Life in Cañar May 2021

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Dear Friends:As with other South America countries, a second wave of Covid19 has hit Ecuador, though nothing as serious as it’s neighbors, Colombia and Peru, covered by a NYT article here. Still, after the horrific initial outbreak while we were here last March, Ecuador has been cautious. With the recent surge, the government declared a four-week, “general quarantine” on weekends (8:00 PM Friday to 5:00 AM Monday) in sixteen of the country’s twenty-four provinces. It’s being strictly enforced, according to the news, with 516 arrests for curfew violations the first weekend, and more than a thousand fines to drivers on the streets without legitimate reasons. Nine brothels were also closed around Guayaquil, with the best quote of the week from the National Emergency Operations Committee. “Fornication or other sexual acts among strangers are not allowed during the emergency.”  Cañar was not included in the quarantine, so life goes on pretty much as usual here. We’ve just been to the local Saturday market to find it packed with wholesale vendors and buyers, food stands, cars and trucks. Almost everyone wears masks, however, and I was glad to hear loudspeaker announcements in Quichua and Spanish on the importance of the vaccine, which has rolled out in Cañar these last few weeks with “tercer edades” (elders) and teachers. Countrywide, it’s been slow and chaotic, with only 4.3 of population so far vaccinated.“We had it under control in our communities,” a Cañari tayta, or elder, told me yesterday, “and now it’s back. But mostly in the town,” he added, naming several of his neighbors who were infected at their workplaces. Still, this past year in his large comuna only four people have died, and although infections were widespread he could only name one or two people who’d actually gone to hospital. He wore a mask as we talked, but said he would not be getting the vaccine – something I’m hearing from almost everyone who lives in the country. As I wonder about it, a clearer (but speculative) picture begins to form: while those who’ve had mild cases feel they’ve “been there” and don’t need further protection, the rest feel that if they’ve avoided the virus so far, why risk the vaccine with its reported side effects. Also, many folks here use preventative home remedies as protection against the virus. The tayta described the concoction he drinks three times a day: a tea made up of three heads of garlic, three red onions, four limes with peel, five cypress buds, and a dash of honey. And people keep eucalyptus branches at doorways, windows and even in cars.

Some of you have asked about Michael’s cooking (and commented on his hands), so here’s an update on last week’s paella, made possible by the magnificent langostinos that sometimes show up in the Sunday market…

…and shared with out resident goddaughter, Paiwa.Otherwise Michael’s labors involve maintaining the endlessly needy woodpile, with delivery of wood followed by the sound of the chainsaw.

As for me, I have two projects in the works, one short-term, one long. The first is a brochure on Cañari music, part of the amazing outcome of ethnomusicologist Allison Adrian’s time in Cañar on a Fulbright grant here three years ago. Since then, she has been producing videos, translations and transcriptions of traditional Cañari music. The brochure, which I’m helping design and guiding to print during the next month, will give listeners a quick study in Cañari music, with photos, titles and lyrics, and a QR code to a Soundcloud site. And here is a link to her videos on YouTube – Watch and listen and learn!The long-term project is one close to my heart for many years: a book of archival images from the glass-plate and early celluloid negatives of Rigoberto Navas, traditional Cañar town photographer. I began about six years ago when his family gave me access to a closet in his last studio, stuffed with boxes of negatives, camera equipment, and odds and ends of his long life (1911-2001). In the beginning I was only looking for images with indigenous content, but I quickly realized that here was a beautiful visual history of a small market town in the first half of 20th century. Six years on, although local and even national institutions are firmly behind the project, the pandemic means zero budget for cultural projects. So I will soon be off on a private fundraising effort that will take me into next year and the six months we plan to spend here.

Photo by Rigoberto Navas

Another big transition in a photographer’s life: a week or so ago I sold my Cañar darkroom equipment and supplies, including some seriously outdated film and chemicals. A photographer and collector from Cuenca, an acquaintance of many years, came and hauled it all away in the back of his SUV.

The day before, as Michael and dismantled the large Beseler enlarger, we laughed remembering traveling to Ecuador with it as baggage about 12 years ago, when it looked for all the world like a strange rocket. Ecuadorian customs agents, more accustomed to plasma TVs, microwaves and computers, took one quizzical look and let us through. It has served me well all these years, as I loved darkroom work, but like many others these day, I no longer use film, and barely a 35mm camera. We did the same routine in Portland a few months ago – dismantled the darkroom and placed equipment and camera gear on consignment with Blue Moon Camera.I was surprised and how quickly it all sold.

Cañar Book Club

OK dear readers, settle into your favorite wing chair with a good light. I put out a call for fiction and had some great responses from our esteemed and fabulous club members.

From Joanne in Portland: What’s Left of Me is Yours, Stephanie Scott. “Wonderful novel based on a true story of a murder by a wakaresaseya (breaker-upper) in Japan. Innovative, engaging, lots of cultural details about Japan.”

The Door, Magda Szabo. “Fabulous Hungarian novel about a writer who hires a housekeeper who takes over her life and forms a deep bond with her.”

From Maya in Portlnad: Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann. “Apparently a medieval German legend originally, Kehlmann has transposed the story of Till Ulenspiegel, a trickster and performer, into a rollicking story set in the 17th century about a juggler/ tightrope walker/performer who travels through Germany’s war-stricken countryside. It manages to be funny, imaginative, and unlike anything else. Very enjoyable.”

Sworn Virgin, by Elvira Dones. “The only Albanian novel I’ve ever read!. There’s historically been a custom in Albania that a woman can chose to live as a man, with all the perks that come with it, IF she swears to remain a virgin. This is a story of a contemporary woman in the mountainous and poor region of that country who makes this choice to be able to care for the old man who raised her- and years later is released to join a relative in the US: who will she be? man, or, after all these years, woman? And if the latter, how? Short, well written.”

From Rick in Portland: Rumors of Rain, André Brink: “A Novel of Corruption and Redemption set in South Africa – amidst the shocking violence that brings South African apartheid to an end.” (Judy’s note: I read A Dry White Season by the same author years ago and I also recommend it.)

The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga: “Follows a darkly comic Bangalore driver through the poverty and corruption of modern India’s caste society.” (Judy’s note: we’ve just watched the film on Netflix. Entertaining but sad.)

Fracture, Andrés Neuman: “… an ambitious literary novel set against Japan’s 2011 nuclear accident in a cross-cultural story about how every society remembers and forgets its catastrophes.”

The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana, Maryse Condé: “Born in Guadeloupe, Ivan and Ivana are twins with a bond so strong they become afraid of their feelings for one another. When their mother sends them off to live with their father in Mali they begin to grow apart, until, as young adults in Paris, Ivana’s youthful altruism compels her to join the police academy, while Ivan, stunted by early experiences of rejection and exploitation, walks the path of radicalization.”

Days Without End, Sebastian Barry: “A true left field wonder: a violent, superbly lyrical western offering a sweeping vision of America in the making.”—Kazuo Ishiguro

 A Thousand Moons, Sebastian Barry: “From the two-time Booker Prize finalist …comes a dazzling companion novel about memory and identity, set in Tennessee in the aftermath of the Civil War.”

History, Elsa Morante: “The central character in this powerful and unforgiving novel is Ida Mancuso, a schoolteacher whose husband has died and whose feckless teenage son treats the war as his playground. A German soldier on his way to North Africa rapes her, falls in love with her, and leaves her pregnant with a boy whose survival becomes Ida’s passion.”

From Arlene in Toronto: Nothing to See Here. “Kevin Wilson’s best book yet — a moving and uproarious novel about a woman who finds meaning in her life when she begins caring for two children with remarkable and disturbing abilities”

Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Broedesser-Akner, about a marriage on the rocks. “…a marvel, full of shrewd observations, barbed wit, and deep insight. …reveals the twisted hearts of her characters—and the twisted soul of contemporary America—with an eye that is at once pitiless and full of compassion for our human foibles.”

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, “Two faces of the black experience A light-skinned twin sister constructs a new identity as a white woman in a clever novel that confounds expectations.”

That’s it for now. Please keep your reading suggestions coming, as I have a chronicle or two coming before we leave Cañar on June 6. (Note: I’m not sure my REPLY function is working, so write to me by e-mail:  judyblanken@gmail.com)

 

Beat-up hands, a new president and Covid (not in order of importance)

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Dear Friends: It seems some of you didn’t receive my first Chronicle, Back to Cañar 2021. It is here. I had some trouble with my mailing list that I hope is now fixed.

Covid in Cañar: it’s not easy to find solid information, so I’ll pass on what I’ve learned from anecdotal accounts and a few very unreliable statistics. It appears that Covid infections are rampant in Cañar, both in the town and indigenous communities. Within Cañar, like small towns everywhere, news travels fast. “Five people died yesterday,” a lawyer tells me, “and there are many more cases.” As I walk around I see that everyone complies with masks and, as with last year, lye is sprinkled on pavement at entrance to stores, and I still receive change sprayed with alcohol.

Image from Cañar municipal website

But when I ask a Cañari friend about the indigenous comunas that surround the town, he says, “Nada grave. There are lots of cases, but no deaths, and everyone stays home and is cured with home remedies.” When I ask which home remedies, he says…inhaling eucalyptus steam baths and using medicinal plants for teas such as chamomile, ginger,

I believe this guardedness is in keeping with the insularity and reserve of the Cañari people, which goes back to hacienda days when maintaining separateness was a survival mechanism. The less the patron knew of your personal life, the safer you were. “No one wants to be treated in hospital or intubated,” my friend said. I’ve yet to hear of a single death in the indigenous communities although I suspect that there have to be some, especially elders, who by tradition die at home and are quickly buried, with no medical attention or death certificate. (Official statistic for Cañar county that includes the town and country comunas: 908 confirmed cases from Feb 29, 2020 – March 31 2021, a figure that has to be vastly under reported.)As for vaccines in Ecuador, some from Pfizer through the COVAX international plan and Sinovac from China, but the delivery situation is chaotic. Yesterday, as I walked home, the road to our house was nearly blocked with cars and people at a local school where shots were apparently available – or had been. People were crowded outside the closed gate, shouting at the soldiers on the other side. Everyone’s first question to me, when they learn I’m vaccinated, is “which one?” The second question is: “What was your reaction?” There’s lots of news, good and bad, circulating about which vaccines are the best (Pfizer!) and side effects. One elderly woman we love, who runs a store in town, said of her friend who had varicose veins, “She took the vaccine and she just died! I’m not getting it,” she concluded, maskless, “God will protect me.”

