“No hay novedades”

Dear Friends:  I just re-read my very first Cañar Chronicle, written after our arrival in January 2013, and I was struck by how it reads much the same as the first post I wrote three weeks ago: house dusty and cobwebby, dogs and chickens occupying the yard, neighbors plowing the field below…This expression – “no hay novedades” (no-i-nov-e-da-daze) means, loosely, “nothing new,” and Michael and I always laugh at it because, every year, after six months away, when we ask José María, our taciturn compadre who takes care of things while we’re in Portland, he always answers the same: “no hay novedades,” even if the sky has fallen. Then he sits quiet for a long while before spilling out all the news of family, house, neighborhood, town and country. But we’re always happy to hear his sotto voce response because it means that nothing bad has happened – no one has broken into the house (it happened once), his daughter Lourdes with transplanted kidney is doing well, he still has his job as garbage collector with the municipality. In other words: all is well. And so it is with us – even with the chickens trying to join us inside the house.

My main focus these next few months will be recording oral histories of those who remember the hacienda period in Cañar, which didn’t come to an end until the late 60’s/early 70’s, with the agrarian reform. These interviews will be part of the larger Archivo Cultural de Cañar. I have long been interested in the history of the vast hacienda that dominated this area because our property is near the site of the Hacienda Guantug house, now a Catholic school. Picture a plantation of 116 square miles (30,000 hectares), with hundreds of workers/peones – near slaves – that extended through three climate zones. Each zone produced products for the hacienda owners: horses and cattle in the highlands (12,000+ feet); barley, wheat and potatoes in the region area around where we live (10,000+), and sugar cane and fruits in the lower sub-tropical areas.

Now, picture that all this had been inherited by a very wealthy, devout and single woman in Cuenca who, at her death in1956, left it to an order of nuns, Las Madres del Cristo Rey. In the photo above, by town photographer Rigoberto Navas, date unknown, you’ll see a few nuns among the hacienda workers. This week, I had a great start on the oral history project with three interviews – one with a woman whose father was a townsman (e.g.”white”) and administrator of the highland hacienda. Lolita provided an unfiltered child’s view of life on the hacienda when she described the twice-yearly visit of the nuns, who rode in on horseback with rolled-up sleeping mats to oversee the roundup and branding of cattle. They stayed a week to count their cattle. A second interview was with Antonio, who in the late 1960s was a young fired-up indigenous activist fighting to create agricultural cooperatives from the hacienda lands. Finally, I interviewed an ex-Peace Corps volunteer, George, who worked here in the late 1960’s and knew Antonio when he helped survey the highlands for the agrarian reform. George is visiting Cuenca, and so I grabbed the chance to hear his memories from 45 years ago as we viewed his beautiful photos, part of the archive. The first image is of the highland hacienda, Chuchucán; the second of Cañari comuneros working with George on the survey.At home, domestic life goes on. Michael is out planting our kitchen garden this morning, and I can’t wait to see what he’ll do about the rooster and three hens, standing by and waiting to scratch out the seeds. (Later, when he goes to Cuenca, my job is to keep an eye out and shoo them away with a broom. I laugh as I watch them squeeze under the gate and indignantly march up the road. We’re hoping we can train the chickens to stay out of the garden – does anyone have advice on that?)We took our first long walk in the countryside around Cañar, and Michael couldn’t resist asking directions, even without a common language. As this old woman passed me by with her flock of sheep I think I heard her grumbling in Kichwa, “crazy gringo.”

And a final shot of M’s cook shack at foggy dusk, grilled pork chops coming our way….

The Cañar Book Club

Girls in Juncal reading the book about their community.

Thanks to all who responded to my first book club meeting with recommendations of your own. I’ve already started a list for 2017 and will post it soon.

