Cañar Update – Week Three

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Dear Friends: We are into week three of a national lockdown in Ecuador, with obligatory masks, barricaded streets, and a curfew from 2:00 PM to 5:00 AM. That allows us to move about (on foot) in the mornings for groceries and other necessities. One of us goes out about once a week for shopping in town where only small stories, bakeries and banks are open. Soon after 2:00 I hear sirens go off for about ten minutes. It sounds to me that the police are circulating into neighborhoods and comunas with sirens blaring, but none has passed by on our road. But the other day when I was out in the front garden, I saw a man running down the road about 2:30 and I remembered that on government order we can be fined for breaking the curfew at $100 (first time), second time basic salary, and so on. (Though I wonder if it is being enforced in Cañar.)

The photo above is part of the agricultural cycle we’re watching from our living room windows – accelerated, I think, by the many country neighbors stuck at home during the quarantine. These images also help explain why we are literally surrounded by farm produce that gets sold on the streets and small stores through this crisis. So…on Day One we saw cows gleaning the cornfield after a harvest.

On Day Two, we saw the fires burning what was left on the field. On Day Three, plowing the field with yoked oxen. We took a walk that day and saw these bulls at rest (it was lunch hour), but you get a good picture of the hand-hewn wooden yoke, with the long neck of the plow tied between the bulls. On a later walk we stood and watched a farmer and his helpers try to tie a yoke onto a fiesty bull, who obviously knew what it meant a hard work day ahead- a difficult and dangerous job for the farmer. 

Day Four, we watched the family planting and fertilizing with bags of guano. Now we’re set for the cycle begin again.It’s comforting to see how much agricultural activity still exists around us, after years of massive out-migration, urbanization, and low-income production. Here is a field of potatoes in bloom just below our house.

On another theme: I got an email last week from the director of the Fulbright Commission in Quito with instructions on how to leave the country on April 7 on a charter flight for the U.S. (No commercial flights can leave or enter Ecuador.) Fulbright and Peace Corps students and volunteers have already been evacuated, and I guess the offer was extended to me as an ex-Fulbrighter, or maybe just as an American. In any case, it was a crazy scary scenario: (1) make a reservation on the flight to Miami with the U.S. Embassy; (2) then we qualify for a safe conduct pass on a special bus from Cuenca to Guayaquil (the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak). (3) Once in Guayaquil, the message read, the plane might be delayed, so be prepared to wait it out in a hotel.  (The flight is with Eastern Airlines – didn’t they go bankrupt about 20 years ago? Yes, but someone bought them and they now do charters out of Miami. No mention of cost of flight.)

I emailed back: Thank you very much, but NO WAY are we leaving Cañar. It seems to us the safest place we can be these days, and probably for the next few months…

Although I continued to believe Ecuador’s numbers were low, I read the news today (April 4) and see that the both the case numbers and death rates are high (3.4%). Ecuador reports 3465 confirmed cases, 172 deaths. Nearly 50% of our cases are in Guayaquil, the coastal city of 2.3 million that is hot, low, humid, with with much poverty and lack of basic services. The images I see today that have been shown around the world are appalling: cadavers left in the streets or wrapped in plastic in family homes, caskets or bodies left on the curb, even DYI cremations, as hospitals, morgues and funeral homes are overwhelmed. Guayaquil is our New York – people are fleeing for the mountains, avoiding roadblocks by taking back roads and “goat paths” as someone described it. Our first case in Cañar was someone who had visited Guayaquil, and today we are at 5 cases.

And that is why, in part, indigenous communities, or comunas, around Cañar are setting up their own roadblocks. Below our house we came across this chain, resting on the road, but obviously it is ready to be raised to prevent cars from coming in.

Michael wants me to mention his new theory: that dogs, realizing people are disappearing from the streets, are reclaiming their territory. “The dogs on my way into town are more aggressive” he said the other day. “They never barked before; now they do. One even ran out into the street and lunged.”  He is convinced Cañar dogs have been waiting for this moment. Most run free anyway, but they usually have a healthy respect for pedestrians. No more. Here we found them on our walk – having an organizing meeting, with minimal social distancing. (See the little gray mutt under the chin of the dog on the right?)

