News from Cañar

Dear Friends:  As of this past week we are in complete shutdown in Cañar, and in all of Ecuador, with bus lines and airports closed, along with schools, universities, restaurants bars and non-essential stores. .As of today (03-22) Ecuador has 532 confirmed cases, 7 deaths, the majority in the coastal province of Guayas. In our small town, local police and security folks patrol the streets – today, barriers went up at all roads leading into the center – and even pedestrians are only allowed to be out and about (with a mask!) to go to food markets, banks or pharmacies.  The rest of us stay at home, and stay at home and stay at home.

I walked up two days ago and took these photos. As I stood in the the street, I watched four security agents knock on the closed, roll-up door of a bakery; when the door slid up they went in and sat down to have coffee and pastries. Small town! Another amazing sight is the Pan American hIghway empty – the commercial corridor in Ecuador that normally roars night and day with large trucks. (I know these empty-major-road shots look all alike, but I can’t resist.)

The day before the shutdown, I went up and bought the last four bottles of red wine ($5 each/12% alcohol) – see space on shelf below. Now nothing left but bad white wine (and lots of liquor, which we don’t drink). Michael feels sure his beer supply is secure, but he took pleasure in burning this carton of Corona, a gift from a friend before all this began.

Housebound with us is Paiwa, our 24-year old goddaughter who is in her last year of engineering at University of Cuenca. She came before the transportation shutdown and will be with us for the duration, I think. She visits her mother nearby, but the attractions of our household are (1) Michael’s cooking, (2) my Internet, and (3) our washing machine (I suspect #2 is most important). She’s doing some on-line classes but mostly staying in touch with friends. (Below – a late-afternoon scene when it grows chilly and we all gather in the living/dining room.)We’re delighted to have this time with her, as we’ve hardly seen her this year as she nears graduation. She’s helpful (up the ladder to gather blackberries while I glean those on the ground; does the dishes while we sleep), and smart and funny. She needs to pass a TESOL English exam to go on to graduate school, so we’re speaking English as much as possible, with some hilarious results. (Last night she asked what “it doesn’t matter” meant, when she heard me say it to Michael. He launched into a 5-minute explanation of “dark matter” while Paiwa and I looked quizzically at one another.)

As for food, we are surrounded by it – potatoes and fava beans in the back field, ready to harvest, and in the kitchen garden lots of broccoli and lettuce and red cabbage (and not much else). Our meals will soon be pretty boring without Michael’s weekly trip to Cuenca for delicacies such as cheese, butter, coffee, and salmon. Cañar’s little markets are open and the shelves are stocked, and Michael is good at being creative with what’s available. Last night: pizza with Italian sausage and onions. Remains to be seen if we’ll have the usual Sunday market, where products come from all over Ecuador. (Update – market cancelled, maybe first time ever – you can see by this photo taken a couple of weeks ago that social distancing would be impossible ).

One of my great pleasures, with all this extra time at home, is an hour or so in the garden late afternoons. Weeding the flower beds, hacking out dead limbs, doesn’t matter and doesn’t make much of a difference. It’s outside, it’s exercise, it’s visual comfort. So I will end with these images of nature’s beauty…. (but keep scrolling down for the (reduced but still kicking ) Cañar Book Club.

Cañar Book Club (in time of Covid-19)

Well, it was a sad turn-out this month at the Cañar Book Club, as members deal with the crisis in their individual countries or states. However, as we “shelter in place” for the next few weeks (please, not months!) we need reading suggestions more than ever, and resources for getting books. I am increasingly using e-books from my public library in Portland. I just checked – we can still order ebooks and audiobooks – up to 50 at a time! – also, movies on Kanopy and Hoopla.

So – I just finished – and loved –  Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewells by Pico Iyer. I’ve known him as a travel writer but this is a quiet rumination on daily life in Japan, where he lives in two rooms with his Japanese wife, plays ping pong at the local activity center, and writes and takes walks. He also lives in California with his mother six months a year, and his steady lively description of his life had me captivated beginning to end. I’m on the waiting list for some of his other books. Otherwise, I’m totally entertained by Margaret the First, a quirky novel by Danielle Dutton. ( NYT Review says it best: “This slender but dense imagining of the life of Margaret Cavendish, a pioneering 17th-century writer and wife of the aristocrat William Cavendish, could be classified as a more elliptical cousin of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels.”)

And let’s give a feminist salute to Dutton’s other endeavor: In 2010, she founded the small press Dorothy, a publishing project named for her great aunt Dorothy, a librarian who drove her home-made bookmobile through the back hills of southern California.