Michael’s big, beautiful beat-up Cañar hands. As many of you know, Michael was for many years a contractor in Portland, doing mostly plumbing and electrical work. His hands were always knobby and bloody, and now they are even knobbier with age and arthritis. Since I’ve known him he has not been able to open his hands fully, and now they look a bit like sweet bear paws, without the shredder claws. Lately, with retirement and Covid, his hands had grown soft and white. But now back in Cañar, what with taking down shutters, pruning bushes, building fires, cutting wood, moving compost (and using the Spanish dictionary), his hands are again getting beat-up. But they are lovely hands to draw or photograph.Otherwise, our domestic life is pretty much the same. Sunday market for produce and shrimp; daily forays into town for everything else; once a week to Cuenca for luxuries such as cheese and coffee. After our Portland life with Whole Foods and New Seasons and specialty stores, we returned from those first shopping trips with, “Look what I got for one dollar!” Here’s a photo from trip #1: eight tomatoes = $1.00; eight eggs = $1.00; five pounds of potatoes = $2.00 and a handful of maracuyá (a gift from the vendor).

 While Michael’s main domestic job is food and cooking, mine is laundry, carefully sorted into categories (a practice of most women I know) and hung according. On a sunny day, in this high dry climate, drying takes about two hours. Elections: Well, to the surprise of many, Guillermo Lasso won last week’s election on his third try for the presidency. Lasso, a banker, took 52% of the vote in the runoff following a campaign that pitted his free market economics against his opponent’s pledge to return to the socialist programs of previous president, Rafael Correa, that put the country deeply in debt.When Mr. Lasso takes office in May, he will have to deal with the Indigenous party, Pachakutik. While its candidate barely missed getting to the run-off, the party won half of all provinces (including Cañar) to become the second-largest block in Congress, going from nine to forty-three seats. “The politics of Ecuador will never be the same,” said Farith Simon, an Ecuadorean law professor and columnist. “There’s still racism, but there’s also a re-vindication of the value of Indigenous culture, of pride in their national role.”Cañar Book Club

Well, dear fellow members, I’m ashamed to say my reading has been pretty pathetic these last months. I didn’t keep track of the books read in Portland, and I brought only three paper books to Cañar (Michael refuses to carry them anymore, and I brought only one bag): Tana French’s police procedural, The Trespasser, which was a good interminable read for the 24-hour trip here, but not one I would recommend. Also Mountains of My Mind, for some unknown reason I’d bought months ago about a history of mountain climbing, which I’ll pass on to my friend in Cuenca who does climb mountains. I like Pico Iyer a lot, and just finished an ebook, The Man in the Head, also ordered from the library for some unknown reason. The man in Iyer’s head is Graham Greene, whose books I loved in the far past, but I’m not sure I’d recommend this book either.

So I have to give special thanks to a long book report from a 1960’s an ex-Peace Corps volunteer in Cuenca, now living in Florida, who has done some real quality reading over the pandemic months (unlike some of us). Here is his report, slightly edited:

“Two have Ecuadorian themes. The first is The Man Who Read Love Stories by writer Luis Sepulveda, a Bolivian-exile. The novela is set in the Ecuadorian Oriente and reminds me of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The second is The Undocumented Americans, by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio. Her parents brought her to the U.S. from Ecuador when she was a child and as an undocumented student she made it through Harvard and is now going for a PhD in American Studies at Yale. She got her green card last year and promptly had this book published.

The Bad Muslim Discount, a novel by Sayd M. Masood. Two Muslim families, one from Pakistan, the other from Iraq meet at an apartment building in San Francisco. Interactions and family conflicts are told in a somewhat comical way.

You might also try Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World, by Suzy Hansen.  She discusses living and traveling in Turkey for seven years.  Living outside the US makes us see the world differently.

Finally, I’ll briefly mention these nonfiction books that I felt are also more than just chewing-gum-for-the-eyeballs:  1) Jon Meacham’s biography of John Lewis, His Truth is Marching On.  2) David Michaelis’s “Eleanor,” a lengthy biography of Eleanor Roosevelt.  3) Barak Obama’s A Promised Land.”

Finally, a Portland friend piped in late to say she is reading George Saunders’s A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, based on his twenty years of teaching a class on the Russian short story. “He interrupts the story to pose questions and get us thinking about what makes great writing. It might not be for everyone but I find it intriguing and fun to read.”

So, dear readers, please send your suggestions for our next rousing meeting in two weeks. Until then, still well. I love to hear from you.

Back to Cañar 2021

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Dear Friends. We have been gone from Cañar for nine months, the longest time away since 2005, when we came to Ecuador for a grant year, bought a piece of land with a view of the Andes, and came back in 2006 to begin building an earthen and wood “barraque” house. We’ve returned every year since for six months until last year, when we left on July 4 amidst the Covid pandemic on our “trip from hell #1” to return safely to Portland, Oregon, our other home. (This time, we almost hated to leave our glorious cherry tree, which we hadn’t seen in bloom in 15 years. Thanks to our friend Carla who took this photo when she picked us up for the airport on Monday morning.)

With our two vaccine jabs plus two weeks for immunity, I booked flights for April 5. Our usual routes to Guayaquil were not available so I used the Travelocity website, and somehow (my mistake?) reserved COPA flights from LAX to GYE that included a 9-hour layover in Los Angeles, becoming the trip from hell #2. This taught us a good lesson in the new reality of flying with Covid. We came in to LAX on Alaska mid-afternoon, but couldn’t check in to our 1:00 AM international flight until 9:00 PM. Terminal B was so depressing that I forgot to take any photos, so just imagine us sitting in a line of chairs in a cavernous dark space with everything closed. Michael worked on puzzles and I read an interminable Tana French police procedual. Once we finally checked through security into the fancy international lounge, we found ONE small bar for two beers and a wine plus a required bag of stale peanuts – $35.00! Is this really Los Angeles? The luxury duty-free stores were all closed except for Gucci, where I saw a woman in full hazmat shopping. That’s Michael in the wing chair waiting for our Panama flight.

Once in Guayaquil we recovered in a large hotel with our first meal in 24 hours, an air-conditioned room, hot showers, two double beds, and a long night of sleep. The next day we hired a driver with car, and three hours later we were in Cañar and our ordeal was over.

Our house in the clouds was in perfect condition except for dust and cobwebs. Thanks to Cañar’s high dry climate, adobe and wood stay perfectly preserved (as long as the wood is treated for termites). As usual, some of the interior patio plants are reaching for the glass roof, but our compadres Jose Maria and Narcisa, who take care of things while we’re gone, have kept my ferns and flowers mostly alive. Here’s Michael bent over a crossword our first day. For me, the usual unwelcome signs: headache, light headedness, insomnia, but after a couple of days all is clear and life at 10,100 feet feels invigorating.The yard is another matter. Our compadres are only responsible for keeping the patio plants alive, and being a security presence around the property, grazing their sheep on the lawn.They use our back field for their crops – usually corn or potatoes – and they also plant a kitchen vegetable garden before we come, and we plant one for them before we leave. This arrangement has worked well since José María worked on our house construction as the maestro and we got to know the family. Here’s Michael having a first chat with José María, taking a break from his job as a sanitation worker with the Municipality.

But back to the yard: last year I wrote a chronicle about my “sisyphusian garden” and I was reminded again, on day two when I went out to survey, that no matter what new flowers I’ve planted, or how hard I weed kikuyu, the African grass that creeps everywhere, stasis is the name of the game: aggressive species take back control, new exotics get beaten and disappear. Nothing changes. Of course, those local dominant guys that stay busy twelve months a year ain’t that bad.

Paiwa, our goddaughter, has come from Cuenca to stay with us while she takes an intensive online English course to prepare for the TOEFL exam, necessary to apply for graduate programs. She has just completed five years of a rigorous civil engineering course, and her graduation from University of Cuenca on May 28 will be the culminating event of our visit. Michael and I walked Paiwa to her first day of kindergarten, and she has been an important part of our lives since. My fantasy has her coming to Oregon State University for a master’s degree, but she’s a long way from deciding where she will go next – or rather, economics and financial aid will most likely decide.

Today, national elections for a new president – rockets shoot off now and then while I write, making me jump. Mystery to me why loud noises are important for religious and civic events. This time, a run-off of two socially conservative candidates, Guillermo Lasso 66, banker and Opus Dei member, and Andrés Arauz, 36-year-old economist anointed by ex-president Correa as his successor. Arauz won 32% of the vote in February, not enough to avoid a run-off, though polls say he will likely be the winner today. The third and by far most interesting candidate was the indigenous leader with the Pachakutig party that we were all rooting for: Yaku Pérez. He came so close to Lasso in the February elections (within .05) that he has toured the country crying “fraud,” and many of our Cañari friends firmly believe the count was manipulated. (International observers called it fair.) But he’s youngish (52), politically savvy and very smart, so we hope he’ll run again in four years. Meanwhile, that an indigenous candidate should come so close is a bright point for the future, and the party’s numbers in the national legislature have increased from nine to 43. Read more in this excellent article from today’s New York Times: “Indigenous Party, Not on the Ballot, Is Still a Big Winner in Ecuador Election.”

Well, dear friends, there’s much more to say about the economic, social and health devastation of Covid in Ecuador, and other things, but I want to get this out today before my work week starts. Our stay in Cañar is only two months this time – we’ll come back in December or January for our usual six months – and I have two projects in the works, contacts to keep alive, friends to see and the scholarship program to coordinate with our local committee. I’ll try writing a shorter blog once a week or so, and I promise the Cañar Book Club will be in session for next Chronicle. Until then, stay safe and I love to hear from you and your favorite books read during lockdown.

Trips from hell update: our flights back to Portland on June 5 are cancelled and I’m looking for new routes that will avoid Panama and Los Angeles.

 

 

We’re Not There Yet

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Dear Friends – One year ago today, December 15, 2019, we left our warm bed at 2020 SE Ash Street in Portland, Oregon for Cañar, Ecuador. Or rather, we took an Uber as far as a funky Ramada Inn near PDX, where we slept a few hours before a van hauled us and all our luggage to the airport. There, Michael was thrilled to be the first person in line at the 3:00 AM check-in at American Airlines. Always his dream to be earliest.