But our favorite dog from next door, Gordo, would never bark or lunge or join that group of ruffians. He guards our house, keeps other dogs away, and loves Michael for the morsels thrown his way every now and then. All it takes is a whistle and Gordo comes running.

To finish this update: my thought are with our scholarship graduates who are working in front-line health care through the crisis:  four nurses, one physician, one dentist, one medical laboratory technician and at least one current student who is set to work in a hospital as a nutritionist.  Here are photos of a few – we hope they all stay safe.

The Cañar Book Club

As I’m constantly reminded, books are even more important during our home confinement. I’ve been downloading lists of “must-reads,” reserving e-books from my local library and looking with alarm at the few unread books I brought from Portland in that lifetime ago. Our Cañar Book Club members are doing the same – and I’m happy to pass on these recommendations

Joanne in Mexico:- Gods of the Upper Air by Charles King:  “fascinating look at race, culture and the history of anthropology – very readable.” And A Woman of No Importance:The Untold Story of the American SkypWho Helped Win WWII by Sonia Purnell, “a biography that reads like a spy novel.”

From Joan in Leige, Belgium: “Just listened to audio book of The Milkman by Anna Burns and it was great.”

From Nancy in Portland:  Half Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls, author of the Glass Castle. “This one is billed as a “true life novel” — the story of her grandmother, who led an adventurous life in New Mexico, Arizona and Chicago. It’s peppered with actual photos of the grandma and family, and she’s framed the narrative around authenticated family stories, but wrote it in the 1st person of the grandmother, so she’s created a lot to fill in where the record doesn’t. A competently written page turner.”

Lisa in Savannah: “I am reading Vera by Stacy Schiff (author of my favorite – Cleopatra).  “It is a biography of Vladimir Nabokov’s wife. I loved Cleopatra so much that I just read it again recently. Still mind-boggling exciting the 2nd time!”

Pat in Bend, Oregon:  “In my 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 includes William Kittredge and Ursula Le Guin.”

Laura in up-state New York: The Overstory by Richard powers and Underland by Robert Macfarlane.

Irene in Salem:  The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. “I found it a terrific read and well written.”

That’s it for now, dear friends. I need to send this off, so will wait until next time for my own recommendations.  Stay well, stay safe, stay in place, and stay in touch. Here’s where we’ll be for the unknown future (photo by our goddaughter, Paiwa, who is with us for the duration.)

 

 

 

News from Cañar

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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.

. *. *. *. *. *. *.  *. *. *.

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.

 

 

 

A bookish month

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Dear Friends – February has been a wonderful month for books: read, launched, generated and dreamt of for the future. First, news from University of Alabama Press that they will publish Ana’s book: Tell Mother I’m in Paradise: Memoirs of Ana Margarita Gasteazoro, a Political Prisoner in El Salvador. As many of you know, Ana was the original inspiration for the Cañari Women’s Education Foundation (CWEF). Last October her story was published in a Spanish translation by MUPI (Museum of the Word and Image) in El Salvador. My partner in the project – Andrew Wilson, based in London – and I went to San Salvador, along with Eva, Ana’s cousin in New York who was the final editor. There, celebrating the book launch, Ana’s siblings gave their blessing for an edition in English (a requirement of University of Alabama Press).

An oral history made when we all lived in Costa Rica in the 1980s, Andrew and I have been trying – off and on – to find an English-language publisher for Ana’s memoirs since her untimely death of breast cancer in El Salvador in 1993. Now her story will be made widely known in her own words, complete with photographs and newspaper clippings, with an introduction by Dr. Erik Ching, author of Civil War in El Salvador: A Battle Over Memory. 

