It’s two weeks now since we arrived in Cañar and, along with our various systems – we are settling in. We had no water for the first 24 hours, and then only dribbles in the days that followed. Michael lay awake at night refiguring his plumbing systems. Last year, after a new city sewer/water main came down our street and we hooked up, Michael disconnected our big water storage tank, thinking we’d have city water 24 hours a day. Ha! There was also a pesky leaking pipe under the tile floor in the laundry room, connecting the tank. He fixed the pipe but left the pump disconnected. Last July it was easier to leave it all behind, foolishly assuming we’d have a constant source of water this year.
Michael grumbles and predicts the worst possible scenarios – “We may never have running water again!” – but he’s a puzzle guy and can’t resist an interesting problem like this. He searched his bodega for parts, made lists and went into town, lie awake at night or dreamed Rube Goldberg schemes, and cursed as he struggled with the big tank in the pump room, or sprawed on the floor in the laundry room, wet with spray.
Five days later, after he’d fixed some related electrical problems and we had our first hot showers, Michael’s mood changed for the better and he announced that we are now ready for guests.
Meanwhile, I went to work. The Fiesta de San Antonio always comes middle of January, before I’m well acclimated, and the eight-day fiesta – most of it at 11,000 feet – is rigorous to say the least. I usually photograph one or two days. This year I worked one day, on Saturday, when the community gathered at the church for a blessing of their tiny saint (about 8 inches tall) followed by a procession through the town and into the country to the house of the prioste, this year’s host of the saint. There, while the saint rested in his special room with candles and incense…
Finally, around 4:00, the host community served a meal to about 300 people. Incredible. A pampamesa, or “table in the field” is just that: for a communal work day, fiestas, even funerals, women bring warm food wrapped in baskets or shawls on their backs, and at the appropriate moment, they sprinkle it along white cloths laid on the ground. Usually a mix of small bits of chicken or roasted pork, but mostly potatoes, corn, beans – the basics of the Andean diet. People sit alongside or stand behind if it’s a large crowd, and slowly eat bits and pieces until full. It’s a wonderful way to serve a big crowd, without utensils or dishes. Here you see only mote, boiled corn, while we wait for the good stuff.
This year I had the pleasure of working with a partner – Allison Adrian, an ethnomusicologist from Minneapolis who has come for six months with a sabbatical and Fulbright to research Cañari and Saragureño music. During the long day, she recorded in audio and video, and I with photos. I can see we are going to work beautifully together. Welcome, Allison!
Finally: announcing the CANAR BOOK CLUB
I’ve been a big reader since childhood, but I’ve never been in a book club. I asked to join one once, but the group was already well established and the members felt they couldn’t integrate another person. I understood. So I’m going to create my own Canãr Book Club, and I invite you to join. I’ll report on what I’m reading and you tell me what you are reading, what you recommend, what you think. I’ll put this at the end of every Chronicle so those who are not so interested can leave off!
At the moment, I’m in book two of the “Neapolitan Novels” by Elena Ferrante: The Story of a New Name. I started and finished the first one in October on a lightening trip to Ecuador, when I had many flights and many hours of reading. The second book is going slower, and with only 30 minutes or so of reading at bedtime and early morning, I find I’m growing impatient with the pace and obsessive, almost suffocating, details. This morning I picked up Dear Life, Alice Munro’s last book, and it was like a breath of fresh air to read one of her short stories. I remember discovering Munro when I lived in Toronto, and thinking, “How does she do it?” It looks so easy. Inspired, I tried a story of my own. Hmm, silly thought, not so easy, trying to copy a genius.
Stay in touch!