That day, and into the next, as we flew to Phoenix, then to Miami, then to Guayaquil, where we spent the night in another hotel before taking a car to Cañar, marked fifteen years of making the long trip from Portland to Ecuador for a stay of six months. That was last year, when we were still so innocent.

Today, and for the near future, we are staying in Portland. Those who read my last blog will remember our hair-raising trip back from Cañar to Portland on July 4th. We quarantined for two weeks and were fine. Since then, we’ve hunkered down at home through a warm summer and fall, during which we relaxed and distant-socialized under the cherry tree that shades our back yard – our “witness” tree that shaded and sheltered us through many pleasant meals and early evenings.

In those early days we could walk to one of our neighborhood pubs for afternoon drinks, always outside. Some streets were blocked off to allow businesses to continue, like this one on next street over, we called Rainbow Road (still need to work on my perspective)…   …where there was a piano for anyone to play. These were also the days of Black Lives Matter marches and demonstrations all over Portland and the world. Although we couldn’t be out in the streets, given Covid, we took a lot of walks in the city and enjoyed the wonderful murals that sprung up here and everywhere.

Michael rebuilt our walkway, where the gnarly cherry tree roots had come to the surface.I dismantled my darkroom, after twenty-five years, and we hauled out my equipment to sell on consignment with Blue Moon Camera and Machine.

Here I am waiting in line to say goodbye to my beloved Hasselblad. (I felt OK about it until last week when got the check. Knowing it was now sold and in someone else’s hands made me a little sad.)

 

 

 

 

But we also had lovely moments, celebrating the harvest moon in a friend’s garden. Even a socially distant lunch in the distant city of Salem.Then the days got shorter, Covid got stronger, the pubs and restaurants closed down, the leaves blazed – then fell, the rains and days too cold to meet outside, and life got a little sadder. But we are lucky, when so many are living in the streets and with poverty, to have a home, economic security, books and music and movies.

Today – December 15, 2020, we are looking forward to the end of this hard year and the new year of 2021. If Michael are I are lucky enough to get the vaccine before April, we plan on going to Cañar for a short visit, maybe three months. Then back to our usual six months in 2022. That sounds so far away, doesn’t it?

Thanks to you all who have contributed to the scholarship fund, and if you didn’t see the Cañari Women’s Education Foundation newsletter I sent earlier this month, you can find it here.

Or make a contribution using the PayPal button below. 

May you all stay safe in these difficult times, and many thanks for your continuing support. Please stay in touch.   Judy B

 

2020 Scholarship Letter

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Dear Friends: Despite the pandemic, our Cañari women’s scholarship program is alive and well. We now have twenty-three university graduates and thirteen current scholars. Three of our graduates have earned master’s degrees and one is heading for her doctorate (Juana Chuma, in veterinary medicine, University Nacional de Mexico). Because we were unable to have our annual gathering of past and present scholars in 2020, I am using the photo from last year. Thanks to you all for supporting this wonderful group of indigenous women as they forge a new professional landscape in Ecuador. By any measure, this has been an extraordinary year. In Ecuador, after a tragic Covid-19 outbreak in the coastal city of Guayaquil, the country swiftly locked down with an emergencia sanitaria that continues today. Smaller towns in mountainous areas like Cañar had an easier time of it. With agriculture as the economic mainstay, almost all indigenous families live at a distance from neighbors in small hamlets. Most, accustomed to organizing around cooperatives, strikes and marches, quickly closed off access roads and created their own regulations and markets (and, as I heard through the grapevine, used native medicine for those who were infected. To date,I know of no Cañari deaths in our area.)

In town, the local police and a small army of young people in bright vests patrolled the streets, reminding folks to wear masks and checking that painted footprints outside stores were two meters apart. Faux hazmat suits, and hand-embroidered and beaded masks became de moda. As the lockdown relaxed, farmers and vendors got creative with their excess produce, selling their wares from open doorways and garages or alongside the road. Michael said the shopping had never been so good. (We returned to the U.S. on July 4 in a hair-raising trip I describe on my blog here.)

In March, our thirteen scholarship women – most living in university towns far from home – returned to their families in Cañar and we all tried to make sense of the new reality. Remote learning was a mystery to students and teachers alike. Many women did not have Internet access in their homes and weren’t prepared for Zoom classes. Our local committee quickly decided the scholarship women would continue to receive full monthly stipends for the duration of the crisis ($150-$160/month), so that all could buy Internet access and help their families in this hard time.

We had one graduate this year and expect two more in 2021. Zara Falcón earned a degree in accounting and auditing (equivalent to a CPA) from the State University of Bolívar in Guaranda, in central Ecuador. She is pictured here with her proud parents at her graduation. Zara came into our program five years ago, just out of high school, and zoomed through her courses without a pause and with excellent grades. I can’t wait to see what Zara does next, once the pandemic is over.

For the past two years, a group of seven women in Bend, Oregon, called Circle of Giving, makes monthly contributions to a new program within our foundation. In 2012, Ecuador’s Higher Education Law created technical schools with two-year, post-secondary courses in five regions. In Cañar, the program at Institute Quilloac trains early childhood educators using an integrative approach that includes nutrition, language, health, cognitive skills and creative play. Funds provided by Circle of Giving have gone to support six women with small monthly stipends, and for materials and supplies to create teaching “laboratories.” Two members of the group visited Cañar to meet scholarship women in January 2019. This past month we were invited to attend a virtual graduation of the new program, and in our last Zoom meeting we chatted with the six women currently receiving stipends. A huge thank you to the Circle of Giving women of Bend who have initiated a more hands-on model of funding.

I was pleased and surprised by two other creative funding gestures in 2020. Preston Wilson, a Peace Corps volunteer in Cañar from 1968-70, has made the generous pledge of giving $1000 every year. Preston has been an active partner in the Cañari archive project, the first to contribute his photos of Cañar from the late sixties – the people and the place – a time of almost no photo documentation of the region. In 2012 he and his wife Beverly Hammons (Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador, 1970-73) made a return trip, from which he produced a seventy-minute film titled “Ecuador, Me, and the Peace Corps,” which can be found here (Photo: Preston Wilson, circa 1968)

Another long-time supporter of our program, Janice Fried Donnola, used Facebook Birthday Fundraiser to generate over $600 dollars – and counting! Janice and her husband Bruce have a special connection as their son, Cisco, was born in the province of Cañar. The fundraiser will end on Cisco’s 21st birthday, November 21. Janice is a wonderful mixed media artist and illustrator who sometimes uses Cañari motifs in her work. (illustration: “Mariposa”)  Check out her website here.

Preston’s and Janice’s gifts got me thinking again about an idea for a “legacy” or endowment fund that would mean a secure future for Cañari women’s higher education. Michael and I have willed our Cañar house and property to the program – a long time off, we hope – to be sold for the benefit of the foundation. If any of you are interested in talking to me about such a plan, I welcome any ideas on how to create an endowment fund. So – a quick recap: the Cañari Women’s Education Foundation is managed by a local board in Cañar that does an amazing job. All but one are graduates of the program. (L-R: Maria Esthela, treasurer; Alexandra, vice president; Veronica, secretary; Mercedes, president.) Under normal circumstances, we meet two or three times a year to look over applications, review how each scholar is doing and decide how many spaces we have to fill. We keep the current group at about twelve, making it easy to manage monthly payments and monitor progress. (We pay stipends in cash each month, with zero administrative costs). Charlotte Rubin, our treasurer in Portland, keeps track of contributions and manages the banking here. Thanks as ever, Charlotte!

CWEF is an official 501(c) 3 nonprofit, which means your contributions are tax deductible and every dollar goes directly to the women. Please make checks to CWEF and send to Charlotte Rubin, 2147 NW Irving St., Portland, OR 97210 (some of you will receive this letter by snail mail with return envelopes), or you can contribute through PayPal with the secure “DONATE” button below. May you stay safe in these difficult times, and many thanks for your continuing support. Please stay in touch.   Judy B

The New Life in Portland

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Dear Friends –  this past Friday was the 14th day of our self-quarantine and the official beginning of our new life in Portland. So many friends wished us well on our three-day “trip from hell” and welcomed us home that I wanted to send an update to say that Michael and I feel great. My raw hands have healed from the hand sanitizer I used repeatedly during the trip, gone is tiredness we both felt from the tension of closing our Cañar house, one long taxi ride, four flights, two hotel stays, one very long layover – and being accosted by a crazy maskless guy in Houston carrying a bible and yelling that we didn’t need masks, just Jesus! (Headline I found in a Kentucky newspaper: “What would Jesus do right now? He would wear a face mask.”)Summer n Portland is glorious, and we love being back in our Buckman neighborhood. Where else can you find great tacos and a “heritage” barbershop sharing sign space and social-distance seating while you wait? As we’re busy getting our Portland affairs in order – dental, medical, taxes, banking, garden, and so on – we’ve made a few local outings to see the gains and losses during the pandemic. Mostly losses, but to start with a gain (at least for Michael): a block over the street closed to traffic and picnic tables are set up to serve a brewery, a pub and a coffee shop (this being Portland). You sit at a color-coded, well-separated and numbered table, make your order on your phone, and a masked server appears. Here’s Michael’s with his first IPA and pulled-pork sandwich in seven months. So happy!

The losses: my favorite used/new clothing store two blocks from our house. The young owner was in tears when I ran into her hauling stuff out the door  – “We didn’t get a Covid-19 small business loan; my four-year old was sent home from preschool for misbehaving and we have a one-year old. I can’t hold on any longer.” It was also a consignment store and I believe I had some credit there I was looking forward to using when I got home. I will really miss Palace.

The yoga studio two blocks in the other direction, where I had been re-introduced to yoga after thirty years. The classes were beyond my level, but I enjoyed putting on my leotards (no yoga pants for me), rolling up my cheap puffy mat (no $70 yoga mat here) and walking over three times a week. I was planning to continue and I’ll miss Love Hive too – although I really hated their name.

