April was the cruelest month

Just so you know that life in Cañar isn’t always a bowl of cherries (thank you Mr. Gershwin) and that April was surely the cruelest month (sorry, Mr. Eliot), both were true for us this year. Our cruel troubles began on April 10 with a trip to Cuenca when we had appointments to see the dermatologist, Dr. Leon. Michael went shopping first at the SuperMaxi and was lugging a heavy bag when we met up at the doctor’s. After, as we walked a few blocks to pick up my prescription skin cream, we transferred two heavy bottles from Michael’s bag to my backpack. Then we took a taxi for lunch in the large new Plaza San Luis Seminario near the center.

Although it was rather chilly we chose a table outside near Le Bistro (neither French nor a bistro) with our bags piled on an extra chair. During lunch Michael did his puzzles and I read a book on my iPad. When I grabbed my wallet to go inside to check the pastries, I told Michael to keep an eye on my backpack. I came out in less than five minutes to find him standing, turning in circles. “They stole your bag! As soon as you left someone tapped me on the back – “Senor!”  When I turned to look someone else grabbed your backpack.” We both knew instantly it was a lost cause. The plaza was full of tourists and locals milling around and eating at tables near us. Other diners quickly caught on to what had happened, nodding sympathetically and probably thinking, “Idiots, why didn’t they choose a table inside the glass divider?” I found the young security guard patrolling the plaza, who looked a little scared before running futilely out an entrance to the street.

You’ve all had a moment like this, right?  You’re not sure what just happened or what to do next. For my part, I looked down and saw the wallet in my hand (good!), then glanced at the table and saw my iPad (good; I’m in the middle of a book). Because it was chilly I had on my expensive Patagonia jacket (good). On the other hand, the thief had my two iPhones (very bad). An older one for Ecuador calls; a newer one I use for photos and while in the US. Then I thought how the thief would be pleasantly surprised to find a bottle of 12-year old El Castillo rum and a liter of delicious strawberry/orange juice, along with my sunglasses, sun screen, prescription skin creams, and all my keys, although I couldn’t think of anything in the pack that would identify where we live. He also got a red cap for sun, and a beautiful alpaca hat and wool gloves I’d worn leaving cold Cañar that morning.

That was on April 10. We came home and began what you might call “discovery and recovery.” With the Apple app, “Find My Phone,” we watched on a GPS map as the thief got on a bus in Cuenca and headed this way. We held our breath as he passed through Cañar – for sure we didn’t want him stopping here! – and headed on to Tambo, Zhud and Troncal. He ended up a couple of days later (when I stopped checking) in a village near Pelileo, a market town in the middle of the country where M. remembered that years ago his pants were cut by a thief while we visited there as tourists with our friend Andrew.

Michael and I have a long history of attempted and successful street robberies in Latin American capitals. Twice in San José (from car & market); in old town Quito with pants cut; in Lima with variation on the “Hey Señor” distraction; in Buenos Aires with mustard squirted on Michael while thief pointed to tree and suggested that a bird had shit on him. But it hasn’t happened in many years and I have to admit we’ve become complacent.

But back to events, because the robbery was only the beginning. Two days later I received a message from Guadalupe, my friend in Costa Rica, saying she’d got a call on my phone with a lot noise in the background. So on the Apple site I “locked and erased” my phone and “requested recovery” of my Apple ID. Then, a week later, a receipt for an App Store purchase (in Spanish) landed in my in-box. Somehow a more sophisticated hacker (not the bus-riding thief) had my phone and was ordering programs or games. Checking my VISA bill, I could see a second charge. I was beginning to regret, more than anything, the lost time this robbery was taking out of my life. On the VISA website I was able to report fraud, get the charges refunded, close the account and order new cards. Then I called Apple and they removed my credit card from my account (cautionary tale; don’t let vendors keep your card on file). And I asked if there was any way I could “recovery” my Apple ID before May 5, the date the email they’d sent me targeted, as I’d also lost access to other apps such as Messages and FaceTime, which I use every day to stay in touch with family, and WhatsApp, which everyone here uses. Nope, I’m in Apple purgatory until May 5.