As for my own reading, a quick report:  I have loved Oliver Sacks ever since The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and over the years have read most of his books and articles. I mourned his death in 2015 at age 82 – still vital, still writing, giving radio interviews, newly in love with a life-partner. So I was anxious to read On The Move, his autobiography. Turns out along with being a brilliant neurologist, he was a biker, weight lifter, serious amphetamine user, as well as a compulsive scribbler – exciting stuff. I will always miss him. Then I moved on to gentler territory with Family Album by Penelope Lively, a writer I’ve also much read and loved. But with this one I felt as though trapped in a 1950’s, starched BBC drama. This might be my last Lively book. Staying with families, I read My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout. I must confess I did not understand the tremendous silence between mother and daughter, unable to communicate day in and day out while in a hospital room. Oh well, I would read anything by Elizabeth Strout after Olive Kittridge. I’m looking forward to The Burgess Boys.

Finally, I’m well into All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and find it riveting. Please keep your reading lists coming! I pay attention!  Regards to all, and Happy Holidays.



Print Friendly, PDF & Email

14 thoughts on ““No hay novedades”

  1. Hola compadres! Estoy en Guanacaste! You would marvel at the changes here…even since our last visit 2 years ago…Liberia is a full-on city…yes…there is actually an OVERPASS coming into town preceeded by a 4 lane highway that starts before both Canas and Bagaces….kms. and kms of nothing but beautiful road…but Liberia..we couldnt bear to actually drive into what was once our little humble pueblo..because now, multiple traffic lights, malls, huge stores, and all the fast food you could want (or despise!)…and we are out at Playa Ocotal (outside of Playas Coco)…and development after development line the road complete with signs offering low price, discounted rates, and so forth. What has become of our second home country?! Yeah…deveopment and growth….and prices for meals (at even tiny family-run places like Sol y Luna in Brasilito)…breakfast for two (gallo pinto, huevos y cafe….$12!)…so, rather than “no hay novedades”..aqui…todo es nuevo…si, hay novedades!…(que lastima!)….besos de guanacaste!!!

  2. Judy y Miguel, Hello. Great photos of your pastoral paradise. No advice for los pollos unless you want to get a dog. In permaculture, chickens are crucial players, but I never hear any advice on how to prevent seed theft.

    You probably know already that weather here is pretty cold and snowy. Texted a photo to you showing the huge ponderosa limb that crashed down into driveway next door to your house. Portland has become the city of falling trees. Yesterday, commuters were stuck on the Sunset Highway the entire night.

    On the reading front, I really enjoyed “All That Man Is,” by David Szalay. Beautifully written fiction about nine different men in various international locations. Has won many awards. In non-fiction, I enjoyed “Unseen City,” by Nathanael Johnson. It’s an intense exploration of how nature flourishes in urban habitats.

    You’re both lucky to be free of the media blitz in the fascist stewing pot of America. Saw a great interview with Denzel Washington. He said Americans have the choice of avoiding the media and being “uninformed,” or accessing the media and being “misinformed.”
    Take care. –Bruce

  3. Ahhhh love your reports from your home in Canar! Way past time for me to pay a visit – at least to see the cook-shack!! Love M’s red backpack (easy to see in thick fog)

    As far as the chickens, try reasoning with them (in Spainish or Kichwa??) as I
    rememberi the movie Joe’s Apartment and how he talks to the roaches!

    Here in Santa Fe, still cold with no snow – sort of sad, but a very huge full moon last night with halo, so perhaps snow is on it’s way? Reading! loving Marina Warner’s ‘Once Upon A Time’ about the history of fairy tales and M.Atwoods ‘Oryx and Krate’ – That’s about all from my little home in ‘the Shire’…Santa Fe!
    Love you mucho xox Sher

  4. Beautiful photos, Judy. Am reading “Even Silence Has an End” by Ingrid Betancourt about her six years as a captive of FARC in the Colombian jungle.

  5. Thank you Leigh. I noticed that book and mean to put it on my list. I remember when the media storm when she was released after six years.

  6. Ha – well, we are certainly for the moment in the first group – head-in– sand avoiding the media and being uninformed. No newspapers, no TV, no radio, no car, no other Americans to listen to. For now it is heaven – but I know we have another way of being ahead of us. Thanks for reading suggestions – I’ve put them on my list. As for the falling limb, I don’t think I’ll tell Michael (I don’t get texts here) – he’s always worrying about those huge trees and I’m alway defending them…. For what it’s worth, it’s cold and raining here. We have a fire…

  7. Thanks for the update on Guanacaste. As it happens we just started talking this week about making a trip back to Costa Rica next year – first time since 1993. You can imagine the changes we will see. But you’ve convinced me we should avoid the beach and Guanacaste and concentrate on seeing friends in San José. En todos modos, do enjoy your time there, with whatever “novedades” you find!

