Hello Cañar, Goodbye 2019

Dear Friends: I have missed you these past seven months and I’m so happy to be back in touch, writing the Chronicles. (If anyone didn’t see the 2019 Scholarship update sent in November, you can find it here with a PayPal donate button or mailing information.

I start this on Christmas Day, when we have been in Cañar one week. After the cold, dark and short days of Portland, nothing compares to waking up that first morning in our east-facing bedroom to see early morning light coming through the giant fuchsia bush outside. A welcome back.

Before that, upon opening the door to our first sight of our interior patio, we saw plants grown wild. We had to take out one monster to get the fountain going, and days later I found three birds’ nests in the tall aloe plants. But what a safe place it is for nesting and hatching by the common sparrows that are a constant in our domestic life here – flying in and out at will through the opening between the glass and tile roofs, peeking into the bedroom door in the morning, occasionally getting stuck in a room.

That first day we walked around inside and out, opening shutters, checking lights, phone, gas, Internet, water. Amazing that everything works. Some years nothing does. One year we had lots of mice. This year just cobwebs and dust and a moldy fridge. Outside, I gather other evidence of months gone by – a broken wooden plow, the orchid that is finally blooming, a dry vegetable garden the neighbor’s chickens have ravaged, a beautiful crop of potatoes in the back field.

First Sunday market day, Michael takes the requested hat from Portland to his fish guy, César, and gets a pound of shrimp in return. And I visit my favorite lunch vendor – an 85+ woman who prepares and sells roasted pig and llapingachos every day on the street or in the market.

As I follow Michael in his shopping, I snap photos on my phone of the grand cornucopia that is the Sunday market.

*. *. * *

OK, here’s what you’ve all been waiting for – the first meeting of the…

Cañar Book Club

This year I have an eclectic batch of books, acquired in eclectic ways: some ordered online after reading reviews or on recommendations of friends, others picked up for $5 at the library sale at our annual Portland Book Festival, and even a couple found in a sidewalk Little Library. I’ve also given in to weight considerations (Michael says: “I’m not carrying another damn book in my luggage!”) and ordered some e-books for my iPad. (Only problem I’ve found is I cannot see text in bright sunlight of patio, where I always read while eating lunch. So I have two books going at once.) I’ve also started ordering ebooks from my Portland library. Problem is: you only get three weeks to read and don’t get to keep it!

So here is the list. Because I was impatient, I finished two of them before I got here, one on the plane –  marked by asterisks with notes. And because we don’t always get what we want, when we want it, I’ve added my wish list for 2020. Now – Dear Readers – I look forward to hearing book reports and recommendations from all of you. Until the next meeting…


  • A Writer of our Time: The Life and Work of John Berger, Joshua Sperling
  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong
  • Margaret the First: A Novel, Danielle Dutton
  • Life in the Garden, Penelope Lively
  • Images and Shadows, Part of a Life, Iris Origo (follow-up to excellent WW II war diary War in Val d’Orcia.
  • The Parisian, Isabella Hammand * (reading now and not yet engaged, will give it time)


  • There, There, Tommy Orange
  • The Wrong Blood, Manuel de Lope
  • A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles * (reading now – third try)
  • In the Distance, Hernan Diaz
  • Iceberg, Marion Coutts * (finished – excellent, moving memoir)
  • Pure, Andrew Miller
  • Mission to Paris, Alan Furst * (finished, not great, don’t bother)
  • The Wonder, Emma Donoghue
  • Frog Music, Emma Donoghue
  • Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan
  • The Patron Saint of Liars, Ann Pachett
  • Saving Agnes, Rachel Cusk
  • The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day
  • Great House, Nicole Krauss
  • Autumn, Ali Smith
  • Bad Blood, Lorna Sage
  • The End of Days, Jenny Erpenbeck
  • Late in the Day, Tessa Hadley
  • Dora Bruder, Patrick Modiano* (read on plane, very good and follow-up to Modiano’s The Night Watch)


  • Disappearing Earth, Julia Phillips
  • The Club, Leo Damrosch
  • Say Nothing, Patrick Radden Keefe
  • Olive Again, Elizabeth Strout
  • The Accomplice, Joseph Kanon
  • Unquiet, Linn Ullmann
  • On Chapel Sands, Laura Cumming
  • Essays by Lydia Davis
  • To Calais, in Ordinary Time, James Meek
  • Girl, Woman, Other, Bernadine Evaristo
  • Permanent Record, Edward Snowden
  • How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell
  • Prairie Fires, Caroline Fraser
  • The Witches, Stacey Schiff
  • The Warmth of Other Sons, Isabel Wilkerson
  • The Yellow House, Sarah Broom
  • When Death Takes Something from You, Give It Back, Naja Marie Aidt
  • Belonging, Nora Krug
  • The Odd Woman and the City, Vivian Gornick
  • Optic Nerve, Maria Gainza * (just got notification from library)
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24 thoughts on “Hello Cañar, Goodbye 2019