We both really miss the thrice-weekly picnic with chamber music concerts at Reed College we’ve been a part of since about 1995 (I as photographer). Seeing re-plays online just ain’t the same, even if we can drink wine and eat ice cream with fresh blueberries while we watch.Novelties: The large silhouette of a black bull that’s become an iconic symbol of Spain has appeared over the fancy French dessert place around the corner, Pix Pâtisserie, now selling its wares through a vending machine at the outside entrance. What people will do for a sugar fix! I had to line up to take the photo of the Pix-o-matic.

What’s new? Hallelujah!  A bookstore/art gallery called Nationale right around the corner from our house in the space where the dental prosthetics lab used to be. Doing some research I see they are not brand new to Portland; they moved to our neighborhood while we were gone and just re-opened. This was all I saw for a few days and I was so curious …

Then...limited stock, and a few cosmetics, but all the titles I saw were all good ones.

OK, on to the hard news: Portland is in it’s 51th day of protests that were sparked by the George Floyd murder. We don’t watch television news but when we hear helicopters we know things have escalated downtown, where protesters have set up camp in a park by the federal courthouse. This past week, Trump and his Homeland Security goons sent in federal  “storm troopers” – fully camouflaged, without identification, using teargas and “munitions,” taking peaceful protestors away in unmarked vans. Uninvited by local police, officials or politicians, and seriously breaking the law. Our friend’s son-in-law lawyer, Athul Acharya, is part of a class-action lawsuit by ACLU against the City of Portland and federal government on behalf of journalists and legal observers who were targeted and attacked by the police while documenting protests in Portland. You can read more about the lawsuit  here.

Oregon’s Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum: “Every American should be repulsed when they see this happening.  If this can happen here in Portland, it can happen anywhere.”

There is much more to say on this issue, but the national and international papers are full of news on Portland. The Guardian here. The New York Times here.

I think this will be my last blog until December, when we hope to return to Cañar. I will miss you all, and miss writing this blog, but we can always be in touch by email at  judyblanken@gmail.com. And Oregon friends, we’re ready to be social if you are! And to everyone –  stay tuned for some great summer reading suggestions below.

SUMMER BOOK CLUB PORTLAND

I’ve been reading like crazy since I got back, with library e- and “real” books available to me again (pick-up by appointment), and recommendations by you, dear friends. I read in my garden hammock during the day, in bed at night, first thing in the morning. So….Nemesis by Philip Roth, a novel published in 2011 but about the July 1944 polio epidemic in Newark, New Jersey. Roth obviously lived through it, as did many of us in the 1950’s before there was a vaccine.  I haven’t read Roth in years, but – for obvious reasons – I felt I was reading about today. Beautiful to reconnect with Roth, a writer I’d read and admired way back and sortof forgot (I had to look up to see if he was still alive). Olive Again by Elizabeth Strout brought us, I think, to the end of Olive’s life. I have loved her irascible self and am sorry to see her go. I think Strout was too, but as a writer is surely eager to move on to other characters. Good Husbandry by Kristin Kimball because I love to read about daily life on a large CSA farm in up-state New York. I read her first book, The Dirty Life, a few years ago and it was good to catch up. But the most amazing book I’ve read lately is Telephone: A Novel by Percival Everett, recommended by a chronicle reader. I dipped into it (while reading other books) and dropped everything until the finish. It’s brilliant, riveting and devastating. How did I not know about this author? He’s written about twenty-five books and I’ve already ordered a second one with the great title: So Much Blue.

Maggi in Toronto:  Am currently reading Extensions by Myrna Dey.  I thought it was going to be a “lite” mystery (protagonist is an RCMP officer) but it turns out to be a more interesting exploration of the narrator’s great-grandmother, a poor woman in a Welsh mining community in 19th century BC.  Not a literary masterpiece, but a good & interesting summer read.

Sandy P in Portland: Javier Cercas’ Lord of All the Dead, a novel where he tries to come to terms with having had an uncle who died fighting for Franco. Or if you are interested in Israel/Palestine I found Colum McCann’s Apeirogon very compelling. Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains has given me a new way at looking at the Republican/ Libertarian/Koch takeover of our country, i.e. the privatization and cruelty we were experienced long before 1945.

Just finished Telephone by Percival Everett and that should go on your list too! A novel. Quite engaging and well written. Oh dear, these are all kind of heavy. Maybe you want to read cookbooks. I’m loving using Joshua McFadden’s Six Seasons.

CIaire in London: just finished The Mirror and the Light, Hillary Mantel’s last in the Cromwell trilogy and once again am totally blown away. That’s not to say I loved every minute. Until, that is, it got very bogged down about a third of the way through where she seemed to feel the need to tell us everything about those crucial years between Anne Boleyn’s execution and Cromwell’s demise. And I mean EVERYTHING. But I’m so glad I persevered. It gets better and better and – as with Bring Up The Bodies – the last few pages are simply brilliant and utterly devastating. She is a genius and I forgive her the tedious chunk in the middle just for those last couple of chapters.

Maya: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, which one half of the Booker this year. Loving it. And I loved the Sally Hansen non-fiction Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World. Hansen frames a critique of how being American blinds us to the realities of the rest of the world and particularly the US role in it with her experiences in Turkey and Greece. It puts together many things I’ve known about how this country operates in its own self-interest and screws other countries under cover of self-righteousness better than I’ve ever seen, and very readable.

That’s it, dear readers. Stay in touch and before you know it the Cañar Book Club will be back in session in 2021.

At home in Portland – safe and (apparently) sound

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Dear Friends – Thanks to all for your best wishes for our “trip from hell.”  I’m happy to report we’re home in Portland since Friday July 3, and we feel fine (so far), only tired from traveling for three days on four flights, with long stopovers in two countries and three states. My hands are raw from hand gel and alcohol wipes and we have surplus of safety supplies if anyone needs anything – we started out seriously over-prepared, I’d say, plus my sisters sent a care package to our hotel in Houston.So – to the details. Before we even knew for sure that we could travel, we had to take blood tests at least 72 hours before our domestic flight from Cuenca to Quito (a new requirement within Ecuador). So on Monday we went to the only lab in town that qualified, to meet the one employee, Valeria, who became our new best friend, especially when we picked up the negative test results.

Then, some last shopping for a final dinner. As you can see, Cañar has been very strict about masks.

…and a last dinner with no electricity, reminding us that we were leaving a country where lights and water are not a dependable constant. We started out from Cañar at 6:00 AM on July 1, in a taxi. It was the first day in 3.5 months that taxis could circulate freely between Cañar and Cuenca, regardless of license plate number. And our first time in a taxi since March. The new plastic safety barrier between Juan the driver and us in the back seat made it hard to understand what he was saying, but whenever he would gesture at a checkpoint that was no longer manned, or other sights, we’d just say, “Si, si…” In Cuenca we lined up on the sidewalk outside the airport, spaced two meters apart, until just before our 9:00 AM flight. Then, young agents took our temperature, guided us through check-in, asked to see negative results of our blood tests, and finally escorted us to a waiting area.The flight to Quito was only 55 minutes, to a new international airport that was virtually empty. Our plane to the U.S. was not until the next day so I’d arranged a stay at the only airport hotel – which we soon called “the mother ship” for obvious reasons …also nearly empty, with beautiful views over a steep ravine, young staff so cautious and eager to be helpful that we allowed them every service that included a tip: a water bottle delivered to our room, spraying the bottom of our shoes, carrying a small roller bag. The shot below is the interior “hallway” of the hotel, wood strips inside a superstructure open to the air at the bottom. Altogether a good restful hiatus after the tension of preparing for the trip, closing up the house, saying goodbye

In the evening we walked over to the airport for a drink on the terrace of the food court – again, alone.The next day, the same careful precautions by airport employees as we waited in the same food court area for the flight to Houston – marking Quito the exemplary point of our Covid-19 travel. In contrast, Houston was, most certainly, the low point: A huge busy terminal, a subterranean shuttle to our horribly ugly and expensive airport Marriott hotel.

As we were waiting in the enormous dark and dreary circular lobby to check in, a crazy man rushed by us, maskless, yelling several times, “You don’t need no masks – you just need JESUS!”  I believe he was carrying a bible. Then, on the way to our room across a courtyard – a giant cockroach (one of two on that overnight stop). The next day – beginning of July 4 holiday – the terminal was jammed with United flights going every which way – Michael was amazed to see one to his podunk birthplace of Medford, Oregon. Everyone had masks, but beyond that social distancing was impossible, especially as flights loaded for New York or Chicago – even the walkway was nearly blocked.

Although I’d sprung $90 each to have access to the “United Club” during long layovers – (I won’t repeat what Michael said about THAT), we found it closed in Houston. A morning flight to Denver was uneventful, and there we found the United “luxury lounge” open. Although with only packaged snacks and certainly not free drinks (as my sister had promised), we did have near complete privacy for the six-hour layover before our flight to Portland.

Last leg, Michael totally absorbed with puzzles my sisters had sent to Houston (now that’s a thoughtful care package!). While I read one paper novel and a Kindle book – both set in war-time Spain (see Covid-19 travel Cañar Book Club below) – Michael seems to find relief from anxiety only through endless KenKen and crossword puzzles. Although I’d printed a 4-day supply before we left Cañar, he was done with all by Houston. Friends met us at PDX with a cooler full of dinner and breakfast fare and left us with a promise of a social-distance outdoor dinner next week (now those are thoughtful friends), and then we were at home in Portland for the first time in seven months.

Our first walk around the neighborhood felt almost post-apocalyptic. It shouldn’t have surprised us, but it did, to see a favorite sushi restaurant closed, and others with take-out menus and phone numbers plastered on the windows, other windows boarded up (this area was close to organizing points of protest marches), and our neighborhood theater closed with this on the marquee:

…but once we had our first dinner in the garden under our ever-spreading, supposedly semi-dwarf, cherry tree (behind M)…

…and he saw that his crimson clover ground cover had done it’s job with controlling weeds and nitrogen-fixing roots, we felt everything will be OK. However, we will be in semi-quarantine until we’re sure. Best regards to all who follow this blog and wished us well.  As always, I love to hear from you…

Covid-19 Travel Cañar Book Club

The Wrong Blood, Manuel de Lope, a novel in translation set in Basque country during the 1936 Civil War. Claims it’s about two women but really it’s about the men who circle around them. (I’d give it a 7/10.) Beautiful descriptions of weather in the area of Spain around San Sebastian, where we visited three or so years ago and experienced a magnificent seaside storm.

