Leaving Cañar

P1100509There must be a good metaphor for the closing up of a house, slowly divesting it of color in rugs, pillows, throws, weavings. Darkening the rooms with exterior shutters. Rolling up rugs and mats. Taking art and photos off the walls. Shutting down the patio fountain. Emptying shelves, packing away clothes. It’s all good for cleaning and ordering, but maybe brings on a touch of melancholy. Continue reading

A Trip to the Coast

long viewOur trip to the coast began as all our Cañar departures begin: waiting on the side of the Pan American Highway for a bus. As our town sits right on this artery running the length of Ecuador (and all of South America, for that matter), buses barrel through day and night, along with giant trucks carrying gas canisters, double-trailers with racks of Coca Cola, oversized construction materials, and heavy Coca Cola truck 1military equipment.

(Sorry, couldn’t resist. I looked for a stock photo of the open-sided trucks that carry Coca Cola to all points in Ecuador. Here’s an historic version. )

So….one early morning about two weeks ago, as M. and I stood at the intersection where buses stop briefly (no bus terminal yet in Cañar, though promised) we eyed the others waiting, trying to guess who was going to Quito and who was going to Guayaquil. This matters, because there’s always a rush when a bus pulls up and the assistant driver jumps down and yells the destination: “Quito, Quito,” or “Guayaquil, Guayaquil.” With no protocol about lining up in an orderly fashion, it’s strictly first-come-first-served, so you simply squint as the bus approaches, trying to read the destination sign in the windshield, and guess where it will come to a full stop. Then you rush to get on.

1. bus arrives crop 5. quito riobamba sign4. Riobamba! Quito! 3 rush for the door crop6. last call7. on its wayP1090994

Here’s the sequence in photos I happened to catch the other day.  Bus arrives at intersection; passengers stand on alert. Where’s it going?  The driver’s helper walks alongside yelling: “Riobamba, Riobamba, Quito, Quito.”A rush for the door. Last call as the helper jumps onboard. Bus leaves. (about 8 minutes max).

For this trip we needed a bus to Guayaquil, on a route that turns west off the PanAm less than an hour north. But M. and I have a system – if we have luggage to put below, he stays beside the bus while I run for the door and jump on to check if there are seats. If so, I plop a backpack on each to claim while M. waits for the assistant to open the luggage compartment. If there are no seats (the driver always says there are), I stick my head out the door and yell at Michael: “NO HAY ASIENTOS!” and he grabs our bags back, I jump off, and we settle down to wait for the next bus – usually about a half hour.

This time we got lucky. A bus pulled up after about ten minutes, almost empty. We took seats with more legroom than a business-class flight, and on the west side with the best views. Michael had made sandwiches, as he does for any bus trip over two hours, in case we got hungry. We happily settled in for the four-hour, 10,000-feet descent to Guayaquil. (don’t believe the times in the maps below…)

MAP Cañar, Guayaquil GYE-Playas 2

Our Cuenca friend, Susana, met us at the bus station in Guayaquil and drove us to Playas, where she and her sister have a beach house. On the way, she told wonderful stories from her childhood when she, along with her mother and siblings, spent school vacations at the beach and her father came from Cuenca on weekends. Their house was near the single phone booth in the village, always with an impatient lineup of folks, and Susana and family could hear shouted conversations about whose child had diarrhea, who was coming and who was going, and whose daughter was flirting shamelessly with a boy from Quito.

Shortly, we were sitting on Susana’s terrace overlooking the bay of Playas, wearing far fewer clothes than we’ve worn these past five months. The temperature was at about 90 degrees (30C) and the views magnificent. terraceOriginally a fishing village, Playas has been somewhat discovered by “los ricos de Guayaquil” who’ve built a couple of high rises, but it remains basically a fishing village around a natural harbor. The fishermen go out in the morning in wooden dories or on these amazing balsa rafts, made of 3 or 5 balsa logs simply roped together.

balsa raft launching

a balsa launch with helpers

Four or six men stand on the rafts with only paddles, (although we saw some balsas on the beach with sails). The fisherman set nets offshore and then come in for the day, going out again in the afternoon to haul in the nets.  fisher w nets & birds