  1. Wonderful to see you’ve arrived! The market is so colorful! What an ambitious list of books. I continue to recommend Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things. It’s also a great audio book, read by the incomparable Juliet Stevenson. ¡Feliz Año! xo

  2. Can you not adjust the brightness on the -Pad thusly:
    Adjusting brightness
    With a book open, tap the Brightness button.
    Tap and drag the slider to the right to make the screen brighter, or to the left to dim the screen.
    Tap anywhere in the book to close the Brightness dialog.

  3. What a cornucopia at the Sunday market, and what a hat. I am reading an amazingly constructed book THE OVERSTORY by Richard Powers, on a psychic revenge taken by tree, some of whom seem to have memories going back 4 million years, and who suddenly are being helped to save greenery in America by certain drop-out, off the bend, Americans who, once leaving civilization can groove with trees. For me it is his best since The Echo Maker and also The Prisoner’s Dilemma.

  4. Wonderful photos Judy – of course! And great to see you happily settled back in Canar and Michael spreading the joy of headwear!
    I succumbed this year and asked Andrew to get me a Kindle for Christmas. I’m really pleased with it. Smaller than the iPad which was just too heavy (with attached keyboard) to take on bus and tube trips, but also with a superb screen that can be easily read in even the brightest light. It’s also saving me a tonne of money on hardback books. For example, The Dutch House by Ann Patchett which is my (infrequent and infuriating) London-based book club’s current book. So far, I’m really enjoying it. Well written, a good story (putting aside the slightly stereotypical witchy step-mom trope) and compelling.
    I don’t intend to give up on real paper books (definitely my preference) but for having an absorbing read on the go, the Kindle works well.
    So – other recommendations. My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite is brilliant. Seemingly almost comic to start with it’s actually a dark tale revealing much about life for young, educated women living and working in Lagos. Short and bitter-sweet.
    Judy you kindly passed on (via Andrew in El Salvador) After the Circus by Patrick Modiano who I’d never read before. I loved it. Dark, strange and written so tautly, not a redundant word yet still so evocative.
    Less successful this past year: Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered. I used to devour her books but they’ve become tedious. I got half-way through The Lacuna before giving up but this one I abandoned after about 60 pages. I just didn’t care about the characters. The words fall nicely on the page but ultimately – little story and basically, who cares?
    I’m curious about To Calais by James Meek and await your verdict – it’s been a big hit here. Similarly, the Bernadine Everisto which I’ll get to at some point! Looking forward to other suggestions too.

  5. Judy & Michael, Hello! The gorgeous colors of the market remind me on India’s. Glad to hear you soft-landed again in your equatorial sun-splashed Eden. Beautiful. As for books, I just finished Marc Hamer’s “How to Catch a Mole.” Brilliant. He’s a Welsh writer and his luminous meditations on nature have strong parallels to Wendell Berry’s writing.

  6. Judy and Mike, Good to hear and see your wonderful life in Ecuador. Especially love the book club. Has anyone mentioned “Deep River” by Karl Marinates? It’s about the Finns who settled both sides of the Columbia R., starting in the 1800’s logging and fishing. It’s very good, 5*. Will start on your long lists soon. Happy New Year. Pat

  7. Hermana! So happy to see your post! The photos bring it all to life!
    I write to you from a frosty 21 degrees New Years Eve morning in Santa Fe (with
    deceptively bright blue skies) and send love to you and Micheal and all your
    devoted readers! Happy New Year! xoxo Sherry

  8. Dear Judy and Mike.

    It is wonderful to see the photos – I can smell the market. Books: Towles- I have the same experience. Patrick Modiano – mysterious and fascinating. Linn Ullmann- yoy read it fast- rather nasty to her mother, Liv Ullmann. !! it seems to be a trend in Norway right now. I got presents: Alan Wieder: “Ruth First and Joe Slovo against Apatheid” and Eduardo Galeano: “Upside Down. A Primer for the Looking Glass World. To recommend: : Dasa Drndic: “Trieste”- One of the strongest novel I have read in many years. all the best for 2020.liv

  9. Greetings from Austin! Love your book lists, Judy, and always love how many of your favorites I’ve read and loved. A couple recent reads that I thoroughly enjoyed: All my Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Towes, Severance by Ling Ma, The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obrent, Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli, Disoriental by Niger Dyaneli, Overstory by Richard Powers, The Museum of Modern Love, by Heather Rose, The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, Educated by Tara Westover, Meet me at the Museum by Anne Youngson, Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot, My Life of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, The Monk of Mokha, by Dave Eggers, Here in Berlin by Cristina Garcia, Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami.

