December 4, 2012

Cuenca, Ecuador: We Are Now Residents!

Casa Alonso, Mansion Alcazar
Cuenca, Ecuador
Today we picked up our cedulas, the final step in our move to Cuenca, Ecuador. We now are official residents of this beautiful country. To celebrate, we took ourselves to Casa Alonso, the restaurant in Mansion Alcazar, a lovely historic hotel. The setting is adjacent to the garden and was a perfect place for a special lunch. The food and service were stellar. For sure we will return when treats are called for.

We definitely want to thank our attorney, Gabriella Espinosa, who counseled us before we arrived on the residency procedures and necessary documents; Linda Gonzalez, Dr. Espinosa's Cuenca contact, who helped us with translations and our initial paperwork (so we didn't have to journey to Quito, which was where we needed to file when we arrived -- no Cuenca office in April 2012); and Noshy Pinos, an extraordinarily helpful Cuenca facilitator, who helped us through the cedula process (surprisingly more complicated than the visa process).

We are thrilled!

(More details are coming about our Ecuador adventure just as soon as the dust settles.)

August 26, 2012

Cuenca, Ecuador: It Can Be a Social Whirl

The Coopera restaurant in San Joaquin
August is almost over. Where the heck did the last four months go? Oh, yeah. We jumped continents.

For the "getting settled" part of our adventure, mostly it's going smoothly. We like our apartment; it's pretty and we each have our own office. However, I would change a few things, like the oven that doesn't really work and the tiny one-bowl sink. It would also be nice if the washing machine had hot-water wash, but that luxury is starting to appear only in the newest construction in Cuenca. And, I would like a freezer I didn't have to defrost. And the stove doesn't really simmer. So, I bought a single-burner hot plate for soups and sauces and a toaster oven for grilling and baking, which I am learning to navigate. It's all just a matter of working with what we have.

And since there is no central heating, and we are in winter, we will be scouting out a propane heater for the living/dining room. After we get that, we can actually think of hosting dinner parties and other get-togethers for the new friends we have made. Looking forward to that.

On the positive side, we have amazing Ecuadorian neighbors who have been so welcoming and generous in assisting us with getting settled (and helped me learn how to get the propane delivered — over the phone, in Spanish). Another good thing is that we are on the ground floor, so I don't have to navigate large amounts of stairs on a regular basis (my knees are loving this, and are actually improving). 

We are set back from one of the main drags, which makes getting a taxi a snap — no need to call for one as the most I have ever had to wait was ten minutes. As for traffic noise, we are urban types and actually miss the background of people and traffic if a place is too quiet. In addition, our apartment is close to the main university, so it is a lively student-oriented neighborhood (and the modern university performing arts center is only two blocks away).

August 23, 2012

It’s Jeff’s Fault — Or How I Became a NASCAR Fan

Joey Logano accepting the 2009 Rookie of the Year award
Photo by Jeff Speer

For most of my adult life, I have lived in a world of dancers, writers, artists and artisans, and academics. You know the drill — urban, chic, and totally involved in their creations and all their projects. Not exactly breeding ground for NASCAR fans. Oh, you get the occasional baseball or football enthusiast in the mix, but they tend to keep their friends' awareness of this aberration muted. After all, this is a crowd that has anti-Rose Bowl Game parties each year and looks at Super Bowl Sunday as an occasion to hit the uncrowded museums, art galleries, and even an ice rink or two. Any place that doesn't have a television tuned to the game.

In 2005, I began working as the dance reviewer for one of the two Las Vegas alternative weeklies. It quickly dawned on me that articles with good photos got better placement in the magazine and were less likely to get hacked to ribbons by the editors. But I'm not a photographer, and I certainly didn't have a decent camera or any photo-editing software. Fortunately, though, I was working in a marketing department whose art director, Jeff Speer, was an excellent photographer. I knew also that although he was an excellent graphic designer, he wanted to become recognized for his photos. His portfolio, though, had no performing arts material. However, there were a ton of baseball action shots.

