Cuenca’s Dog Owners Shun their Doody Duty

I gag when I see piles of dog shit all over the streets of Cuenca, but it is the unfortunate reality of this UNESCO World Heritage City.  To make this more unpleasant, dog shit is usually smeared by hapless pedestrians all over the sidewalk, or scattered in little minute pieces that stick in the clefts and grooves of shoe soles.  In grassy areas of children’s parks where climbing structures and swingsets are located, dog waste is strewn liberally.  Children carelessly track the dogshit inside houses.  This is an excellent way to spread bacteria from dog shit into the domestic domain.

Continuing on the excremental theme, evidence of unusual dog diets is frequently exhibited, equally in splatted diarrhoea and clumps of undigested food.  Not even in parks, which should be havens for children and where people are supposed to protect amenities more than in an anonymous section of street, the scourge of dog waste is rampant.



Cuencanos are accustomed to the terribly bad habit of  not cleaning up pet waste.  Like public urination, it is not policed.  There are no consequences for leaving dog shit lie about.  People have resigned themselves to the fact that their neighbors will grow a bad conscience about leaving their pet waste lie on the street.

The equatorial sun shines bright and direct, which dessicates the dog shit faster.  Usually however, Cuenca is cloudy for the large part.  Dog shit just sits around and gets spread by pedestrian feet.  You must watch your step.  Walk at your own risk in this historic city.


It’s really a sad fact of life here.  I am not sure why the municipality of Cuenca (ETAPA) don’t police dog waste.  Instead they rely on a vast cadre of municipal employees to tackle a hygiene problem of immense proportions.  Clearly they cannot keep up with the pace of piles of shit being left around by pet owners. Cleaning pet waste ought really, to be the responsibility of each dog owner.






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Cuenca’s Pissing Men and Modest Women

You won’t find this in the tourist literature on Cuenca, but men in this city are constantly whipping out their private parts to piss on walls, down the street, in parks, and especially all along the city’s famed rivers.  No, this phenomenon isn’t just isolated to the poorer neighborhoods, small side streets and dark alleys.  And no it’s not just indigent people, but equally, the middle and upper classes.  I’ve seen men get out of fancy SUV’s to use the lamp pole on the street to pee.  Men peeing all over Cuenca is a simply unavoidable sight throughout this city.

Public urination is a crime for which you can be arrested in the U.S. and proper enforcement of the law is sufficient deterrence for the majority of men.  Yes, men in the U.S. urinate outside. However, they tend to go to more obscure edges, of fields outside town, or dark alleys.  They don’t feel uninhibited to spray major thoroughfares and public mall areas in urban centers.

Ecuador offers a dire contrast and it owes largely to the lack of punitive or social reprehension.  Men feel no shame, don’t feel beholden to social or civic decorum, and don’t fear reprehension when they urinate openly in public spaces.

Walking down Simon Bolivar, a major commercial artery through El Centro, I have passed by a man who parked in front of a fancy hotel, opened the passenger’s side door of his car, and while propping it open for some privacy, peed right into the curb.  I drew the blinds of my apartment one morning, and the first thing I saw that morning was a man pissing against the neighbor’s brick wall.  Men have nearly tripped in their hurry to cross my path on the sidewalk, in a rush to get to a tree and unzip.


With obvious urgency, he cut right across the sidewalk, and went down to unzip his trousers by the tree

Although Cuenca offers dozens of public toilets and showers located everywhere, the prevalence of male public urination represents male space.


Here is an example of the stealthy exhibitionist pisser along the river, who faces recreational walkers and children playing.

The Historical Context of Male Space. In Cuenca’s Spanish colonial history, men conducted their business on the street, while women were sequestered inside homes purportedly to uphold standards of “modesty”.  The architecture of Cuenca’s homes even today, borrows structural forms from history: windows of bedrooms and living rooms open onto internal patios rather than the street, thus preventing gazes and exchanges from outside to inside or vice versa.  This was largely to protect the ‘modesty’ of women.