  8. If you haven’t yet seen Frances McDormand (my favorite actor) in Olive Kitteridge, it is worth the monthly subscription to HBO (or I’ll give you my code for the month!) It’s one of the few film/TV shows that lives up to the book’s vivid story. Missing you, Michael, and Cañar – and really hoping that I see a video trending soon on facebook of a “crazy gringa chasing chickens with a broom down the road”.

  9. Well in fact I have seen it, and loved it, and Frances McDormand too. But I won’t object if you insist on giving us your HBO code for a month (with another recommendation please)….

  10. Funnily enough I HATED the TV version of Olive (even though I love Frances McDormand – had to give it up. Sooooo depressing!) and was therefore reluctant to read the book. But then we did it for my real (as opposed to this virtual reality) book club and LOVED it!
    So glad you’re enjoying All the Light Judy – Andrew and I both loved that too.
    Can I also recommend a remarkable book, another Pulitzer prize winner, The Sympathiser. It’s by a Vietnamese-American and is the first thing I’ve ever read that’s the story of the end of the Vietnam war and the lives of the refugees in the years after the fall of Saigon – told by a Vietnamese with the white characters as the incidental characters
    . It’s stunning – not perfect by any means (the end goes a bit off kilter at times) but stunning. And such an insight from “the other side”.

  11. Thanks Claire. The Sympathiser has gone onto my list for next year. Yes, I don’t want All the Light….to end (just reading it over lunch, which I don’t usually do). Read chapter “Time of the Ostriches” about everyone in Saint- Malo with heads in the sand, and I had to laugh as that is the image I use now for us in Cañar. Saw your facebook note about applying for German citizenship. I am thinking of renewing my Canadian passport. while Michael wants to become an Ecuadorian citizen and stay here… All the world’s in flux.

  12. Sister Jude, as always a wonderful chronicle. I will use “No hay novedades” from
    now on when asked,,,,what’s new! I love the old Peace Corps photo of Cañar.
    It looks like a painting and could be framed. Also Michael planting the seeds that
    will be swiped by the chickens. And the walk with sheep and elderly lady. Such beautiful photos, all.
    My book of the month is Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’m sure everyone has read it
    but it hit home with me. That muse! Capricious and spoiled. I wear perfume when I
    paint to bring her near. Love, Char

  13. Wonderful stuff. I’m writing down the various book suggestions and reveling in the blog and photos. Thanks

  14. HI, dear one. If it makes you feel any better about your chickens, the raccoons here have gone berserk, perhaps ravenous from persistent cold and ice, and have started to tear up our garden beds and new lawn (we laid sod in September, and they are peeling it up at the joints). Our theory is they must be digging for moles or grubs. Their delicate paw prints crisscross the snowy paths and I can see where they’ve leaned against the sliding doors, perhaps hoping we’ll take them in. This is a first for us in 8 years here, having cohabitated peacefully with them until now–they’ve never even touched the dozen blueberry bushes. I felt a little sorry for them today, after the nth day of subfreezing temperatures, and snuck out in my sandals to deliver a little cooked egg white, left over from the 3 yolks I put in a lemon pie. Shh, don’t tell!

    I am finishing now Jonathan Franzen’s The Discomfort Zone. I know you are not crazy about his fiction, but this is a cluster of nonfiction personal essays, mostly focused on his social awkwardness, earnestness, teenage loves and friendships, and affection for midwestern home and family life in the 70s. It’s really very sweet, with his laser eye of social commentary trained upon himself, in a funny, self-deprecating fashion. The last essay is about his becoming an obsessive birder after a failed love affair as an adult–quite lovely!

    Hugs to you both. I love especially the photo of Michael’s cook shack at dusk. Glad you are happily busy and avoiding the news. It’ll be here still when you come back to it. Love! Nancy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *