News from Cañar (and all over)

Dear Friends:  Well, the very first news is that the weather has improved! (see header image) Days now in the 60’sF instead of the 50’s, and nights in the 50’s instead of the 40’s. No solid rainy days for a while, and we once again luxuriate in summer temperatures in our glass-covered patio – today a high of 77F.  Here’s Paiwa, studying for her geology exam next week.Next news is that Lenin Morena, the ruling party candidate, won the run-off election on April 2 by a very thin margin that I hope he will act upon in his next four years as president of Ecuador (and as the first head-of-state in a wheelchair, a paraplegic after being shot in a robbery years ago). Our indigenous and town friends voted largely for his opponent, Guillermo Lasso, attracted by his campaign promise of “CAMBIO!” Change. Sound familiar?  The indigenous movement has been vastly disappointed with President Rafael Correo and many voted their sentiments. Correo had turned increasingly authoritarian in his ten years in office, allowing mining in sensitive areas, oil drilling in the Amazon, censoring the media, and gutting the bilingual (Kichwa-Spanish) programs.

Then, yesterday I saw on Facebook that Mercedes Guamán (right), one of our scholarship graduates, now a lawyer and an alternate member of congress from Cañar, was in Quito with other indigenous leaders, to meet with the “virtual president” Moreno and with (here) the virtual vice-president Jorge Glas. Both apparently promise to do better serving the indigenous populations of Ecuador. We’ll see.In home news: I’ve just been through the busiest two weeks of my Cañar year, with the simultaneous visits of two “dream teams” I was thrilled to have come work with me – I just didn’t expect to be coordinating their visits at the same time. Two Peace Corps volunteers from the 1960’s, Jeffrey Ashe and John Hammock, came for a week to make oral histories with those they knew 50 years ago, around the issues of agrarian reform. Both have continued to work for social justice and world poverty reduction since they were idealistic young men clambering over the mountains of Cañar  – Jeff (on left) with small savings and credit groups in Africa, Nepal and Central America (, and John (with umbrella) at the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative in the UK (   Jeffrey with Pio Culala and Antonio Quinde, leaders in agrarian reform era 1966-1972).

At the same time, a team of tecnicos from the National Instituto of Patrimonio Cultural (INPC) came from Quito for three days to scan the negatives of the photo collection of Rigoberto Navas (1911-2001). While I was in Quito in February I visited INPC and proposed they acquire the collection of the images I’ve been working on for three years, but they counter-proposed to come to Cañar and scan the negatives.  ( I couldn’t be happier to have these new colleagues. (L-R) Carolina Calero, José Rubio, and Marta Navas with paintings by her father, Rigoberto Navas, on the wall.  (A third tecnico, Nicolas Cascante, missed the morning flight but came later in the day.) They found such a large and rich trove of negatives in the Navas studio that they are planning a return visit, hopefully in May.

Both teams were warmly welcomed by those of us in Cañar who feel we are a culturally significant but largely forgotten corner of Ecuador, and I personally am grateful for the materials generated and preserved for my digital Archivo Cultural de Cañar.


Cañar Book Club

I’m happy to report the Cañar Book Club is alive and well. We had a virtual meeting recently and our members reported in on recent reads and recommendations.

  • From Joanne in Mexico: Hasim Matar’s Anatomy of a Disappearance is not as good as The Return, but enjoyable. Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West is fabulous. Also read a surprisingly interesting bio, Caravaggio: Painter of Miracles by Francine Prosemaybe not so surprising given his wild and wooly life.
  • From Poppy in Portland: I am 2/3 the way through the photographer Sally Mann’s memoir/autobiography, Hold Still. I absolutely loved the first half. She is a skilled writer as well as a photographer.
  • From Allison in Minneapolis: wasn’t A Hologram for the King the pits?! Read Homegoing instead if you can find it.
  • From Patty in Portland:  Evicted by Matthew Desmond and The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud.
  • From Carole in Portland:  The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee; the history of eugenics here in our country prior to the rise of Hitler is chilling. Also started White Trash by Nancy Isenberg, the 400-year untold history of class in America – my personal attempt to understand the undercurrents to our current social/political situation.
  • From Michael in Cañar: I’m reading The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen, and I’m loving following the saga of this heroine of Civil War emancipation.
  • And from Judy in Cañar:  A week ago I was in a literary slump. Read A Man Called Ove and found it insufferably boring. I’d bought the book before we saw the movie, and realized it was essentially the script. So I turned to another book I’d started a few months ago but laid down because I just wasn’t in the mood to learn about hawks, I guess: H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. I’m happy to say it’s all the cover blurbs attest and I’m totally absorbed: “beautifully written, fascinating, dazzling,” though maybe not quite “breathtaking.” And now I have two more months to go without a single new book on my shelves. Please advise!
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11 thoughts on “News from Cañar (and all over)

  1. Hi, Judy! Great to get this update and more book recommendations. I want to second Patty’s recommendation of Evicted, by Matthew Desmond. I am halfway through –it’s a most compelling, authentically-told, story-based telling of the plight of those in poverty challenged by keeping a clean, safe roof over their heads. The characterizations are nuanced–including those of their landlords, often caught in tough situations themselves. I heartily recommend it!

