Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen, here they are . . .

We like to think of ourselves as progressive in several senses of the word. Politically, yes. Socially, yes. Personally, it gets a little more complicated - our well-instilled Midwestern mores keep us conservative in many ways. So when it comes to the marriage transition, we have mixed and contradictory feelings. I like my name, but I'm also a bit uncomfortable with the thought of forcibly imposing it on my future wife. At the same time, I want our entire family to be unified under one banner. We have friends whose parents combined their last names upon becoming wife and husband, and we admire the sentiment: two equals becoming one new, great thing. Mostly it happens in the classic first sound of one name replacing the first sound of the other name: Thomas and Benson, for example, becoming Thoson. For us, that would mean something like Gyant or Brentzler, neither of which sound particularly appealing.

And so, as a thought exercise, or as a running joke, we have for the past months considered hundreds of random nouns as potential candidates: Pancake, Coffee, Wineglass, Beerstein (The theme should be predictable to anyone who knows us.) As inherited last names, these are great, but to pick one random object to be our last name for the rest of our lives seems arbitrary and runs a large risk of no longer being cute or funny after a few months. We need something a little more us.

So in went our last names to an online anagram generator, and the first word on the list was, regrettably, REGRETTABLY. The union of the letters of our last names seems to be at first rueful and reluctant. As the list continues, it doesn't get much better. The story that would arise from the longest words on the list would certainly be a tragedy: "The BARRETTE only served to ENTANGLE BRAZENLY the BATTERER and the BETRAYER into an ETERNAL TENANTRY." Alone in its possibility of positive connotation, ETERNAL instead erases the hope for escape from this terrible relationship. Instead of moving ahead, we regress and must RELEARN, things don't improve but irregularly ENLARGE, and the ENABLER perpetuates our bad habits. One ENTREATs such a depressing deluge to mercifully RETREAT.

But slowly and tentatively, the words become GENTLER, they become ELEGANT, though it may all be BLARNEY. Slowly, the GENERAL feeling seems TENABLE; we GREENLY and EAGERLY welcome the REENTRY into our story. There's an occasional BATTLE, we may go on an ERRANT TANGENT, but things are definitely BETTER. Who could resist an EAGLET dressed in ARGYLE? Or a sweet, GENTLE GRANNY?

Then we find it, in the middle of nowhere, the thing we see and instantly melt, whether it's on the street or on a list of anagrams for our last names: BEAGLE.

Who could resist?


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lick Your Chops

Walk out our door. Look across the street. There you will find elote - corn on the cob slathered with mayonnaise and cheese and doused with hot chili pepper. The corn will be boiling in a pot on the sidewalk and a woman and her elementary-aged son will serve you this delicacy on a stick.

Make a left and walk two blocks. Cross the street. If it is a Sunday you will find the kindest, sweetest elderly couple from a farming town outside of Cuernavaca serving freshly flattened tortillas on their wood-burning stove in their makeshift, sidewalk eatery. You will find a table with 3 chairs. Sit in one of them and order the gorditas with Oaxacan cheese or the quesadillas with squash. You won't regret it. Beware of manzano peppers. It sounds like apple (manzana) in Spanish, but it is not. If it isn't Sunday, then I'm sorry, you're out of luck.

Continue west until you see a large spit with bright red meat roasting in the open-air window of a taqueria. Say hello (or hola, if you're so inclined) to Lorena, the owner, and then order at least four pastor tacos. They will ask you if you want everything on it. Say yes. Always say yes. Enjoy your tacos with spicy meat, onions, cilantro, limes and pineapple. 

Turn around and walk back toward the house. Pass it, and continue southward until you reach the Grecian looking Catholic Church. You've reach the mecca of taco stands in the neighborhood. Bienvenid@s. From the woman outside of the little grocery store, order a quesadilla with mushrooms. You may fall out of your plastic chair in ecstasy when you taste your first bite. Brace yourself.  Order a returnable glass bottle of Boing! soda. It is an employee-owned company that laughs in the face of Coca-Cola. 

Hobble your way south three more blocks to the surprisingly modern, undeniably delicious, vegetarian-renouncing hamburger stand on the corner. Order anything from the laminated and uncommonly sophisticated menu. Hamburgers with pineapple, hamburgers with cheese and mushroom and fried onions, hamburgers with bacon and avocado, and veggie burgers for those who aren't quite ready to renounce their loyalty. If you're anything like me, when you bite into that juicy goodness, a few swear words will make their way out. Make sure small children aren't around while eating.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Nuestra Familia en Cuenca

I write this in Mexico, but we need first to bring this blog closer to the present. Before we left Ecuador three short weeks ago, we had the pleasure of spending our last week with my brother and sister-in-law. After making idyllic Cuenca our temporary home for several months, we were pleased to be able to share it with someone from our real home, to merge our worlds, however briefly.