“Modesty” and “virtue” were terms used euphemistically to restrict women’s mobility, and to control their ability to operate as capable and intelligent beings in society.  Even women’s ability to view the outside world through a window represented a threat to male control and power.  The use of morality and social norms to restrict women’s mobility is the most potent expression of patriarchy.

Today, when men urinate on public streets in plain view, often being cavalier and exhibitionist about using their free reign to expose their penises, I see the continuing vestiges of this dominance of patriarchy.  The fearlessness of men in urinating in public spaces simultaneously denies women the same security and fearlessness.

Today, Cuenca’s women participate in every profession and move freely throughout the city.  Yet men still have the ability to make women feel marginalized and inhibited by their act of pissing in the city arena.  In pissing, men assert that their sex has the right to occupy public space, in a way that makes women feel “not equal”.  It’s as if public urination asserts the dominance of masculinity in its most potent form: the public display of penises.  Their golden streams are sprays of patriarchy.


An attempt by a Cuenca business to divert streams of male urine from fertilizing patches of vegetation.  “Have respect, this is not a urinal.”

Modesty and Feminity, the Norms for Women. On the flip side of this patriarchal coin is the unspoken expectation of women’s modesty and femininity.  Most women in Cuenca conform to the expectations of femininity, wearing their hair long, and wearing high heels even on Cuenca’s dangerously broken and uneven pavements.  At a deeper level, female identity here is marked by social norms of sexual modesty and restrained behavior, and the age-old norms of child birth and rearing that keep women relegated to their sexual and biological roles.


He had his hands full but obviously fingers were sufficiently free as to be able to unzip.


This jogger whipped it out in a city park

Modest women must avert their gaze while men continue to piss all over Cuenca.  In this gender game the tiles are heavily slated towards the men.

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Bailoterapia as a Standard of Female Liberation

Bailoterapia is a rather cool amenity offered free of charge by the municipality of Cuenca at several public spaces throughout the city.  It is an hour-long, aerobically-oriented dance class, heavily weighted towards modern “Zumba”.  Its intent is to offer physical exercise set to music in an atmosphere that invites general participation.  The “terapia” aspect centers on the benefits of combining dance–physical movement to lively music–and communal gathering.  But what it also illustrates to me is the incredible cultural assertion of female bodies and the power of female movement.  In Bailoterapia, female bodies fearlessly move, sway, and gyrate in very public spaces.  Women are having fun, fearlessly, in communion with each other, and in front of all of society.  This tells me a lot about the balance of genders in culture here.

In other societies I am familiar with (India for example), this public setting for unabashed and free expression of the female body, would immediately invite men to oggle and objectify them.  Male eyes would be a tool of censure, causing women to shrink into themselves and hold themselves stiff as a measure of protection from the violation and invasion of lascivious eyes.  The public space is defined and limited by men.  Not here. Bailoterapia is an incredible assertion of the feminine in a public space.  In this space, the female body claims its power to move, awkwardly, beautifully, rhythmically, athletically, and to feel it’s own joy.

Bailoterapia is rich with cultural insights.  The dance class uses rhythmic mixes of current Latin pop music.  The steps and routines draw heavily from the basic patterns of Salsa, Cumbia, Merengue and other popular styles of Latin American dances.  The teachers who lead upfront, are experts whose kinesthetics and body movements demonstrate the fluidity of years spent dancing in this style.  The majority of participants are women whose body movements are accustomed to these dance forms, putting their hips into it, coordinating their arm swivels just right, picking up their feet just at the right beat, because they know and feel this music in their bodies.

The steps and routines of Zumba are fairly accessible to anyone who might want to drop in occasionally and follow along (that would be someone like myself).  Zumba weaves together modified forms of Salsa, Cumbia, and Merengue and throws in a good measure of street dance and athletic swagger from the Reggaeton world, into a cocktail of expressive movement.  Many of the participants follow along with the basic forms of movement and simply want to get moving.  Others with more flexibility and familiarity with the body vocabulary of these dances, really delve into the physicality of the movement.  With flair they gyrate deeper and the music seems to flow out of them.