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free, by Andrew Miller, a historical novel I found riveting and beautifully written, and I carefully paced myself so as not to end it too soon. I’ll be lazy here and lift a description from a review: “follows John Lacroix, a soldier trying to escape his guilt-ridden memories of atrocities carried out by British soldiers in Spain during the Napoleonic wars, as he makes his way to the Hebrides; it also follows, in parallel, the two men–one English, one Spanish–dispatched to find him and hold him accountable for what happened.”  This story is also partly set in a place we’ve visited: Coruña, Spain, where I puzzled over a prominent statue of a British general, John Moore in a seaside park. (I’d give this a 9/10, and is the second book I’ve read by British author Andrew Miller – the first, Pure, set in pre-revolutionary Paris where a young engineer is hired to clear the cemetery of Les Innocents that is polluting the neighborhood. (I’d give it a 6.5/10).

All for now.  I’d love to hear about your Covid-19 favorite books.

 

Goodbye Cañar (?)

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Dear Friends – we are ten days away from trying to leave Cañar for Portland. “Trying” because the trip is a complicated jig-saw puzzle that hasn’t quite come together. We have reservations on United Airlines from Quito to Houston on July 2 (their one flight a week), but the problem is getting from here to Quito. TAME, the national airline, was recently liquidated by President Morena in the face of “la crisis económica” (along with the postal service, the  railway and other public companies, as well as a reducing public sector salaries by 25%).

The other airline serving this area, LATAM (based in Chile), has just declared bankruptcy. While LATAM has this week begun a daily flight from Cuenca to Quito, it’s too late in the day to make our connection to United. So we’ll go the day before and spend the night in an airport hotel to make the flight to Houston, where a 12-hour layover means another night in a hotel. THEN, a flight to Denver, and finally home to Portland on the evening of July 3.

Of course we’re worried about exposure traveling 48 hours through two countries and three states, but we’ll take all the precautions I’ve been reading about, such as upgrading our seats so we don’t sit near bathrooms (too much human traffic). We’ll also try not to go ourselves. In any case, once in Portland we are planning to self quarantine for 14 days.

Update:  we’ve just been informed that we have to show Covid-19 negative test results from a laboratory within 72 hours of flying within the country. Michael went up to town to find the one lab in Cañar that provides tests – at $70 per person!  No wonder the statistics from Ecuador are totally out of whack; no one can afford to be tested.

All things considered, it would be smarter to stay here, but our tenant leaves our Portland house on June 29, Michael has medical appointments, we both have dental appointments, and so on. Also, we simply want to be with our friends and closer to family after seven months in Cañar.These last three months have been special, however – even relaxing. No more trips to Cuenca, no more running around the countryside with projects or climbing the streets into town for meetings. We’ve discovered we have everything but luxury food items here, and local commerce has really picked up with people selling their produce from doorways and driveways.

Michael marvels that he can find beautiful tomatoes on the Paseo de los Cañaris, the little commercial strip near home, and no longer has to wait for Sunday market. And, wonder of wonders – the giant langostinos are back after a three-month hiatus, looking fresh, and sold from a new storefront open to the street for $4.00 per pound. Michael cooks them on skewers in the fireplace.

It has been a delight to have our goddaughter Paiwa with us these three months. She’s 24 years old, in her 5th year of civil engineering at University of Cuenca, and spends up to 12 hours a day in her room with classes, homework and exams, emerging to join us for meals, practice her English, appreciate Michael’s cooking and do the dishes. It’s been like having a young but mature and engaging house guest. When we go to Cuenca to catch our (supposed) flight on July 1, she will return to her rented room near the university, although her classes will not begin again until September or October.

Masks are still mandatory in town, but I notice that folks continue to use them in almost all everyday activities in the streets and cars, except for in the fields or their own houses.

Cautious meeting with Soledad Quinde, teacher in a program the Bend Circle of Giving supports with stipends for women students.

Also, as the restrictions on small stores lift, I see a new mini-industry arise – homemade “hazmat” suits in various colors and sizes on mannequins (and in the streets), along with embroidered and beaded masks (I’m wearing one above in photo). Cañar has many seamstress shops – mostly owned by Cañari women making the beautiful elaborate Cañari skirts and blouses – so it was a no-brainer to switch to what is selling – masks and protective suits.

As for me, I’ve grown “garden proud” during the three-month quarantine, right down to obsessively plucking dandelion heads on the lawn (made up largely of tough African kikuyu grass that needs no watering) and digging up its long tendrils below my flower beds. But It’s been thrilling to see this:Become this:Normally I would not pay such close attention and simply let nature takes its course, but being in the house every day with all these windows to the outside, I couldn’t help but become obsessed with the flowers, the vegetables, hummingbirds, and the grass – which I insisted we have someone cut with the weed whacker every two or three weeks, for heaven’s sake!

Now with our leaving it becomes what I call my Sisyphean garden – I’ll come back in six months to find everything back to beginnings – grass raggedly trimmed by our compadres‘ sheep, flower beds filled with weeds, vegetable garden maybe still producing some of what I’ve planted. It’s the arrangement we’ve had for nearly 15 years – our compadres are responsible only for checking on the property and watering the plants in the patio. I don’t mind at all. I’ll start again with renewed hope and patience, like any good gardener.

By the way – those creatures at the top of this blog are a part of our coat rack in the patio. A collection of paper mache masks that are traditional around Christmas and New Year’s, bought for to make effigies to burn ( you’ll recognize Ugly Betty with the freckles and the guy who looks like Nixon was meant to be Trump).

Anyway, this will be my last chronicle from Cañar for 2020, unless our flights are cancelled, we fail the Covid-19 tests, the U.S. stops all in-bound air traffic, or the sky falls.

But there’s always meatballs!  Scroll down below the book club for Michael’s famous recipe, which he’s making for our first dinner guest Sunday evening.

Cañar Book Club

The Yellow Books, 1887 (oil on canvas) by Vincent van Gogh

Well, I’ll be sorry to miss you all and your wonderful reading suggestions, but I plan to be back for our last meeting of the year in December, when you’ll have lots more to report. So let’s begin…

Sandy in Portland: One I highly recommend is Heavy: An American Memoir, by Kiese Laymon. It is a memoir, though a friend said it should be called a reckoning, and I agree. It is challenging emotionally and really well written. Also I have just started reading Sapiens, A Brief History of Mankind by Yuval Noah Harari and am enjoying it. It overwhelms me, but does go into enough detail that I am learning a lot. Jill LePore’s 785 page tome, These Truths: A History of the United States, took awhile but it helped me deal with the current political situation – turns out Trump isn’t the first!

Bruce in Portland: The Wild Trees by Richard Preston. “Preston’s account of this amazing world, by turns terrifying, moving, and fascinating, is an adventure story told in novelistic detail by a master of nonfiction narrative. The author shares his protagonists’ passion for tall trees, and he mastered the techniques of tall-tree climbing to tell the story in The Wild Trees—the story of the fate of the world’s most splendid forests and of the imperiled biosphere itself.”

Arlene in Toronto: Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Wiener – I galloped through that one — tracing the lives of two sisters from the 1950s to the 2020s through the sexual revolution, the rise of feminism, the Vietnam war etc etc. I am currently reading On Earth We Were Briefly Gorgeous by Vietnamese-American writer Ocean Vuong, but slowly because I find it both beautiful and painful.

Char in Austin The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt, National Book Award and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. “An adventure story about
scholarship that locates the foundations of modern secular, scientific thought in the brilliance and heroism of our intellectual forebears.”
Yup, one for the quarantine.  Nothing but time.  It’s very engrossing.

Joanne in Mexico: did I mention A Month in Siena by Hisham Matar? I love his work, both novels and his memoir, The Return. Siena is about art and much more. A beautiful little gem. I just started Sea Monsters by Chloe Aridjis – “Winner of the 2020 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, this intoxicating story of a teenage girl who trades her middle-class upbringing for a quest for meaning in 1980s Mexico is ‘a surreal, captivating tale about the power of a youthful imagination, the lure of teenage transgression, and its inevitable disappointments'”. (And, after a recent trip from Mexico to Portland, she writes: The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich – good flight book)

Michael’s Meatballs (with a chance of clouds`)

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • ¾ cup fine breadcrumbs
  • 5-6 good-sized garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 egg
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 3 T chopped Italian parsley
  • ½ cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • ¾ t. fresh-ground nutmeg

In a wide bowl:

  • Beat the egg
  • Put the pork on top of the beaten egg, and with the back of a big spoon spread out the meat in a layer (this makes it easier to add the seasonings and later mix everything).
  • Distribute garlic, salt, pepper, nutmeg, parsley, onion, crumbs as evenly as possible over the ground pork.
  • With your hands or other implement, fold and mix ingredients, incorporating the egg throughout. Let the mixture sit a few minutes to allow the crumbs to gain moisture.
  • Make a small sample meatball and fry it in olive oil until done. Taste for seasoning, especially salt.

Once that is done:

  • With your hands, form the mixture into about 16 meatballs a little smaller than golf balls, and as smooth as possible.
  • Brown all sides in a skillet in olive oil, as evenly as possible.
  • I don’t finish cooking the meatballs in the browning process, but when they have a nice color I remove them from the pan to a plate.
  • Using the drippings in the skillet, add white wine or stock or water (or beer).
  • Bring the stock to a simmer, taste for salt. Now you can add tomato puree or paste, or cream, to make whatever sauce you fancy – and/or thicken with a little flour-and-water mixture carefully stirred in.
  • Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer in skillet for about 20 minutes.

 

 

 

Cañar Update: Day 60+ and Still Quarantined

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Dear Friends – We are at Day 60 (now 62) and counting, with a strict quarantine and curfew still in place in Cañar and in all of Ecuador. Here, even the dogs are sheltering in place. (Couldn’t resist! We pass these guys every time we walk into town. We call them “the rugs.”)

News on the street says this will continue until end of May, with slow opening beginning June 1. A national newspaper says the airport in Guayaquil will open on that date. Good news, though we’ll keep our distance from that city for years to come, I think. But we do have reservations on Delta Airlines from Quito on July 1. We’ve not yet paid for the tickets – as we can’t get to Cuenca with the cash, which the airlines are demanding in place of cards – “en caso de mortalidad” (in case we die) – but as of now we are planning on traveling Cuenca- Quito – Atlanta – Portland on July 1.