But wait, there’s more. On April 18 I received a follow-up email about a discrimination suit that has been brought against us via the fair housing agency in Portland for not renting to a woman with two teenage children. There’s a complicated backstory here – mistakes on my part, litigiousness on her part (11 court cases, some involving landlord/tenant issues), and lots of lessons learned. We are cooperating. At issue seems to be my contention that the basement guest room is not an adequate bedroom for a teenager. (Memo to self: next time don’t advertise 3 bedrooms.) Now the agency requests to send an inspector to look at the room, so I’ve had to ask our tenants to give me a convenient time. Rather embarrassing. We can, the email says, shorten the case by going to mediation/settlement and I’ve written asking for more details. Michael is giving counsel from the couch, based on all those hours watching Judge Judy on daytime TV. 

So there must have been some good things happen in April? Yes. Michael and I have both been to visit our new dentist, Pacha Pichasaca, a graduate of our scholarship program about eight years ago. I was treated to a beautiful limpieza during which she called in her fellow dentist to look at my gold crowns – they’d never seen them. Then when Michael went they got a real look at a mouth full of gold. I see on Facebook that Dra. Pacha just qualified as an orthodontist.

Another of our graduates, Paiwa Acero, just received confirmation of a “full ride” for her master’s in civil engineering at the University of Illinois, Chicago, with a Fulbright scholarship, tuition waiver and a research assistantship, which should allow her to graduate without debt. Here she is, one of 14 Fulbright scholars from Ecuador doing master’s or PhDs in the U.S. (Paiwa is fourth from right).

Congratulations to both!

C a ñ a r  B o o k   C l u b

Let’s move on to books, always a dependable bowl of cherries in this life.

Jeff in Cambridge writes: I think The Glass Hotel by Emilie St. John Mandel would be perfect for the Canari book club. I was entranced by the interlocking stories of the principal characters in the book, with the glass hotel located on a remote island off the coast of British Columbia playing a supporting role. (Thanks Jeff; I’ve just put on hold at my library.)

Susan in Portland:  “I’m really enjoying The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf. Humboldt was remarkably prescient in emphasizing the inter-connectedness of life forms and recognizing human’s impact on these systems, particularly in the colonial invasion of the so-called New World, which he observed and recorded in his groundbreaking journeys in South America, Mexico and the Caribbean in 1799-1804. Sounds dry, but it isn’t.” (I agree – read it a couple of years ago and loved it!)

On a very different time and place, The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris, takes place in post Civil War South. Two ex-slave brothers trying to head north in search of their mother encounter help from a former Yankee landowner and his wife. Their son, returned from the Confederate army, has secrets. Hard to describe it but it’s a very strong first novel by a pretty young black author who grew up in Ashland, Oregon. Highly recommend it.”

Claire in London:  I enjoyed We are all Birds of Uganda by Zayyan Hafsa. A great effort from a young debut writer, though flawed. While the parts set in the UK are excellent, it flags (and doesn’t really add up) when she takes her protagonist to Uganda. But the story moves along and the characters are engaging, so I did enjoy reading it. She has a fantastic understanding of south-Asian immigrant family and business culture and the best descriptions of “micro-aggressions” (though she doesn’t call them that) experienced by non-white professionals in the work place.”

Irene in Salem: Just finished Dinners with Ruth by Nina Totenberg. “A lovely read on friendship and how we can support each other when times are tough.” (Totenberg, the NPR journalist, writes about Chief Justice Ruth Ginsberg and their parallel ascents in fields that were not friendly to women.)

Joanne in Mexico: Just finished Ari Shapiro’s memoir, The Best Strangers in the World: Stories from a Life Spent Listening. “I Enjoyed the mix of personal stories and reportage. I’ve heard him sing with Pink Martini but had no idea he grew up in Beaverton, Oregon. Came out in high school, and soon hit the PDX gay bars. He’s had an amazing life. Now reading Culture: The Story of Us, from Cave Art to K-Pop by Martin Punchner. Great book but not great for kindle. I might buy a hard copy in Portland.

Judy in Cañar: I’ve not had a great reading month, having sent more books back to the library after a few pages than I’ve read. But I have great hopes for three currently on my iPad: 1599: A Year in the Life of Shakespeare, by James Shapiro, which just won the Baille Gifford Prize for non-fiction; Diary of a Man in Despair by Friedrich Reck (I have no idea why) and the wonderfully titled The Lost Pianos of Siberia by Sophy Roberts.  Reviews coming in the May Chronicle.

Meanwhile, dear Cañar Book Club members, stay in touch and keep those recommendations coming!








