Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Scouting Trip: Car and Diner

I am excited to live for two years without a car. That that is so possible in Ecuador begs the question why cars here are still the dominant form of life.

Public transportation in much of the country is cheap and easy. Buses go nearly everywhere and cost roughly a dollar an hour (or less for city buses). And cars are very expensive. Used or new, in absolute numbers they cost more here than in America, and that is before considering the far lower average income, making a car a far, far greater relative expense to an Ecuadorian.

So why must everyone have one? Status is one easy answer. Another answer is survival. Cuenca is colonial city whose cultural and commercial center was built when horsepower was measured in horses and is therefore a fantastic city for bike transit. Or it would be if it weren’t suicide to attempt riding a bike. Though this is circular logic (much as Americans who drive SUVs because they’re safer in accidents, which wouldn’t be a problem is so many people didn’t drive SUVs) it is nonetheless true.

What traffic laws there may be in Ecuador, are enforced with fierce looks from men with whistles who only show up during rush hour and only care about moving traffic along, so further encouraging recklessness. It seems the social stigma of having an accident is the only real enforcement. And while there are good arguments for social, rather than institutional, enforcement of laws, that does you a fat lot of good if someone is suffering dirty looks for having plastered you and our wee little alternative transportation to the front of his grill.

And since cars are so expensive, it’s not likely the government is going to do anything to add to the expense, like emissions controls. Cost at the pump is pretty apparent to your average voter. Health problems can be kicked down the road to future generations of politicians.


Think back to the last Ecuadorian restaurant you supped at, or the last Ecuadorian cookbook you admired or even recipe you used. And that...would be the point.

The Midwest of the U.S. has been called the breadbasket of the world. Nations other than our own owe their very survival to its productivity. But there’s a reason you won’t find a “Midwestern USA” restaurant next to the Thai, Chinese, Brazilian, Mexican, German, and other restaurants you find peppered across the globe. Fantastic and bountiful ingredients haven’t yielded anything much more cosmopolitan than Chicago style pizza.

And so goes Ecuador. We quickly took to calling it the Midwest of South America, as the land births litters of fruits and vegetables every day, but those are made only into things that will fill you up and stick to your ribs. They won’t do much for your tongue.
Aww, so cuuute...

...and delicious!
Well, there is cuy, but I get to use the vegetarian excuse to refuse the roast guinea pig. And I still haven’t seen that one on the haute cuisine tour in New York or Paris.

But I do have to remind Di that we are not going to any country to enjoy the dining fare. She will not work, and I may not. We are going to rediscover family, to be greatly dramatic about it. And the kitchen and dining room should be the gravitational centers of a family universe. And all you need there are some decent pots and pans and all those amazing ingredients. Though I still believe we may need to add a line item in the budget for shipping in spices; one of Di's greatest pleasures in life is playing Iron Chef with whatever's left in the kitchen. She's an impresario of kitchen thrift. We may have to "invest" in Ecuador in order to stay there as long as we like. I may see a restaurant opportunity in our/her future.

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