Greetings from Cañar – Year Twelve!

Dear Friends: We arrived in Guayaquil late afternoon on November 28, welcomed by a 5.2 earthquake and the intermittent racket of ripe mangos falling on the roof of our hostel during the night. The next day we rode up 10,000 feet to Cañar in a hired car. Here, with the inevitable altitude-induced headaches for a day or two, we settled into our annual drill of opening the shutters, checking which systems were working (gas, water, lights OK), which were not (Internet, printer not OK), and which critters had moved in while we were gone. Last year it was mice. This year no mice, but avian occupiers were in evidence by a beautiful birdnest in my straw hat left upside down in a basket on the coat shelf. 
After a couple of days I carefully took down the basket and peer in to see two perfect eggs. I’m afraid we’ve scared away the parents as I’ve seen no sitting birds since we arrived. I try to imagine the small birds that regularly fly through the narrow opening under the glass-covered patio making this exquisite work of art – collecting the larger outer twigs for the superstructure, then the finer brushy plant matter, and finally “feathering the nest” with soft fuzz and feathers to hold the eggs. Maybe it was one of these birds we see all around, which Michael identifies in Birds of Ecuador as the Rufous-Collared Sparrow female.  (OK, my bird photography not great, but I plan to get better.)A day or so after we arrived, when our regular helper Patricia came to clean the house of dust and cobwebs, she accidentally vacuumed a railroad spike off a tall bookshelf onto a laptop I’d left sitting, closed, on the bench below. Neither of us realized at the time, but the point of the spike must have fallen directly onto the translucent apple logo. Later, when I later opened the laptop, I found a shattered screen,  but with the hard drive still working. I would imagine most of you have never seen a laptop screen shattered with a railroad spike (collected during our railroad walking years), so for the historical record, here it is:

I’ve looked up the translation – punto de ferrocarril – to explain to the Apple tech next time I go to Cuenca, but I don’t have much hope the screen can be fixed here, (though I did see a Youtube video of someone replacing a MacBook Pro screen with a heat gun, suction cup and tiny screwdriver. Scary!)

Otherwise, life in Cañar takes on its usual routines. We puff up the hill into town a couple of times a day – Michael out early to forage for food for dinner; then planning, cooking and chopping wood and making the fire; me at my laptop in the mornings, then out and about in the afternoons. “You back already?” we hear from shop vendors, taxi drivers, neighbors. “How long this time?”

Finally, I want to thank all of you who contributed to the Cañari Women’s Scholarship Fund this past month. We’ve done well in fundraising this year, and later in December our local committee will meet to review new applications and consider raising the monthly stipend for our current twelve scholarship women. I forgot to mention in my letter that one of our early graduates, Mercedes Guamán, a lawyer, represented Cañar and Ecuador at the three-week-long United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in May. We congratulate her!     (And keep reading for the Cañar Book Club blog that follows). 

Cañar Book Club

Well, the virtual Cañar Book Club has been on hiatus for six months, and it’s long overdue for a meeting. Welcome back! Here is the selection of books I’ve brought from Portland for your consideration and my pleasurable reading. Some are from your recommendations, such as Ornament of the World, In the Country of Men; most from reviews or my particular interests (Alan Lomax bio); at least one was a gift (Cannery Row), and the last three from an unplanned quick stop at the PDX library bookstore, with some time to spare before meeting a friend. The rest I have absolutely no idea why I bought them. I’m just finishing, and loving, When We Were Orphans by 2017 Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro.

So please let me know what books or reviews or articles you are reading, and – as always – I appreciate your suggestions for my 2018-19 list.

  1. The Burnt-Out Town of Miracles, Roy Jacobsen
  2. Gloaming, Melanie Finn
  3. Caleb’s Crossing, Geraldine Brooks
  4. Before the Fall, Noah Hawley
  5. In the Country of Men, Hisham Matar
  6. Baltasar and Blimunda, José Saramago
  7. The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen
  8. That Bright Land, Terry Roberts
  9. Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded The World, John Szwed
  10. Cannery Row, John Steinbeck
  11. The Life-Writer, David Constantine
  12. Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in MEdiieval Spah, Maria Rosa Menocal
  13. Astoria, Peter Stark
  14. The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World, Andrea Wulf
  15. Victor: An Unfinished Song, Joan Jara
  16. When We Were Orphans, Kazuo Ishiguro
  17. Commonwealth, Ann Patchett
  18. An Atlas of Impossible Longing, Anuradha Roy
  19. Every Man for Himself, Beryl Bainbridge
  20. Travels in Vermeer: A Memoir, Michael White
  21. The Discomfort Zone, Jonathan Franzen
  22. The Farming of Bones, Edwidge Danticat
  23. Our Man in Havana, Graham Greene

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21 thoughts on “Greetings from Cañar – Year Twelve!

  1. Wow, the laptop screen is amazing. I hope you are able to get it repaired. I bet you can; it will just be a hassle.

  2. Dear Judy and Michael,

    I learned something new in the geography of Cañar from this chronicle: I thought that you walked down to the town center, not “up the hill, into town!” And I would say that your bird photography, Judy, is pretty good, based on the photo above. Depth of field is always an issue in such photos, and I notice that some of the leaves are “tack sharp.” I am not a birder, but the bird in the photo looks like a house sparrow, only somewhat darker.

    You and Michael are adjusting the dates of your annual pilgrimage to Cañar. What is your thinking?