We got lucky one afternoon to come upon the “great haul” as men (and one woman) pulled in a huge net. The frigatebirds and I were equally excited, as I grabbed photos and they grabbed fish. The birds came in so low, fast and aggressive, I ducked a few times. As the nets get closer, everyone gathers around to hold in the fish while other helpers load them into crates to carry to trucks on the beach.high rise backgroundfish in netJPG

We asked what kind of fish – they looked too small for the market – and I’m sorry to report the answer was balanceado – animal food. We also asked how much the fishermen and helpers made in one day, and once we’d worked out the formula it came to about $25.00. However, we enjoyed the bounty of the coast with a visit to the fish market for pulpo (octupus) that M. fixed one night, and a red snapper dinner another night by María, Susana’s cook.

susana michael market

fish 1But the best part of the trip was spending time with our good friend, Susana, and her sweet chocolate Lab, Ron (rum in English). Every afternoon they played in the surf.S & Ron in surf

El Niño has heated the usually cool water this time of year to almost 80 degrees, and so I put on my rarely-used, ad hoc “swimming costume” and rolled around a bit in the surf. Michael did not of course, and also refused sunscreen on his lily-white legs, so his skin is still peeling.M with sail

*  *  *  *  *

Two weeks later: June 21, first day of summer, and the temperature was 47 degrees this morning, with spitting rain. One recent night the wind howled all night and shook doors and windows. As I write, it’s not yet 10:00 AM and I’m sitting by the fire, which we’ve had the last three mornings – the first morning fires since we came in January. It’s time to go home to summer in Portland.

But I’ve got a least one more blog to write before we leave. So don’t sign off on Cañar Chronicles 2015 yet.

Attachment to the Land

Carboneria Dear Friends: We’ve just been through a short rainy season here in Cañar – one of several in the agricultural year – and the fields are emerald green and the mountains cerulean blue. Recently, taking the bus to Cuenca on a clear day recently – a trip I usually use for two solid hours of reading – I couldn’t stop staring out the window at the beauty of the landscape. And this had me thinking that, although a much smaller percentage of the population makes a living from agriculture these days, folks both urban and rural remain attached to their land. Even ferociously attached, whether to the fields alongside a family’s house to produce their yearly supply of potatoes and corn; a small plot in the countryside where a city person grows a few vegetables, or a finca -a remnant of the hacienda period – that a family holds onto for a country house and to run a few horses. Continue reading

May Day, Cañari Style

Jose Acero w flagIn the US we don’t place so much importance on May 1, but here in Ecuador as in many countries around the world, it is a national holiday to celebrate the “laboring classes.” In fact this year in Cañar it was a three-day school holiday, which my cynical Cañari friend suggested was a strategy on President Correa’s part so the students couldn’t get organized for a big opposition demonstration. (In fact there were for-and-against-Correa marches in Quito, Cuenca and Guayaquil.)marchers w bannerIn Cañar it is always a huge event, as the indigenous organizations have taken on the day as a their own, even though 80% of campesinos still work in agriculture and not for a wage. My own history here is related to May 1, going back to 1992, when we lived in Cuenca and I had barely begun my work in Cañar, with little success. Mama Michi Chuma, the mother of my first photography student, José Miguel, invited me to take a portrait of her agricultural cooperative after the march, “but only if you make a copy for every member.” I was thrilled. This was my first “public” photo in Cañar, one I would never have been able to make if not invited. I set up my big old Rolleiflex camera and took two shots: one post-march of the members relaxing on the grass with their picnic lunch, and a second standing at attention with their flag. Today I can only find the second shot. (And I recall that I did make an 8 x 10 copy for every person.) MM coop 1992

