June 2016 Goodbye Chilly Cañar

m, m at baptism

Judy + Michael @ Lake Culebrillas

Dear Friends:  For those of you in the northern hemisphere, imagine waking up this June 24 morning and reaching to put on an undershirt, long-sleeve t-shirt, sweater #1, sweater #2, and scarf. And that’s before I get out of bed. The temperature outside is 52 F; inside about 57 F (and that’s warmer than it’s been these last two weeks). Michael has taken to starting a fire right after breakfast, and if there’s no sun that day we stay in the vicinity of the fireplace all day into night. Oh, and some days the wind blows furiously. Our lights are blinking, with frequent brown-outs, creating havoc with my work in the darkroom. Last week, my colleague Allison and I spent a long day at the Cuenca airport waiting for a flight to Quito. Three flights canceled for rain and one for crosswinds. Gave up the trip to Quito and canceled our presentation at the Fulbright Commission and my appointments related to archive. Since a plane slide off the wet runway in Cuenca April 28, a hundred flights have been canceled; Michael and I have made alternative plans for getting to Quito next week on the first leg of our trip home to Portland.TAME plane BEST

So goes life in Cañar in June.

Staying with the weather…. A couple of weeks ago Michael and I spent a long day at 12,000+ feet for a baptism in a mountain lake. Culebrillas figures in the myth of origin of the Cañaris and has enormous symbolic significance. Our indigenous friends Segundo and Alexandra wanted their two children, Saiwa and Waymi, to be baptised in the lake (and later in the church in town, to cover all bases). The weather was terrible all week and we kept looking at the mountains, hoping the baptism would be canceled. But Cañaris never cancel anything for bad weather. So after an early breakfast at the parents’ house
of chicken soup…P1140591

We climbed in a mini-bus and joined a procession of cars and trucks up the mountain.P1140643Culebrillas is beautiful but famous for bad weather. Last time we were there, about two years ago, Michael jumped off this bridge, then unfinished and without steps, and wrecked his knee. So this day he was pleased to be here hiking around with a functioning knee, thanks to a series of shots.DSC_4161

DSC_4156Once there, the baptism lasted about four hours. It was miserable weather all day, my cameras fogged up, making it a most difficult photo shoot, but at the end of the day Michael and I were happy to be included in this special moment (knowing we’ll never have to do it again).DSC_4272Above: Two yachacs of the ceremony – Pablo in poncho, son of Mama Michi, and Mama Mariana, grandmother of the two children, giving him a blessing with an eagle feather. At about this point several gavilanes (hawks) circled the event, giving it nice touch.DSC_4245 *  *  *  * 

Here are some sounds we won’t be hearing for the next five months: our neighbor’s calf tied to the fence, bawling all day. The charismatic church members in the “rogue” chapel below us singing a plaintive hymn. The San Antonio mass wafting out on speakers from the “legitimate” Catholic church high on the hill above Cañar. The sound of drums of students practicing their mindless marching for the civic parade tomorrow.



I’ll be there too – marching with the municipal employees, teachers, students, unions, cooperatives and artisan associations. Since joining the board of the Casa de la Cultura in January, I’ve been firmly inducted into the town culture. More than I bargained for, but nonetheless I’m pleased for what it means for the archive project. Two weeks ago I prepared an exhibit of photographs made by Peace Corps volunteers in Cañar fifty years ago (1968-1970). A simple show of rich Kodachrome images tacked on boards and propped on wooden easels. People came to reminisce, point, touch, photograph with their phones, and in my mind make the exhibit a success.banner foto CCEP1140442P1140450

And with that, I want to give final and fond mention of the two wonderful colleagues I’ve worked with these past months. Ethnomusicologist Dr. Allsion Adrian came to Cuenca in January with a sabbatical, a Fulbright, three children under nine years and a supportive husband. She drove to Cañar innumerable times to make video interviews with musicians and record the fiestas – raymis – related to the agricultural cycle. We said goodbye yesterday and I will miss her tireless energy and wonderful work.allison-street copyArchivist Natalie Baur will, I hope, be a continuing presence in my Cañar life and the archive project as she begins her PhD at Florida State University, with plans to include the Archivo Cultural de Cañar as part of her thesis research. She was here for two weeks in June when she helped me with the exhibit and many technical issues related to metadata and archive work.me, natalieThat’s all, folks, for Cañar 2016. Well, at least until November, when we’ll be back and I’ll pick up again on the Cañar Chronicles. From now forward we’re changing our Ecuador schedule to November – May. Too many past travel disasters in the US in January, and too many chilly Junes in Ecuador. Until then….please stay in touch.

May 2016: Adiós Spain


Banner hanging on a Madrid government palace demanding Spain accept more refugees.

Banner hanging on a Madrid government palace demanding Spain accept more refugees.

We are back in Guayaquil this morning, after a 14-hour flight from Madrid with a brief stopover in Quito. We ate three times,I watched four movies – a first for me – and Michael played non-stop games of electronic chess. No sleep, as we were flying w and all was daylight, but today we are awake too early, hungry at the wrong times, and will have to resist going to sleep at about 3:00 this afternoon. Today, after Michael shops at the SuperMaxi (always thinking of the next meal!), we’ll take the bus to Cañar – four hours – and our Spain vacation will be at an end. It has been a wonderful break, but my head is in Cañar already, thinking through all to be done this last month: the visit of an archivist colleague, a photo exhibit to mount in Cañar, a new project with University of Cuenca, a visit to the Fulbright Commission in Quito to present the archive project of the last two years. Michael’s heart is still in Spain, however, as he scratches out his shopping list. He reads it for me: jamón serrano, cheese, bread, fresh tomato, onion, mussels (?), special white tuna, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, pimiento (red pepper), asparagus, anchovies, water, orange, melon. These trips to Spain motivate Michael to new culinary heights previously unknown in Cañar, a great benefit to all who come around, although many of the ingredients can only be had in Cuenca or Guayaquil. Speaking of….P1140224 P1140259

Cuenca, Spain is famous today for its “hanging houses,” built on a solid rock escarpment over an incredibly steep gorge that served as a secure stronghold for the Muslim Arabs when they came in 714. P1140222Then, of course, the Christians liked the place for the same reasons when they reconquered Spain in 11th century. Since then, it’s had its ups and downs with invasions, wars, royal intrigues, the Inquisition, and the economic collapse of 2008 from which Spain is still recovering. (Our young woman taxi driver told us the unemployment rate for people her age, in Cuenca, is about 60%. She is buying her taxi and license – “the cost of an apartment, but what else can we do but invest in our own future? There are no jobs.”  We’ve heard “there are no jobs” many times before  – new university graduates back home living with their parents, unable to marry or start their independent lives.P1140228

Back to the two Cuencas: In 1557, in what is now Ecuador, a Spanish conquistador- ordered the new settlement to be called Cuenca after his hometown in Spain. Nostalgic, and struck by the beauty of the place, it’s three rivers and the barranco, where I suppose he could imagine “hanging houses” a few centuries hence, it appears to me a miniature vision. We had only two brief days in Spain’s Cuenca, but would have liked more. It’s a geographically gorgeous town, with lots of walking trails and serious hikes. An additional highlight for me was a visit to the historical archive, a modern operation in an ancient building that was the 15th-century local headquarters of the Inquisition, where they tortured “heretics, muslims and jews” to become Catholics. Some cells still remain in caves in the foundations – we were not allowed to visit – but were told you can still read a poem scratched into the wall by one unlucky prisoner, repenting and asking for mercy.P1140261 P1140265

caracolesFinally, for those who asked for more details on food, I will say only that we tried a few things we don’t usually eat in Cañar. Strolling the small town of Ubeda, we saw folks in outdoor cafes sucking on little shells served in glasses. When I asked, I was given a serving of caracoles – little snails – which I dutifully sucked but didn’t’ much like. Michael passed.

Another day, in Cuenca, we were given as an appetizer chipirones, fried baby squid in chocolate sauce. Doesn’t sound that good, but was excellent in a small amount (didn’t get a proper photo; below Internet mage of stuffed baby squid).

baby squidAnd the day before we left Madrid, we took refuge from a thunderstorm in a small place near our hotel called El Anchovito and ended up with a lunch of  barnacles, percebes in Spanish. We’d had them once before, in Galicia. These were tasty, and although the waitress said they’d come fresh from Galicia, they didn’t squirt quite as much (I remember we were given bibs in Galicia) and M. says were not as good. But still a treat. When you first see these little elephant feet you can’t imagine how or why or what, but once you manage to get the “top” off, you suck out a little morsel that tastes purely of the sea


Though there’s so much more – I wanted to write about visiting Federico Lorca’s birthplace near Granada; the audiobook Spain in our Hearts, that we listened to while traveling, about the Americans who fought in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939); and the great exhibit on art and artists during and after that terrible time that we saw in Madrid, that has to be it for Spain, 2016. (Though I’ll try for a special entry on books and travel, a funny and frustrating and woeful tale.)

But now it’s the next day, we are back in Cañar, and as I write this I see the silhouette of a hummingbird on the bedroom curtains, fluttering around the fuschia and calling me back to this world.