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14 thoughts on “April was the cruelest month

  1. It must always be a surprise when the thief examines the stolen property. In my case, my big leather bag contained my kitchen knives bound for a friend’s house so she could sharpen them for me. Stolen from the loveseat in a Cuenca hair salon while distracted in the stylist’s chair.

  2. Sorry about the theft. This comes under the heading of “when bad things happen to good people, etc., etc.” Robbery is a violation of privacy, an injury to the spirit, but your sharp writing, drawings, and humor reject despair and take the sting out of the wounds that the world inflicts.

  3. I love your drawings and handwriting, Judy. Thieves are a most unpleasant species but it’s way more fun to not be one so we can at least enjoy that! Hopefully May will be much more of a delight for you both. Love!

  4. My favorite parts of your thrilling theft story: the accompanying drawings–you could easily be a comic book illustrator, e.g., “recycled from 21 bottles”, “but wait there’s more,” your magic hovering ouija hands and more. Your looseness with edges adds to the hilarity.
    And in the narrative, my favorite is the older story of someone squirting Michael with yellow mustard and pointing upward for the offending bird pooper! You gotta hand it to that enterprising thief with a bottle of mustard as a tool of the trade.

    Book recommendation: Independent People by Halldor Laxness, an Icelandic writer who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in part based on this 1946 masterpiece (he wrote many books). Set in sheep herding country in early 20th century Iceland, it’s an intimate, richly detailed story of a stubborn man who’s determined to get out from under the quasi-feudal economic system of landholding at that time. Jane Smiley called it “one of the best books of the 20th Century.” Somehow I missed it along the way, but am so glad to have found it. It’s dense and complex, very character-based, and leavened by sardonic humor.

  5. So sorry to learn of your theft. You are correct in that we have become more complacent too. A reminder to keep alert. But with all the bad news, the good for all of us readers, your story and drawings were such fun! The bird poop story reminded me of that happening to friends when we were in Italy. Guess it’s a “thing” universally. Hope the “hassle” has diminished for you both. Keep smiling.

  6. As the other commenters have said, your drawings are wonderful but I am so sorry to hear about all the hassles you’ve had this month. I hope May brings the May flowers and only sweet things for you and Michael….

  7. You certainly made the saga entertaining for us, but it wasn’t funny at the time, I’m sure. We were warned before going to Peru in ’78, so I made money/ID belts with nylon and velcro that we wore under our clothes around the waist. Awkward sometimes but very useful. I was walking down the Jiron de la Union in downtown Lima, with a friend, an indigenous woman stopped suddenly in front of me and I felt a slight rustle from behind. My friend heard a tearing sound–I didn’t– and when we stopped I saw that a neat slit had been cut in my canvas purse and the thief had reached in while I was distracted by the woman in front. He didn’t score that time, because I never carried anything of worth in it, but it was upsetting to think if I had just turned slightly my arm would have been slashed.

  8. Judy,
    Sorry to hear about the theft of your phones and other materials. I can easily understand that after living in Ecuador and visiting Cuenca for so many years you and Michael would not be on full alert 100% of the time.

  9. I am so impressed with Paiwa and with Pacha. Incredible! Very sorry for all of your troubles in Cuenca. How frustrating ♥️

  10. Hermana, as always, your story telling and watercolor illustration makes even this
    April is the Cruelest Month backpack theft entertaining for we readers. Dang! It’s
    so creepy to have someone steal your stuff…happened to me in Nicaragua (and I
    loved that Chinese Marc Jacobs knockoff bag!) and Spain (huge, Fred’s briefcase!)
    Sorry it happened to you, and yes, keep watching Judge Judy. She knows things!
    Your watercolors just get better and better. Love “what we lost”, but the map of
    your traveling phone is the best. Oh, and you in the red cap and scarf. XX
    Book Club, I loved reading both “Circe” and “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller,
    and now midway through Natalie Haynes “Pandora’s Jar” and “A Thousand Ships”
    Next I’ll be speaking Greek. 😉 I highly recommend watching Natalie discuss her
    books on Youtube. She is smart and funny.
    Love, Your sis.

  11. Hi Judy,
    You write and draw so well about your experiences (even the frustrating ones), that I thought you might enjoy Margaret Atwood’s collection of short stories, “Old Babes in the Wood.” Great title, and her writing brought yours to mind. Pat Kestner

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