Three seemingly routine occurrences on the corner I live near in Quito would have been incredibly rare in Duluth.
The first sight: A young man in his 20s passes the corner of Calle Mexico and Avenada Rio de Janiero playing an 18-inch wood-carved flute. The rhythm’s pace matched his slow stride.
Second: An middle-aged man leading four horned goats on a rope down the avenada. The goats were quiet, while the bells around their necks gave off dull clanks.
Third: Two elderly women in Ecuadorian hats (not to be misnamed as Panama hats) sat husking corn and arranging onions for sale on the steps of a another business. They murmured to themselves.
All sights and sounds, especially the latter two, would never happen on the corner of Second Avenue East and Superior Street in Duluth.
Cover your belch
When the guidebook mentioned “belching buses,” I thought it was in reference to their sound, not the clouds of black smoke they emit.
It’s so suffocating that prior to this year’s season of “Lost,” it could have been an adequate explanation for the origins of the smoke monster.
Quitineos wisely cover their faces on street corners when the buses “belch.”
Who knew these Ecuadorians could ball?
When mi madre, Lorene, saw my interest in futbol mid-week, she asked if I wanted to play basketball during the weekend.
“Sure,” I said, when I should have said “siempre.”
When we arrived at the court, Lorene’s first shot was a hook. It was obvious these ballers weren’t in the era of the two-handed set shot.
In the first half-court, four-on-four game, Lorene, Mabel, Jorge and I ran it up, finishing triente y diez y ocho, 30-18.
Mabel hit on a few mid-range jumpers, while Jorge and I connected on a handful of easy give-and-gos.
Apparently, that fundamental play made famous in my era by Karl Malone and John Stockton wasn’t hindered by the language gap, like our conversations tend to be.
The second game was more of the same: triente y viente y dos, 30-22.
The half-court game certainly kept the effects of the 10,000-feet altitude at bay. I only had a slight onset of wheeziness.
Exactly a week later, I would have paid mucho dinero to play half-court instead of the five-on-five, up-and-down marathon that Lorene insisted upon. This style was not welcomed by this out-of-shape white boy who is used to sea level.
We – Lorene, Mabel, Jorge and the new roommate, Amy from Colorado – started out well. I was feeling like a man after blocking some shots put up by a 5-10 pudgy guy and a 5-5 unathletic guy.
Then, about five minutes in, I hit the wall headfirst. The altitude made me feel as though I ran headfirst into a charge set by Alonzo Morning in his prime.
I didn’t think I could play another game, but I slogged through two more. Now, I couldn’t possibly even jog through another game, but the diehard competitive drive of mi madre gave me no choice.
She stood on the court, with her hands locked on her hips, and said, “Nino Andy!”
I really couldn’t turn her down, not on our last day in Quito. I sighed and pealed myself off the crusty grass.
We began poorly, down 11-4, and Lorene would have put her hands on her hips if she wasn’t pushing the tempo and yelling, “Vamos!”
We did vamos and pushed the win-by-two game into overtime after tying it at 19.
On one of the ensuing possessions, the pudgy guy, who previously had called me for some weak, often non-existent fouls after I swatted his weak shots early on, called another foul on me. This time he did so while I was guarding another guy!
I couldn’t be polite in another culture any longer. I yelled, “You can’t call his foul. Only he can call his foul!”
He and the other guy had no idea what I had just said, but my tone didn’t need translation.
Last week’s example of easy give-and-goes with Jorge, proved that basketball can be a universal language.
The pudgy guy brought out another example of the ubiquity of hoops: regardless of contintent, there will always be one guy who calls everything, even the invisible.
We pulled out the win despite the pudgy guy’s dictatorial rule.
Afterward, Mabel wouldn’t let me escape her joking ridicule. As if me, she gave huffing and puffing sounds before cracking up in laughter.
Lorene didn’t say a thing. I took that as her quiet approval.
I bet you’re asking where’s Pessa in these basketball feuds. She sat out the first week’s game with dizziness, and after being sidetracked by that for a week, she sat out the next week’s with what is being diagnosed as vertigo.
Her dizziness is caused when she lays on a bed and tilts her head to her right. A doctor taking lessons at our Spanish school said it could be a piece of calcium that has lodged itself in her ear canal, throwing off her equilibrium.
Being a bit of an alarmist, Pessa originally self-diagnosed it as a brain tumor. That wasn’t it, of course, but it did sideline her from school for a day and some sightseeing for a few. We’ve gotten some medication and have been doing some exercises that supposedly help relieve the dizziness. We’ve seen slight improvements in her condition. Let’s hope it continues.
Clearing out the notebook
Most Ecuadorians are pretty dark skinned, but most of the advertisements on billboards or TV have very light-skinned, even gringo-shade, models. My Spanish teacher’s explanation was that light-skinned models meet a stereotype the same way toothpick skinny is a credential for lingerie models. She said racism is not a factor. … We’ve yet to see any police cars, with most enforcement vehicles being pick-up trucks. Could that be because they need to use them as paddy wagons for the swine? … With only a handful of Ecuadorian amigos, it’s apparent that their favorite word is “tranqilo.” They believe that everything is or should be very calm and peaceful, a la tranquil. The jury is still out if that’s a fact or just a vocabulary word used so this gringo can more easily understand.