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.

The weather, a wedding and books

Dear Friends:  It has been a long period of extremely cold, rainy and foggy weather in Cañar, with the temperature most days in the mid-50’s (F) and at night in the 40’s (F). Brrrr. Here Narcisa and José María plow our back field during the “dias feos” – ugly days. Michael has taken to building a morning fire and keeping it going all day until bedtime. We eat dinner in front of it, listening to KMHD jazz or Radiolab, and watching our films sitting there. Then, come @ 9:00, we rush towards the bedroom, sometimes one at a time, brush, jump into bed nearly fully clothed (that’s me), and read a book for 15-30 minutes. Then, before lights out, I peel off layers of (lately) an undershirt, two t-shirts, two sweaters, wool scarf, and I leave it all in a tangle, wrong-side-out, on the floor beside the bed.

We sink into good sound sleeps of around eight hours in the cold, dark and quiet. Next morning I only have to reach over and turn my clothes right-side-in and peel them back on, while still cozy in bed. Meanwhile, Michael is in the kitchen doing last night’s dishes and making coffee. In return for coffee in bed, I load Michael’s puzzles on my laptop: a NYTimes crossword and four KenKens (“puzzles that make you smarter), while simultaneously checking the headlines (oh no!). “COFFEE!” M. yells from the kitchen (unless we have guests, in which case the protocol is to come quietly to bedroom door). That is my signal to jump up, put on tights, and print his puzzles while I get my coffee. Then it’s back to bed for me while Michael has two double espressos with puzzles in his “chess corner” in the living room, still warmish after last night’s fire.And here I am at the moment. It is Sunday morning, March 5, and the brief sun has gone. Yesterday we were invited to a special wedding at Ingapirca, the Inca ruins about 30 minutes from Cañar that many of our visitors know. Although we have vowed, after all these years, to avoid baptisms, weddings, and graduation fiestas – all two-three day, late-night affairs – we went to this one for several reasons. Pacha, the bride, is one of our scholarship graduates and Juan Carlos, the groom, is someone we’ve known since he was 5 or so, back in 1992 when we attended his baptism fiesta. It was our first real invitation to a Cañari family event, and we were so thrilled we stayed late dancing and returned early the next morning to continue the celebration. We left Cañar soon after for a Christmas break in the U.S., and when we returned we learned that Juan Carlos’s father, a promising young agronomist, had died after a soccer-game kick that probably ruptured his spleen.

Meet the bride and groom, or “novios” as they say here. (That’s Mama Michi on left.)Pacha and Juan Carlos have an interesting story. They got together too young in high school, had a baby who died, went their separate ways, got back together, Pacha applied to the Cañar Women’s Scholarship Program in her second year of dental school at University of Cuenca, and we supported her through four more years and a specialist course – she now has a thriving practice in Cañar – during which time Juan earned a master’s degree in music and they had a beautiful daughter, Naomi, now nine. Naomi led the wedding procession as we wound our way through the archeological complex, stopping for ritual ceremonies at various points along the way. OK, so why get married…again? After 13 years, and a second child born a year or so ago. They surely had a civic marriage at some point, but in the eyes of Mama Mariana, Juan Carlos’s mother, a widow so proud of her three professional children, and the Catholic Church and maybe even the Cañari community, Pacha and Juan Carlos were not really married until…well, something like the ritual of yesterday. It was all very orchestrated, a mix of La La Land fantasy with music, flowers and flames and flags and dancing. But we all loved it, along with the lucky tourists in Ingapirca yesterday. Michael and I skipped the all-night fiesta at Pacha’s parents’ house, as we are skipping the mass today and will miss another late-night fiesta tonight at Mama Mariana’s house. Our stamina for such events – and mine as documenting photographer – is not what it used to be. But here we were: me with a brother of the bride; Michael with the groom.

 

Cañar Book Club

OK, we are WAY overdue for a meeting of the Cañar Book Club, and I apologize to my fellow members for being so long in calling a meeting.
However, I have been faithfully collecting the amazing list your good reads and suggestions. My own reading has been all over the place, from A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers (hated it! although I’ve liked most everything else of his, but can’t believe such a boring story has been made into a movie with Tom Hanks). Then, desperate for a change of pace, I read Tana French’s Faithful Place. For years I’ve heard about her writing and her Dublin-based mystery stories. Too long, but I was captivated as much by the vernacular voice of her protagonists (e.g. incredibly creative cursing) as by the story. She’s great. Now Michael’s reading it, and I have her In the Woods on my bedside pile. But my best read by far the past few months was The Secrets of Mary Bowser, by Portland author Lois Leveen. A historical novel based on a real person, I learned a lot about the Civil War south as seen through the eyes of an ex-slave turned spy for the Union.

Your reads: (I fear I’ve missed some of your book club messages. Please send  anew, with updates…)

From Andrew in London: July’s People by Nadine Gordimer – humanistic, incredible writing.

 From Lisa in LA: That Bright Land by Terry Roberts and quite enjoying it… about a small North Carolina town post-Civil War and a former Union soldier sent there to discover who is killing Union veterans.

From Maggi in Toronto: Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel and… just finishing The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead – most interesting.

From Susan in PortlandBarkskins by Annie Proulx. A huge tome, 700+ pages. Deals with the European attitude toward the natural world, focusing on the huge forests in the northern New World.

From Daphne in EdmontonAnn Patchett’s new novel Commonwealth. It’s very interesting, a good read.

From Shoshana in Portland: My Antonia (Willa Cather)…because I have always loved her simple and rich writing style, rich with similes, where the reader can feel, taste and sense the surroundings.

From Joan in Corvallis: Mary Weismantel’s book  Food, Gender and Poverty in the Ecuadorian Andes.

From Ed in Quito: Lost Crops of the Incas-Little known plants of the Andes with Promise of World Wide Cultivation y Huasipungo by Jorge Icaza which was influential in describing the abuses of the hacienda system.

From Sandy in Portland: Citizen, An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. Brilliantly written, difficult to read, but her writing leaves you not just with greater intellectual understandings of racism, but feelings. I have read some other good ones lately, but this one is the one that had the biggest impact on me.

From Char in Santa Fe.: Mariette In Ecstasy by Ron Hanson, 1991.  I love it for thedaily routine of the nuns. The tag line is “Exquisite…a cliff-hanger of a story..the finale is a stunner.”

From Irene in Salem: Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. They are best read in a series. Well written and I do like mysteries.

From Patty in Portland: An Atlas of Impossible Longing, by Anuradha Roy, another great read and terrific title and also The Folded Earth (2011) by Roy, which I haven’t yet read.

From Maya in Portland:  The Return: Fathers and Sons and the Land in Between, by Hisham Matar, a memoir by a Libyan who’s father was thrown into Kadaffi’s prison, which was one of New York Times’ best books of the year, and it is totally compelling.

From ??: The Dream of My Return by Horacio Castellanos Moya.  It’s got that signature modern Latin American technique of continuous first person narrative in an almost hallucinogenic pace. The protagonist is an exile in Mexico City considering returning to El Salvador.

And to end with Maya from Portland who writes, given these times:  Thank goodness for good books!