Hello Warm & Sunny Cañar

Dear Friends:  The last time we were in Cañar during this fall season was in 2001, near the end of a Fulbright year and our first long stay here. All I remember from these months was how cold I was. We lived in a flimsily-built house on the Paseo de los Cañaris, with almost no direct sunlight, and I sometimes slept in wool hat and gloves.p1150923Many things have changed since then, including global warming, Last week, we arrived in Cañar at mid-day to clear skies and temperatures in the 70’sF. Opening the door to our glass-covered patio it was over 80. Michael had bought lunch things, but for the first time in the eight years we’ve been in this house, it was too hot to have lunch at our usual spot in the patio. So I set up a table outside the kitchen for another first: lunch al fresco on a little back patio.  (sorry Michael for catching you mid-bite.)lunch-back-patioAfter, we slowly did our rounds of house and garden, Michael reporting he felt a bit dizzy while I had the usual altitude headache coming on and knew a couple of nights of insomnia awaited me. Within the last four hours, we had come from sea-level Guayaquil to over 10,000 ft. (3100 mts) with a hot-footed hired driver in her private car. It was thrilling to get here so fast, but the result was a mild version of soroche or altitude sickness (low partial pressure of oxygen). It does take us a few days to feel normal at this altitude, and I usually avoid making the climb into town because when greeting folks I’m too breathless to carry on much conversation.

Inside the house, we see calling cards of creatures small and smaller that take over the while we’re gone. White dropping all over the patio show that small birds  enjoyed swooping in through the space between the glass frame and tile roof, making themselves at home. In the utility room one enterprising ave has built its nest in the hot water heater. We see mouse droppings here and there, in likely and unlikely places – in my office/studio, for instance, on the bookshelves. I imagine the mice frolicking, looking for favorite titles. And among the beams the usual spider webs and lots of dust. (Below: Michael cleaning and repairing the hot water heater.) hot-water Outside, a neighbor’s cocky rooster with his three clucking hens has taken up residence in the kitchen garden. (That evening the rooster will startle us by jumping up and pecking at his reflection in our living room window, thinking an interloper has moved into his territory.)p1150974I see that our other next door neighbor, Magdalena, has tethered four cows in her tiny backyard, and constructed a new twig roof on her shed worthy of a Whitney Biennial artist. cow-chozaIn our side yard I see broken limbs from a small tree where Jose Maria’s twin bulls must have passed through on their way to the back field.  I’ve often watched our compadre bring these huge creatures through the gate and around the house, prodding them along as they try to chomp on anything in their way. This poor tree will never be the same with all its lower branches gone. After we left in July, Jose Maria tilled that field with the yoked bulls and wooden plow to plant potatoes, now beautifully in bloom. p1000679Below us looking north, I see a new wall built at the end of our property. Our spectacular view is slowly being encroached upon, and I mourn every inch that disappears. But Michael is more philosophic. We knew we were building in an area newly zoned as residential – in fact, we wanted to be close to town – so it’s inevitable that people build around us (if only it weren’t always with concrete blocks – least expensive and fastest construction). Still, I fondly remember our 180-degree view ten years ago of nothing but fields, mountains and a few adobe houses in the distance.p1000689Our favorite neighborhood dog, whom we call Gordo, squeezes under the gate and gives us a baleful look. You back already?     p1000702He loves our lawns for his daily “business” and also to store his collections of objects, such as two rubber shoes – not a pair – a tattered soccer ball, assorted bones and plastic bottled, a used diaper or two…

p1150976 p1150959That evening, with the magic of a small laptop and Bluetooth speaker we listen to our favorite Portland radio station KMHD – and our friend Lynn Darroch’s Friday afternoon program, Bright Moments. (Lynn: Michael says how much he loved the Ray Charles-in-Seattle story.)  And in front of our first fire (the temp drops dramatically at night and in fact it froze two nights later), we enjoyed our first sunset…  (Read on below for news from the Cañar Book Club.)p1150928-1

The Cañar 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’ve created my own 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 think, what you recommend. I’ll put this at the end of every Chronicle.

I’m attaching a list of the books I brought this year – a miscellaneous collection from wish lists, friends’ recommendation – including from you, dear readers – and reviews that led to impulse buys. Thus, as I unpack, I look at some titles and wonder whatever led me to buy this? So far since I left Portland on our 24-hour travel day I read Patricia Hampl’s The Florist’s Daughter, picked up at the Multnomah County book table at Woodstock a couple of weeks ago. A beautiful memoir. Then for change of pace I picked up The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau – ordered after I read about the author shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize, Graeme Macrae Burnet, and his bestselling “cult classic” first book. I’m not a big mystery reader, but this was a delight and I consumed it in two days. OK – below are the books now sitting on my reading shelf next to my side of the bed, making me feel happy and secure:

  1. H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald
  2. Sleepless Nights, Elizabeth Hardwick
  3. Toby’s Room, Pat Barker
  4. Italian Ways, Tim Parks
  5. Shame, Melanie Finn
  6. A Hologram for the King, Dave Eggers
  7. Family Album, Penelope Lively
  8. On the Move: A Life, Oliver Sacks
  9. An Unneccessary Woman: Rabih Alameddine
  10. The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert
  11. All the Light we Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
  12. What the Dead Know, Laura Lippman
  13. My Venice and other Essays, Donna Leon
  14. My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout
  15. The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit
  16. In the Wood, Tana French
  17. Faithful Place, Tana French
  18. A Man Called Ove, Fredrick Backman
  19. Madrid: The History, Jules Stewart
  20. The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau, Graeme Macrae Burnet