Monday afternoon. I am strolling through Luis Cordero Park in the colonial center of Cuenca, enjoying the sunny day with a bit of people-watching and sightseeing.
The park is the heart of the town, where the marble cathedral looms large and buildings with arches shape the square. Ice cream vendors and artists that will draw your caricature call out to potential customers. The park is full of people of every ilk, all milling about. Like dozens of visitors, I have my camera in hand snapping pictures. Then I spot an indigenous woman in her beautiful pleated skirt, her dark green shawl rolled in a tube shape and wrapped around her waist. Just as other indigenous women, her dark hair is braided and the ends reach almost to her lower back. She is wearing a white blouse and her head is topped with the traditional straw hat. I raise my camera and start to snap her picture, the lens set on zoom. Got it. Beautiful. Great photo.
I walk around the park a bit and find an empty bench on which to sit. The bench is partly shaded by a tree. I relax and smile at the beautiful afternoon. The sun gently kisses my face. I’m pleased and I close my eyes.
Then suddenly and quite rudely the little ray of sun I was getting is gone. The sunshine is blocked by two women standing before me. When I open my eyes to see why my sun is gone, one of the women speaks, in Spanish. Both look serious.
WOMAN: “We want to know why you took our picture.”
ME: “Sorry to disappoint, but I did not take your picture. I took a picture of the buildings and an indigenous woman walking by.”
WOMAN: “We thought you took our picture.”
ME: “No, sorry. Plenty of interesting subjects in the park and I hardly thought you were one of them.”
WOMEN: (they smile)
ME: “But if you would like me to take your picture I will.”
WOMEN: (bigger smiles).
WOMAN: (still smiling). “No, no. It’s okay.”
They walk away, my sun returns.
TUESDAY afternoon. I’m in the same park, in a different section, closer to the cathedral. More gentle sunshine, a slight nip in the air. I am looking across the street at the vendors selling candles and other religious trinkets under the arches of the cathedral. Then a voice breaks my moment of silence.
Two women are standing in front of me. It’s the two women from the previous day.
WOMAN: “You know you offended us yesterday.”
ME: “Why do you say that?”
WOMAN: “Because you said we were not interesting.”
ME: “I believe I said you were not interesting subjects.”
WOMAN: “What’s the difference? I don’t see the difference.”
ME: “I don’t know you. You very well may be interesting as people, but to me as subjects for a photo – my photo – you were not interesting.”
OTHER WOMAN (finally speaks!): “So you think we are boring?”
ME: “I just told you I don’t know you. You are probably the life of the party.”
THE MORE OUTSPOKEN WOMAN: “So you think we are not good-looking enough for your photo?”
ME: “I never said that.”
WOMAN: “I’ll have you know we are interesting.”
WOMAN: “Plenty of people want to take our picture, I’ll have you know.”
ME on the verge of laughter: “Okay.”
WOMAN: “That’s all we wanted to say.”
ME: “Yesterday you approached me in this park looking for a fight because you thought I took your picture. Today you are upset because I did not take your picture. I’m confused.”
WOMAN: “We are not upset that you did not take our picture. We were not happy that you said we were not interesting.”
ME: “Well, if yesterday I so much as thought you were not interesting, today I think you are crazy.”
LESS OUTSPOKEN WOMAN: “Crazy?”
ME: “Yes, crazy, so that makes you interesting.”
WOMEN: (laugh out loud)
MORE OUTSPOKEN WOMAN: “So glad to know you think we are interesting.”
ME: “Well, it’s certainly been interesting talking to you.”
WOMEN: “It’s been interesting talking to you too. Have a nice day!”
Wednesday afternoon. I stayed out of the park, fully expecting that my comment that they are crazy would occur to them later and they’d be back to say they were offended by that!