Sunday, May 6, 2012

Its in the contrasts......

Returning last year from another sojourn to the southern Andes I was struck then by the contrasts between Vilcabamba and Beirut. Anticipating returning to Vilcabamba this year, I am reminded that I could not have chosen to reside in two places so far apart in so many different qualitative ways. This is a good thing in the sense that it provides great ground for considering everywhere we travel in between; it gives two extremes for pegging places along the different continuum. It is not a question of comparing; I mean Vilcabamba is in rural mountainous southern Ecuador, it is green, and Beirut.....well, its Beirut...urban, crowded and the most popular night-spot in the Middle East, it is grey. They are different realities, different planets! The point is to contrast, not compare.

The west side and the round terrace at Casa Roja....Vilcabamba.

Garden Towers. Our flat, on the first floor, right hand side....Beirut

Part of why Vilcabamba locals live to ripe old ages into their 90's is because they don't have stress. I mean not much, people work hard, putz along doing their thing day in and day out. Not particularly exciting but if you don't know any better...? They eat simple food and drink nice clean water...and alcohol.
Beirut?...holy cow. Just thinking about getting in the car stresses me out, in fact I use avoidance as the main coping strategy. But its not just the traffic. Its the underlying tension which on a daily basis might be undetectable to a visitor (for example) but once sensitized to is almost palpable. You realise just how close to 'snapping' people really are and that the raised voices and slapping that might appear to be of 'Mediterranean temperament' in origin can rise to much worse very quickly. Like the other day when buddy sees his girl with another guy, follows the guy to an apartment and then whacks him.....with an AK-47....then proceeds to fire on and lob grenades at the army when they come ended badly for buddy. Ask anyone when the next war will come and they all say the same thing, totally be prepared....all the time.

Beirut is pretty darn insecure when it comes to the possibility of war breaking out...this comes from living in a notoriously bad neighborhood surrounded by unruly neighbors who have in fact outstayed their visit on more than one occasion. It only takes one rocket attack or cross border incident to ruin your whole day. And then there is the general temperament of people... Street level criminality however is very low which takes some people by surprise;  given the size of the city (2-3Million) and a high density of people, there is a miniscule incidence of murder, rape, muggings, etc. I hazard to guess that this might be because if you are from one confessional (sect) and you were to attack someone from another well... you could start a civil war or at best a inter-clan feud that could last generations. That and because community justice will likely take care of your wrong-minded ways in a permanent fashion.
Vilcabamba....chances of a rocket attack are nil, the neighbors to the south are generally quiet although the Sundera luminosa (very bad people) are said to still lurk about the hills. Considering Vilca is generally a sleepy little Andean town, criminality has at times been a worry, not so much on the street (although at Carnivale in 2006 I was held at screw-driver point in town until I bought my drunken banditos lunch) but exhibited in a spate of home invasions two years ago. The violent shock and awe ruthless tactics used in night-time attacks on elderly residents in isolated homes was stunning in its brutality. More recently....calm has returned to Vilca for the kids and for all, its a tranquilo kind of place to be. Folk are just more vigilant is all.

Noise, Air. Garbage. Beirut has mucho, every sort of pollution you can imagine (ok well not radiation from what we know, except of course is Iran nukes Israel there will likely be 'fall-out' in Lebanon us being close neighbors n'all). Want to throw your garbage from the car window? Come to Lebanon, yep, they still do that here. In fact some Lebanese expats, those living abroad who know much better, seem to take a perverse pleasure when they return to the motherland in pitching their garbage just anywhere. Big garbage dump in the town of Saida (home to absolutely humongous multi-millionaire and leader of the opposition who doesn't want to do a thing a bout it) is right on the sea side. Daily garbage gets washed into the deep blue Mediterranean. Is it changing? It is changing....but not very quickly.
Vilcabamba has nada. Vilcabamba does not even have aircraft flying not even the danger of chemtrail fallout. Its pretty amazing. Not to say there isn't a waste disposal issue, don't get me wrong, but at least there is an evolving level of consciousness about that kind of environmental issue. Vilca is in the valley below a fantastic National it. Its a natural phenomenon.

Beirut. Lebanese food is so good but even if it wasn't it wouldn't matter as there are plenty of other great dining experiences around. Restaurants abound and for the Lebanese, food is very important. Part of the French legacy is a national hankering for good things like wine and cheese, the former home-grown and really a quality product, the latter imported and you can get most any cheese you want for a price. In Beirut at least take-away food is the norm for many Lebanese and their families and if you're living on your own a very inexpensive option. If there were a survey done I think it would discover that home delivery is the mainstay of many local diets. Organic veggies are available for those with disposable incomes. Pork is particularly bad. Beef particularly good.
Vilcabamba. Food is pretty boring on the rural restaurant platter here in southern Ecuador...actually I haven't been anywhere in the country where it shines. Thanks to the inundation of gringos, our little town has a pretty good variety of restaurants considering its size, we even boast a Japanese master chef.....but folks don't go out and eat much. You can get pizza delivered....but the fact is at the Sunday morning market you can get a great variety of organic greens and veg.... or grow what you need and make for yourself what tickles the palate. Pork is particularly good. Beef particularly bad.

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