Christians and Moors, Romans, Goths, Visigoths, Ostrogoths (and more) in Northern Spain

Dear Friends: As I begin writing this final post from Spain early one morning, church bells are ringing, signaling the start of the Fiesta de San Antonio – same patron saint as in Cañar. The name of this beautiful little town, Cangas de Onís, is puzzling. Even the woman at the tourist office has to Google it to tell us that its Latin origin is “mountains surrounding water” or maybe, she says, “water surrounded by mountains.” True in both cases. Oh, those pesky Romans – they were everywhere, spreading their language and religion, naming places and building bridges! They came to Spain about 200 BC and stayed for 700 years. Then the Moors arrived from northern Africa, conquered Spain, built their beautiful structures and lived peacefully with everyone – Jews, Christians, Gypsies, Goths, Visigoths and Ostrogoths (I’ve been Googling, can’t you tell? And excuse me for mixing up a bit of history.)

Here’s the view from our hotel, appropriately called Puente Romano (both the bridge and hotel). Look closely and you’ll see the cross hanging from the peak of the Gothic arch with and A for Alpha and O for Omega – the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. It’s meaning, as Michael-raised-Baptist explains is: When Jesus said, “I am the alpha and omega, he meant his God was the beginning and the end.

Later, I visit the small Roman Catholic chapel of Santa Cruz, built in 737 to honor the “cross that re-conquered Spain.” It was here in Cangas de Onís, apparently, where the Christians began the long series of wars and battles to kick out the muselmanes. That took another 700 years.

Typically, this chapel was built on top of a pre-Christian sacred site, a burial mound maybe 3000 years old, over a perfectly preserved burial stone, or dolmen, that one can see through a glass window in the floor.

The plaque also mentions that the chapel was destroyed in 1936 and rebuilt in 1943, an oblique reference to the Spanish Civil War. Being a tourist in Spain you would hardly know the war had happened – I happened to see a postcard in the museum at tourist office of this town after it was bombed. The war is never mentioned in official literature, and only by the dates can one read between the lines.

As I read the plaque, I was reminded how things have not really changed that much in 2000 years. Repeated conquests, wars, repression, inquisition, one group building on top of the sacred site of another. Later today we visit a monumental example. A few miles from Cangas, the Basilica de Santa Maria was built in 19th century adjacent to a holy cave. Reading THAT plaque I see a priest died in 1936  “a martyr”  another reference to the civil war when many priests were killed in the first few years. 

It was here, as we made the long walk up the zig-zag road to the Basilica that I saw my favorite “desire path” of the day. A perfect example where walkers have stepped over the wall and walked around the fence to take a shortcut between a zig and a zag. We took the shortcut down and had a picnic lunch 

The same day, we made the hair-raising drive (along with mini-buses and tour buses) on a near-one lane winding road high into the mountains to the Lagos de Covadango, where we saw almost as many cows as tourists. The different sounds of their bells made that trip worthwhile, though the site was just too overrun by tourists to feel special (the cows didn’t seem to mind, and they ruled the roads). 

I close this blog in Madrid, where it is 97F today, and 100F tomorrow. Time to leave for New York, where we’ll spend a few days before heading home to Portland. It’s been a good month, our best in Spain these last few years because of the weather. This time we got lucky – four weeks of glorious long days, endless servings of pulpo a la gallega (octopus served warm, often on top of sliced potatoes, with paprika, olive oil and coarse salt), many picnics with jamón y queso and these tasty flat peaches, mountains galore, small hotels, good beds, wonderful folks. We’re already planning our trip back next year.Meanwhile, I think the broken link for comments has been fixed – so please stay in touch. I love to hear from you.

Desire Paths, in Spain and elsewhere

Dear Friends: this morning I was ready to go back to my first Spain Chronicle, after my website was hacked a week or so ago (more on that later), but first I checked the Guardian news and saw the terrible events in London yesterday – where seven people were killed on London Bridge when run down by terrorists in a van and others stabbed. I was further horrified to see Portland, Oregon sharing the front page with an article about a white supremacist who a week ago, on a city train, fatally stabbed two men and injured another after they came to the aid of two young women being subjected to anti-Muslim racial abuse. What is happening to our world? Our own world. Three days ago we were in London and enjoying a night tour with friends near the London Bridge. In little more than two weeks, we will be at home in Portland, where a rally is to be held today, Sunday, June 4, to mark the deaths of the two men. White supremacist groups called the Oath Keepers say they will attend the rally to “provide security” and the chair of the city’s Republican party told the Guardian he was considering contacting groups like these to provide security for party events.

