A typical day in the Old Town area of Quito involves passing by Romanesque churches with towering arches and intricate rose windows, juxtaposed with small shops and helado venders, occasional cobble street roads, and narrow paved streets flowing through a tall valley of multistory edificios. Spanish-Franco architecture elegantly blankets the tiendas with pastel hues of peach and sky blue, finished with adorned balconies. A typical day involves taking numerous taxis, which are just about as common here as in New York. It also includes witnessing black clouds of smoke that offend the lungs, perpetually exhaused by sardine packed buses, underneath the perpetually creamy white clouds that blanket the Andes verdes. Taking the bus this morning blasting Michael Jackson’s eighties hit “Beat It”–bus rides are always an interesting experience, involving passing vendors, guitarists, and the occassional beggar–I pondered all the curiosities of a city affected by the amenities and conformities of globalization. Here, American music and culture (food, fashion, language, you name it) is what is in. And I mean all of it: including the fast-food that we begrudgingly look down upon as the disease of the American multinational corporation infecting the entire world. And the white-washed overpriced taste of Hollister and Abercrombie. Yep. Dancing at a bar we listend to numerous American techno hits. Learning English is the road to success here. Talking to Tatchi about my apathy towards foreign language studies in high school presented a stark contrast between my situation of already speaking English and the grave importance of the American economy and language for Latin American countries: it is more of a necessity for students, accounting for the extra drive.
But then then there are certain things that are uniquely and distinctively American that have not been adopted. One of them includes excessive apologies and unnecessary politeness. “Don’t be sorry,” Alicia tells me with confidence. “That’s very American.” Another thing is the need to plan ahead, to organize our lives and the world around us. Busses don’t have any schedules, and plane flights are impossible to arrange far in advance. Also the weather is unpredictable. I wanted to know how the weather would be like for the weekend, and that was simply not forecasted in Ecuador. There is no Ecuadorian weather station–the vicissitudes of nature’s variable moods are deemed beyond human measurement. And that makes sense in a place where there are only two seasons per year, yet four seasons in one day! (Quote from Luchito, our excellent invernadero-builder Political instability is prevalent in Ecuador tambien. Ecuador has had eight Presidents in the last ten years, governance changing almost as erratically as the weather. As a result, political activism is ferfent and strong. I asked how old you have to be to vote and was very surprised to discover that you only need to be sixteen to vote (and only 18 to drink, of course), making me ashamed that I was one month too young to vote for Obama in ’08. The importance of politics is readily visible when walking anywhere in the city, for nearly all the street names are dedicated to historical events and important people. There is even one