People will saunter up right at 8:00 p.m., usually wearing leggings and layers on top as the evenings are quite cool.   The instructors might be pulling out an amplifier for their music system and setting up sound checks.  And shortly after 8:00 p.m. (what is the problem with being about 7 minutes late anyway?) the music launches and people start grooving.  Pretty soon, the warm clothing layers come off.  Don’t be alarmed if you see babies on the sidelines trying to keep up with their dancing mothers, or if you see someone has set their pet poodle down right in the middle of the dancing group.  Dogs and babies are just part of the whole scene.  A few men usually take part so you won’t be alone as a man.

How to Participate
Bailoterapia classes sponsored by the Municipality of Cuenca (Department of Culture, Education and Sports) are offered in locations throughout the city of Cuenca and greater suburbs, throughout the working week Monday to Friday from 8:00 to 9:00 p.m.  Even if you are just visiting the city as a tourist, going to Bailoterapia could be an integral part of your cultural tour.

Words of Caution about using Bailoterapia as an exercise class
If you are using Bailoterapia as exercise and used to the cautionary approach used by certified exercise instructors in the USA or European countries, a few words of caution will serve you well.

Many instructors perform at stratospheric levels of expertise, appearing to be straight out of a Shakira or a Beyonce video.  Their movements are extremely jerky, fast, and highly flexible and stylish.  Unfortunately there is no requirement for the instructors to demonstrate modifications that might be more appropriate for beginners or casual dancers.  The idea is that you simply admire them from afar (as if you were watching a music video indeed) but keep your own movements at a more safe level of exertion.  Don’t emulate them if you feel it will hurt you.  Follow or adapt to your own level.  Repetitive fast movements without adequate preparation and adequate build up can be extremely injurious to your health and cause joint and tendon injuries.  I have frequently modified the numbers of repetitions or changed movements in order to prevent injuries and protect my joints.

Stretch adequately.  Stretching and safe warm up and cool down are rather neglected in this class. The instructors are young people with elastic bodies who are there to have fun.  If you don’t stretch much more than they demonstrate (mainly a 2 minute quickie for what seems like good appearance’s sake) you could very well be hurt.




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Wildflowers of the Cajas National Park, Southern Ecuador

A highway runs through the muscular folds of the high Andes mountains of the Cajas National Park.  Dramatic mountains stretch out in every direction, but here, above the treeline, landscape looks barren.  The mountains are covered in variations of grey-green pillowy tufts of grass referred to in Ecuador as the “paramo” and “paja”.  This grass cover seems fairly uniform.

But get closer.  Walk through the paramo; pick your way through the paja and get to know it intimately around your ankles and knees.  It reveals delightful sudden bursts of color and form.  Among the grasses and the rocks and soil are unique wildflowers endemic to the high alpine regions of the Andes. Their presence is always a delight, a demonstration of the infinite variation that nature can produce in the infinitely distinct, unique, places to be found on the planet. Their iridiscence is dazzling amidst the “plain” cover of the paja. The wildflowers persist under the most difficult range of conditions, from blazing equatorial sun to freezing high-altitude winds.

Ecuador, like its neighbor Columbia, is a flower power in global trade. It exports cultivated flowers to the United States and other major global markets.  Extravagant and showy lilies, orchids, birds of paradise, roses, carnations, and daisies are  bred and grown in agricultural greenhouses and fields.  Then, they are cut, packaged and flown daily to international hubs like Miami, where they are distributed further.  Manipulated and harnessed by human hands, these flowers delight our senses, feed the global demand for beauty, and rake in profits.

