Ambrose Goes To Town
Updated: Dec 9, 2021
Yesterday was my patronal feast day. I have no connection to the seventh of December except that it is the date in the Church's calendar when we particularly remember the great bishop of Milan from the fourth century, and "Ambrose" is my middle name, of which I have been quite proud since as long as I can remember. So there's my connection to December 7th.
The first Ambrose remains an important figure in the long-running history of Christianity, not just because he was a thoroughly intelligent, pastoral, and very wise fellow who, among other things, is the first person to be documented as reading to himself, without moving his lips and not out-loud as was the universal custom until he came around, but also and more importantly, he was the mentor and tutor of that other great "A" saint of the fourth century, Augustine.
I didn't particularly celebrate my patron saint yesterday because it was for me yet another "on the move" days among many now. After breakfast in my little hotel in Quito, I had the unpleasant duty of repacking my bags, all four of them, and yet again making sure they didn't overreach the airline weight limits. Last looks around my room to make sure I hadn't left anything behind were accomplished with the help of my new friend and hotel host with the most, Alexander. Then, with bags weighed, sealed, and locked, Alexander, and his parents, Leonardo and Bertha, loaded my luggage and me into their pickup for the ride out to Quito's new airport about 45 minutes from the city center.
Once there, Alexander accompanied me inside where there was no waiting and easy security to get through. Nice airport, actually. I flew out of Quito about 4:00 pm and after an easy flight through the Andean clouds, I landed in Cuenca about forty minutes later. I was met at the airport by two new friends from the Catholic English-Speaking Community here, Richard Fraumeni and Kathy Case. We hurriedly dropped off my luggage in my new apartment on the Calle de las Retamas, then drove over to Richard's place just a few blocks away for an evening together with several other members of the community. Lots of great food (the shrimp cocktail was to die for!) and animated conversation later and having made solid in-roads in the project of getting to know one another, we finally made our farewells and I made it back to my own new little place about 10:00 pm.
At that hour, we make mistakes: Kathy and Richard had both texted my apartment's wifi password to me so that I'd be able to connect right away once I got in the door. Unconsidered by me: I don't yet have cellular service here and without Wi-Fi how am I going to get the Wi-Fi code? I fussed and kicked myself for awhile, worrying about how Kathy, Richard, and I were going to coordinate our plans in the morning without any way of communicating. Finally, in great annoyance at myself I sat down with the hope of taking stock of the situation and finding a fix; from that chair I noticed the router right next to me on the floor...and that the Wi-Fi password was printed right there on the blinking little contraption. Problem solved.
Rather unwisely, I began opening my bags and putting stuff away. Not such a good decision: when I finally went to bed about midnight, I was so wound-up that I couldn't get to sleep though I felt more than tired. I hate that feeling: in bed, exhausted, and the brain-box turned up to full-speed. Eventually, I did fall asleep, to awake with the morning light, which is about 6:00 am year round here. Anyway, I got enough hours of shut-eye to manage today's activities.
Kathy showed up at my door at 9:30 and off we went into the center of town, the centro historico of this UNESCO World Heritage City. My first impression as we taxied into the heart of the city was how big it is; I had imagined Cuenca to be about the size of Spokane, but it is actually well-over twice the size of my hometown (in population, that is, at over 700,000 inhabitants); its avenues stretch out for great lengths, intersected by others in wide traffic circles...it seems like it goes forever. My second impression was simply how clean this place is. There is no garbage to be seen anywhere. The streets and sidewalks are free of trash, even just stray bits of newspaper, not to mention abandoned bottles and beer-cans. As Kathy and I walked the bustling streets around the Cathedral running our errands (get a bus-pass, use my debit card in an ATM for the first time, make a copy of my passport and have it laminated, etc.), my third impression was how full of life this town is; young students dressed in dutiful uniforms, indigenous women with their colorful skirts and smocks and stylish fedoras atop their heads selling fruit on the street, business people dressed up for work, this clearly not being "casual Friday" in Cuenca, and the occasional North American getting their errands run, just like Kathy and I. Along the way, we met the pastor of the Parroquia de San Franciso, Padre Jorge, in his office and I officially turned over my very official "letter of good standing" provided by the Diocese of Spokane...a ecclesiastical formality to make sure no scoundrelly priest-pretenders get in the door. We popped into the Cathedral just to take a first look and found the expansive Nativity Scene already in place including the three Magi with camels and gifts in hand having arrived quite well before the Baby Jesus, not yet even close to being placed in his crib, of course. There we ran into Richard quite by accident so off the three of us went to a little place near the Cathedral for lunch together, then a walk home, with Richard to guide me, and finally a pleasant siesta in my little house on the Calle de las Ratamas. Now, post-siesta, it is raining...a lovely little downpour to soften things up and remind us here below that many good things come from above.
I hope in some small way on this day after his feast, Ambrose the Great might have been looking down with a smile on this not-very-great tocayo (one who shares a name with another) in a new place, making new friends, figuring out a new "system", and trusting that he's in the right place at the right time.