    I loved the Ornament of the World about culture in a Spah and read it twice, several years apart. The book was published shortly after 9/11, though written before that event. Because 9/11 can be seen as a Seventh Century credo blasting its way into the present, it was calming to learn that there was a time and place when adherents to the three religions of The Book were able to live peaceably with one another. Menocal is a wonderful writer, and we lost her too soon. She was a professor in the Spanish and Portuguese Department at Yale, and was able to get Harold Bloom (well known teacher of poetry in the English Department) to write the introduction to “The Ornament of the World.” That Introduction is essentially a peer review of the book by Bloom, with a blunt assessment of some aspects of the book where he thought that she had missed the mark. It is an endorsement of Menocal’s chops as a writer that she included Bloom’s piece as an Introduction to her book.

    Some of the books that I have been reading to make sense of the collision of Islam and modernity are the following:

    1. The Looming Tower–Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, by Lawrence Wright.
    2. The Way of Strangers–Enounters with the Islamic State, by Graeme Wood.
    3. Heretic–Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, by AyaanHirsi Ali.
    4. The Strange Death of Europe, by Douglas Murray.
    5. God is Not Great, by Christopher Hitchens.

    I hope that you and Michael have a wonderful Christmas. I send you love and warm hugs from Boulder

  3. thanks Annie. I knew those like you who know laptops would recognize that it’s not a total disaster as long as the hard drive still works. But everyone else around here is horrified, even though I see a lot of cracked iPad and iPhone screens.

  4. Thanks Macon. I’m saving “Ornament….” for our next trip to Spain, in May. We’ve adjusted our Cañar schedule because it was just too difficult traveling in January, mostly weather-related – ice storms, stuck overnight in airports, missed flights, re-routes… Also, we don’t mind missing the commercial Christmas chaos in the U.S., though I’m beginning to see some of it here, brought back by the returned US migrants.

  5. Of course a sweet little bird family found warmth and love under your roof! That nest is incredible. Welcome home you two! Portland misses you but so have the people and spaces of Cañar. Am excited about your reading list! Now that applications are submitted (with two interviews on the books!) I’ll have more free time to snuggle in with a good read. Love to you guys!

    Un abrazo fuerte,

  6. As always, I breathe a sigh of relief when you have arrived at your home
    in Canar – earthquake?!!! glad I didn’t read that before I heard from you!

    The nest in your straw hat is so sweet!!! Did the birds return to sit on them
    and hatch them? Do keep us updated!

    So glad we got that time together in Miami – miss you already! xox sherry

  7. That nest- gorgeous! Your laptop too (though nor distressing).

    Nguyen just visited St. Kate’s to talk about The Sympathizer. He was great.

    I’m reading When We Were Orphans, too!
    Very Scary, but good.

    I didn’t know about these books about Victor Jara & Alan Lomax. Must pick up.

    Glad you’ve arrived safely!

  8. Hi Judy,
    I can attest to 5 books I’ve read in your book selection that are very good: Commonwealth, In the Country of Men, The Sympathizer, Astoria, and, of course, Cannery Row. I’m currently reading The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne. I’ll look forward to reading some more from your list.

    Glad to hear you and MIchael are tucked in safely for the season. Blog On! Pat

  9. HI just started the Alan Lomax bio today, by John Szwed – who wrote on the initial page: “The first time I saw Alan Lomax was in November 1961 at a meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology, an academic group then too new to have developed its own orthodoxies…” I love that – looking forward to reading this book…

  10. HI Pat – Amazing how many books we have in common. I’ve just put The Heart’s Invisible Furies (what a title!) on my list. Thanks. And let me know how you find the others…

  11. If Quenca is anything like any town in Mexico, you will get the screen fixed no problem. Remember these are cultures that are not part of the throw away culture that we are used to. They fix things. Many cities have a row of merchants that sell all things electronic and among them are the electronic ”doctors”.

  12. On May 8 Vietnam Thanh Nguyen will speak at the schnitzel for the Arts and Lectures series. Just in case you are in town.

  13. Congratulations on returning successfully to your Ecuadoran migratory nest in the Andes. Let the good times roll. In regard to reading, I still think a lot about Joyce Carol Oates’ “Them” and William Kennedy’s “Ironweed.” Read them years ago, but they made quite an impression on me.

  14. I guess the takeaway of the laptop story is to always place heavy pointy artifacts low to the ground where they can’t fall on anything breakable. OUCH!

  15. I’m afraid I’ll just miss his lecture in Portland. Too bad. A friend reports he spoke at her university and was wonderful…

  16. Thanks Emily. Do keep me up to date on your graduate school interviews. I know you’ll soon be juggling multiple offers…

  17. Welcome “home” again! What a beautiful bird’s nest to greet you and so sad the parents had to abandon their incipient young. Most of the books I am reading now are about the natural world: I recommend The Sixth Extinction by Elizabth Kolbert; The Nature Principle by Richard Louv; Silent Spring by Rachel Carson; and In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall. xoxo

  18. Thanks for the great book list Judy. Interestingly I am reading Cannery Row aloud to my husband; Steinbeck catches the mood and the people so well especially if you’ve been around their kind. Always enjoy your posts classmate and longtime friend

  19. Thanks Sharon. My Internet “broke” and I’m ust back on… REading Cannery Row aloud sounds like a great idea. I’ll suggest it to Michael. Fun to reconnect around books…

  20. HI Laura – My website connection was “broken” for a bit, but I’m back on now. Thanks for recommendations – I always enjoy Elizabeth Kolbert in New York, and haven’t read Jane Goodall but we just saw the new film. You are doing great work with Outside Instituto…I love staying in touch with it. Wish we could go on one of your walks…

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