Last Friday, the march was organized to go from El Tambo to Cañar, a distance of about 10 kilometers. The idea, of course, was to block the busy Pan American highway for the duration of the march, always a strategy of Cañari organizations when protesting or sending a message to the central government. (You can see the line of parked cars below.) The message to President Correa on the placard: “Don’t insult the people; respect the people.”marchers w parked carsNormally I would not choose to walk this stretch of the highway, which runs down to the river valley from El Tambo and then climbs steeply to Cañar. But a colleague, Judy Goldberg, and I got caught up in the excitement of day – she is here for a few months coordinating our new story exchange project, Voces de Cañar/Cañarikunapa Raymi. So at the last minute we hired a taxi-truck and took along a bunch of other celebrants who had missed out on rides.anastasio + belisarioWe met up with the march just outside El Tambo – hundreds of people surging downhill, chanting, singing, carrying banners and placards, while the police directed all traffic to stop. The day was brilliant sun, not so good for photos or walking at the incredibly fast pace the Cañaris always take, but spirits were high and the police were friendly. Judy and I quickly separated as she took off with her recorder to capture sounds, and I did my usual thing of walking backwards while photographing, trying not to trip and fall on my butt while the the fast-paced crowd rushed towards me, and avoiding being run over by the pickup carrying the mayor and other municipal authorities.IMG_4657The walk downhill to the river was easy, but the fast climb up the other side on this hot day quickly wore me out and I fell back. I saw Judy once, fresh and energetic and ready to walk the distance, although she kindly offered to stop with me. But then a second truck came by, handing out water to the marchers, and I gestured to the “water men” that I wanted to get in. They hauled my camera bag, and then me, over the back of the truck and I took my place amidst the plastic bags of water and, increasingly, young children and overheated women carrying babies, until the back of the truck was jammed. But I was able to stand and get some great shots of the marchers and mountains, before resuming walking again at the top of the hill. (Michael, seeing all the rainbow flags when I showed him the photos, said, “Everyone in Cañar is gay!”) man on horse w flagI never saw Judy again until we met at home for lunch, but it turned out she had stayed with the march until the very end, when the crowd gathered at the UPCCC, the indigenous center in Cañar. I was there too, taking some last shots of the crowd,UPCCCBut once the speeches began, I knew the event would go on without me, with hours more of speeches, dancing, and music ahead. May Day in Cañar was a big success. The soundtrack of the event, edited by Judy, was broadcast on Radio Kichwa Hatari in New York this week, and you can see the audiovisual on our new website: Voces de Cañar.

Finally, because music is so important to any Cañari event, I can’t resist adding a gallery of photos of the musicians who didn’t make it into the blog. I love this guy on his horse with his violin.man on horse w violenman w round hornI don’t know the name of this spherical horn, but my guess is it’s made of plastic pipe…bocina…as is this bocina, an instrument traditionally made of thick bamboo with a cow’s horn for mouthpiece. red scarf w quipaThe quipa, or caracol marino (seashell) is traditionally used to call country people together for a meeting, or as an alert, as the sound carries over a long distance. We still hear it some days from our comuna, albeit over a loudspeaker. boy with quipa

And it’s wonderfully heartening to see young kids learning these customs and instruments.


This and That, Here and There

Dear Friends: I’m going to start with Michael’s tarta chaglabana because some of you have been asking what he’s been up to in the kitchen these days, and it will make a prettier opener than what follows. M with torta torta closeupThe name tarta chaglabana comes from our little community, Chaglaban, and the recipe from Michael’s head. He’s always trying to come up with dishes he can fix with local ingredients and this often involves pork, a mainstay of the Cañar diet. Inspiration struck one night when he had some leftover pork chops. OK, here’s Michael: “Basically it’s a British meat pie, or a giant Argentine empanada, or an Italian calzone – with no cheese. I made this Ecuadorian version with the same dough I use to make pizza, and it really works well in a spring-form pan… (Because this could get tedious for those of you who don’t cook, I’m putting the rest of  Michael’s narrative recipe at the end of this blog.

Next topic: Eyes & Kichwa lessonsmy eye001

I didn’t see any connection between my second multifocal lens implant last week and signing up for Kichwa lessons, but when I go to my first class it will be the first time since I was eight years old to sit in a classroom without glasses (or contacts). The motivating factor was a cataract in one eye (ñawi) and the incredible difference in cost between here and the U.S. for the second eye (insurance will partially reimburse for first but not the second). My eyes are still adjusting to the new lenses, but two weeks after the surgery my distance vision is perfect (for example, from our living room windows I can see the towers on the top of the highest mountain)…

long shot towers closeup

…and I can read books and iPad in good light. But working on the computer (at 20-30”) I’m using Michael’s reading glasses (amazingly, he doesn’t seem to need them). Hopefully this will improve within the three months’ adjustment period. (If you are squeamish about such things, don’t go here.)