Here in Cañar we’ve had a more recent book launch. Juncal: An Indigenous Community in Ecuador, was first published in Denmark by two anthropologists who lived in the community of Juncal near here in 1973-74, and again in 1977-78.  Eva Krener and Niel Fock agreed to fund a Spanish translation and that edition was published three years ago. Here they are in the photos below in their first years in Juncal – with their young daughter, Felicia, on Eva’s back.

And now last week, after years of translation work by three Cañari bilingual educators, and funding by the Municipality of Cañar, we have a new edition in Quichua. It was wonderful to return to the community to give away books and reunite with the señora on the cover (right, with baby, and in the photos below with a pink shawl on park bench and beside me holding the book). She told me the baby in now a grandmother! The older folks in Juncal remember Niels and Eva, who sent greetings from Denmark that I conveyed in my little speech. Over the years Niels and Eva have donated 800 digitized photos to the Cañar archive, also included in the digital collection of AILLA, Archive of Indigenous Languages of Latin America at University of Texas, Austin, where my photographs will eventually be housed.

I’m hoping my next book project will be a collection of photos of old Cañar from the Navas family collection. For years I’ve been printing and digitizing glass plates and early celluloid negatives, and it’s time we make something of this traditional town photographer’s monumental work (he  lived into his 90’s). It will, of course, come down to a search for funding, but we never let that stop us.

Well, that’s all the book news this month except for…..the famous Cañar Book Club.

C A N A R  B O O K   C L U B

For me, reading this month has been a mixed bag, as they say. Some good books, some middling, some unable to finish. I read two young authors at the same time – both a bit self-conscious, newly minted MFAs seemed to me (lots of quoting Barthes and Brecht), and both focused on the urban experience of others or outsiders.  On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong was, I thought, beautifully written – as a long letter to his Vietnamese mother – and I was drawn in from page 1. There, There, by Tommy Orange, somehow never engaged me and I gave up about 3/4 of the way, as the various characters slowly traveled to the Oakland Powwow. I know it’s a big hit, and an Everyone Reads choice for Portland Public Library, so I don’t want to turn off fellow club members. Sometimes a book just doesn’t click with the reader. Also disappointing, for me, was the new biography of John Berger, A Writer of Our Times: The Life and Work of John Berger by Joshua Sperling. I discovered Berger with Pig Earth, the first of his Into Their Labours Trilogy, and was hooked by his novels (and film collaborations) up to his death in 2017. He was a sort of hero to me, so of course I wanted to know more about his life. But where the title says “…the life and work…” the emphasis is on “work” as it is in fact more of an intellectual biography with very little about his private and country life.

Otherwise, I enjoyed Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan and I’m just getting into The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett. I will count these as “middling.”

So – on to recommendations by other members:

From Joanne in Mexico: “I’m racing through an amazing bio of a one-legged woman who basically organized the French resistance during WWII (A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell, highly recommend). I loved “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk and Antonia Lloyd-Jones.I’ve put Flights by same author on my library list but I hope it doesn’t arrive too soon. Too many great books, which means life is good.”

From Arlene in Toronto: Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss. A gripping short novel, beautifully written, set in Northumberland that takes on issues of domestic violence, misogyny and what the Iron Age walls of the past have to do with the present. A slender, completely absorbing counterpart to Tara Westover’s memoir, Educated.

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson. Two African-American families in Brooklyn, one middle class, the other headed by a single mother, are connected through their children who conceive a child. The characters are vivid and memorable, the language is exquisite.

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner is not just a story of two sisters and, eventually, their extended families, but also a novel about the coming of age of women in America. “It’s about the ’60s, civil rights and the drug culture; it’s about the ’70s and Vietnam; and it’s about struggles with weight, the Jewish culture, feminism and sexual freedom.” A read that is fun and absorbing too.

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson. A touching story about 10-year old twins who have the disconcerting habit of bursting into flames whenever they get very agitated and the “loser” young woman tasked with caring for them who becomes their fierce defender. Reminiscent of Eleanor Oliphant is Perfectly Fine.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (can’t remember if I recommended this before). A reworking of the tragedy of Antigone, set within the context of a contemporary British-Pakistani Muslim family.