But the wildflowers endemic to these high mountains are not ostentatious and plump and juicy. They don’t dazzle with their ornate forms, articulated petals, juicy stamen, and vivid patterns. These wildflowers wouldn’t stay preserved in plastic wrap and boxes for days on end in dark holds of aircraft that traverse continents and oceans.  Yet, they are strong.  When you see them in the mountains you instantly recognize that they are tenacious, beautiful creatures who have intelligently adapted to a harsh environment.  In these mountains, the equatorial sun beats down mercilessly, alternating with the biting, damp cold of clouds and rain that roll in regularly at these high altitudes.  Their bold color and sentience, bobbing in the mountain winds, will immediately catch your eye. The sense of their “life” will connect to a pulse alive in your own body.

This blog is a collection of my wildflower photos from multiple hikes.  I have posted common names because I would like the names to be accessible to as many hikers and casual recreational walkers of the Cajas as possible.  When you know the names of these gorgeous creatures, you will find the landscape come alive with intelligence, fragility, and beauty.  In too many instances, you will find I have only identified the flower as a member of the “Asteraceae” family.  There are many specimens of the Asteraceae family in this area of southern Ecuador but I don’t know their names.  I invite people to contact me with their names.

1.Common name: “Lancetilla”. This showy specimen is endemic to southern Ecuador.  The showiest red parts of the plants are “bracts” not flowers.20171029_125601

2. Common name: “Flor de la montana” or “Chuquiragua”.  Orange spiny bracts on shrubs that grow in the grassy paramo all around the Cajas.


3. Unidentified from the Asteraceae or Compositae family.


4. Common name: “Aguarongo”.  These are perfectly symmetrical basal rosettes, but can grow up to 1 meter in diameter. A characteristic feature of the Cajas landscape.


5. Common name: “Cacho de venado”. These red cylindrical stems are set in “cushion paramo”, a type of grass that grows like little cushions low to the ground.

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6. Unidentified member of the Asteraceae o Compositae family.


7. Unidentified member of the Asteraceae o Compositae family

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8. Common name: “Espino blanco”. These interesting flowers grow at ground level, and in cushions.

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9. Common name: “Sarashima” or “Globito”. They grow low to the ground and have bright orange-yellow profile outlined in red. These beauties are endemic to the Cajas National Park.


10. No common name given.  “Ourisia chamaedrifolia” Solitary and tubular bell-shaped red flowers, seem to hang down.  Found low to the ground.

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11. Another gorgeous variation of the Asteraceae or Compositae family.

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12. Don’t know this one.


13. Unknown orange flower


14. Unknown and unique beauty.


15. Incredible stunning community of purplish-grassy flowers


16. Common name: “Zarza” or “Zarcillo Sacha”.  These shrubs are about a meter tall and their flowers hang like pendants in pairs.  They have pinkish-red bracts and sepals, and the inner petals of the hanging flower are purple.






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Fiestas de Cuenca

Traditionally, every town and city in Ecuador organizes an annual festival as a showcase of the city’s arts, activities, music, and special features.   The “Fiestas de Cuenca” turned out to be a three days-long event, during which the city was transformed into a series of performance stages, artisanal markets, food stalls, and general flea markets.  At night the city’s central square became a huge concert venue.  Local restaurants and businesses took the opportunity to set up special events.  Massive parades rolled through the historic “El Centro” of Cuenca with participation by nearly every community, university, organization, and neighborhood, who each rolled out dance teams and lavishly-decorated floats.

What surprised me most was the scale of the fiesta.  The city’s municipal government set up what seemed like endless tents and stalls at most of the city’s several plazas and yet more stalls lining the central city’s riverside promenade.  Stages took over the main central square.  Other smaller stages were set up along the famous staircases that led up the bluffs to “El Centro”.   It was hard to fathom that the municipal government of Cuenca could dig into its treasuries to fund and set up such a vast amount of infrastructure, and electronic equipment for musical concerts–for the sole purpose of “cultural activities”.  Or perhaps, I had a lot to learn about the emphases and priorities of the Ecuadorian people. It seemed like an extravaganza that seemed out of step.

