I start with an image… a blanket, a rug, a picture, a vase.
Ecuador: Peguche, Agato, Iluman, Otavalo — villages surrounded by tall, snow-capped mountains, blue skies, green valleys, smiling people in fedoras. Black rubber boots and panchos.
And I remember…
Appalachia: a town surrounded by green hills, a winding river, flowers, birds, blue skies. Smiling, bareheaded people. Red galoshes and slick rain jackets.
In the Andes the local curandero makes an altar on a small wooden table. The table has one drawer in the center and the top is set with a collection of religious symbols — crosses and statues, paintings and metal bowls filled with incense.
The curandero’s table with the tiny middle drawer is almost identical to the “library table” I had in my bedroom growing up. I totally ruined the character of my old table by painting it green and covering the top with contact paper, but it served me well as a desk and was always piled with books.
In the Andes the villagers go to market and bring home sacks of chickens. The sack is white and stuffed with straw and there are several holes all around so the chickens can stick out their heads.
I remember collecting eggs in the hen house and getting excited when we found a hen sitting on her nest. It was difficult to have patience, to wait for the new chicks to peck out of their shells.
Bright splashes of color fill the markets and oil cloth covers the cafe tables, depicting birds and llamas, flowers and fruits, mountains and churches.
We sold oil cloth in long rolls at our store in the country. My mom rolled it out on the counter and cut to order for the customer’s kitchen table. It had a distinct scent and was slippery to the touch.
In the Andes men and women gather in markets and plazas to make trades — cows, sheep, goats, pigs. Someone bargains for a cow or two and heads home.
When I was growing up men gathered in the grassy shade on the courthouse square and traded knives. I never understood the excitement surrounding this activity, but it ended well if each person managed to make a trade and take home a “new” knife.
I sometimes wonder about the tradings — and the trade-offs — made nowadays.
Laughter, church bells, street vendors selling ice cream cones flavored with avocado, watermelon, sweet guava, and peppers.
Laughter, church bells, the Custard Shop’s cones of vanilla, strawberry, chocolate and lime sherbet. It’s all good!
I start with an image of the now of someplace else and it invariably leads me to the yesterday of home…and I realize this is about the closest you can get to time travel. A life that centers around the goings-on at the town square has pretty much disappeared in this country, even in small towns like the one where I grew up. But there are places where it’s still alive, where the town plaza is still the place to be, and where, if you’re a local, everybody knows your name. You can get a taste and feel for the 50s, albeit in a different language with different flavors.