Bingo! So I asked Jeff if he would be interested in taking pictures of cute girls with minimal clothing and an 80% guarantee of real publication. (Thought I would lead with the strongest part of my sales pitch.) After I filled him in on the details, he was hesitant, saying that he didn't know anything about ballet and wasn't sure how the whole thing could work. I explained to him that, just as with baseball, if the player/dancer bends his knees, there was a pretty good shot that he was going to jump in the air at some point. Only with dancers, they do it to music, and a photographer normally gets three opportunities for a good photo, as dancers often do a three-peat of the same step. Oh, and I offered to pay him a portion of every paid article that used his photos.

Within a year, Jeff had won a Dance magazine award for his dance photography — yes, he is that good — and became the official photographer for Nevada Ballet Theatre.

August 2, 2012

Cuenca, Ecuador: The Adventure Continues

On Pit Road at Parque Xtremo
Yunguilla Valley, Ecuador
It's been a busy couple of weeks around here. First, we went to Parque Xtremo in the Yunguilla Valley for the rally races. We took an excursion van from JD's Private Transportation & Custom Outings, since we don't have (or want) wheels of our own. 

Because I told them I was covering the event for Skirts and Scuffs, they introduced me to the park manager, who drove me along a section of the course to the pits and arranged for me to speak with a couple of the drivers, Then, since the races were starting, he did one of those "Hold on, I've got to get you back up top fast, as the race is just about to start." Wasn't a Sprint Cup ride, but we were hauling along the dirt track and just barely made it before the race started. That was pretty fun.
My overall impression of the park and the raceway is that it is like a road course version of the Bullring at a local home track — which is not a bad thing. Was it at Sprint Cup or F1 level, no. But it's a great place to watch young drivers. They also sponsor motocross races  the ups and downs and twists and turns of the course should make that interesting. We definitely will go again.

August 1, 2012

Rally Racing South of Zero

Parque Xtremo, Yunguilla Valley, Ecuador
Photo by K. W. Jeter
I know it will come as no surprise to Skirts and Scuffs readers that there isn’t much in the way of live NASCAR racing in South America. But, we moved to Ecuador anyway. Go figure.

Parque Xtremo
So, as soon as we arrived in Ecuador three months ago, the search was on for any event that had machines with four wheels and went fast. Fortunately, just two hours outside our Andes city of Cuenca, is a track designed for rally racing and motocross — Parque Xtremo, in the warm and arid Yunguilla Valley. Full of twists and turns and elevation changes, the 3.8 km (2.36 miles) dirt track provides for some good racing. And the backdrop — spectacular! A racetrack in a valley ringed by the Andes. So if the race has a dull spot, fans can always admire the scenery.

The creation of Ecuadorian businessman and race enthusiast Jorge Juan Eljuri Jerves, the park acts as a multipurpose event center for the surrounding area. In addition to the regional rally races and motocross events, the park hosts concerts, art exhibits, and disco parties. Which explains the cool sound system, featuring JBL arrays and Crown amps. Sweet. The park also is experiencing a major upgrade these days. Better seating, more and improved food and sundry shop services, an indoor meeting/event center, and a large water park are in the works and should be completed within the next year.

Parque Xtremo has three covered grandstands (a blessing as it was warm and high-altitude sun is strong), ranged behind uncovered seating; below is a stage with a large patio area in front, which looks to be useful as a dance floor. Each section has a good view of a large portion of the racetrack, along with a clear shot of the Start/Finish line. We were in the center grandstand, which was great for seeing the action at the top-of-the-hill curve, along with having a fairly good view of the hairpin turn section below.

July 17, 2012

More from Cuenca, Ecuador

Well, the flu seems to have left our house. Thank heavens!
Just in time, too. Our friends John and Violetta decided that we all needed to get out of town. So we all hopped into their car and drove forty-five minutes from Cuenca up into the Cajas National Park to have lunch at one of the trout farm/resort/ restaurants the area is famous for. We ended up at Dos Chorreras and had the most amazing trout dinner ever. I didn't know there were that many ways to fix trout --- and all the lovely fish were boned in the kitchen. Absolutely delicious.
This past week was also insurance and banking. Banking can be tricky in Ecuador --- unless someone vouches for you, it is difficult to get a checking account without a permanent residency visa. Fortunately, in the process of buying our health insurance ($98 a month for a great policy --- eat your hearts out U.S. folks), our agent referred us to one of the banks here where he is known. (A family member is branch manager.) By Wednesday, we will have our account. Yay us!  

