Dear Friends: In reading over last year’s January post, I find our holiday life in Cañar follows a pattern. For reasons I don’t fully understand, we are not invited to family and community celebrations. Last year I thought it was because no one knew we were here, having changed our Cañar schedule. This year, however, most everyone knows we are here, but still… no invitations. Maybe because family and comuna circles are so tight, and customs so fixed, it just doesn’t occur to invite the gringos who come and go and don’t have an extended family here (poor things).
But why am I complaining? Almost all events happen at night, with lots of waiting around in the dark and cold, often with loud canned music, along with regular bombas (comets with one loud BANG) and fireworks. Usually, a meal is involved, which doesn’t reach the table until 11:00 PM or so, when Michael and I only want to be at home in bed. (I saw in the news that this holiday season 80 children and young people were injured by fireworks – many homemade such as these bombas.) So I have taken the initiative to “invite” myself to certain events as a photographer, this year with an intern from Oregon State University, Buddy Terry. First, we shot and filmed Kapak Raymi, the mashup of an indigenous, secular and Catholic celebration of the December solstice (see last blog). Last week we shot the Año Viejo (New Year’s Eve) procession from village to village in Quilloac. As we struck out, climbing to about 11,000 feet at (what felt like) a 45-degree angle, I was happy to have 21-year old Buddy keeping up, because I was left behind, panting, beside the road. Near the highest point, a truck came by and someone gave me a hand and pulled me into the back.
This might be my favorite Cañar event of the year, filled with masks and costumes, musicians, and the fun of men dressed as women (below) and women as men, and jokes at every stop along the way. It’s totally in Kichwa so I don’t understand much, but I think some of the good-natured jokes might at my expense. At one point Pedro Solano, one the leaders, called me up beside him and said, “You know, here in Cañar ‘gringo’ is not an insult. It just means a person who knows nothing.” I wasn’t sure how to take that.My comadre Mercedes Guamán, president of Quilloac cooperative, along with other leaders, led the procession, carrying “El Niño” (Christ child) on a little chair for hours and hours, from village to village. At each stop she would enter the casa comunal (community center) to remain while the crowd enjoyed jokes and music from an improvised stage.
Each community makes a tableau, also meant to be humorous, with straw-stuffed figures and signs having to do with current events, or complaints about the community, such as migration or lack of water. Here’s Buddy at the first stop. Part of the fun is that everyone stays in character all day, with their masks and disguises. This “old man,” for example, with his two sidekicks, walked bent over with his stick the entire time. At each village he would mount the stage and make jokes in a high quavering voice.This guy played tirelessly (same tune) for about 4 hours, never removing his wonderful mask, and I couldn’t stop photographing him at every stop.
Finally, the fog and rain that had been threatening all afternoon caught up with us, and while the procession continued on for an evening outdoor program of music, dancing, fireworks and burning of giant effigies, Buddy and I headed home.
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Cañar Book Club
As promised, we called a meeting of the virtual Cañar Book Club earlier this month. For myself, I can report that Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World, by John Szwed, was crammed with every detail of Lomax’s professional life, but very little about the man himself – my hero of oral history and ethnomusicology. And only one pinche photo in the entire book of a man who lived a long life (1915-2002) in interesting places. An antidote to that tome was the novella, Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift. Recommended by fellow member Maya before I left Portland, I consumed this sweet read in a couple of days, Michael – the slow reader – did the same in about five days, and now I’ve loaned it out to a friend in Cuenca and recommend it to everyone I know. A book club member in Portland has just finished it, and she posed some narrative questions that M. and I still talk about. It’s that good, so do read it! (Guardian review here.)
Then, a complete change of pace with Astoria, by Peter Stark – a horrifying true account of the John Jacob Astor’s effort to establish a fur trading empire in the Northwest (1811-14) sending out overland and by-sea expeditions. You think it can’t get any worse, then it does. Not brilliantly written, but well researched and a page-turner. I’ll never feel the same about the price paid by the Native American tribes in conquering our corner of the world.
Now I’m into In the Country of Men, by Hisham Matar, the story of a young Libyan boy in Tripoli in 1979. Beautifully written and taking me into a world I know little about.
OK: recommendations from you all. These from an apparently inexhaustible reader in Boulder: The Looming Tower–Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, by Lawrence Wright. The Way of Strangers–Encounters with the Islamic State, by Graeme Wood. Heretic–Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The Strange Death of Europe, by Douglas Murray and God is Not Great, by Christopher Hitchens.
From a reader in Bend: The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne: “heartfelt saga about the course of one man’s life, beginning and ending in post-war Ireland.“
And from another, always adventurous reader friend in Patzcuaro, Mexico: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (a great flight read), Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera’s and The Transmigration of Bodies Among Strange Victims by Daniel Saldaña Paris.
Two readers have recommended Oliver Sacks’ last book of essays, River of Consciousness, which I can’t wait to read. I am still mourning his death.
Finally, with the cold weather lockdown, another friend in Portland reports she read: Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perotta & The Outlander by Gil Adamson. “Good winter reading. Passed the time. Not particularly memorable but good stories.”
I feel I’ve forgotten some others, so please keep our book club readers up to date on your latest literary likes and dislikes.