This and that in the month of March


Dear Friends:  Well, I missed my chronicle deadline last week but for a good reason. Every year I host a group of students from Lewis and Clark College (based in Portland) who spend a semester in Cuenca, Ecuador. They live with local host families and study Spanish and other subjects at Fundación Amauta. For three days, I have a chance to show them something of another world – Cañar. Not much, but enough to give them an idea of differences between life in Cuenca and Cañar.

First stop: the jail, to see the prisoners at work on fine weavings and other handcrafts. We are no longer allowed to take photos in this 100-year old building overcrowded with 150 male prisoners (I was amazed we ever were), but we were given a great tour of the workshops by trustees/artisans and the new young director. Other prisoners – across the patio where they were confined but lined up at open windows, and agog at this sudden appearance of beautiful young women (and one man) – sent gifts. Here some students sit afterward at a taxi stand, with an origami bird made with bits of folded paper. (Don’t you love the retro phone-in-box where drivers take calls? )origami bird 2

Next, a visit to Mama Michi, curadera extraordinaire and always game to receive visitors at her jambi wasi (healing house). She was busy with many patients – this being one of her two weekly consultorio days – so we waited almost an hour. But the weather was great and the students patient, happy and charming – reminding me why I loved teaching this age in my days in academia. (On right, Lewis & Clark faculty member, Wendy Woodrich).waitingP1120792When it’s our turn, an assistant sells us the things needed for a diagnostic healing – egg, candle and a rough bouquet of herbs and flowers – and we’re escorted into the dark, aromatic interior of Mama Michi’s consultorio. She sits beside her altar looking bemused and buddha-like as fourteen of us find places to sit and stand. The students have decided among themselves which two will volunteer for curaciónes.P1120830

First, a diagnostic rub with the egg over head and body, before it (the egg) is cracked into a glass of water on Mama Michi’s altar, where it will settle and reveal its discoveries.eggMeanwhile, a cleansing with fire. We all gasp as flame seemingly shoots out of Mama Michi’s mouth with a great whoosh as she sprays an alcohol concoction through lit candles. (She first tells her patient to cover her hair and close her eyes.)P1120807

P1120808All around and up and down with the flames, including on the feet, where she tells the standing patient to stamp out the little blue flames dancing around on the mat (I know MM’s routines well, but this is new). Then, a light beating about the head and body with the handful of herbs and flowers, while Mama Michi invokes her special language to get rid of bad spirits or mal aire. I always hear this “OUT! OUT!” although I think it is in Kichwa. She throws the contaminated bouquet into the anteroom….diagnosis…and returns for a reading of the egg and the offering of a diagnosis. Trouble sleeping? A stomachache lately? Headache today?  General nervousness?  Usually, according to testimonials of those she treats, she is right on.

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Cañar Book Club – March 2016


I’d like to dedicate this month’s book club to my late mother, Adelene Blankenship, a great reader all her life. She usually had several books going at once because she was a delicate sleeper and she needed a particular kind of book by her bedside for nighttime reading: a history or biography or other non-fiction. “If I’m reading a novel and it’s too exciting, I won’t be able to sleep,” she would say. So – although I don’t have my mother’s sleep problems – I’m lately reading two books: one puts me to sleep within minutes and the other makes my heart beat faster and I save it for long bus rides. The Wright Brothers by David McCullough, recommended by both my son and my husband, is a good read about two talented and dedicated men, supported through all their flying trials and tribulations by a talented and dedicated sister, Katherine, who of course has no place in the official history. Only in the epilogue does it mention that when she finally made a move on her own and married at age 58, her surviving brother would not speak to her until she was on her deathbed. So much for the history of flying.

My other book, The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander is about the dirty war in Argentina and the forced disappearance of a son (in the news lately with Obama’s visit  – see – “The Long Shadow of Argentina’s Dictatorship”). From the cover blurb: ” Englander …handles his unbearable subjects with the comic panache of a vaudeville artist…” which I found engaging in the first 200 pages but must confess that by now, with 100 pages to go, I’ve lost patience. So I cannot recommend this book, although I think the young writer is a very talented writer and I’ve enjoyed his New Yorker short stories.

Books recommended by friends this month, with their comments

  • Last Standing Woman, by Winona LaDuke. Lyrical novel written by, and from the viewpoint of, an Ojibwe woman on an Indian reservation in Minnesota.
  • H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.
  • Walking with Abel by Anna Badkhen. A wonderfully written and impassioned account a living a year with the Fulanis, the largest nomadic tribe in Sahelian Africa, set mainly in Northern Mali.
  • The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen.
  • The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout, + newest My Name is Lucy Barton
  • All That Is by James Salter.
  • The story of My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry was delightful, leaving me wishing I had a grandmother like the one in the story. I was certain a woman had written it. Wrong. The author, Fredrik Backman, is a 34-year-old Swede. I love Scandinavian men.
  • My Life on the Road, Gloria Steinem’s autobiography.
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5 thoughts on “This and that in the month of March

  1. Estimada Judy

    Un saludo desde la Bahia de San Francisco, donde vine a presentsr mi reciente novela “Los mendigos me amaban”. Mañana retorno a El Salvador, a continuar nuestro trabajo en el Museo de la Plabra y la Imagen. Que por cierto visito la hija de una gran amiga tuya. Un placer leer noticias sobre tu obra en Cañar.

    Carlos Henriquez Consalvi, Santiago

  2. Lewis & Clark is lucky to have you as host in Cañar! Your comments about the Wright brothers reminded me of a show hosted at St. Kate’s last year – the music composed by my favorite local composer, Jocelyn Hagen. Check it out here:

  3. Hi Judy, I am a friend of Mary Ann B and have been enjoying your chronicle for years but this is the first time I was moved to comment. When I have bought weavings in Latin America it never occurred to me that these might have been made in a prison. Do you see this as a useful craft that the inmates are learning that they could continue to earn a living with when they get out of prison or is it more exploitation that has advantage only to the people who run the prison or is it , like license plates, a way to earn money to help support the running of the prison and maybe improve the conditions or all of the above? .

  4. Since you told us about helping Mama Michi through customs upon her arrival in the U.S. for a visit last year, I have wondered how she is. Thanks for telling us.

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