Saturday, June 11, 2011

Washing the Dog

Bacalaitos and Fireworks, by photographer Arlene Gottfried

I was excited to find this article on the TIMES magazine webpage today - a book by photographer Arlene Gottfried about the Puerto Rican community in New York's Lower East Side neighborhood. It had some significance for me, as my father and his sisters grew up in the projects of Avenue D, their family a part of the Puerto Rican exodus, just a decade or two before Gottfried started photographing for her book.

Bacalaitos and Fireworks, TIME LightBox

Bacalaitos and Fireworks, Powerhouse Books

Arlene Gottfried

Sunday, June 5, 2011


I was invited by a chagra friend of mine to Ibarra. He has two champion Andalucian horses who he trains, breeds and parades at provincial cabalgatas. I had the luck to see one of them, Mariscal, at the stable where he keeps his horses along the shores of one of Ibarra’s many lagoons. One of the most beautiful horses I have ever seen.

Monumento al Dolor

Municipal Cemetery, Cayambe

What a strange thing, a cemetery. A monument to death, a monument to pain…where the culture of the living is clearly reflected in the objects they leave behind. I had never before entered a cemetery in South America. There was a baroque excess of detail in bright color, plastic and acrylic paint – cutsie cherubs singing out of tune for the duration of their dying double A batteries, names and dates of death painted by hand onto concrete, golden-framed photos, amateur frescoes of Catholic iconography, shriveling roses in dirty bottles, faded colors of weather-worn plastic, crumbling concrete, crooked crosses, weeds, overgrowing the graves.

It was depressing to me, that people should choose to linger in such a place. A gloomy reminder set by the church of the fear we should have, our cult of death.

Bizcochos del "Padrecito"

Cayambe, Fábrica de Bizcochos San Pedro

“I’ll take you to where the real bizcochos are made,” said my travel companion as we entered Cayambe, a small pueblo in the mountains about an hour and a half to the North of Quito. “All the other bizcochos that you see in the shops along the highway are simply imitations,” she claimed.

We diverted off the highway and wove through the narrow streets of the town center. We parked on a quiet side street in front of the municipal cemetery and walked past a flower shop, a bench of elderly mendigos wrapped in their blankets, and followed the scent of the baking bizcochos through a doorway, a patio and into the shop where an oven stood at one end and an entire wall was filled with racks of cooling bizcochos. They were being baked, sold and eaten, right there, on the spot in a tiny house-complex that belonged to the Father of the local parish.

Bizcochos are something I’ve found to be particularly Ecuadorian – a cross between a cookie and a biscuit, flaky and savory, served in oil-stained paper bags and often eaten with sweet coffee and queso de hoja. They are typical to the area surrounding the Imbabura region.

These particular bizcochos had a smoky flavor and a texture that crumbled on the tongue.