On the work front, I’ve been contentedly engaged with two book projects. Last week co-editor Andrew and I sent off the final ms. of the “Ana book” – (Tell Mother I’m in Paradise: Memoir of a Political Prisoner in El Salvador), along with 28 photos and illustrations, to the wonderful editor at University of Alabama Press. The book now goes into the editorial pipeline and will, hopefully, emerge as a Spring 2021 title. It has been a great experience working with Andrew and Wendi. Here’s a photo of Ana that showed up in the Spanish edition that we’d never seen – Ana at about 20 years. This will go into the new book.

The second project on the work front, which came to a halt with the quarantine, is the culmination of years of darkroom printing, scanning and organizing the negatives of a town photographer, Rigoberto Navas (1911-2001). The cultural department at the Municipality of Cañar has committed to printing the book of Navas photos this year, although the reality remains to be seen. But I’ve had fun making a mock-up – cutting and pasting photocopied images into an existing photo book. At least this allows me choose the photos and their sequence, and to show a good facsimile of how the final book will look. 

On the pleasure front, six words: cocktail, sunset, fireplace, drawing, flowers and dinner.

As wine grew scarce (it’s back!) Michael began a new custom of 5:00 PM cocktails: fresh orange juice, rum and fizzy water. This, in the big room with the fire, flowers and Michael, keeps me happy while I try to make a drawing/ watercolor that relates to the day. Sometimes it’s a challenge, sometimes it comes easy. Something it’s as mundane as Michael cooking a chicken…

…as dreamy as where we “would have been” in Spain if all this hadn’t happened. 

or as serious as keeping track of the numbers (until I couldn’t)….

Or as homely as going for a walk, running into a neighbor washing her carrot harvest and bringing home a few for a carrot soup that Michael claims he had never made before, and was absolutely delicious.

Speaking of Michael, he has been stalwart in fixing lunch and dinner for three “cuarentinadas” every day for two months, with another month to go at least. With limited options, we’ve been eating pork in its many iterations. There’s a butcher shop here called Piggi’s where he buys sausage, cutlets and a kind of re-constituted bacon that’s not really bacon. Paiwa and I love it! Plus lots of our garden vegetables (we’re sick of broccoli and cauliflower) and an endless supply of potatoes from our back field that Michael finds way to fix almost every night.  Here he is making gnocchi.

For sweets he’s kept us in a near-constant supply of zesty orange oatmeal cookies, which he devised as an alternative to orange cake that takes longer to bake and uses too much gas. (* Recipe at bottom of this blog). The only kitchen disaster has been our espresso machine is kaput. Michael makes campfire coffee every morning, but it’s not the same. We’re dreaming of finding a new machine in Cuenca once the quarantine lifts, although we’re having a hard time finding a source from the Internet. (Cuenca friends – if you know of a store that has domestic espressos, please let me know.)

And that brings us to…..

The Cañar Book Club

This selection above of “plague books” appeared on a website a couple of weeks. I tracked down the source, then lost it – but credit went to an antiquarian book store with participation of artist.

From our own faithful book club members, some good recommendations.

Patty in Portland: “Enjoyed Minor Characters by Joyce Johnson, Kerouac’s girlfriend who was in the thick of that time with the Beats. The Topeka School by Ben Lerner is worth a read. Tessa Hadley’s Late in the Day the best of the three of her novels I read. She has a dark side which can be pretty funny.”

Maya in Portland: “I’m now on pp 657 of the 1000 page, one-sentence Ducks, Newburryport by Lucy Ellmann, which I’m enjoying greatly. It’s oddly addictive. Essentially about how you live a private life as a woman/mother when you are so aware of all that is wrong globally and locally. Also very funny. Beyond that I found How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibrahim X Kendi to be worth reading. He’s very methodical about analyzing all the different ways people objectify blacks and use that, often unwittingly, to discriminate in one way or another.”

Liz in Toronto: Madeleine Miller’s Circe is great argument for mortality! I read Milkman, found it terrifying but compelling, a tour de force; also recommend Miriam Toews’s Women Talking.”

Joanne in Mexico: “Now reading a wonderful collection of essays by a young Irish writer, Sinéad Gleeson – Constellations.”

Char in Austin: “Just finished Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein, illustrations by Maira Kalman. Published in 1933, this new edition includes Maira’s delightful illustrations. I loved every word of her endless sentences that brought to life Paris at the beginning of the century.”

Sher in Santa Fe: “If you’re looking for a beautiful distraction, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is apropos of our times, as this gentleman is under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow (1922). See how he makes use of his time!!”

Anne in Portland recommends: The Hour of Land by Terry Tempest Williams.

Finally, my turn:  I can’t say enough about the riveting Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by New Yorker writer, Patrick Radden Keefe. As my words fail, I quote from the David Grann review: “Meticulously reported, exquisitely written, and grippingly told, Say Nothing is a work of revelation. Keefe not only peels back, layer by layer, the truth behind one of the most important and mysterious crimes of a terrible conflict; he also excavates the history of the Troubles, and illuminates its repercussions to this day.”

Did I miss anyone?  If so, please remind me, and keep your book news coming, dear readers. Until next time…

* Mike’s Zesty Orange Oatmeal Cookies

Mix dry ingredients thoroughly in one bowl:

  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 heaping tsp of baking powder

In another bowl mix:

  • 1 egg, 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup oil such as safflower or sunflower
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • finely grated rind of two unpeeled oranges with microplane. (If oranges are big, maybe 1.5 grated)

Beat the egg and salt with whisk, add brown sugar, beat again, add oil and beat again. Add grated orange rind and beat (yet again).

Pour the dry ingredients into the egg/sugar/oil/zest mixture, beat thoroughly.

Once everything is moistened, add carefully and mix throughout

  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1/3 cup raisins, well separated

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Carefully glob 12 piles of mixture onto greased cookies sheet, leaving space between each.

In oven, check after about 6 minutes for even baking. Should be done between 10-15 minutes; checking if browning around edges.

(Alternative: instead of grated orange rind, use 1/2 teaspoon each of nutmeg and cinnamon.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cañar Update: Heading into Week Six

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Dear Friends. We are heading into Week Six of total lockdown here in Ecuador and in Cañar. Masks are mandatory, local streets are barricaded and interprovincial traffic strictly controlled by police, with a national curfew from 2:00 PM to 5:00 AM (sirens marking the beginning, reminding me of a school bell – how quickly we become adjusted to sound cues). In Cantón Cañar (the county), Covid-19 cases number only twelve, a very slow rise over three weeks. National rates are, I suspect, carefully controlled and under-reported by the government after some very bad press about the coastal city of Guayaquil. As of today: Ecuador’s “official” figures are 8450 cases with 421 deaths. (In contrast, today’s Guardian reported close to 7,000 deaths in Guayaquil alone, where so many die at home and are not counted.)

Our home routine is so fixed that I can barely remember life before. For Michael, little has changed – he makes morning coffee (although our little espresso machine just went kaput), works on the puzzles I print each morning (four KenKens; one NYT crossword), fixes lunch and plans dinner. If it’s a cold rainy day – as in the photo above – he builds an early fire. Once or twice a week he trudges up into town to go shopping and I sometimes go with him. Our little stores remain well provisioned, and the last couple of weeks we see a lot more sidewalk and doorway action as farming families set up spontaneous stands to sell their own products.

For me, the early morning routine remains the same – coffee in bed with laptop, an hour or so of email, news, articles and a bowl of home-made granola (*Ana’s recipe at end of post). From there, I move to my studio office or the dining room table if we have an early fire. Several projects keep me busy with full work days. In late afternoon, I take a break in the garden to hack some weeds and check what’s ready to eat (our first of many cauliflower this week). The big difference during lockdown is, of course, that I don’t leave the house for work. Looking back to last year’s daily journal for April, I’m amazed at the constant motion of my days – accompanying a visiting researcher to villages; recording interviews, trips to Cuenca, trips to town and to schools, getting ready for visitors from Cuenca, and visitors from Portland. I can’t believe I will ever lead such a non-stop daily life again. Not sure I want to.

The other member of our little lockdown household is Paiwa, our 24-year-old goddaughter. She’s nearly full-time in her room with her on-line classes in 5th year civil engineering, emerging for lunch and dinner and to wash clothes or the dishes. We’ve developed a nice routine of knowing when to socialize over dinner, when to practice English, and when to eat lunch in companionable silence, each with our device (Michael with crossword). Although we’ve known her and been close since she was about five, we’ve never had this much time with Paiwa, and it has been delightful.

But the most interesting thing these past couple of weeks is what we watched  from our living room windows, as our compadres Jose Maria and Narcisa, and their daughter Sara harvested and planted the back field. First they cleared the potato field of weeds to feed two cows tethered in residence for about a week. Two huge bulls arrived to pull the plow to uncover the potatoes, one section at a time, then stood tethered while the family collected the potatoes by hand. Then they plowed again for a couple of days and planted peas. It was fast and brutally hard work, some days in the rain, and dangerous in handling such large animals. Every day Michael and I ran from window to window, reporting on what we saw. In the end, not a single thing was wasted in that field – “weeds” that were not food for animals turned out to be medicinal plants, while others produced seeds for an additional crop (cilantro, amaranth).The most dangerous moment is when Narcisa and Jose Maria control the bulls and lash on the hand-hewn wooden yoke. The bulls know what’s coming and can resist by trying to gore or charge.

While plowing someone (usually a woman in bright clothes – in this case Sara) walks in front to guide the bulls. Jose Maria puts his weight into the plow – a long wooden eucalyptus pole with metal point lashed on, using a series of sounds to urge the bulls. He carries a stick with short whip.

When the bulls are at rest, tethered at the bottom of the field, they have to be fed and watered once a day. Jose María brings from his own fields a load of dried corn stalks and chops them into four piles for the animals. Watching, I was reminded of the tremendous responsibility of farmers with large animals.

The harvest – enough potatoes for the family for a year, Narcisa tells me, and which they insist on sharing with us. Beautiful reds called super-cholas, which Michael is preparing most days in some form or another.

Finally, another round of plowing on a couple of rainy days, and Narcisa plants peas. They quickly lead the bulls around the house and out the gate and it’s all over for the season.