From Claire in London:  “We (book club) have read, and all really liked, The Dutch House by Ann Patchett.  For our next book club, William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy. It’s non-fiction, about the founding of the East India Company, it’s take-over of India and the beginnings of the British Empire.

From Mel in Vermont: “…reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered, which is good so far. Also, Down the Garden Path by Beverly Nichols? A jewel for gardeners!!

Macon in Boulder:  (forgotten last time, sorry Macon): I am reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book Infidel – an interesting story about the upbringing of this talented woman, and her escape from the political and religious horror of Somalia and Islam.

And finally, from Maya in Portland: My recent reads: The Sun Does Shine, by Anthony Ray Hinton, who spent 30 years on Alabama’s death row before being exonerated. A compelling read. And Women Talking, the Miriam Toews about the women who were all raped in a Mennonite community in South America and have to decide what to do. Also strong. Unusual. And I’ve just started Ducks, Newburyport, by Lucy Ellman, the 1,000 page one sentence opus by Richard Ellman’s daughter. I’m hooked, and finding it quite funny.

 

 

 

 

My Sisyphus Garden

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Dear Friends – Sissinghurst Gardens in England, made famous (for me) by Virginia Woolf’s love affair with its owner and author, Vita Sackville-West, has nothing in common with my Sisyphus Garden in Cañar. But I like the sound of the two names together (and the coincidence that Sackville-West wrote a novella called Seducers in Ecuador). And another coincidence I just discovered: today, January 25, is Virginia Woolf’s birthday.  So I thought I’d start with that and see where it takes us….

I’m calling my Cañar garden the Sisyphus Garden because no matter what I do one year to the next to improve it, I come back to find it exactly as it was before – new flowers gone, same weeds back in force, kitchen garden eaten by the neighbor’s chickens, trees trimmed further up by the bulls brought in to plow the back field, scrubby grass front and back full of sheep droppings, and the aggressive vinca major (periwinkle) and bushy fuchsia voraciously covering the side yard, even though I cut them back severely before we left last June. And there’s the hedge of quinoa (a native bush, not the grain) that has grown to over 15 feet and blocked our view to the west.

When it comes to my Cañar garden, I start over every year, just like Sisyphus endlessly pushing that stone up the hill.  (Forgive my co-opting a suffragist image; couldn’t resisit.)

The fact is, we are living on a working farm operated by our compadres Jose Maria and Narcisa. It is their sheep that trim and fertilize the lawn while we’re gone, their bulls that eat the lower branches of the trees, their irrigating the back field that floods the front yard. But they have contributed so tremendously to our experience living in Cañar, and as compadres we are considered extended family, with responsibilities that go both ways.

As I write, I hear the pump, drawing from the irrigation canal that runs in front of our property. Yards and yards of black pipe snake around the house to irrigate the potato field behind. Jose Maria has access to the canal only today – it has been released from above – and there seems to be no control. Water gushes out of the pipes and into sprinkler heads in the field, soaking the back lawn, the kitchen garden, the back of the house, the neighbor’s clothes hung on the fence. In front, water overflows the canal and runs down the hill, creating rivulets in the dirt road that will become ruts, and creeps along the pathway up to our house and threatens to dampen our adobe walls. Jose María runs back and forth from the pump in front to the field in back; It appears to us that he is flooding the field. Yesterday, the canal was blocked, and we regularly saw neighbors in the yard, looking down into the canal and poking it with a long stick, trying to unblock it. For farmers, water is life and livelihood –  and in this part of the world as hotly political as property lines.

 Which is not to say that I don’t love things as they are in my Sisyphean garden. First of all, since I have no talent as a gardener – unable to plan or imagine or create a white garden, as Vita Sackville-West did at Sissinghurst – there’s little disappointment in coming back to find I have to start over again.