(There are many areas of civic life in Cuenca that beg fiscal investment and which would bring much-needed advantages to the city and its public health and well-being; and if I were king, I would perhaps begin with efforts such as the following:

  • initiatives to reduce the black exhaust from the city’s bus transport companies that lead to horrible air pollution and impact public health or
  • initiatives to cut back the horrendous prevalence of dog poop all over town or
  • programs to reduce polluted urban runoff into the river or
  • programs to restore some semblance of aquatic life in the river which currently looks like a glorified wastewater ditch
  • programs to improve the abominable level of public recycling)

Hand-in-hand with the buzz of the city dressed up to showcase its music, food, traditions, and arts was the nuisance factor of the traffic.  Vehicular traffic was blocked seemingly at every turn, buses were rerouted, and, when combined with large influxes of crowds who traveled in from other cities like Guayaquil, led to interminable waiting in long lines of traffic.  It was always faster to walk than to drive anywhere in the city.

The food tents offered selections of Peruvian ceviche, Venezuelan arepas, and Thai noodles in addition to the traditional Ecuadorian “Chancho”–a whole roasted pig dressed with sides of potatoes, corn and a piquant salsa made of “tomato de arbol”, an Andean fruit.  Arts and crafts from juried competition were exhibited at stalls at exclusive central points in the city, including artisans from Uruguay, Peru, and Argentina.  At the big city parade that took over the center of town, volunteers from my local bailoterapia class were dancing down the street behind massive floats organized by the local indigenous communities.  Local purveyors of gourmet, small-batch crafted jellies, honey, pickles and cheeses offered interesting tastes at their stalls.  Shamans had set up tents alongside vendors of underwear and clothes to cleanse people of their evil energy.  Along the grand staircases that led down from “El Centro” to the river, troupes from indigenous communities from both Ecuador and neighboring countries performed lively dances in colorful costumes. Later at night, rock bands from the local scene took over the stage.

At night, I went down to the central square to meet up with some friends and to enjoy the party atmosphere at the main stages.  The music stage offered up some very formulaic and uninspiring commercial-variety Latin American music by local musicians.  The crowds surged all around in an incredibly jovial and relaxed manner.  I was reminded by my friends to keep a tight hold of my cell phone and money in the midst of the milling groups.  Nobody was aggressive and everybody was in an upbeat mood.  As is customary, babies and toddlers were carried around midnight, very awake, by their very young looking parents.

Impressed on the one hand and dumb-founded by the extent of the festivities on the other hand, I consulted by Ecuadorian friend–a teacher in the local school system–about what seemed to me extravagant expenditure on cultural celebrations in Cuenca.  She chuckled and reminded me of the “bread and circus” adage…that corrupt governments who do little to reduce the desperation of poor people and offer few investments in education, social and public infrastructure to improve their daily lives, are especially keen to keep the masses distracted by  entertainment, or else they might have an angry social upheaval on their hands.  The tactic of spending large amounts to keep the people dazzled, dancing, and perhaps a little drunk and slow, is a cost-effective and foolproof one to maintain a smoke-screen over corruption, and to keep resentment and anger at government at bay.

There’s also a sinister shadow cast by Spanish colonialism that explains this profound cultural emphasis on parties and fiestas.  In Latin American history, many Spanish colonists deliberately paid their enslaved indigenous workers off in alcohol.  This not only dulled their pain, it dulled other senses as well.  Alcohol took the edge off anger, softened feelings of resentment, and made people immobile in their desperate circumstances.  It served the rulers’ purposes to keep a population sleep-walking and functional only to the point of their labor services.  Although that dire image of violent servitude has been obscured and corroded into largely forgotten history, it also gives a certain atavistic sense to the emphasis and expenditure on parties and festivals in Ecuadorian culture today.

As it turns out, the Fiestas of Cuenca were also the precursor to an entire season of partying and fiestas around the Christmas season.  I was going to have to learn much more of this culture of celebrations.


