Dear Friends: Well, the big news is that Carnaval has come around once again. I’ve been documenting this spring fiesta celebrating the “flowering-of-the-crops” (called Pawkar Raymi) for many years, and although my photos begin to look the same, I try to find new details. Like this: each year a different community around Cañar “hosts” Carnaval. These two women, holding giant cuyes, or guinea pigs, represent this year’s host, and next year’s host. Or rather, I should say they are the wives of the men who are community leaders. Still a lot of sexism around here when it comes to women in leadership or political roles. They carried the cuyes all day long and sometimes put them down on little leashes to prance around, (or more likely run and hide – guinea pigs are shy).
For me, it is an exhausting all-day affair, beginning with a ritual ceremony/breakfast in the host community – this year way up in the mountains at a beautiful place called Shayac Rumi that Michael and I first visited over 20 years ago. ...followed by a procession down the mountain (in a convoy of trucks) and then through and around town,…and ending with an all-afternoon-into-the-night gathering for singing, dancing, eating and drinking at a big field outside of town. These women are resting after carrying the cuy-ñaña – a sort of cornucopia – on their shoulders for hours and hours. Covered with fresh fruits and vegetables, topped by a cooked chicken with a chile in its beak, with a hanging-upside-down rooster (no longer alive) and, below, caged guinea pigs and rabbits, it represents the largess of mother nature, or pachamama. The women are from the host community.
This year, for me, Carnaval was two days on the front lines because I am working with a great new partner, Allison Adrian, an ethnomusicologist who’s come from St. Catherine University in Minneapolis on sabbatical and with a Fulbright to work in Cañar for six months. Her interest is, of course, the music and the instruments used in this particular fiesta, but she is was also filming in video and that made me want to be her guide and at her side (which means keeping up with her…)For years I’ve been giving out CDs or DVDs of my Carnaval photos to local organizations or participants who request them, but they invariably ask, “Where’s the music?” or “Where’s the dancing?” I have to explain that I work with a still camera, not moving pictures. With Allison, no more disappointment. Within a few days she had edited a 30-minute video of all of Carnaval, and this week we will give out DVDs.(A true participant-observer, Allison gamely takes a sip of Zhumir – cane alcohol – from a cow’s horn.)
Back to details: perhaps what I love most are the faces. For Carnaval, men dress in finery I don’t see the rest of the year. Where do all these scarves come from? And then there are these amazing sombreros that come out each year, carefully stored by the families and decorated anew with everything from cooked cuyes to a deer’s head.
Even this sheep sported a sombrero on its back.I’ve known and photographed this particular condor (below, on right) for 15 years, as it slowly dries and loses appendages. This year, it was worn by the grandson of its original owner, my friend Pedro Solano (on left). ..and with a new touch: a piece of chicken (maybe?) hanging from the condor’s beak.All right. Enough of Carnaval for this year, except for one last photo, of a moment when two Taytas Carnavaleros stood on the edge of a precipice, tapping on those little drums as they would as long as Carnaval lasts, while the clouds come down around them.
And now – time for CAñAR BOOK CLUB.
Dear Readers: I’m getting enthusiastic responses from many of you with suggestions for good books (see below). My own reading has taken a very positive turn with the visit of friends from Canada bearing prize-winning books by Canadian authors. All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews, is one of those books so riveting that you try not to read too fast, so it won’t be over too soon. I resist until bedtime, when I know I’ll only have 20 minutes of reading until I drop off. Others beside my bed: His Whole Life, by Elizabeth Hay, and February by Lisa Moore.
From other readers, with comments:
- A Long Long Way, an Irish novel and WWI story by Sebastian Barry. I’m not a big fan of war novels, but those Irish have the language down. Every word is beautiful.
- ROOM by Emma Donaghue. An adventure of a different kind.
- River of Doubt, which I loved. On our trip down the San Juan River in Nicaragua last year, we took a short “jungle tour.” One hour of sucking mud up to the knees, and trees covered in spines, we’d had enough.
- Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet, by about the life of an early 20th-century radical poet.
- The Distant Marvels, by Chantel Acevedo. Her novel is set in Cuba from the 1860s to the 1960s. We’ve been to Cuba twice and appreciate the pictures Ms. Acevado paints with her words.
- The Mapmaker’s Wife: A True Tale of Love, Murder, and Survival in the Amazon, by book that tells the engrossing story of her solo trip down the Amazon River to reunite with her husband. A great and true adventure.
- The Tomb of Seville, by Norman Lewis
- A Marriage of Opposites, Alice Hoffman
- The Art of Memoir, by Mary Karr
- The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative, by Vivian Gornick.
Thanks to all! Please keep those titles coming and tell me why you like them.