I never tire of pulling weeds, trimming back the crazy climbing roses, replanting things lost, digging out the crocosmia that is all over the yard because it gets distributed through the compost, cutting back the passiflora vine that threatens to take down the fence, tracking down and pulling up the aggressive kikuyu grass that grows over and under everything and is one of the most noxious weeds that somehow made it to Cañar from its native East Africa. But my pleasure comes from what I see when I look out the windows – flowers I’ve forgotten that bloom year after year; something I’ve stuck in the ground that makes an incredible display of tiny yellow blooms (photo #1), the aggressive fuchsia bush that fills our bedroom window, the white daises along the front that insist on taking over.

 

And for those who want to see the hated “creeping” kikuyu” up close, here it is.  Most often it goes underground, strangling the roots of good plants, or displacing flagstones, before springing up as tall grass. I’ve spent many happy hours chasing it down; farmers throw it in the road to fill ruts. But in fact our lush lawn is mostly made of it, cut short. 

Back to Sisyphus: Camus imagined him smiling while pushing the rock and embracing his situation without thinking of the past or the future. “He refused to surrender to gravity…he is remembered for his labor towards his purpose” Well, I’m not sure I’ve refused to surrender to gravity (I take a look in the mirror), but I certainly feel I have a purpose here in my Sisyphean Cañar garden.

And to finish with Virginia Woolf, from her diary, May 31, 1920: “The first pure joy of the garden . . . weeding all day to finish the beds in a queer sort of enthusiasm which made me say this is happiness. … We were out till nine at night, though the evening was cold. Both stiff and scratched all over today, with chocolate earth in our nails.”

 

CANAR BOOK CLUB (what you’ve all been waiting for)

The first 2020 meeting of the Cañar Book Club was a rousing success!  Our members were obviously anxious to reconvene after six months and share news of books. So I”ll start with our international members’ comments and save my own for the end.

Francie in Portland is reading  Like Falling Through a Cloud: A Lyrical Memoir  by Eugenia Zukerman, an internationally renowned flutist and writer facing a dreaded diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

Joanne in Mexico: “I read The Topeka School, by Ben Lerner, on the plane and liked it a lot. Fascinating mix of voices and ways of thinking about language. Definitely recommend. I’m about to start Drive you Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, by Olga Tokarzcuk… and will report.”

Nancy In Portland: How to Catch a Mole. by Marc Hammer. “It’s about moles, but also about a Welsh book editor and gardener growing older, his love and deep connection with nature and determination to stop killing moles. A beautifully reflective book!”

Nancy Also read: Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo, 2012 National book award winning nonfiction centered around the lives of slum dwellers near the Mumbai airport. “Deeply empathetic. Harrowing, heartbreaking stories. Reminded me a bit in tone of Matthew Desmond’s book, Evicted. And I also enjoyed Full Catastrophe Living, by Jon Kabat-Zinn— the groundbreaking 1999 introduction to mindfulness meditation.”

And from an indefatigable reader in Austin: “Love your book lists, Judy, and always love how many of your favorites I’ve read and loved. A couple recent reads that I thoroughly enjoyed:” All my Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Towes, Severance by Ling Ma, The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obrent, Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli, Disoriental by Niger Dyaneli, Overstory by Richard Powers, The Museum of Modern Love, by Heather Rose, The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, Educated by Tara Westover, Meet me at the Museum by Anne Youngson, Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot, My Life of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, The Monk of Mokha, by Dave Eggers, Here in Berlin by Cristina Garcia, Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, The Nakano Thrift Shop by Hiromi Kawakami.

Liv from Oslo wrote, responding to authors I mentioned in our last meeting:  “Books: Towles- I have the same experience.  Patrick Modiano – mysterious and fascinating. Linn Ullmann- I read it fast – rather nasty to her mother, Liv Ullmann. It seems to be a trend in Norway right now.  I got presents:  Ruth First and Joe Slovo against Apatheid by Alan Wieder, and Upside Down. A Primer for the Looking Glass World by Eduardo Galeano.  To recommend: Trieste, by Dasa Drndic.-One of the strongest novel I have read in many years.  East West Street, by Philippe Sands.