Regarding the other official stuff: We have been approved for our pensioner visas. We now have to fiddle with some more paperwork and send our passports to our attorney. A week or so from now, our attorney will return our passports, after which time we will fly to Quito to make an appearance at the appropriate government office to receive our cedulas (aka green cards). This will entitle us to enter and exit the country (which will be handy). The big benefit will come next year when I turn 65 (K. W., poor baby, doesn't get this one until two years after me). Apparently, there is a terrific retirement set of perks: certain types of sales tax returned each month, shorter lines at the bank, and the best one --- half price on all airline travel generating in Ecuador. Jackpot!

July 3, 2012

And, We're Still in Cuenca, Ecuador

Here's lookin' at ya!
Photo by Eva Schuster
Well, we had a bit of good luck — didn't have to move out of our apartment while the flooring/plumbing work was being done. After much discussion and a whole lot of experts coming in to opine, it was decided that the real issue was the cold water shower pipe and not how the floor was laid. This meant that the main bathroom was torn up for three weeks. 

In the process, it was decided to completely reroute the cold water plumbing above ground, along under the baseboards in the living/dining room area. Not the most attractive solution, but we don't own the place.

The bad luck was that in all of this, the place was covered with dust from all the sawing through the tile. Blech. And, of course, this three-day job turned into three weeks. But now all but the worst of the cosmetics is completed. In the process, we discovered that any project in Ecuador turns into a major group event. And everyone has an opinion. What a magilla! 

Not only were there engineers, architects, and plumbers, plus the owner, the neighbors got involved, too. It appears that the plumbers did two really duff things: (1) they routed the pipes in such an exposed manner that it was unsafe and unattractive; and (2) they used as the water source the outside (not necessarily for drinking) water instead of attaching the feeders to the main line. The other thing they managed was to install the pipe in the shower incorrectly, so it leaked into the wall. So they had to completely tear up the shower again and fix it.

June 15, 2012

Ecuador: Cuenca, A World Heritage Site

Cuenca, a World Heritage Site
Well, we are here in Cuenca, and have begun to settle in. For us, that means K. W. spends most of his time writing, and I am working on some dance interviews, book reviews, studying Spanish, and editing new and backlist titles for K. W. and others.

Winding up our San Francisco apartment, although time-consuming and difficult, was made so much easier by Austin and Aleina who took over our San Francisco place, including the furniture and anything else we didn’t have time to move. Aleina came over the day we left and helped us so much. It was pretty much a circus getting us out the door. She was so much help, and I can’t thank her and Austin enough for their part in our move.

The trip down here was a hassle and a half, especially once we got to Miami. Never flying through that place again. Nasty TSA people who even stole my reading glasses, plus the place was so dirty and the airport staff on the surly side. Until we got to the LAN counter and gate. Going to South America? I recommend LAN airlines. A total pleasure.

When we got to Guayaquil, which is like getting hit with a giant, hot, wet sponge, we were met by the folks from the Sheraton who ferried us to check-in, where we were given the most delicious fresh fruit juice while we waited for our luggage. We then were on our way to the room, which turned out to be a corner suite just below the Club floor. (Our friends Fred and Allison used his Plutonium status at Starwoods to get us the royal treatment. It was lovely.)

March 10, 2012

Cuenca, Ecuador: The Adventure

For those who haven't heard, we are moving to Cuenca, Ecuador, in April. Ecuador is less expensive, has great classical music, Cuenca is gorgeous, and what the hell, we already live in a city surrounded by people who don't speak English. (Seriously, there are at least 5 non-English languages going in our 8-unit building. Hardly hear English at all.)

We have our plane tickets and a place to stay for the first month while we look for something more permanent. The expat community is welcoming — we already have social plans — and I am a member of the iPad users group.

While we are choosing to look at this as a big adventure, it is based on some harsh realities. K. W. and I are in our 60s, Social Security will not support us very well in the U.S., medical care is getting more and more expensive, and we have no desire to eat the cheapest cat food for protein.

