if we want to have lunch with friends, we just schedule our work for later in the day — or even for the next day. Time is now our bitch. And it's wonderful.

Yes. We miss our friends. But we have lived in so many places that wherever we live, we will be missing somebody. We are lucky that current technology certainly has made this easier than when we lived in England in the mid-80s and were totally dependent on snail mail and phone calls that needed to be tightly scheduled. The Internet, MagicJack, FaceTime, and Skype are our new best friends.

K. W. misses his favorite
snack. If you come to visit,
please bring some.
What else do we miss? A lot of stupid stuff like Sunmaid Raisins, Skippy Natural Peanut Butter, Trader Joe's Beef Jerky, antihistamines, Pepcid — stuff like that. And a couple of big things. We are culture vultures and very much miss the high level of classical performing arts we experienced in San Francisco, Portland, Los Angeles, the U.K., and even Las Vegas (stop the obligatory snickering —they have some good stuff there — it isn't all The Strip). Small price to pay for all the benefits of living here.

And regular, relatively safe and efficient mail delivery. If you think the U.S. Post Office is bad, just wait until you don't really have one at all. Seriously inconvenient. But, again, we manage.

On the other hand, the cost of living has allowed us to plan for trips that fill the cultural needs and to see friends. In addition, I have the time to pursue a new hobby — making the most of airline miles and hotel points. So far, this has paid for a lot of stuff, including major hotel upgrades and a free ticket to Europe. While I did win a major hotel prize this year, luck can only take you so far.

For those who follow this part of our lives, K. W has reissued his novels Dr. Adder and Dark Seeker as ebooks at Amazon. He is also running a special deal over on his website — sign up for his mailing list and you get a free book (your pick from several). 

I still am working on my first book (nonfiction), copy editing for my freelance clients, and doing some admin work for a local real estate company. Also, I'm the family travel planner so have been busy booking our fall trip, including lining up some house sitting opportunities. Europe, Ireland, and England here we come!


May 18, 2014

Cuenca, Ecuador & Beyond: Fall 2013


Okay. This is late. So sue me!

It's been a great year for us. We are enjoying our time in Ecuador and are adjusting pretty well to life here. While we miss seeing our friends in the U.S. as often as we would like, we have had a fun time meeting new people and exploring an entirely different culture. And, living a large part of the year in an affordable country does allow us to have a travel budget — something that we were missing out on the last few years we were in the States. 

Of course, we are both still working — K. W. at the writing and me at copy editing, writing, and a part-time admin gig for a local real estate agency. What makes our life different here is that now we are in complete control of our own schedules and are comfortable knowing that we have more money coming in than we have going out. In addition, we don't have the anxiety about health insurance and medical care that is so pervasive in the U.S. 
Dream Caused by the Flight of a
Bumblebee around a Pomegranate
a Second Before Awakening
by Salvador Dalí (1944)

So what have we been doing? 


Our main event at the end of the year was the Big Trip. In mid-October, we spent some time in Madrid, then flew on to the U.K. As we had to fly in and out of Madrid to get to London, we split our Madrid time into two sections. During the first, we hung out with our friends Fred and Allison and had a blast. (We hadn't been together since their trip to Cuenca at the beginning of the year.) We checked out the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum where, in addition to the regular collection, the museum was featuring an exhibit on the Surrealists. What struck us most about this exhibit were the textures and the use of light. 


Chocolateria San Gines
Madrid, Spain
And, fun of fun, Allison introduced me to El Corte Inglés, only one of the best department stores ever! We had so much fun! On top of the usual department store stuff, there was a food hall, a gourmet shop, and a full-on grocery store in the lower level, along with a Starbucks and a cash machine. Since our hotel room had a refrigerator, this made things so easy.

The second visit on the way back, K. W. and I drank a lot of chocolate, ate churros, went to a flamenco night (awesome!), and just "hung out," Spanish style.


K. W., Jim Blaylock &
Joseph Remesar
Soho, London (2013)
After seeing Allison and Fred during Madrid Phase I, we headed off to London where K. W. was part of a signing at the Forbidden Planet bookstore. His book Fiendish Schemes, the sequel to his Steampunk novel Infernal Devices, had just been published, the World Fantasy Con was happening the following week in Brighton, and friends and fellow writers James P. Blaylock and Timothy Powers were also in town. The three of them signed lots of books for a lot of people. Afterward, the group from the store and the writers headed out for a fun late afternoon at a local pub. We were able to meet Internet friend and fellow writer Joseph Remesar, who recently published a Spanish language Steampunk novel.


Christmas Decorations
Covent Garden (2013
)
Sunday Roast Lunch
at The Charles Holden
Colliers Wood, London
During our week in London, we went to a concert at the South Bank (Marin Alsop and the Sao Paolo orchestra), met up with a lot of friends we hadn't seen in too many years, did a bit of shopping, had a magnificent Sunday lunch at the The Charles Holden in South Wimbledon (across from the Colliers Wood tube station), and just enjoyed being in one of the world's greatest cities. 