Two Oregon readers, Shirley and Pat, both recommended  Deep River, by Karl Marlantes. Pat writes: “It’s about the Finns who settled both sides of the Columbia R., starting in the 1800’s logging and fishing. It’s 5-stars, very good.”

From Laura in Upstate New York: “What an ambitious list of books. I continue to recommend Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things. It’s also a great audio book, read by the incomparable Juliet Stevenson.”

From Bruce in Portland:  Marc Hamer’s How to Catch a Mole. Brilliant. He’s a Welsh writer and his luminous meditations on nature have strong parallels to Wendell Berry’s writing.

Claire from London: My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite is brilliant. Seemingly almost comic to start with, it’s actually a dark tale revealing much about life for young, educated women living and working in Lagos. Short and bittersweet.

Richard from Oslo: I am reading an amazingly constructed book, The Overstory, by Richard Powers, on a psychic revenge taken by trees, some of whom seem to have memories going back 4 million years, and who suddenly are being helped to save greenery in America by certain drop-out, off-the-bend, Americans who, once leaving civilization can groove with trees. For me it is his best since The Echo Maker and also The Prisoner’s Dilemma.

Sister Char in Santa Fe: This is How it Always Is, Laurie Frankel, “Frankel’s portrayal of even the most openhearted parents’ doubts and fears around a child’s gender identity elevates this novel.”  New York Times Bestseller, 2017

And from Arlene in Toronto, late last year, neatly presented as a bulleted list:

  • The House of Names, Colm Toibin
  • The Testament of Mary, Colm Toibin
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
  • The Children of Jocasta by Natalie Haynes
  • What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About: Fifteen Writers Break the Silence by Michele Filgate

Whew!  And now for those who’ve made it this far, my report:

Since our last meeting I have read A Gentleman in Moscow – charming in the end but such a time sink – it took me 3 tries to get into it; Bad Blood I ordered and read for the second time; an amazing memoir by the English academic feminist, Lorna Sage, growing up in rural England in the 1950s. Won many prizes when it came out in 2000, right before she died at age 58. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue – author of Room – about a “fasting girl” of 19th century Ireland where I learned a tremendous amount about the power of Catholic belief, sin and redemption. Reads a bit like a mystery (nominated for Shirley Jackson Award). I’m now reading The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck, the German author I so admired last year with Go, Went, Gone and The Visitation. Jury’s still out on this one – I’ll report in next time.

I’m still struggling to connect with e-books. Those I download from the library I forget or barely start, then after 3 weeks they’re gone. I have bought and partially read Life in The Garden by Penelope Lively, a writer I’ve long admired but I find her essays on gardens a little boring (but she brought me to Virginia Woolf’s love of garden). Oliver Sack’s’ last book of essays, Everything in Its Place: First Loves and Last Tales, came and went. I love him, but I realized many were essays I’d already read.  Bottom line: there’s nothing like having a quality-paper book in one’s hands for a long bus ride, or those fleeting minutes before the lights go out at night.

Until next time, dear readers. Keep those book suggestions and comments coming for our February book club meeting.

 

 

 

 

Hello Cañar, Goodbye 2019

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Dear Friends: I have missed you these past seven months and I’m so happy to be back in touch, writing the Chronicles. (If anyone didn’t see the 2019 Scholarship update sent in November, you can find it here with a PayPal donate button or mailing information.

I start this on Christmas Day, when we have been in Cañar one week. After the cold, dark and short days of Portland, nothing compares to waking up that first morning in our east-facing bedroom to see early morning light coming through the giant fuchsia bush outside. A welcome back.

Before that, upon opening the door to our first sight of our interior patio, we saw plants grown wild. We had to take out one monster to get the fountain going, and days later I found three birds’ nests in the tall aloe plants. But what a safe place it is for nesting and hatching by the common sparrows that are a constant in our domestic life here – flying in and out at will through the opening between the glass and tile roofs, peeking into the bedroom door in the morning, occasionally getting stuck in a room.