The fate of the trip was precarious to begin with; prohibitive airfare costs and our dubious schedule cast considerable doubt on the whole thing. Then, prices dropped precipitously and the trip was booked, though we had several choices to make about where we'd be and how much time we'd be able to spend with our guests. Then, Molly got her job in Mexico, and we were obligated to be moving out of the country in the middle of their stay. Luckily, we found cheaper tickets on Sunday, buying us more time in Ecuador. Needless to say, it was complicated and uncertain up to the last few weeks, and for four people who are definitely the planning type, to varying degrees, that was enough to make us nervous about it.

But it worked out after all, and we spent our last weeks in Ecuador preparing simultaneously for our guests in Cuenca and for our move to Mexico. We cleaned the apartment, as we would for any guest, but then, in a parody of a deep-clean gone too far, we packed up all of our belongings - sweatshirts and souvenirs and stacks of books that we had promised to sell or trade in, to no avail - and took down the scant decorations we had contributed to the blank white walls - anti-bullfighting fliers and pictures of family and Christmas stockings labeled "R" and "M" that had hung since our arrival in January. It was a strange mix of feelings: eagerness to see our family and nervousness about leaving, the inevitable pressure of hosting on top of the anxiety of an international move. Having seen much of Molly's family in Mexico early this year, I missed my side of the family dearly - even more than I realized, as the visit grew nearer. Despite the innate strangeness of the situation, we were looking forward to our last crazy week very much.

And crazy it turned out to be. Kari and Adam arrived to Cuenca about an hour behind schedule, and we nervously watched the passengers deplane, wondering how they would contact us if they had missed their flight. A hundred descended the stairs, it seemed, before the really tall white guy I was looking for finally appeared.

Our itinerary for the week was packed; we wanted to show our guests as much of the country as was possible in five short days. We'd see the ancient Incan ruins at Ingapirca, the stunning moonscape at Cajas National Park, the incomparable view at Turi, the mud baths at BaƱos de San Vicente, and eat copious amounts of ceviche. Five days didn't seem enough to do justice even to Ecuador's southern highlands, but we were going to do our best.

We spent the first half day on a tour of the beautiful center, had some delicious ceviche, and rested up for a full week. The next morning, it was off to Ingapirca, about two hours away, up even further into the Andes, at about 10,900 feet. Adam wasn't feeling the best, and the frigid temperatures and constant nettlesome drizzle didn't help, and the largest Incan ruins in Ecuador turned out to be about the size of the backyard of my childhood home. But it was on our list of things to do before we left, and it was worth the trip, though a little underwhelming.

International travel, especially to the third world, poses many risks that simply cannot be avoided, not least among them digestive. And so, for the next few days, at least one of us was stricken with some sort of health issue at any given time. We put off Cajas each morning, then decided the best we could do was to see it on the bus ride down to Guayaquil. We willed ourselves up to Turi, then descended quickly. We spent much more time in our apartment than we had planned with migraines or stomach problems. Molly and I fretted that we weren't making enough of our time, but we are well aware that powering through health constraints just isn't worth it for any involved; the person who's sick, no matter how hard they try not to be, will be miserable, and everyone else, no matter how much they wanted to go, will be too concerned to enjoy it. So we simply enjoyed each other's company, sharing stories and playing cards, catching up on the months apart, happily breaking the longest period of time I've ever gone without seeing my big brother. It was wonderful, comforting, just to sit and be, savoring the best, most authentic bit of home while abroad.

The truth is that our lives in Ecuador taught us, perhaps too well, just how content Molly and I can be together, just the two of us, every waking hour. There were (and are) inevitably rough spots, as in any relationship, but a childish giddiness has been the baseline standard for our lives for nearly a year now. Sharing everything, against all odds, has scarcely been an adjustment. Saccharine it may be, but it's the simple truth: we're madly in love. In a way, our daily contentedness has obscured everything outside of our immediate surroundings.

Though we've certainly maintained that contentedness with our situation since moving to Mexico three weeks ago, seeing Adam and Kari broke the spell, in a very welcome way. We may be happy, just the two of us, but we love and need our families immensely. We may be settling in for another year abroad, and proud of our independence, but there's an irreplaceable happiness to be found in our homes, whether we go there or it comes to us, one that can't be reproduced in any meaningful way on our own.

Realizing this, it was deeply and strangely relieving to see Kari and Adam, like they were the cure to an ache I had stopped noticing. Our time together didn't go exactly as planned; it rarely does, in those types of situations. But their presence was simply wonderful, and more than enough to hold us over until November, when we'll get to fully recharge.