I wish we could have seen more performances, but time just didn't permit it. Next visit, attending ballet, opera, theater, and other events will dictate the schedule. I especially missed seeing dancer Madison Keesler during her first season with English National Ballet. Why did we miss ENB? Well, the company tours a lot through the UK, and everywhere we were  well, they weren't. Our next trip, we definitely will correct this omission.


Shelly Rae Clift & me
Brighton, UK (2013)
The following week was spent in Brighton at the World Fantasy Con. Pretty much the usual con event; and pretty much Brighton in the late fall — heavy rain, 50 mph winds, you get the picture. But it was fun seeing friends from Portland, San Francisco, and other parts of the sci fi/fantasy world. The day we left, the rain stopped, and we had a lovely train ride to Bath Spa.

(l/r) Sandy, K. W., me, and Pete
Bath, UK (2013)
What is wonderful about Bath is that the changes made over the years seem to have been handled with great care. Bath still looks like Bath, thank heavens! The best part of being in Bath, though, was reconnecting with friends. My friend Sandy and I just started chatting as if only a week had passed, not a gazillion years. Same with K. W. and Pete. Their daughters Clair and Sarah-Jane have grown into wonderful women who are raising their own families. 

We also spent time with the Escotts. Les and Rita, along with baby Rebecca, were our first guests when we moved to our Portland house in 1988. This visit, we met the adult Rebecca and her younger twin sisters, too. Again, the conversation was lively, and it seemed as if no time had passed at all. 

And Harold and Audrey Swindells invited us for tea, where we had a lovely afternoon. Their artist daughter Josie was working in her studio (located in the back garden) and popped in to say hello, too. Hopefully, we will be able to meet up with the rest of the family on our next visit.


That's pretty much it for now. Our plans have us heading to Europe and the UK this fall. Yay!



May 9, 2014

Reflections: Blogging from A to Z

Well, that was fun — and surprisingly less difficult than I anticipated. Didn’t run out of ideas, and only had a couple of late postings. Considering my life-long membership in the Procrastinators Union, I actually surprised myself. 

Were all the posts pearls with golden grammar? Heck no. But I did it.

What did I get out of this? Satisfaction that I could actually finish what I started — always a plus. It was fun to discover the range of bloggers participating — fiction, fashion, travel — cool stuff. A special thanks to writer/blogger Donna B. McNichol for encouraging me to give this a shot. And also a big thanks to all of you who stopped by to read and comment.

But the most unexpected fall-out for me is that the A to Z Challenge goosed my brain. I finally came up with a book idea that excites me, while at the same time strikes me as doable. The outline was done in thirty minutes; I anticipate having the book finished by the end of the summer, at the latest. And, of course, I will post plugs for the book on my blog and on various forms of social media. I have no shame.

I do have one major suggestion for the organizers: Due to the large number of participants, it would have been useful to have the blogs grouped by category. Additionally, would it be against the spirit of the Challenge to mandate that missing five (or other number) postings in a row would lead to that blog being dropped from the listings? 

Doing this certainly made for an interesting month. Thank you to all the organizers and facilitators who made the A to Z Challenge happen.


May 1, 2014

Z Is for Zither

"Zither: a musical instrument that has strings stretched across a shallow wooden box and that is played with your fingers or a pick." — Merriam-Webster
Alpine zither


For my last post in the A to Z Challenge, I have chosen to write about the instrument that features in one of my favorite movies: The Third Man. Set in post-WWII Vienna, this classic film noir was filmed in black and white to capture the bleak landscape and devastation left behind after the war. 

The Film
Directed by Carol Reed and starring Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Trevor Howard, and Valli, the award-winning film is considered by many to be one of the greatest of all time. Awards include the 1949 Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix, the 1949 British Academy Award for Best Film, and the 1950 Oscar for Best Black and White Cinematography. The British Film Institute in 1999 selected The Third Man as the best British film of the twentieth century.


The Viennese Riesenrad
Photo by Chris Dixon

In describing The Third Man, noted film critic Gene Siskel remarked that it was an "exemplary piece of moviemaking, highlighting the ruins of WWII and juxtaposing it with the characters' own damaged histories." 





The Score
Composed for the zither by Anton Karas, who also played the solo instrument, The Third Man score often is described as a stellar example of the film composer's art.      
Original U.S.
movie poster

According to a November 1949 Time magazine article: "The picture demanded music appropriate to post-World War II Vienna, but director Reed had made up his mind to avoid schmalzy, heavily orchestrated waltzes. In Vienna one night Reed listened to a wine-garden zitherist named Anton Karas, [and] was fascinated by the jangling melancholy of his music."

And Roger Ebert wrote, "Has there ever been a film where the music more perfectly suited the action than in Carol Reed's The Third Man?"

If you haven't seen the film, I heartily recommend that you rent it from your preferred vendor. And here is the original trailer with the iconic zither theme: 


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A lot of people have wonderful structured themes for this challenge. Me, I'm going with Random Girl. Hey, my life doesn't have a theme, so why should my blog?

And make sure you check out Blogging from A to Z . There are over 2,000 participants in this years's challenge. Whatever your particular enthusiasm, you are sure to find something to pique your interest.

For more information, follow the A to Z Facebook page or go to @AprilA2Z on Twitter and give them a Follow.