Perhaps those who enjoyed the week the most were Narcisa’s four lambs, gamboling about the front yard, jumping on the rock wall among the cactus, running up and down the road outside the gate. They are left free because they never stray far from their bleating mothers, tethered up the road in a vacant grassy lot.

And to end with a flash update:  after many back-and-forth emails with our travel agent in Cuenca, we are able to make reservations for our return to Portland on July 1. We fly from Cuenca to Quito (avoiding Guayaquil) and Delta to Atlanta and Portland. When I wrote to thank Teresa and ask how I could get payment to her, the return message puzzled me. I read it over several times, and then to Michael, before we understood:  “the airlines are requiring cash payments “en caso de mortalidad.” In case we die.

We are certainly willing to pay cash, once transportation begins, and we are certainly not going to die. I hope you too are staying well and safe in your homes and looking forward to life after.

C a ñ a r  B o o k  C l u b
“The greatest gift is the passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination.”
– Elizabeth Hardwick

I promise you this was not a plan, but in the last weeks I’ve read Dutch House, by Ann Patchet, The Yellow House by Sarah Bloom and Great House by Nicole Krauss. The first was entertaining, the second was over-long but a good look into life in New Orleans pre-and post-Katrine; the third I’m having a hard time staying with. So to clear my palate of houses I started (on Kindle) The Promise of the Grand Canyon: John Wesley Powell’s Perilous Journey and His Vision for the American West by John Ross.  Why?  I must have read a good mention in my morning perusing. I think it’s probably good history, but bed-time reading requires something livelier, so I’ve started the book Hilary Mantel said she couldn’t put down: Death and Nightingales by Eugene McCabe, and that did the trick. “…an epic story of love, deception, betrayal and revenge, set on a single day in the Irish countryside in 1883.” It’s so gripping I can’t wait for bedtime to keep reading.

OK, this month we have a special guest reviewer, Jennifer from Toronto:
“I read a lot of mysteries and detective stories, most of which are not deserving of the attention of your book club members, but provide me with some relief from the world’s woes. But every month I read 2-3 “good” books. Often I’m disappointed, but I also find some that are beautifully written and engaging and depressing as hell or alienating.
Currently, I have two books on the go: Aria by Nazanine Hozar, following the life of a young girl in Iran from the 1950’s to 70’s; The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christi Lefteri, focused on the lives of Syrians who end up as refugees in the UK. Both  I suspect will be rewarding in the end – by which I mean will be enlightening about the experience of people from parts of the world in continuous upheaval – but are difficult to read in the quiet hour before bedtime! (And I have to confess, before finishing either of these books, I just started The Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich’s new book.)
But I’ve just finished a book of that I wanted to recommend to you: Five Wives by Joan Thomas, a Canadian author who has revisited the story of five American evangelicals who went to Ecuador in the 1950’s, intent on converting the Amazonian Waorani tribe, and who were killed shortly after their first contact.  After the killings, two women stayed on to work with the Waorani (also known by the more derogatory Quichua term “Auca”), a sister of one of the dead and a wife of one of the others.
The author, who appears to be from a family of Canadian evangelicals and heard the story as a child, was inspired to write the book following a New Yorker article in 2012 that traced the connections between the activities of evangelicals in Ecuador and the oil industry, though this is not a major focus in the book.
Instead, the author writes from the perspective of the wives and some of the offspring of the men who were killed. The author says about her process: ‘I use actual names and biographical details, but … the interior lives of the characters and the dynamics of their relationships are entirely of my creation. I read the available biographies and journals of the Operation Auca eleven, and then set those books aside and let the characters walk into my novel with the personalities they had assumed in my imagination. In the missionaries’ memoirs, ‘God’s leading’ explains almost every impulse. I set out to peer behind that, to explore in human terms actions that astonished me.'”

Jennifer adds that Five Wives won the Governor General’s award for fiction last year, equivalent of the National Book Award. I know the background of this story, and look forward to finding the book.

Speaking of missionaries, Michael just finished Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle, by Daniel Everett, which he loved and quoted extensively to me while reading. I look forward to that one.

That’s it for now, dear friends.  Please stay well and stay in touch.

* The recipe for Ana’s granola, which I have been making since visiting Ana Margarita Gasteazoro’s Café Coral in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica circa 1988.  I just made it yesterday.

Ana’s Granola (2020 version)*

Mix in one large bowl

  • 5 cups of coarse-ground oats
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 cups pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 3/4 cups sesame seeds
  • 1 cup almonds or walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Separately, mix and stir (and heat slightly if honey is thick):

  • ½ cup honey
  • ¼ cup oil such as safflower
  • ½ cup orange juice (or the juice of one orange)
  • 2 T fresh grated ginger
  • dash of vanilla extract
  • orange peel cut into thin strips

Mix honey and oil, orange juice and orange peel into oats and seed mixture.

Spread granola on large cookie sheet and bake at 300 degree for 45 minutes. (I usually use a timer and turn granola with spatula every 15 minutes or so to make it uniformly toasty. When it looks uniformly brown on top, it’s done)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cañar Update – Week Three

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Dear Friends: We are into week three of a national lockdown in Ecuador, with obligatory masks, barricaded streets, and a curfew from 2:00 PM to 5:00 AM. That allows us to move about (on foot) in the mornings for groceries and other necessities. One of us goes out about once a week for shopping in town where only small stories, bakeries and banks are open. Soon after 2:00 I hear sirens go off for about ten minutes. It sounds to me that the police are circulating into neighborhoods and comunas with sirens blaring, but none has passed by on our road. But the other day when I was out in the front garden, I saw a man running down the road about 2:30 and I remembered that on government order we can be fined for breaking the curfew at $100 (first time), second time basic salary, and so on. (Though I wonder if it is being enforced in Cañar.)

The photo above is part of the agricultural cycle we’re watching from our living room windows – accelerated, I think, by the many country neighbors stuck at home during the quarantine. These images also help explain why we are literally surrounded by farm produce that gets sold on the streets and small stores through this crisis. So…on Day One we saw cows gleaning the cornfield after a harvest.

On Day Two, we saw the fires burning what was left on the field. On Day Three, plowing the field with yoked oxen. We took a walk that day and saw these bulls at rest (it was lunch hour), but you get a good picture of the hand-hewn wooden yoke, with the long neck of the plow tied between the bulls. On a later walk we stood and watched a farmer and his helpers try to tie a yoke onto a fiesty bull, who obviously knew what it meant a hard work day ahead- a difficult and dangerous job for the farmer. 

Day Four, we watched the family planting and fertilizing with bags of guano. Now we’re set for the cycle begin again.It’s comforting to see how much agricultural activity still exists around us, after years of massive out-migration, urbanization, and low-income production. Here is a field of potatoes in bloom just below our house.

On another theme: I got an email last week from the director of the Fulbright Commission in Quito with instructions on how to leave the country on April 7 on a charter flight for the U.S. (No commercial flights can leave or enter Ecuador.) Fulbright and Peace Corps students and volunteers have already been evacuated, and I guess the offer was extended to me as an ex-Fulbrighter, or maybe just as an American. In any case, it was a crazy scary scenario: (1) make a reservation on the flight to Miami with the U.S. Embassy; (2) then we qualify for a safe conduct pass on a special bus from Cuenca to Guayaquil (the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak). (3) Once in Guayaquil, the message read, the plane might be delayed, so be prepared to wait it out in a hotel.  (The flight is with Eastern Airlines – didn’t they go bankrupt about 20 years ago? Yes, but someone bought them and they now do charters out of Miami. No mention of cost of flight.)

I emailed back: Thank you very much, but NO WAY are we leaving Cañar. It seems to us the safest place we can be these days, and probably for the next few months…

Although I continued to believe Ecuador’s numbers were low, I read the news today (April 4) and see that the both the case numbers and death rates are high (3.4%). Ecuador reports 3465 confirmed cases, 172 deaths. Nearly 50% of our cases are in Guayaquil, the coastal city of 2.3 million that is hot, low, humid, with with much poverty and lack of basic services. The images I see today that have been shown around the world are appalling: cadavers left in the streets or wrapped in plastic in family homes, caskets or bodies left on the curb, even DYI cremations, as hospitals, morgues and funeral homes are overwhelmed. Guayaquil is our New York – people are fleeing for the mountains, avoiding roadblocks by taking back roads and “goat paths” as someone described it. Our first case in Cañar was someone who had visited Guayaquil, and today we are at 5 cases.

And that is why, in part, indigenous communities, or comunas, around Cañar are setting up their own roadblocks. Below our house we came across this chain, resting on the road, but obviously it is ready to be raised to prevent cars from coming in.

Michael wants me to mention his new theory: that dogs, realizing people are disappearing from the streets, are reclaiming their territory. “The dogs on my way into town are more aggressive” he said the other day. “They never barked before; now they do. One even ran out into the street and lunged.”  He is convinced Cañar dogs have been waiting for this moment. Most run free anyway, but they usually have a healthy respect for pedestrians. No more. Here we found them on our walk – having an organizing meeting, with minimal social distancing. (See the little gray mutt under the chin of the dog on the right?)

But our favorite dog from next door, Gordo, would never bark or lunge or join that group of ruffians. He guards our house, keeps other dogs away, and loves Michael for the morsels thrown his way every now and then. All it takes is a whistle and Gordo comes running.

To finish this update: my thought are with our scholarship graduates who are working in front-line health care through the crisis:  four nurses, one physician, one dentist, one medical laboratory technician and at least one current student who is set to work in a hospital as a nutritionist.  Here are photos of a few – we hope they all stay safe.

The Cañar Book Club

As I’m constantly reminded, books are even more important during our home confinement. I’ve been downloading lists of “must-reads,” reserving e-books from my local library and looking with alarm at the few unread books I brought from Portland in that lifetime ago. Our Cañar Book Club members are doing the same – and I’m happy to pass on these recommendations

Joanne in Mexico:- Gods of the Upper Air by Charles King:  “fascinating look at race, culture and the history of anthropology – very readable.” And A Woman of No Importance:The Untold Story of the American SkypWho Helped Win WWII by Sonia Purnell, “a biography that reads like a spy novel.”

From Joan in Leige, Belgium: “Just listened to audio book of The Milkman by Anna Burns and it was great.”