Although in the face of all this it seems superficial to be writing about our trip to Spain, I will go back to where I left off a week ago, when this was the title on my website:  . And when I tried to log in I got this encouraging note: The explanation from my Portland website host was just about as mystifying, but at least they’ve put me back in business. Desire paths – the title of this chronicle. I’m a fan of Spitalfields Life, a daily blog by “the gentle author” in East End London who writes daily about past and the present – working class people, markets, historic buildings threatened with demolition, parks, cemeteries, spring flowers, and cats. A couple of days ago he wrote about “desire paths” – user-created pathways between the shortest or most easily navigated way, often in defiance of authority or established sidewalks. I was captured by the idea, both as metaphor and by our lives; I love to cut across fields (and gingerly climb over an electric fence as we did yesterday), step off the concrete to walk on that parallel path, or just bushwhack between our trail and that one on the other side of the ravine (that recently got us into trouble).

Today – Sunday, June 4, we are in a small town of Panes (pa-nays) in the Picos de Europa, a mountainous area in the north of Spain, in Asturias. At the moment it feels just like Cañar – cloudy, raining, 57 degrees F, and we are huddled in our rural hotel room with the picnic bought for our walk today. Which will now be a picnic in our room:  Michael worried about leaving crumbs in the room so to cut the bread he stepped out onto the balcony, where it looks like this. Those are high mountains in the distance, covered by clouds. Tomorrow we’ll drive through them to a place called Cabrales (of stinky cheese fame).During our first two weeks in Spain, however, the weather was glorious. Madrid – Bilbao – Pamplona – Bilbao – Asturias. Last time I was in Pamplona was in 1968, on my first trip to Europe with my two sisters – a graduation present from our parents. All I remember of Pamplona is a campground with many others looking like us – long hair, short skirts, VW campers – (were we camping too? I don’t remember), but certainly oblivious to the fact that we were in Franco’s Spain. Just as we had been oblivious to the strikes in Paris where we had been that June, or later in July to the military government that ruled Greece. In other words – we were American flower girls, not quite mindless but certainly unaware of events in the rest of the world. The photo alongside was not us then, but maybe seven years ago at the wedding of nephew Alex and Elena. I’d never seen the photo until last week when it popped up on FB. That’s Char, happy mother of groom, in middle; Sherry on left, me on right.

Anyway, I am wanting to say that in Spain this time we are following “desire paths” – no fixed itinerary, no tours, no guides, just going where our serendipitous wayfinding takes us. In Pamplona, I discovered the Archivo General de Navarra and talked to an archivist, Diego. When I asked about the oldest document in the archive, he deadpanned “1000 years” – and brought it up on the screen.The building itself is from the 12th century, refurbished and sensitively modernized by Spanish architect Rafael Moneo. A dream of a building for those lone-arranger archivists like yours truly.

We loved Pamplona for the street life and parks and ramparts we walked that encircled the city, outdoor eating, and yes, Michael, we loved the hams too.In the area of Asturias where we are now, coastal Llanes and inland, we saw these fantastic overly-large, overly-rich and mostly empty houses that don’t fit in with the rest of local architecture. Turns out they were built by Indianos, the general term for the hundreds of thousands of poor from northern Spain who migrated to Latin America in the 19th and early 20th century – Cuba, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Mexico. Some returned rich to build grand colonial-style houses in their home village and plant the signature palm tree. (All the photos below from the small town of Llanes.)   

We were fascinated by this story because it is so familiar to us from southern Ecuador, where in the past 30 years hundreds of thousands have migrated to the U.S. or Europe, sending money home to build over-sized, brightly-colored, and often empty, houses. (I guess bright colors were not the mode for Spanish emigrants.)

That’s about it for now. I’ll end with two photos from Llanes and our last beautiful weather day, when we walked along the coast and had our first picnic of the trip. Michael shopped hard for that ham – bellota – cut by hand “with the bone in.” No machine-sliced ham for us!  Please stay in touch – I love hearing from you all. 

