2023: A New Year in Cañar

Dear Friends: I was so pleased by your responses to my first Cañar Chronicle, and overwhelmed by all your book recommendations! But minutes after I hit “publish” I lost Internet/phone service for three days (“real old world” texted my son), and once back on I was chagrined to see that some crazy algorithm had chosen my least favorite photo to accompany the email splash page: Michael sprawled on the double bed of a sterile hotel room in Guayaquil. I had intended it to be something like this:

Over the past few months I’ve worked with a wonderful web designer to straighten out my mailing list, arrange for responses on my blog (thanks all for your comments!) and refit the way the chronicles land in your email. She did instruct me at some point, now way-back remote, how to use the “featured image” function on WordPress. I think I’ve got it right now and I hope to send inviting photos to your mailbox with every blog.

So on to news from the bagel capital of Ecuador. Our first social visit of two friends from Cuenca last week inspired Michael to ask Google Home, “How long should I boil the bagels?” and the response sent him (me) to this website, Sally’s Baking Addiction.  I downloaded and printed the recipe, and here is the result! (Boiling clue: 1 minute per side.)

Getting ready for guests, I smartened up the house with some flowers and textiles. Susana and Patricia offered to bring salmon, cream cheese and a panettone. We had a perfect long lunch from 12:00 to 5:00, on a rare sunny day that allowed for a leisurely tour of the garden and a long chat in the patio. Just another slow-food day in Cañar!

Christmas in Cañar: along with new customs brought back by returning US migrants – twinkling lights, Christmas trees, Christmas carols, Christmas gifts – most indigenous communities maintain some rituals of Kapak Raymi to mark the winter solstice. On December 25, after a couple of too-quiet days, I went along to one of these fiestas in the village of Correouku, the first place that welcomed Michael and me almost thirty years ago. It was Mama Michi Chuma then who opened her arms with: “I thought I could trust you because you arrived without a car or a bible.” Since then, we have watched a generation of the young grow to adults, and it was their names I noticed on the program that landed on my FB messenger.  I walked over around 3:00 on the last of three days of celebration – hoping to watch the feria del cuy – a contest of guinea pigs – the fastest, the fattest, the cutest. But all I saw was a soccer game. I was about to take a longer walk and go home when a group of brightly dressed folks come out of the casa comunal and begin walking down the hill. I fell in and soon found myself with this lovely bunch of welcoming people, mostly older, some known to me over the years, some strangers. Before long, I was sitting in a room surrounded by about 40 people, dancing and toasting with chicha and beer. Soon, each of us was served a huge plate of food that included half a cuy, pork, chicken, potatoes, salad and mote (hominy). The protocol with these ritual meals is that you politely pick at the overloaded plate in your lap until the hostess brings out a handful of plastic bags, into which you slip your food to take home for later, or for others. You never leave a bite behind. After one last dance we regrouped for the procession back to the soccer field, led by two vacas locas  – men holding papier mache “crazy cows” over their heads, running back and forth, playing at impaling anyone who gets close. Someone explained that our procession was a corrida taurino, confusing because that term relates to bullfighting, and three women carried large breads formed as bulls.Leading the procession, young women carried a tremendously heavy kuynaña on a platform, a cornucopia offering covered with fruit, candies, breads, soft drinks and more, to be shared by all the fiesta participants.And there was music, of course, in this case a sole accordionist and raspadora, with the voices of women.We were headed back to the soccer field, where the breads and kuynañan were to be presented to the soccer champions (aka bullfighters) and others. But by now it was late afternoon, getting dark and beginning to sprinkle, so I decided to walk home cross country. I followed what I thought was a through-path that ended in a house. I skirted the sheep in the yard but then came face-to-face with a billy goat. He didn’t seem like he wanted to butt me, but I backtracked and stumbled onto a path that took me to our road. Then up the loooong hill……home to Michael, a fire, and a dinner of leftovers from my fiesta lunch. Finally, I want to thank all who contributed to the Cañari women’s scholarship fund this year. The 2022 newsletter is here. I hope to get the thank yous with IRS info out in next couple of weeks. A late update: our only physician, Luisa Duchi, who graduated about five years, just left for Russia for a three-year specialization in dermatology. She sent this photo.

The best of 2023 to you all. Stay warm and safe and keep those comments and book recommendations coming. I love hearing from you.

C a ñ a r  B o o k   C l u b

Dear Readers: Your wealth of book recommendations sent me to the library for ebooks, and making lists for the future (all those end-of-year recommendations!) Thank you all!  I’m re-posting the books suggestions below for those who didn’t read them in the comments on the blog post. For my part, like everyone else it seems, I’m reading Annie Ernaux, starting with A Woman’s Story. I was inspired by her straight-forward description of her mother’s life to begin thinking about writing about the life of my own dear mother, Adelene Blankenship (1920-2013). Otherwise, I’ve just finished Butcher’s Crossing by John Williams, a re-issue of a novel set in Colorado in the 1870s about Buffalo hunting: “One of the finest novels of the West ever to come out of the West,” says it all.  Finally, I’ve just started the first novel by a favorite author, About Grace by Anthony Doerr. I loved his blockbuster, All the Light We Cannot See; couldn’t finish his second so am giving him another chance with his first.