That first day we walked around inside and out, opening shutters, checking lights, phone, gas, Internet, water. Amazing that everything works. Some years nothing does. One year we had lots of mice. This year just cobwebs and dust and a moldy fridge. Outside, I gather other evidence of months gone by – a broken wooden plow, the orchid that is finally blooming, a dry vegetable garden the neighbor’s chickens have ravaged, a beautiful crop of potatoes in the back field.

First Sunday market day, Michael takes the requested hat from Portland to his fish guy, César, and gets a pound of shrimp in return. And I visit my favorite lunch vendor – an 85+ woman who prepares and sells roasted pig and llapingachos every day on the street or in the market.

As I follow Michael in his shopping, I snap photos on my phone of the grand cornucopia that is the Sunday market.

*. *. * *

OK, here’s what you’ve all been waiting for – the first meeting of the…

Cañar Book Club

This year I have an eclectic batch of books, acquired in eclectic ways: some ordered online after reading reviews or on recommendations of friends, others picked up for $5 at the library sale at our annual Portland Book Festival, and even a couple found in a sidewalk Little Library. I’ve also given in to weight considerations (Michael says: “I’m not carrying another damn book in my luggage!”) and ordered some e-books for my iPad. (Only problem I’ve found is I cannot see text in bright sunlight of patio, where I always read while eating lunch. So I have two books going at once.) I’ve also started ordering ebooks from my Portland library. Problem is: you only get three weeks to read and don’t get to keep it!

So here is the list. Because I was impatient, I finished two of them before I got here, one on the plane –  marked by asterisks with notes. And because we don’t always get what we want, when we want it, I’ve added my wish list for 2020. Now – Dear Readers – I look forward to hearing book reports and recommendations from all of you. Until the next meeting…

(KINDLE)

  • A Writer of our Time: The Life and Work of John Berger, Joshua Sperling
  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong
  • Margaret the First: A Novel, Danielle Dutton
  • Life in the Garden, Penelope Lively
  • Images and Shadows, Part of a Life, Iris Origo (follow-up to excellent WW II war diary War in Val d’Orcia.
  • The Parisian, Isabella Hammand * (reading now and not yet engaged, will give it time)

(PAPER)

  • There, There, Tommy Orange
  • The Wrong Blood, Manuel de Lope
  • A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles * (reading now – third try)
  • In the Distance, Hernan Diaz
  • Iceberg, Marion Coutts * (finished – excellent, moving memoir)
  • Pure, Andrew Miller
  • Mission to Paris, Alan Furst * (finished, not great, don’t bother)
  • The Wonder, Emma Donoghue
  • Frog Music, Emma Donoghue
  • Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan
  • The Patron Saint of Liars, Ann Pachett
  • Saving Agnes, Rachel Cusk
  • The Long Loneliness, Dorothy Day
  • Great House, Nicole Krauss
  • Autumn, Ali Smith
  • Bad Blood, Lorna Sage
  • The End of Days, Jenny Erpenbeck
  • Late in the Day, Tessa Hadley
  • Dora Bruder, Patrick Modiano* (read on plane, very good and follow-up to Modiano’s The Night Watch)

WISH LIST

  • Disappearing Earth, Julia Phillips
  • The Club, Leo Damrosch
  • Say Nothing, Patrick Radden Keefe
  • Olive Again, Elizabeth Strout
  • The Accomplice, Joseph Kanon
  • Unquiet, Linn Ullmann
  • On Chapel Sands, Laura Cumming
  • Essays by Lydia Davis
  • To Calais, in Ordinary Time, James Meek
  • Girl, Woman, Other, Bernadine Evaristo
  • Permanent Record, Edward Snowden
  • How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell
  • Prairie Fires, Caroline Fraser
  • The Witches, Stacey Schiff
  • The Warmth of Other Sons, Isabel Wilkerson
  • The Yellow House, Sarah Broom
  • When Death Takes Something from You, Give It Back, Naja Marie Aidt
  • Belonging, Nora Krug
  • The Odd Woman and the City, Vivian Gornick
  • Optic Nerve, Maria Gainza * (just got notification from library)