From Nancy in Portland:  Half Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls, author of the Glass Castle. “This one is billed as a “true life novel” — the story of her grandmother, who led an adventurous life in New Mexico, Arizona and Chicago. It’s peppered with actual photos of the grandma and family, and she’s framed the narrative around authenticated family stories, but wrote it in the 1st person of the grandmother, so she’s created a lot to fill in where the record doesn’t. A competently written page turner.”

Lisa in Savannah: “I am reading Vera by Stacy Schiff (author of my favorite – Cleopatra).  “It is a biography of Vladimir Nabokov’s wife. I loved Cleopatra so much that I just read it again recently. Still mind-boggling exciting the 2nd time!”

Pat in Bend, Oregon:  “In my book club we were reading, just before the outbreak, The Great Influenza by John M Barry, a history of the 1918 pandemic. I don’t recommend reading this now, but it made me acutely aware of what can happen. I do recommend two beautiful books that sweep you away into nature: 1) Of Wolves and Men by Barry Lopez an 2) Edge of Awe, a collection of writing about the desert that includes William Kittredge and Ursula Le Guin.”

Laura in up-state New York: The Overstory by Richard powers and Underland by Robert Macfarlane.

Irene in Salem:  The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. “I found it a terrific read and well written.”

That’s it for now, dear friends. I need to send this off, so will wait until next time for my own recommendations.  Stay well, stay safe, stay in place, and stay in touch. Here’s where we’ll be for the unknown future (photo by our goddaughter, Paiwa, who is with us for the duration.)

 

 

 

News from Cañar

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Dear Friends:  As of this past week we are in complete shutdown in Cañar, and in all of Ecuador, with bus lines and airports closed, along with schools, universities, restaurants bars and non-essential stores. .As of today (03-22) Ecuador has 532 confirmed cases, 7 deaths, the majority in the coastal province of Guayas. In our small town, local police and security folks patrol the streets – today, barriers went up at all roads leading into the center – and even pedestrians are only allowed to be out and about (with a mask!) to go to food markets, banks or pharmacies.  The rest of us stay at home, and stay at home and stay at home.

I walked up two days ago and took these photos. As I stood in the the street, I watched four security agents knock on the closed, roll-up door of a bakery; when the door slid up they went in and sat down to have coffee and pastries. Small town! Another amazing sight is the Pan American hIghway empty – the commercial corridor in Ecuador that normally roars night and day with large trucks. (I know these empty-major-road shots look all alike, but I can’t resist.)

The day before the shutdown, I went up and bought the last four bottles of red wine ($5 each/12% alcohol) – see space on shelf below. Now nothing left but bad white wine (and lots of liquor, which we don’t drink). Michael feels sure his beer supply is secure, but he took pleasure in burning this carton of Corona, a gift from a friend before all this began.

Housebound with us is Paiwa, our 24-year old goddaughter who is in her last year of engineering at University of Cuenca. She came before the transportation shutdown and will be with us for the duration, I think. She visits her mother nearby, but the attractions of our household are (1) Michael’s cooking, (2) my Internet, and (3) our washing machine (I suspect #2 is most important). She’s doing some on-line classes but mostly staying in touch with friends. (Below – a late-afternoon scene when it grows chilly and we all gather in the living/dining room.)We’re delighted to have this time with her, as we’ve hardly seen her this year as she nears graduation. She’s helpful (up the ladder to gather blackberries while I glean those on the ground; does the dishes while we sleep), and smart and funny. She needs to pass a TESOL English exam to go on to graduate school, so we’re speaking English as much as possible, with some hilarious results. (Last night she asked what “it doesn’t matter” meant, when she heard me say it to Michael. He launched into a 5-minute explanation of “dark matter” while Paiwa and I looked quizzically at one another.)

As for food, we are surrounded by it – potatoes and fava beans in the back field, ready to harvest, and in the kitchen garden lots of broccoli and lettuce and red cabbage (and not much else). Our meals will soon be pretty boring without Michael’s weekly trip to Cuenca for delicacies such as cheese, butter, coffee, and salmon. Cañar’s little markets are open and the shelves are stocked, and Michael is good at being creative with what’s available. Last night: pizza with Italian sausage and onions. Remains to be seen if we’ll have the usual Sunday market, where products come from all over Ecuador. (Update – market cancelled, maybe first time ever – you can see by this photo taken a couple of weeks ago that social distancing would be impossible ).

One of my great pleasures, with all this extra time at home, is an hour or so in the garden late afternoons. Weeding the flower beds, hacking out dead limbs, doesn’t matter and doesn’t make much of a difference. It’s outside, it’s exercise, it’s visual comfort. So I will end with these images of nature’s beauty…. (but keep scrolling down for the (reduced but still kicking ) Cañar Book Club.

Cañar Book Club (in time of Covid-19)

Well, it was a sad turn-out this month at the Cañar Book Club, as members deal with the crisis in their individual countries or states. However, as we “shelter in place” for the next few weeks (please, not months!) we need reading suggestions more than ever, and resources for getting books. I am increasingly using e-books from my public library in Portland. I just checked – we can still order ebooks and audiobooks – up to 50 at a time! – also, movies on Kanopy and Hoopla.

So – I just finished – and loved –  Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells by Pico Iyer. I’ve known him as a travel writer but this is a quiet rumination on daily life in Japan, where he lives in two rooms with his Japanese wife, plays ping pong at the local activity center, and writes and takes walks. He also lives in California with his mother six months a year, and his steady lively description of his life had me captivated beginning to end. I’m on the waiting list for some of his other books. Otherwise, I’m totally entertained by Margaret the First, a quirky novel by Danielle Dutton. ( NYT Review says it best: “This slender but dense imagining of the life of Margaret Cavendish, a pioneering 17th-century writer and wife of the aristocrat William Cavendish, could be classified as a more elliptical cousin of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels.”)

And let’s give a feminist salute to Dutton’s other endeavor: In 2010, she founded the small press Dorothy, a publishing project named for her great aunt Dorothy, a librarian who drove her home-made bookmobile through the back hills of southern California.

. *. *. *. *. *. *.  *. *. *.

And now for suggestions from members who wrote before the great meltdown:

From Andrea in Portland: I just started Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. (NOTE to Andrea: let us know what you thought)

From sister Char in Austin: Pachinko by Korean-American Min Jin Lee. An epic historical novel following a Korean family who eventually migrates to Japan. I leaned much from this and enjoyed the read.  Next, The Bear by Andrew Krivak: “A gorgeous fable of Earth’s last two human inhabitants, and a girls journey home.”   I loved this book. Makes you think. Last is a tall-tale romp by Howard Frank Mosher written in 1977. Disappearances
involving,  “about a thousand details of farming, timbering and whiskey-running life on the Vermont-Canadian border.”  It’s 1936, it’s winter and they drink a lot of Canadian whiskey. Best part: the paperback I ordered from Amazon came from the Paris-Bourbon Co. Library in Paris, Ky.  Our daddy would have loved this book.

From Donald in Toronto: “My suggestion for a good read – Richard Wagamese’s last novel Starlight (McClelland and Stewart, 2018). The descriptions of connecting with the land are spectacular, with scenes that conjure up walking in the hills and mountains around Canar, even though located in central British Columbia, Canada. The tenderness in the growing relationships between an Indigenous and settler man, and them and a settler woman and her daughter, are beautifully conveyed.

And from Joanne in Mexico: “Books! Yes, our salvation. I think you’ll love The Door by Magda Szabo. Now reading Girl, Woman, Other by Gernadine Evaristo – not great but engaging. And finished the John Berger bio. I learned a lot – a bit heady but still worth reading.”

Did I miss anyone? Let’s try for a rousing meeting in April, with reviews all the books we’ve read while sheltering-in-place.  Meanwhile, here’s a list of comfort reads from recent NYTimes

Stay well, stay inside, stay connected.  Judy B.

 

 

 

A bookish month

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Dear Friends – February has been a wonderful month for books: read, launched, generated and dreamt of for the future. First, news from University of Alabama Press that they will publish Ana’s book: Tell Mother I’m in Paradise: Memoirs of Ana Margarita Gasteazoro, a Political Prisoner in El Salvador. As many of you know, Ana was the original inspiration for the Cañari Women’s Education Foundation (CWEF). Last October her story was published in a Spanish translation by MUPI (Museum of the Word and Image) in El Salvador. My partner in the project – Andrew Wilson, based in London – and I went to San Salvador, along with Eva, Ana’s cousin in New York who was the final editor. There, celebrating the book launch, Ana’s siblings gave their blessing for an edition in English (a requirement of University of Alabama Press).

An oral history made when we all lived in Costa Rica in the 1980s, Andrew and I have been trying – off and on – to find an English-language publisher for Ana’s memoirs since her untimely death of breast cancer in El Salvador in 1993. Now her story will be made widely known in her own words, complete with photographs and newspaper clippings, with an introduction by Dr. Erik Ching, author of Civil War in El Salvador: A Battle Over Memory. 

Here in Cañar we’ve had a more recent book launch. Juncal: An Indigenous Community in Ecuador, was first published in Denmark by two anthropologists who lived in the community of Juncal near here in 1973-74, and again in 1977-78.  Eva Krener and Niel Fock agreed to fund a Spanish translation and that edition was published three years ago. Here they are in the photos below in their first years in Juncal – with their young daughter, Felicia, on Eva’s back.

And now last week, after years of translation work by three Cañari bilingual educators, and funding by the Municipality of Cañar, we have a new edition in Quichua. It was wonderful to return to the community to give away books and reunite with the señora on the cover (right, with baby, and in the photos below with a pink shawl on park bench and beside me holding the book). She told me the baby in now a grandmother! The older folks in Juncal remember Niels and Eva, who sent greetings from Denmark that I conveyed in my little speech. Over the years Niels and Eva have donated 800 digitized photos to the Cañar archive, also included in the digital collection of AILLA, Archive of Indigenous Languages of Latin America at University of Texas, Austin, where my photographs will eventually be housed.

I’m hoping my next book project will be a collection of photos of old Cañar from the Navas family collection. For years I’ve been printing and digitizing glass plates and early celluloid negatives, and it’s time we make something of this traditional town photographer’s monumental work (he  lived into his 90’s). It will, of course, come down to a search for funding, but we never let that stop us.