OK – here’s the first batch of readers’ reviews. Keep them coming in the new year!

Claire in London: Mariana Leky whose What You Can See From Here is utterly beautiful. A quirky, almost magical realism but not quite, uplifting story which – as the blurb on the back says – will “get you through dark days”.

Char in Austin: Leavings by Megan McClard, as I read every word of the hardback and was enlightened and entertained. I will buy the paperback just to have that wonderful cover.

Patsy in Oregon:  Two five-star reads I hope are on your list: Horse by Geraldine Brooks
and How to Catch a Mole by Marc Hamer (it’s worth mentioning, as it delves into the smallest details of the natural world, like your rufous collared sparrow in the aloe. Great photo.)

Nancy in Portland: I am sneaking in a reread of Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui before gifting it to a friend. It’s healing and meditative to be back in the pool again, lap after lap driving out thoughts of the day. Also, A Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth. Booker Prize winner in early 90s, the historical fiction of a British slave ship’s fateful 1752 trip to Africa. Beautifully written, sad and deeply revealing of both the evil of the exploiters and the suffering of the exploited – which included not only the enslaved Africans, but the poor, impressed crew members. But revenge is sweet (which I won’t reveal here)!

Marathon reader Bibi in California: Here are some of the books I have been reading and liking lately: Fabric: The History of the Material World by Victoria Finlay. Also by the same author Color: A Natural History of the Palette. Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell. Also his Tomato Red. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. Just out is Barbara Kingsolver’s Deamon Copperhead, which I have just started and A Girl’s Story by Annie Ernaux, the recent Nobel Prize winner

Bruce in Portland: I’m reading Amor Towles’ “The Lincoln Road, written after The Gentleman From Moscow. Also starting Tess Ganty’s, The Rabbit Hutch, this year’s National Book Award winner. In addition, I plan to read a recommended nonfiction book by Susan Linn entitled Who’s Raising the Kids? It documents how social media has damaged an entire generation, emotionally and psychologically, and reminds me of the courageous work of Maria Resa, the Filipino journalist who recently received the Noble Prize.

Liv in Norway: I am reading the Nobel prize winner- Annie Ernaux’s: A Man’s Place and A Woman’s Story (about her father and mother) and I am looking forward to The Years. She is 82 – still going strong, demonstrating against the horrible electricity prices and of course the wars.The warmth in the Canary Islands will heal our body and soul after a tough 2022. In this regard: I recommend: John Fante’s 1933 was a Lousy Year” and Heinrich Mann’s “The Turning Point if you want dystopia.I  will have the peace of mind to enter the book we have waited for for a long time, the biography of Anna Margarita Gasteazoro, Tell Mother I’m in Paradise: Memoir of a Political Prisoner in El Salvador.  What a woman. Gracias a la vida for 2023.

Shirley in Oregon: I just read two memoirs by Bill Browder about his financial doings in Russia with the oligarchs and his fear of being assassinated. A good look at Putin too. Red Notice is how he got started in Russia and Freezing Order really delves into the money laundering. Fascinating look behind the scenes.

Macon in Colorado: I read Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste. It was very good. Right now, I am reading a book she wrote 12 years ago about the migration of black people from the South 1915-1970. I am sure that many of your readers will have read it: The Warmth of Other Suns. Then there was All God’s Dangers by Nate Shaw. He was a resilient, strong and ambitious man, and the book follow his life through several generations, including a dozen years in prison starting in 1932 for standing up for another black household, to keep the planter from taking all the family’s belongings.

Finally, I just read Imani Perry’s book South to America. I believe it just won the national book award. Written by a Princeton professor who spent her first five years in Alabama, but then moved north with her parents, she shows how so many of the things firmly rooted in the south have become tightly woven into the language, music, sport, religion and culture.

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3 thoughts on “2023: A New Year in Cañar

  1. Judy, what gorgeous photos! The color compositions are astonishing. And both Michael and his bagels keep getting better and better. On the reading front, I’m thoroughly enjoying “The Ballad of Perilous Graves” by Alex Jennings. He evokes an alternative New Orleans, using powerful language to make the magical mundane. I finished Lincoln Highway. Too on the nose.

  2. My favorite book I read this year was “Atomic Love” by Jennie Fields. If you haven’t read it, I suggest you do. It is well written and an easy read.
    Happy New Year to you both and we hope to see in back in Portland when you get home again.

  3. The abundant display of fresh food, new clothes, and nice shoes on all feet always catch my attention. This is in stark contrast to the poverty of just a few decades ago. Is this due to the money sent by family members working in other countries or to the stronger economy in Ecuador or a combination of the two? Thank you for explaining your impressions of this situation.

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