 

Goodbye Cañar, hello Spain

Dear Friends: Today is (was) May 1, International Workers’ Day, and an important anniversary for me as Michael and I mark 25 years since first arriving in Cañar, and twelve years living the “half-life” here.  So, to go back:  May 1, 1992, was my first real invitation to take a photograph in Cañar (see above) – it came from Mama Michi Chuma, who was president of her agricultural cooperative – unusual for a woman even back then. “You can take the photo after our march,” she told me then, “but only if you make a copy for every member.” I was thrilled. Mama Michi is in the center of the photo, looking to her right.
This extraordinary woman has been a part of our lives in one way or another since even before that day. Her son José Miguel was one of my first two photography students, and Mama Michi welcomed us on our first visit, she later said, because we arrived “on foot and without a bible.” (Michael, in fact, was carrying the high-efficiency portable wood stove he was promoting in those years.)

Mama Michi is now a well-known curandera, a native healer, and every year I arrange for a group of Lewis & Clark College students doing a semester in Cuenca to have a “healing session” with heri, a highlight of their Cañar weekend. Here she is with this year’s group:In other news, an article on the Cañar archive project just came out this week in Archival Outlook, publication of the Society of American Archives, with cover and photos from Cañar and text by yours truly and Natalie Baur, the wonderful archivist who first connected me with the SAA and who is supporting the archive project here as she pursues her PhD in Mexico.  The full article can be found here: http://bit.ly/2qA0DWy

 

The striking cover image is from a glass-plate negative of town photographer Rigoberto Navas (1911-2001). Most likely from the 1940’s, this ritual dancer is wearing a wig with long thin braids and headdress, part of a costume still used today by the few remaining dancers and musicians of “Mama Danza” in the Cañar region of Zhud/Suscal. (Another project that needs researching!)

The national meeting of the Society of American Archivists is in Portland this year (July 23-29) and although I don’t usually enjoy gatherings with 5000 participants, I’m excited to be a part of it this time: http://www2.archivists.org/am2017

Lastly, we are in the familiar process this week of packing up the house, wrapping up projects, cleaning like crazy, saying goodbye to friends and preparing to leave Cañar on May 15. But this year is different because we’re headed to Spain instead of Portland and because my passport has less than six months left on it, I cannot come back to Ecuador. So it’s a complicated dance – mostly for me – figuring out what to leave here and what I need to take – via Spain and New York- to the US (like a couple of hard drives, cameras, extra laptop and so on).

Meanwhile, Michael’s firewood supply is well under control for next year – and the next and next!

 

CANAR BOOK CLUB

We had a hurried meeting of the International Cañar Book Club this month, as everyone was busy with one thing and another, but there was time for a good discussion of what we’re reading.

From Liz in Toronto: “Euphoria” by Lily King, a novel loosely based on the life of the anthropologist Margaret Mead. (I read it last year and liked it). And Eva Stachniak’s “Chosen Maiden,” a terrific bio of Bronia Nijinsky.

From Pat in Bend, Oregon: Alice Hoffman writes historical fiction. I’ve enjoyed “The Museum of Extraordinary Things” (19th century U.S.) and “The Marriage of Opposites‘ (Caribbean). Another good read and important non-fiction book about the concepts of wilderness and the environment is J.B. MacKinnon’s “The Once and Future World.”

From Suzanne in Portland: Two good fiction reads, “Around the Next Corner” by Elizabeth Wrenn –  a woman examining her life as her children transition out of the house, by and thru deciding to foster a puppy to begin its first year of training as a seeing-eye dog.

Suzanne continues: 1,000 White Women tells the story of what could have happened if the US government had gone along with the matrilineal Cheyenne tribe’s suggestion that, to further the assimilation, the government should give the tribe 1000 women.

From Bruce in Portland:  Exit West  (Mohsin Hamid) and A Horse Walks into a Bar (David Grossman). Both quick reads with some good writing in parts but very lightweight literature. Currently reading The Sleepwalkers (How Europe Went to War in 1914) by Christopher Clark. A tour de force masterpiece of historical analysis and very relevant to the slow-motion train wreck currently unfolding on the world stage.(

He adds: (A Man Called Ove was a sententious book and a saccharine and silly movie.

From Nancy H in Portland:  Evicted by Matthew Desmond – a most compelling, authentically-told, story-based telling of the plight of those in poverty challenged by keeping a clean, safe roof over their heads. The characterizations are nuanced–including those of their landlords, often caught in tough situations themselves. I heartily recommend it!