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Mango Season

The weather in the mountains of the southern Andes took a turn for the better in November.  The grey, damp, cold mornings when I would have to wrap myself in woolen scarves and hats became slightly less biting.  During the daytime, the sun shone deliciously and temperatures were a moderate twenty degrees celcius.  Cuenca seemed to be happier and more carefree as the warmth and sun lived people’s moods.  I was happy that I could finally wear a bright top and not cover up in two additional layers.  The diesel pollution from the buses seemed to dissipate in the air much faster than when it was cold and damp.  Summer in the southern hemisphere was waxing strong.

The summer season was marked by the advent of plump orange and red mangoes.  Until October it was orange season, and you could sometimes get 24 oranges for a dollar.  Now the mangoes started appearing.  This blog is a tribute to my love for these delicious fruit.

20171115_09482620171112_060323Here I demonstrate my cutting and serving technique.  Yum!

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The Maddening Din: Cuenca’s Noise

It’s six o’clock on a Sunday morning, and a car alarm in my Cuenca neighborhood goes off with its intentionally horrible, piercing, high-pitched wail.  I groan at the indignity of having my sleep be shattered by this rude interruption.  Just as quickly though, I force my mind into blocking out the noise as much as possible, shifting the perception of it from being an intrusive interruption to a background ambient noise.  With a kind of resignation, I try to wait it out hoping that the owner of the car would find it in his heart to go out and shut off the alarm as soon as possible.

Noise pollution is a nuisance factor in most urban settings.  In the context of the hard surface of concrete walls and canyons created by tall buildings that echo and amplify noise, the grind of machinary and automotives, restaurants and bars, construction sites, and heating and cooling systems take their toll.  It takes a human toll in terms of stress and public well being.  Managing noise pollution requires legal codes and enforcement, as is the case in most developed countries.  Municipal departments send out code enforcement officers who often need to intervene to remind businesses of their responsibility to restrict piercing noises from delivery trucks and heavy construction machinery to daylight hours.  They also intervene—along with police—in noise generated by residents from parties or dogs.

Laissez-faire Regulation and Enforcement 

In Cuenca, the municipality does have noise regulation codes but enforcement is virtually non-existent. In this lax laissez-faire approach to urban noise, the general background din is extremely noticeable to anyone who is accustomed to living a city where the population adheres to noise codes.

Car Alarms: The Siren Song of Cuenca

The noises in my neighborhood typically start around 6:00 a.m. when people start to take their kids to the early shift at school (schools here are broken into a shift system with young kids starting early while older kids stay past dark).  Most cars, even the most plain, nondescript conveyance with four wheels are fitted with extremely loud car alarms as a prophylaxis for theft. Car alarms start out blaring as people fumble with keys.  Even opening the car sets off a mini-alarm.

Gas Peddlers

Then, around 7:00 a.m., the trucks selling propane gas cylinders start peddling their tanks around the streets, and they keep it up all day until dark. Their trucks circulate slowly around the neighborhoods, announcing themselves so that house-keepers can open their gates and flag them down.   The jingle is broadcast from the truck, similar to an ice-cream truck.  As a constant background noise to living in the city, the jingle has now thoroughly pierced my consciousness, and I alternate between finding it comforting and finding it utterly distasteful.

Street Vendors

Between the car alarms and gas cylinder trucks are street vendors using noise to vie for your attention.  Trucks bringing fish, chicken, brooms, or fruits ply the streets hawking their wares for door-to-door sales.  It isn’t so bad when it’s a sing song voice (but I do worry about their vocal chords doing this all day!) but it’s particularly annoying when they have some raspy-voiced dude in a truck broadcasting a repeated message on a crackling, old public announcement system.  It is impossible to concentrate on much of anything between the blasts of static and intensely-irritating repeated refrain extolling the best fish in Cuenca.

Horn Honking

Taxi drivers are among the other worst offenders.  Lacking a system of text or phone notification by taxi call centers, drivers announce their arrival at your door with a series of blows to their taxi horns.  This is de rigeur behavior, no matter if your taxi arrives at 2:00 a.m. or 5:00 a.m.  It’s not uncommon to be awoken by cabs honking their horns. As I sit writing, some neighborhood car is honking their horn repeatedly, likely to hurry up whoever they are trying to pick up.