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And now for suggestions from members who wrote before the great meltdown:

From Andrea in Portland: I just started Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. (NOTE to Andrea: let us know what you thought)

From sister Char in Austin: Pachinko by Korean-American Min Jin Lee. An epic historical novel following a Korean family who eventually migrates to Japan. I leaned much from this and enjoyed the read.  Next, The Bear by Andrew Krivak: “A gorgeous fable of Earth’s last two human inhabitants, and a girls journey home.”   I loved this book. Makes you think. Last is a tall-tale romp by Howard Frank Mosher written in 1977. Disappearances
involving,  “about a thousand details of farming, timbering and whiskey-running life on the Vermont-Canadian border.”  It’s 1936, it’s winter and they drink a lot of Canadian whiskey. Best part: the paperback I ordered from Amazon came from the Paris-Bourbon Co. Library in Paris, Ky.  Our daddy would have loved this book.

From Donald in Toronto: “My suggestion for a good read – Richard Wagamese’s last novel Starlight (McClelland and Stewart, 2018). The descriptions of connecting with the land are spectacular, with scenes that conjure up walking in the hills and mountains around Canar, even though located in central British Columbia, Canada. The tenderness in the growing relationships between an Indigenous and settler man, and them and a settler woman and her daughter, are beautifully conveyed.

And from Joanne in Mexico: “Books! Yes, our salvation. I think you’ll love The Door by Magda Szabo. Now reading Girl, Woman, Other by Gernadine Evaristo – not great but engaging. And finished the John Berger bio. I learned a lot – a bit heady but still worth reading.”

Did I miss anyone? Let’s try for a rousing meeting in April, with reviews all the books we’ve read while sheltering-in-place.  Meanwhile, here’s a list of comfort reads from recent NYTimes

Stay well, stay inside, stay connected.  Judy B.




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17 thoughts on “News from Cañar

  1. So glad to hear from you. We are staying home for certain. Neighbors are making store runs now and again which is a big help. We seem to be pretty well stocked for now. I just made a very large batch of lentil soup. I am dreaming of hamburgers with extra onions.
    I am walking, Jon is in his studio. He had some hand surgery a few weeks ago and I talked him into taking his own stitches out this week instead of going to his drs office.
    I can’t remember if I suggest you read “The Wright Brothers”. I found it a terrific read and well written.
    So happy to hear from. You have been on our minds.
    Love, Irene

  2. Good to hear what’s happening in Ecuador. David and I re sheltering in place in Belgium. We just finished listening to the audio version of The Milkman by Anna Burns and it was great.

  3. Jude, what a nice read in the midst of “Shelter in Place”. Thank you once again.
    We’re fine in our Austin Place, surrounded by friends and family. Everyone so careful.
    Loved the photos as always. I try to have your sense of “now” and “place”,
    and shoot photos of my meatloaf, rumpled bed covered with books, coffee
    table set for dinner.
    Our constant world.
    I’m most worried that you only have 3 bottles of wine! Maybe a little
    blackberry wine could come from Paiwa’s harvest? Just add Vodka?
    Salud,, Sister Char

  4. Love and good health to you all! Please stay safe. Recommended reading: The Overstory by Richard powers and Underland by Robert Macfarlane. xoxo

  5. HI Irene – we laughed at the image of Jon removing his own stitches – one of many creative adaptations in time of corona… We hope he’s back to his brushes. Thanks for suggestion of The Wright Brothers. It will get mentioned in next Cañar Book Club meeting. Stay well!

  6. HI JOan – when are planning your return to Oregon? We’ve canceled Spain for month of May and are hoping for June 1 to be in Portland. We shall see. The Milkman was a recommended read by another Cañar Book Club member. It goes into April meeting. Sending good thoughts to you and David. May we enjoy an opera together this summer (BTW: is offering free broadcasts of an opera every night. WE’ve seen s few this week. Next week lots of Wagner!)

  7. Thanks Laura – those will go into April meeting. I see your FB entries – buen consejos cada día. Abrazo, J.

  8. Thanks sister Char – I can see the pile of books on your bed (in photo sent to email). but not the titles. Send some suggestions for April Cañar Book Club.

  9. In my Bend book club we were reading, just before the outbreak, “The Great Influenza” by John M Barry, a history of the 1918 pandemic. I don’t recommend reading this now, but it made me acutely aware of what can happen.

    I do recommend two beautiful books that sweep you away into nature 1) Of Wolves and Men by Barry Lopez an 2) Edge of Awe, a collection of writing about the desert that include William Kittredge and Ursula Le Guin. Best to your new book. Pat

  10. Dear Judy,

    So nice to read this update. Your house guest sounds like a delight. I am also doing lots of gardening and outdoor activity during this beautiful spring weather. Thankful that I have a large garden to keep me occupied during the “lockdown”. I am reading “Vera” by Stacy Schiff (author of my favorite “Cleopatra”). It is a biography of Vladimir Nabokov’s wife. I have to say I am having a hard time getting into it but will keep trying. I loved Cleopatra so much that I just read it again recently. Still mind bogglingly exciting the 2nd time! Love to Michael! xx

