Dear Friends. I’d planned to write about Carnival, or Lalay Raymi as it’s called here, but for the first time since 2005 I skipped the event. Past years I’ve documented the hours-long parade as it winds through the villages and into town before gathering in a local field for more hours of eating, dancing and music. I’d always make a stop at home to download hundreds of photos, have a quick bite, then rush back out to take hundreds more, until the end the day when, totally exhausted, I’d come home. Despite being the best photo op of the year, after so many times and thousands of photos, my Lalay Raymi images are beginning to look much the same. Also, I had a mild cold this year that just wouldn’t go away and Michael convinced me to stay home. (Below, 2016, 2012, 2014.).
Instead, I thought I’d write about house and garden. So come on in… you’ll note that although the house looks much the same, the trees are growing tall, the lawn is established and there’s a line of flowers I faithfully attend while we’re here.
This month marks the twelfth year in our Cañar house, and it’s fitting that our talented architect, Lourdes Abad, is spending a few days with us as she presents a workshop in Cañar on construction and restoration of earthen buildings (e.g. adobe). On the last day she is bringing the participants to see our house and sample Michael’s canelaso (hot alcoholic tea).
So, a look back to March 2007: after two years of construction drama, we moved into our house with an traditional Cañari housewarming, or wasipichana, that included a night-time vigil, procession, blessing, southern cross placed on the roof, a roasted pig to feed about 100 guests, live music, dancing, and finally, fiery paper balloons called globos launched to float over the countryside. A wonderful day and a great relief when it was over. Since then, we have become la casa de los gringos.
In 2013, after I’d published a book about building the house and living half-years in Canar, (https://amzn.to/2ueNcvm), I sent an email to a journalist at the New York Times in the then Home and Garden section (I miss it still!) and in an act of shameless self-promotion, I suggested an article and attached some photos. Within a week or so, an editor had assigned a writer and photographer to come to Cañar. That’s how we met Tony Cenicola, this great photographer who spent a week with us and took the best photos of the house we’ll ever have by climbing a ladder in the garden to get the photo of the house lit up, and climbing a tree across the road to get the photo from the front, showing the rooflines. (And, despite having his rental car and some equipment impounded by the police in Cuenca for the entire week, he still came back a couple of years ago for another story!)
I was a bit disappointed, however, when the full-page article with a 23-image slideshow came out, to see that his editor had chosen many photos of sedums and other plain plants in the patio, and nasturtiums in the kitchen garden, rather than shots of the Cañari people, or the countryside, or examples of traditional adobe houses. And after I’d arranged for the writer to spend a half day with architect Lourdes, there was no mention of the importance of maintaining traditional architecture in Cañar. Here’s the article, “Up in the Clouds,” from June 2013: https://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/06/garden/a-second-home-in-the-andes-worth-the-4300-mile-trek.htm
And now to the garden. Our interior glass-covered patio garden has gone through several stages, from being the dusty dance floor and blessing site during the housewarming (see above), to early experiments with Andean crops (we came back one year to find our compadres had planted corn and peas), my endless flowers that dried up in the solar heat, a lemon tree that got whitefly, to gifts or purchases and exotic epiphytes picked up on walks and plopped down in an alien environment.
But plants know what they like best, so twelve years later we have a garden with monster aloeveras reaching for the sky, huge jade plants, aggressive creeping oregano that we keeping digging out, spiky things such as cacti, succulents and other desert-like plants without names (known to me) that tend to be slow-growing and do not require much care for the six months we’re gone. Then there’s that large spiking beauty from our friend Eduardo’s Vega’s yard in Cuenca that has gone crazy and neighbors keep asking for hijuelos – offspring- to take away for their own garden (photo: bottom center).
All identifying information welcome! One of my pleasures during a work day is to step out to the patio and take a short break to water pots or pull weeds and oregano, or watch the birds that come in and make themselves at home – even building nests when we’re gone. And my other pleasure is taking a longer afternoon break (between work and wine) to fiddle around in the kitchen garden. There, my talents are limited but not my enthusiasm for weeding, turning the soil – still finding construction nails and pieces of roof tiles – and planting seedlings (broccoli, chard, parsley purple cabbage, cilantro). It doesn’t matter if we’re not here to harvest the crop. Our compadres (who planted the corn in the patio and always plant vegetables in kitchen garden before we come) will be here to enjoy.
Well, dear friends, I’ve taken up enough of your time, and we’ll have to forego the book club this blog, but I promise another one soon once I emerge from my visa/vortex/ HELL that has kept me traveling a couple of days a week to Cuenca or Azogues to solve the unimaginably, endless, problems around having my permanent resident visa transferred from my old passport to a new. I’m now in the second year of tramites – red tape – and my only advice is to not stay in Ecuador beyond your 10-year passport expiration. (Just kidding.)
But I do want to end with an important announcement. This week, AILLA – Archive of Indigenous Languages of Latin America at University of Texas, Austin, launched the first archives from Cañar – the Peace Corps Collection.
AILLA’s newest public collection is the Cañar Peace Corps Collection, which features more than 400 photographs taken in the 1960s and 1970s by US Peace Corps Volunteers working in Ecuador with the Kichwa-speaking Cañari people on projects related to agrarian reform, forestry, and traditional handcrafts. Many photographs (some in color, others in black and white) are portraits of Cañari people or panoramas of the dramatic landscape of southern Ecuador.
I couldn’t be more pleased that we begin the first phase of this NEH-supported, three-year project with the work of these (then) young and idealistic men (and one woman) who came to Cañar in the 1960’s with cameras, typewriters and tape recorders, and once home, managed to keep their negatives, photos, cassette tapes and documents safe in attics and basements and boxes for 50 years until they reached retirement. Then, recalling this unforgettable time of their life, they scanned, copied, e-mailed and packed up boxes of documents to be a part of the Archivo Cultural de Cañar.
I’ll end with Alan Adams’ introduction to the collection:
A bit about the Peace Corps in Cañar by Alan Adams: In the period of Ecuadorian agrarian reform from 1965 to 1970, we Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Cañar tasked with supporting the peasant population’s formation of agricultural cooperatives. Young and idealistic, we walked among the indigenous Cañari and we were astonished. We conversed with them. We listened to them. We desperately tried to help them. And if we provided a word of encouragement, fantastic. What we learned was invaluable. We volunteers participated on many occasions and in many ways, and some of us had the idea to take pictures. Mine were lost. Some thought to keep their photos, and now they are available as part of a historic visual archive of agrarian reform, a decisive period in the history of the Cañari people. It was not a reform that happened to the Cañari, but rather a movement that the people themselves took over, shaped, and created to turn the course of their history. We hope that these photos help communicate the admiration and reverence that we felt as we watched the agrarian reform unfold.
Mil gracias! Hasta la proxima. Judy