Also just finished Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth. In an interview, she said shes decided to allow herself to write closer to home. With her sharp eye and ability to find both humor and grace in all her characters, I think this one is truly a great coming home. I have always preferred her nonfiction to her fiction, and this book seems to combine the best of both genres. In tone it reminded me of many of her wonderful personal essays, captured in another highly recommended book, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

From Maggi in Toronto: I’m currently reading “Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary & Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva” by Rosemary Sullivan and finding it totally gripping.

Finally, from Judy in Cañar: I’m seriously worried about what to read in Spain. So far I’m taking: Madrid: The History by Jules Stewart, The Pyramid by Henning Mankell (“The first Wallander Cases,” meaning his publisher has scrounged around after this wonderful writer’s death last year to find short stories that had never been collected in a book. And In The Woods, by Tana French.  That’s it. I’m hoping to find a used English book store in Madrid.

Until the next time, keep in touch!

News from Cañar (and all over)

Dear Friends:  Well, the very first news is that the weather has improved! (see header image) Days now in the 60’sF instead of the 50’s, and nights in the 50’s instead of the 40’s. No solid rainy days for a while, and we once again luxuriate in summer temperatures in our glass-covered patio – today a high of 77F.  Here’s Paiwa, studying for her geology exam next week.Next news is that Lenin Morena, the ruling party candidate, won the run-off election on April 2 by a very thin margin that I hope he will act upon in his next four years as president of Ecuador (and as the first head-of-state in a wheelchair, a paraplegic after being shot in a robbery years ago). Our indigenous and town friends voted largely for his opponent, Guillermo Lasso, attracted by his campaign promise of “CAMBIO!” Change. Sound familiar?  The indigenous movement has been vastly disappointed with President Rafael Correo and many voted their sentiments. Correo had turned increasingly authoritarian in his ten years in office, allowing mining in sensitive areas, oil drilling in the Amazon, censoring the media, and gutting the bilingual (Kichwa-Spanish) programs.

Then, yesterday I saw on Facebook that Mercedes Guamán (right), one of our scholarship graduates, now a lawyer and an alternate member of congress from Cañar, was in Quito with other indigenous leaders, to meet with the “virtual president” Moreno and with (here) the virtual vice-president Jorge Glas. Both apparently promise to do better serving the indigenous populations of Ecuador. We’ll see.In home news: I’ve just been through the busiest two weeks of my Cañar year, with the simultaneous visits of two “dream teams” I was thrilled to have come work with me – I just didn’t expect to be coordinating their visits at the same time. Two Peace Corps volunteers from the 1960’s, Jeffrey Ashe and John Hammock, came for a week to make oral histories with those they knew 50 years ago, around the issues of agrarian reform. Both have continued to work for social justice and world poverty reduction since they were idealistic young men clambering over the mountains of Cañar  – Jeff (on left) with small savings and credit groups in Africa, Nepal and Central America (http://amzn.to/2oASEFj), and John (with umbrella) at the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative in the UK (http://www.ophi.org.uk/)   Jeffrey with Pio Culala and Antonio Quinde, leaders in agrarian reform era 1966-1972).

At the same time, a team of tecnicos from the National Instituto of Patrimonio Cultural (INPC) came from Quito for three days to scan the negatives of the photo collection of Rigoberto Navas (1911-2001). While I was in Quito in February I visited INPC and proposed they acquire the collection of the images I’ve been working on for three years, but they counter-proposed to come to Cañar and scan the negatives.  (http://bit.ly/1fZGUXB) I couldn’t be happier to have these new colleagues. (L-R) Carolina Calero, José Rubio, and Marta Navas with paintings by her father, Rigoberto Navas, on the wall.  (A third tecnico, Nicolas Cascante, missed the morning flight but came later in the day.) They found such a large and rich trove of negatives in the Navas studio that they are planning a return visit, hopefully in May.

Both teams were warmly welcomed by those of us in Cañar who feel we are a culturally significant but largely forgotten corner of Ecuador, and I personally am grateful for the materials generated and preserved for my digital Archivo Cultural de Cañar.

 

Cañar Book Club

I’m happy to report the Cañar Book Club is alive and well. We had a virtual meeting recently and our members reported in on recent reads and recommendations.

