The kitchen is a no-fly zone, where space to craft a punch or charcuterie spread has to be carefully usurped at the margins of the vast empire. The best time to sneak in is when my father is updating his tabulation of butter used thus far. A true student of the tradition of Julia Child, he delights in giving us a painfully honest breakdown of precisely how the sausage was made, as waistlines strain against belts. The only time I had ever missed my family’s Thanksgiving before was to share a Turducken with a friend who was stranded and alone under house arrest. Now, thousands of miles from Cleveland in Ecuador, the reality of the glamorous traveler’s life came with a complimentary jar of maraschino cherries.
A few rectangular Formica tables leading up to a small display case, manilla walls bare but for a slice-shaped clock which declared it to be “pizza time.” A group of twenty-somethings were seated at a table, focused on a television hanging above. A music video was playing, featuring a blond Hispanic child rapping about sunshine. It was absurdly optimistic and the twenty-somethings were engrossed in the trainwreck. Stupid is funny in any language.
As you near the western outskirts of Cuenca, the failing and occasionally absent sidewalks reaffirm the notion that this is indeed a city, but it’s decidedly different than anything back home. A quarter-mile from the mid-level apartment buildings of our block, the mountains suddenly loom larger and the dense houses give way to larger haciendas with massive gardens. Livestock lounges in the shade, woodsmoke permeates the air, and the proud crow of roosters echoes in the alleys. The sidewalks eventually disappear completely, and grass grows wild and thick in the mountain breeze.
We threw ourselves into the process of writing, or at least staring at our laptops. There was a distinct relief in knowing we had months to stay in one place. It was luxury. After weeks of furious brainstorming, scattered internet, and consistent writing, the gates had gone down, the bell had sounded. Rather than explore the streets for a gig, as we may have back home, our fingers were plowing through miles of keyboard strokes.
Early on, I learned about the concept of literary deconstruction and examining works of literature through various lenses to break them down and analyze them. It becomes increasingly difficult not to see the signposts all around when you apply a socialist or feminist bent to your observations. Our journey across the country in many ways acted as a highlight reel or slideshow for the United States as a whole. Our adventure was the best education I’ve had to date. Even as we traveled, social media and current events kept us plugged in, placing us everywhere and nowhere all at once. We directly witnessed so many different human interactions, and being removed from the geographic and cultural confines of the Rust Belt, the answers to questions weren’t as readily apparent. We were able to see the nation from so many different angles, applying the techniques of literary and cultural criticism through it all. It reaffirmed many of our beliefs, it also led us to question others. At the very least, our experience has given us newfound empathy for those we don’t always agree with, and renewed vigor in formulating our personal philosophies.