Canine Cacophony

Cuenca is blessed with plenty of canine sources of noise.  Street dogs are generally intelligent enough to know to leave most humans well alone.  However, many Cuenca residents keep two to three dogs in their garage spaces or patios, and the domestic dogs are often the ones barking up a storm.  One dog on a street can set off a cacophonic chorus of sorts that echoes up and down the blocks.  It can be set off by any disturbance on the street at any hour.  A real welcome sound from your neighbors.

When I mentioned how objectionable Cuenca’s noise pollution can be to a Cuencano friend, he smirked a bit and acted as if I was a cranky, persnickety person.  But most people I have discussed this with are of one mind, that the habit and persistence of noise is bothersome.

I worked for many years in a U.S. county government Department of Environmental Protection, with a cadre of environmental code enforcement officers who frequently dealt with noise pollution.  I know it takes constant herding and maintenance to ensure that people in an urban context living in proximity to each other, conform to standards and norms that allow for harmonious living.  People are (ideally) raised to respect others—hence admonished not to leave their litter in common spaces, not to damage other’s property and not to encroach on others’ boundaries.  We build physical forms of settlements to give each other space and allowance for personal well-being (such as houses with fences), but we depend on people to maintain a healthy environment in our shared spaces.  We all suffer if people litter and desecrate our common spaces: our streets, our libraries, our parks and so forth.

The Commons and Happiness

It seems to me, the happiest societies are those in which the commons are well-maintained, through a system of personal virtues and personal ethics cultivated from a young age through an education system, as well as through a system of well-enforced limits and policing.  When people are aware that generating noise disturbs others and therefore they endeavor to limit their own noise, it makes for an overall more amenable and relaxed atmosphere.  You self-police so as not to disturb your neighbor.  You clean up if you make a mess to avoid inconveniencing others.  In these societies, for the most part, the shared environment is maintained by everyone as if it were their own.  In Japan, Singapore, Denmark, Germany and even in parts of the United States, the system of obligations to the commons is strong as a personal ethic, and reinforced by social norms and enforced laws.

An Ethic of Regard for Others

It is fundamental to being human that we are social beings, with a system of obligations and benefits.  We benefit from each other but it behooves each person to be constantly aware that their behavior impacts other people.  Selfishness and self-centeredness creates strife, because it impinges on the well being and peace of others.

As I write this sitting in the relatively quiet garden of my friend whose house is in a cul-de-sac and fronts one of Cuenca’s four rivers, a vendor drives down the road tooting his horn to sell some food from his motorbike.  It makes me smile.  This might be one of Cuenca’s quietest corners, but here, noise is a way to get your attention, not necessarily viewed as an inconvenience or a disturbance.  The tolerance of some noise is not a bad thing.  It does demonstrate a level of social flexibility and acceptance.  The vendor does need to make a living. However, the problem is the cumulative impact of dozens of sources of noise, constantly, which goes completely unregulated.

The housekeeper walks in and I tell her about my blog on noise.  She starts talking about the “barbaridad” (madness/atrocity) of Cuenca’s noise: the dogs down her street keep her up at night, the gas trucks are insufferable all day long, and the constant background stress wears her down.

As her experience reveals, Cuenca’s noise pollution frequently impinges past the bounds of personal ease.  It disturbs people, sometimes in the middle of the night and often and frequently during the day.  When you have a tightly packed numbers of people, and each asserts their own excessive noise, as if it were fine to disturb others, it betrays a level of disregard for an ethic that we have responsibilities and obligations for the common spaces we share as a society.  Noise is a quality of life issue, and, due to the stress it generates, is a personal health issue as well.  Many people suffer disturbed sleep as a result of the noise.  Cuenca’s ETAPA Environmental Department offices would do well to address this issue with a level of commitment to action that is focused on public well being.

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