  10. Wow – you read those over what period of time? Miriam Towes is a favorite. Lost Children Archive I gave up on about 3/4 way through. The Tiger’s Wife, The Friend, Educated, yes! The rest I look forward to reading. Welcome to the Cañar Book Club!

  11. Thanks Laura – I loved that one a year or two ago – I see it on the shelf by the bed. But it would be fun to hear Juliet Stevenson reading. Feliz Año 2020.

  12. Thanks Magdalena – yes, land of lots of rain at the moment. Good to hear from you!

  13. Those will all go on the reading list for next meeting. I’ve had The Overstory twice from the library, and three weeks is just not enough time to read it (at bedtime) and I’ve had to return it. I think I’ll just buy it for next year’s Cañar stay. But I did love The Echo Maker and don’t know The Prisoner’s Dilemma. Another good one for the list.

  14. Claire – so glad you’re back in the Cañar Book Club! I meant to write before that your link to Modiano’s Nobel Prize address led me down the winding path to reading more about him, then more, then looking at all his books in English, then ordering Dora Bruder after I’d vowed not to order any more books. Read it on the plane and found it really touching. I will order more of his books. Barbara Kingsolver: I agree on her fiction, but her non-fiction continues to be on my list.

  15. Hi Judy! I’m not a cynic, but I’m going to start with what I don’t recommend. I’m listening to The Dutch House and it’s great for sleeping, but maybe it will get better? It could also just be Tom Hanks’ voice. Having recently finished The Testaments, I recommend you stay away and let your memory of The Handmaid’s Tale persist as is. I just finished House of Broken Angels and cannot recommend it either though the end kind of made up for the first 3/4 of the book. The good news is that they’re all better than what I could write. I better take you up on some of your suggestions lest I give up entirely on reading. Cheers to Cañar! By the way, what were the being burned in the streets on Año Viejo? I’ll never forget arriving to that raucous affair.

  16. Well, where to start? Fortunately The Dutch House is for next year, so maybe I’ll skip. I like Patchett but sometimes she misses. As for The Testaments I’ve never been a fan of Margaret Atwood, even if I am a Canadian, and so didn’t even read The Handmaid’s Tale. House of Broken Angels by Louis Alberto Urrea – yes, I’ve found him tedious at times, other times good – The Hummingbird’s Daughter – and I photographed him at book event in Portland and he is a very nice guy! I’ve finally got over the hump with A Gentleman in Moscow and it’s getting interesting – why not give that one a try? In Cañar on New Year’s Eve the custom is to burn any odds and ends and throwaway objects that have built up in your house over the year – so lots of plastic shoes, plastic and rubber objects, not a very healthy walk down the streets that night. Also custom to burn effigies of important political figures – or your boss.

  17. Ahhhh! I finally found your blog. What a delight! Reading it feels like we are talking. I will peruse your prior posts as I can, and look forward to your next one. With love from Portland!

  18. You’ll like the new one – all about the Cañar garden, and my lack of talent thereof…

  19. My Sisyphus Life. I have often compared my various projects to rolling that stone up hill, never reaching the top, but refusing to give up when it hit bottom again. In teaching, other teachers and I watched that stone roll down hill, but we celebrated each turn we made it take going up. In my political struggles…well, that stone is in the ravine right now. And, in my current work now with Cañar, as I pursue leads and try new tacks, I feel like I’ve got a lot of stones at various points on the Andean crests. Some are slowly moving up, some are crashing down, and some are stuck. This is new Sisyphus twist, but I feel the image is apt. Sisyphus for me does not illustrate the hopelessness, the futility, of human effort, but the hope that each push uphill is a declaration that our lives have value and that something can be done. What kind of story would it be if Sisyphus had sat on his stone and moped? Beautiful garden! It is, and it will be again!

    Also, I like Michael’s hat. I on a search for a new one. Mine is old, abused, and worn. Perhaps it is a good reflection of me. But, I would like to find a new one. The search goes on.

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