In doing Internet research before the surgery, I came across an interesting connection that relates to my last blog. Remember Nestlé, the largest and most profitable corporation in the world, with 8000 brands (not 2000 as I wrote before)? nestle2Well, the giant Swiss firm once wholly owned Alcon, the source of my lens implants. Begun in 1942 as a small eye-care company in Fort Worth, Texas by two pharmacists Robert Alexander and William Conner (Al-Con, get it?), their first product was eye drops for tired eyes. The company expanded into other eye care products, including contact lenses, went public back in 1971, and was acquired by Nestle in 1977 – its second venture outside the food industry – then sold in 2010 to Novartis, now the biggest eye-care company in the world. Through it all, the name Alcon persists, still with an address at 6201 South Freeway in Fort Worth, Texas.

Point being:  while I was waxing eloquent about no global giants serving up hamburgers or tacos or pizza in Cañar, one was reaching deep into my own life. “Alcon” was on the brochure they gave me to start, on the blankets they wrapped around me the day of surgery, on the implant ID cards they gave me after, and on the eyedrops I’m using for the next few weeks (bringing me back to Alexander and Conner’s first product). So for the remainder of my days, I will carry around foreign body parts, complete with serial numbers, connected weirdly to Nestlé, just as this old man we visited last Sunday decorated his kitchen walls and shelves years ago with wrappers from Nestlé.

nestle 1

Lastly, I want to introduce a new project, Voces de Cañar/Cañarikunapa Rimay, a digital storytelling exchange between Cañar and New York City, developed with a colleague from Santa Fe, Judy Goldberg. We met by chance in Ecuador last year and clicked around a mutual love of documentation, oral histories, young people, and her desire to improve her Spanish. Once I knew the archive project was a reality, I invited her to come back and share her recording and video skills. (Judy was founder and for 11 years director of Youth Media Project in Santa Fe.) She is here for three months, coordinating the project. The media exchange is a confluence of my archive work, Judy G.’s work as media producer, educator and digital storyteller, and the interest of the University of Texas. And then an article in the New York Times told about an Ecuadorian radio station in the Bronx run by a man from Cañar, Segundo Angamarca. Every Friday from 6-9 PM the station broadcasts in Kichwa, the native language of many indigenous migrants on the East Coast. Early in the year Judy made a visit to New York to meet Segundo and his colleagues at Kichwa Hatari, and to propose an exchange of audio-stories with community and youth voices in Cañar and their migrant counterparts in the Bronx (now home to New York’s largest Ecuadorian community).website imageSeveral months later, with the enormous good will of Santa Fe IT genius, Greg Malone, we have a beautiful website that we hope will be the hub for the exchange. Go here to see our first effort – a 6-minute audio slideshow about Carnaval in Cañar, in Spanish and Kichwa, that is being shown today at the Bronx Rising! Hawari: Quechua Poetry and Music event. (Clarification: in Ecuador it’s Kichwa; in Peru and Bolivia it’s Quechua.)

OK, back to Michael’s tarta chaglabana:torta alone

So: roll out a big circle of dough and drape it carefully in the pan so it slides down to fill the bottom and sides and hangs over the edges. Make a filling of ground or chopped lean pork, some garlic, onion, olive oil, 3 or 4 liquified tomatoes, chopped green or red sweet pepper, fine dried oregano, spicy Spanish paprika, or ground New Mexico chile (to taste), and salt and pepper. Don’t forget the secret ingredients: raisins and chopped green olives.

Saute the meat and other ingredients (except the tomatoes) in olive oil in big frying pan. When almost done, add the liquified tomatoes and allow to reduce some. Dump the filling into the dough-lined pan. Trim the dough, leaving an extra inch hanging over the outside edge of the pan. Fold these edges over the filling. (Or if you’re really good, don’t trim the edges but artfully fold over all the extra dough to create the top.) In my case, I trimmed and rolled out the extra dough to cut a shape to make the top crust (see photo above). Brush the top with slightly beaten egg white. Bake at about 350 degrees until nice and toasty brown, about 45 minutes. The only other thing you need to make a dinner is a salad.

Hasta la próxima.