  • From Joanne in Mexico: Hasim Matar’s Anatomy of a Disappearance is not as good as The Return, but enjoyable. Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West is fabulous. Also read a surprisingly interesting bio, Caravaggio: Painter of Miracles by Francine Prosemaybe not so surprising given his wild and wooly life.
  • From Poppy in Portland: I am 2/3 the way through the photographer Sally Mann’s memoir/autobiography, Hold Still. I absolutely loved the first half. She is a skilled writer as well as a photographer.
  • From Allison in Minneapolis: wasn’t A Hologram for the King the pits?! Read Homegoing instead if you can find it.
  • From Patty in Portland:  Evicted by Matthew Desmond and The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud.
  • From Carole in Portland:  The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee; the history of eugenics here in our country prior to the rise of Hitler is chilling. Also started White Trash by Nancy Isenberg, the 400-year untold history of class in America – my personal attempt to understand the undercurrents to our current social/political situation.
  • From Michael in Cañar: I’m reading The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen, and I’m loving following the saga of this heroine of Civil War emancipation.
  • And from Judy in Cañar:  A week ago I was in a literary slump. Read A Man Called Ove and found it insufferably boring. I’d bought the book before we saw the movie, and realized it was essentially the script. So I turned to another book I’d started a few months ago but laid down because I just wasn’t in the mood to learn about hawks, I guess: H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. I’m happy to say it’s all the cover blurbs attest and I’m totally absorbed: “beautifully written, fascinating, dazzling,” though maybe not quite “breathtaking.” And now I have two more months to go without a single new book on my shelves. Please advise!

Mike Has a Very Bad Day

Years ago, when Michael and I first met in Costa Rica, we did a series of tongue-in-cheek fotonovelas about our new lives: How Mike and Judy Met; Mike and Judy Get Engaged; Mike and Judy Contemplate Marriage, and so on. In those days I shot in black/white, developed the photos in the darkroom, designed and photocopied the booklets, hand-colored the photos, and sent the novelas off to friends and family with the postal service. Remember those days?  When we left Costa Rica (Mike and Judy Consider a Change of Life), we gave up the project. However, when Michael lost his keys this week, which led to a series of unfortunate events that added up to “a very bad day,” we thought we would resurrect the form and have a bit of fun…It all began as a regular day, Michael left early for Cuenca for his usual weekly grocery shopping at the SuperMaxi. Judy left soon after for appointments in Azogues and Cuenca. Michael was to come home early, and Judy later, closer to dinnertime.The downward spiral begins when Michael returns to find his keys gone – no doubt lost in a taxi or bus when he pulled out coins from his pockets. The gate was locked, but he’d hidden two keys for just such a disaster – one for the gate just inside the fence – reachable from outside – and another deeper inside for the front door. What? The gate key is gone! Our compadre who takes care of the property while we’re gone must have used it and did not put it back.

So now Mike has to get into the yard. This requires climbing the 8-foot metal fence – luckily one without spikes on top like all our neighbors – through thick bushes.

On the other side, Mike goes looking for the hidden front door key. What? No hidden key?? El compadre must have used this one too and did not put it back. Chuta! (a favorite Cañar expletive.)

Now the only thing to do is to break into the house.  Judy’s darkroom window seems a likely place.

Mike forces the latch and climbs over my darkroom sink. Ah, in the house at last, and ready to relax, make a fire and have a beer. That will put everything right.  But….what’s this?? No beer??? Oh NO!So it’s back out to buy some beer. Still no gate key, so Mike finds the ladder, luckily left outside behind the house. So it’s up, fiddle the ladder to get it on the other side, climb down, go buy beer, then up and down again….


 

Judy comes home at last from a busy day in Cuenca. By now Mike has crafted his very bad day into a good story. And he’s brought a special treat for dinner in that little red cooler he took to Cuenca  – sea bass fillets!  Now to just find the breadcrumbs….

What? No breadcrumbs???

Well, that was the end of Mike’s very bad day. He breaded the fish in cornmeal, and it was OK. At the time we didn’t know we would do this fotonovela, so I didn’t take a photo. But here is my sea bass sandwich next day, on our walk into the country… …enjoyed while watching an alpaca make friends with a pig. Which rather put things in perspective…That’s all folks!  Next Cañar Chronicle back to serious things. National runoff election this Sunday, April 2, that will determine the next president of Ecuador. Stay tuned and be sure to write. I love hearing from you.