  11. I just returned home from a month in Mexico and I took 3 books with me.
    “Enrigue’s Journey” by Sonia Nazario. Not a new one but excellently written. She is a journalist and she followed and verified Enrique’s story from Honduras to Florida over a 5 yr period. Covering his 8 attempts to come to the US and find his Mom who had left him as a small boy, until he was finally successful and built his life in the US. Besides the harrowing journey story, there is the aspect of his grief at being left behind by his Mom and feeling that the money she sent for food, clothes and school was not enough. It was an honest view, as well, of the not so perfect reunion after the honeymoon phase is passed between the parent and child and how a child’s resentment toward their parent finally surfaces from the trauma they carry within. And how hard they all must work to find resolution.
    ” The Ungrateful Refugee” what Immigrants Never Tell You- by Dina Nayeri. Dina and her family fled Iran as asylum seekers when she was 6. She is also a journalist and a gifted writer who has the unique capacity to stir your emotions and keep you turning the pages. She explores, below the surface, into what the process of being a refugee does to a person’s sense of themselves, with honesty and clarity. She also gives us all a hard look at ourselves and the thoughts we might have conscious or unconscious about people who make this journey.
    And last, but definitely not least.
    The Lost City of the Monkey God” by Douglas Preston- Another true story and this one of the re-finding of a city in the Mesquite region of the Honduran rain forest that had been told in stories for more than 500 years. Many had looked for it but had never found it; so many thought it was only a myth.
    Eyewitness account of the process of locating it and the expedition to attempt exploration. High adventure and also, within the telling, raises the reality of the fact that great civilizations rise and fall as part of a bigger natural process over which we have no control.
    All fabulous books! .
    Bremerton Washington

  12. Thanks for your report on the situation there in your town. Gardening has been important for me too. My reading lately has had a Venice theme, not intentionally. First I read two Donna Leon Inspector Brunetti novels Troubled Waters and By It’s Cover. The Venice detective always takes us into timely aspects of life and history in Venice in the solution of criminal cases, in this case, the impact of overfishing and pollution on the local fishing communities and theft of rare books from libraries. Leon doesn’t pander or get cutesy like some popular authors in her genre. Plus, if you’re interested, there’s a good German production of a series of her stories that you can stream on Hoopla with the Multnomah Co. Library. Flimed in Venice.

    The other novel is Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh. I really liked the first two books of his Indian trilogy but was very disappointed in the third and gave up on it, not something I do that easily. Anyway, this one takes place in Kolkata (Calcutta), the Sunderban region between India and Bangladesh, and Venice. Climate change is the main thread. It’s not a major book, but definitely a good fictionalized view into places affected by climate change that I had little or no knowledge of, with a mystical aspect as well.

  13. Thank you Suzanne for that detailed account of the books read during your Mexico visit. I read “Enrique’s Journey” and it follows so closely the experience of children left behind in Cañar when parents emigrated to the U.S. or Spain. We are close to some of these kids, over 15 years now, and can see the long-term effects. Your description of “Lost City of the Monkey God” has put it on my list. (A side note: Douglas Preston was part of a protest against Amazon with a group called Authors United that argued Amazon was blocking the sale of books from certain publishers. I believe that fight is ongoing…)

  14. HI Susan – I have a Donna Leon book on my bedroom bookshelf – “My Venice and Other Essays,” but you’ve reminded me I’ve never read her mysteries, which have been recommended by another book club member. I’ll put a title or two on my request list for Mult. County Library, now that I’m resigned to read ebooks on my iPad while I’m here. I’ll also check out Hoopla, although I find streaming services don’t always work well here (except for the monster Netflix). Amtiv Ghosh: I’ve been a fan of his for years, but I agree that some of his later books just sunk. I can’t remember which one I gave up on …But he’s a good writer and I’ll give him another chance in the future. STay well!

  15. Thank you Suzanne for that detailed account of the books read during your Mexico visit. I read “Enrique’s Journey” and it follows so closely the experience of children left behind in Cañar when parents emigrated to the U.S. or Spain. We are close to some of these kids, over 15 years now, and can see the long-term effects. Your description of “Lost City of the Monkey God” has put it on my list. (A side note: Douglas Preston was part of a protest against Amazon with a group called Authors United that argued Amazon was blocking the sale of books from certain publishers. I believe that fight is ongoing…)

  16. Hi Lisa – I loved “Vera” because I was a such a big Nabokov fan – savored every detail. I should give Cleopatra a try – Stacy Schiff came for an literary lecture to Portland while she was writing it – or had just finished – and talked about the difficulty of writing a biography of someone whom so little was known about (or I guess so little direct sources). She was a great speaker and I know she’s published another book on the Salem watches.

    Anyway, I’ll put Cleopatra on my digital library list.

  17. HI Pat – Barry Lopez, Ursula Le Guin and William Kittredge sounds perfect for these times. Thanks for recommending…

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