At home in Portland – safe and (apparently) sound

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.


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27 thoughts on “At home in Portland – safe and (apparently) sound

  1. Sad but true I’m not going anywhere – ok – well – I lied, next wee were doing a road trip to Boulder and Lyons to see my cousin (with our little R-Pod trailer in tow). Our safe home for just us. Glad you’re safe and sound!

  2. I belong to two book clubs and we are in the process with one of them to pick our selections for our year starting in September. You have been missing the BLM here in Portland but no worries as it is still alive and well. I drove down there today to see all the boarded up buildings and graffiti.
    The one book club has decided to have everyone pick their own book among the list of books the Oregonian printed to have to do with history, social justice, poetry etc for racial injustice. If you would like I can send you that list. I have picked “Are Prisons Obsolete”, another picked “White Fragility”, another “The New Jim Crow”. September book club should be fascinating. Shirley Hoem

    PS I met you 10+ years ago at an event you were speaking. My friend Sue Sloan took me to your talk and she died five years ago. Time marches on.

  3. So glad to hear that you made it home! What an ordeal! The smiling look of relief on Michael’s face back home tells the whole story!

  4. Welcome back to the neighborhood, you two. So glad you’ve made it home safe and sound. Let me know if there’s anything I can get for you, and hope to see you in your garden or ours, once you’ve settled in.

  5. Great writing and terrific photos! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Thanks Dan. We hope to go back to Cañar in December and continue the various projects there. So stay tuned….

  7. Hi Kate – oh thank you so much – and yes, I look forward to our first garden palaver! (I need you!). We feel fine, but we should probably stay down until end of next week. I’ll be in touch –

  8. Hi Janice – so nice to hear from our US friends and you are so right – we knew if we made it to sleep in our own beds that night we would be OK. And it appears we are – relieved, loving our garden, and I seem to be constantly hungry. Michael’s out there now making a fire to BBQ brats for an early dinner.

  9. Hi Shirley – How nice to hear from you, and all about books. Was that event where we met at Richard’s and Barbara’s house? I would love to have your reading lists to bring me into the conversation. As you saw from the Cañar book club, I’ve been escaping to historical fiction.

  10. So glad you are back in Portland and the journey though long was uneventful. Would love to see you and Michael this summer or fall. XO Poppy

  11. Buen viaje! University of Colorado is my alma mater and Denver my other. xoxo J.

  12. Jon and I are so happy to hear from you and to know you are safe and sound. I am not sure how sound I am with this weird world we are currently living in. Certainly we hope to see you in the not so distant future.
    I am currently reading Peace Like A River for the second time. It is for my July book club. We have had 3 book club meetings on Zoom and it has been lots of fun.
    Again, grateful you are home. Love, Irene and Jon

  13. Judy! Thanks for filling us in, so glad you guys made it home. Send my love to Michael, more news about our lives soon. Love Mo

  14. Glad you made it back. We are still in Montana where we came because we had a renter in the house. She’s gone now, but we feel pretty comfortable here. We’re planning to return to Oregon in August.

  15. So glad you’re home safe and sound. Wonderful pictures. Michael in the candle light at your Canar Last Supper has the quality of an old master. An old master IN an old master?
    I started the Andrew Miller, Now We Shall Be Entirely Free and thought it exquisitely written. An amazing book I’d love to have continued with but it was agonising, so depressing and with such a sense of foreboding that I just couldn’t go on.

  16. Welcome home. It sounds like they have much better protocols down there. Hope you won’t end up sorry you returned.
    Here’s some titles I’ve enjoyed lately:
    To continue the Spanish Civil War, 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 45
    Oh dear, these are all kind of heavy. Maybe you want to read cookbooks. I’m loving using Joshua McFadden’s Six Seasons.

  17. Judy, I love all the travel details and photos. Welcome back to Portland.
    – Larry

  18. Congrats on getting anywhere. It must be especially rewarding to land somewhere you wanted to be. Wishing you both stay healthy

  19. You did it! So happy that’s over for you and I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the upcoming week…

  20. What a trip! Michael’s face tells the whole story… Hope the cuarentena goes well for you both. Have a good summer.

  21. Thanks Sandy for the book recommendations. I’ve got them all on my reading list, and I’ll check out Six Seasons for Michael. I don’t think we’ll be sorry to be here, especially if we can turn things around come November.

  22. Welcome home and glad you are back safe and sound. I have always enjoyed your emails. I wonder when this pandemic is over, will you be going back to Ecuador or are you done and off to a new adventure?

  23. Just finished Telephone by Percival Everett and that should go on your list too! A novel. Quite engaging and well written. If you should read it, let me know and I want to talk about it with you.
    PS if you still have wipes available, I’d love some. None of the stores I shop at have any wipes, alcohol or others. The CDC says the alcohol has to be 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol. yours meet that.
    Hope you are still feeling well! Having to travel now is SO scary.

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