    Also just finished Anne Patchett’s Commonwealth–In an interview she’d said with this latest work of fiction, she had decided to allow herself to write closer to home. With her sharp eye and ability to find both humor and grace in all her characters, I think this one is truly a great coming home. I have always preferred her nonfiction to her fiction (feeling some of her fiction seems distanced and artificial), and this book seems to combine the best of both genres. In tone it reminded me of many of her wonderful personal essays, captured in another highly recommended book: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

    Glad it’s getting warmer there – I made a pasta last night with some of our first asparagus. Peas are finally perking up!

  2. Well, Judy — Susan from Talent, OR and Cuenca here –I am sorry we have not connected in the past 1.5 years in Cuenca – or Cañar and I will be moving back (hurray!) to Quito after two years away 1st of May. Hope to start a new project there soon this year. Your blogs are interesting and your work is very high value to the community of Cañar(and Ecuador as a whole) that you and Michael serve. Thanks for sending them. Short news brief:: I had a lengthy vacation in early March planned to visit students and their families in Argentina from B.A. to Mendoza through Cordoba and Rosario. The whole vacation was washed away in the floods in Perú in March — roads impassable, the Pan Americana collapsed and no ground and not enough air transport for the thousands of visitors like me on our way from Cuenca to the LIMA airport. Seriously terrible ecuatorial heat — I thought I was going to die in 40 C heat in Trujillo and Lima. No A/C although we had off and on internet and electricity and food. What a bloody mess — the govt. the policiá, other civil authorities not on telly nor visible at all. Govt of a huge country like Perú was simply not there to care for its people aand it showed itself to be a total failure during this crisis.The suffering is terrible in coastal Perú, bridges into Lima collapsed. and I saw small lakes in some northern inland desert regions of the country.
    Let me know if you are in Cuenca before I leave 1 May. S.Schloth

  3. Susan Schloth again — Arrived back in Ecuador from the floods south in time to vote for President Lenin Moreno in my Quito district in the 2 April run-off. Mucho incertidumbre todo en Ecuador, por cierto…

  4. I’m currently reading “Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary & Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva” by Rosemary Sullivan and finding it totally gripping.
    Maggi (Toronto)

  5. Thanks for the newsy chronicle. I was wondering who won the election and was interested to hear what the indigenous people thought about the election.
    Our weather hasn’t been much better, however we’ve had a nice Easter weekend – but I see it’s started raining again now 7PM Sun.
    I’m glad to hear the Cañar Archivo is going well.
    Hello to Michael too.

  6. Read the NY Times recommended “Exit West” and “A Horse Walks into a Bar” (David Grossman). Both quick reads with some good writing in parts but very lightweight literature. “A Man Called Ove” was a sententious book and a saccharine and silly movie. Currently Reading The Sleepwalkers (How Europe Went to War in 1914) by Christopher Clark. A tour de force masterpiece of historical analysis–and very relevant to the slow-motion train wreck currently unfolding on the world stage.

  7. Wow, that was a trip from Hell! And I was not even aware of what was happening in Peru. I’ll let you know if I can make a lunch date when next in Cuenca.

  8. Two good fiction reads,
    ‘Around the Next Corner’ by Elizabeth Wrenn. About a woman examining her life as her children transition out of the house by and thru deciding to foster a puppy to begin it’s 1st yr of training as a dog for the blind.
    “1,000 White Women’ a story of what could have happened if the US government had liked the Cheyenne’s suggestion that in order to further the assimilation of the Native Americans,( when they realized they could never return to their former way of life) the government was to give the Cheyenne’s 1000 women because then in a matralineal family the children would then be of their mother’s world. Obviously the US government, in reality, would not even consider such an idea.

  9. Alice Hoffman writes historical fiction. I’ve enjoyed “The Museum of Extraordinary Things” (19th century U.S.) and “The Marriage of Opposites’ (Caribbean). Another good read and important non fiction book about the concepts of wilderness and the environment is J.B. MacKinnon’s “The Once and Future World.”

  10. I loved looking at the photo archive! Do you know if there any photos of the indigenous people within the archive?

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