Both our unemployment has run out.  In six months in Las Vegas, I had one interview. Someone much younger got the job. In San Francisco, I have applied for numerous jobs from marketing/writing at SF Opera and at Lines Ballet (you'd think that I would have at least been interviewed for that one) to handing out food at Fresh & Easy (which did interview me). F&E and a jewelry store (I'm a G.G.) were the only interviews I've had in a year. I saw who they hired, and the women were at least 30 years younger than me.

So, I have been doing some freelance editing and writing for California Literary Review (dance writing) and iDine (restaurant reviews), which doesn't pay a lot, but it is at least "current employment." Luckily for K. W., he has a writing career of some note. But we need to live somewhere that is far less expensive than the U. S., yet is still pleasant.

We have done our research, and having lived abroad before, are aware that adapting to another culture has its issues. They are not insurmountable.

Cuenca is a city of 400,000 with only about 1,000 expats. It also is a center of medical tourism. There is a state health insurance system, which means the private insurance is affordable. And good. Orchestra concerts are free (and have some interesting rep that we don't hear in the U. S.).

We are getting all our info together for our pensioner visas (good heavens, how did that happen?). Ecuador has a special one for retirees — they like the influx of cash. Cuenca even puts on a special "Gringo Days" celebration each year. And if it doesn't work out, there's always Montevideo.

South America has always been on my bucket list. And K. W. is more of a co-conspirator than a husband. We are selling or giving away almost everything. They have stuff there. The goal is 2 checked bags and 1 carryon each, plus (maybe) one shipment of art and a few other bits and pieces we can bring back once we have our official residency.

March 2, 2012

Mark Bourne: Always Singin' in the Rain

Mark in San Francisco 2012

Last week, our friend Mark Bourne died. While he had had some major health issues in the past, things seemed to be going well for him. In fact, when we saw him a few days beforehand, he looked and seemed fine. Not "I wish he looked better" fine, but really FINE! What the F***!

Like all his friends, and especially his wife Elizabeth and stepson Austin, it has been hard grappling with this Mark-less world. But is it? Or is it just that we can't email him or phone him up or have a glass of wine with him? I do know that he made a difference in our lives, as well as that of many others.

To be honest, I don't remember exactly when we met Mark, but I do remember where. We were at Powell's, in the science fiction section, and K.W. was signing the author pillar. Mark came up to us and introduced himself. Now, a lot of you may not realize it, but K.W. can be a bit shy with strangers. But Mark, in his usual Markish way, didn't pay any attention to K.W.'s initial demeanor. He just smiled, chatted away, and invited us to get together with him and Elizabeth. And so we did.

Parties at the Bournes to celebrate various holidays and milestones, backyard barbecues at the Jeters where much Navarro wine was consumed, brunches at Wild Abandon — many good times. Through it all, Mark was at the center, creating different ways and various combinations to introduce his friends to one another. 

One of the most felicitous stemmed from Mark's well-known love for classic movie musicals. Once he discovered that K.W. and David Delamare were also fans — pick a couple of musicals, lay in the wine, and presto-chango — party time. We were at David and Wendy's place when the guys decided that they formed an unusual subset — and hey, gang, let's form a club — Straight Guys Who Love Musicals!

This guy loved movies!! And it is when watching them that I always think of Mark: The Third Man, the original King Kong, anything Marx Brothers, Fred Astaire, or Gene Kelly, especially Singin' in the Rain, one of his all-time top picks. In fact, every time I watch that film, it never fails. My inner head voice says, "That's one of Mark's favorites." 

We were very lucky that even when Mark, Elizabeth, K.W., and I left Portland for Seattle and Las Vegas, we all managed somehow to keep in touch. It was made easier because Austin was at school in Las Vegas, where we were living. Then, Austin signed on for grad school in San Francisco at about the same time we were returning here. More fun visits over the last year and a half. The most recent was only two weeks ago. Dinner and drinks in Hayes Valley on a Saturday night and coffee in the Inner Richmond on Monday afternoon before they left for home on Tuesday. We spent most of the time talking about happy futures for us all.

Damn. We will miss him.