At home in Portland – safe and (apparently) sound

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Dear Friends – Thanks to all for your best wishes for our “trip from hell.”  I’m happy to report we’re home in Portland since Friday July 3, and we feel fine (so far), only tired from traveling for three days on four flights, with long stopovers in two countries and three states. My hands are raw from hand gel and alcohol wipes and we have surplus of safety supplies if anyone needs anything – we started out seriously over-prepared, I’d say, plus my sisters sent a care package to our hotel in Houston.So – to the details. Before we even knew for sure that we could travel, we had to take blood tests at least 72 hours before our domestic flight from Cuenca to Quito (a new requirement within Ecuador). So on Monday we went to the only lab in town that qualified, to meet the one employee, Valeria, who became our new best friend, especially when we picked up the negative test results.

Then, some last shopping for a final dinner. As you can see, Cañar has been very strict about masks.

…and a last dinner with no electricity, reminding us that we were leaving a country where lights and water are not a dependable constant. We started out from Cañar at 6:00 AM on July 1, in a taxi. It was the first day in 3.5 months that taxis could circulate freely between Cañar and Cuenca, regardless of license plate number. And our first time in a taxi since March. The new plastic safety barrier between Juan the driver and us in the back seat made it hard to understand what he was saying, but whenever he would gesture at a checkpoint that was no longer manned, or other sights, we’d just say, “Si, si…” In Cuenca we lined up on the sidewalk outside the airport, spaced two meters apart, until just before our 9:00 AM flight. Then, young agents took our temperature, guided us through check-in, asked to see negative results of our blood tests, and finally escorted us to a waiting area.The flight to Quito was only 55 minutes, to a new international airport that was virtually empty. Our plane to the U.S. was not until the next day so I’d arranged a stay at the only airport hotel – which we soon called “the mother ship” for obvious reasons …also nearly empty, with beautiful views over a steep ravine, young staff so cautious and eager to be helpful that we allowed them every service that included a tip: a water bottle delivered to our room, spraying the bottom of our shoes, carrying a small roller bag. The shot below is the interior “hallway” of the hotel, wood strips inside a superstructure open to the air at the bottom. Altogether a good restful hiatus after the tension of preparing for the trip, closing up the house, saying goodbye

In the evening we walked over to the airport for a drink on the terrace of the food court – again, alone.The next day, the same careful precautions by airport employees as we waited in the same food court area for the flight to Houston – marking Quito the exemplary point of our Covid-19 travel. In contrast, Houston was, most certainly, the low point: A huge busy terminal, a subterranean shuttle to our horribly ugly and expensive airport Marriott hotel.

As we were waiting in the enormous dark and dreary circular lobby to check in, a crazy man rushed by us, maskless, yelling several times, “You don’t need no masks – you just need JESUS!”  I believe he was carrying a bible. Then, on the way to our room across a courtyard – a giant cockroach (one of two on that overnight stop). The next day – beginning of July 4 holiday – the terminal was jammed with United flights going every which way – Michael was amazed to see one to his podunk birthplace of Medford, Oregon. Everyone had masks, but beyond that social distancing was impossible, especially as flights loaded for New York or Chicago – even the walkway was nearly blocked.

Although I’d sprung $90 each to have access to the “United Club” during long layovers – (I won’t repeat what Michael said about THAT), we found it closed in Houston. A morning flight to Denver was uneventful, and there we found the United “luxury lounge” open. Although with only packaged snacks and certainly not free drinks (as my sister had promised), we did have near complete privacy for the six-hour layover before our flight to Portland.

Last leg, Michael totally absorbed with puzzles my sisters had sent to Houston (now that’s a thoughtful care package!). While I read one paper novel and a Kindle book – both set in war-time Spain (see Covid-19 travel Cañar Book Club below) – Michael seems to find relief from anxiety only through endless KenKen and crossword puzzles. Although I’d printed a 4-day supply before we left Cañar, he was done with all by Houston. Friends met us at PDX with a cooler full of dinner and breakfast fare and left us with a promise of a social-distance outdoor dinner next week (now those are thoughtful friends), and then we were at home in Portland for the first time in seven months.

Our first walk around the neighborhood felt almost post-apocalyptic. It shouldn’t have surprised us, but it did, to see a favorite sushi restaurant closed, and others with take-out menus and phone numbers plastered on the windows, other windows boarded up (this area was close to organizing points of protest marches), and our neighborhood theater closed with this on the marquee:

…but once we had our first dinner in the garden under our ever-spreading, supposedly semi-dwarf, cherry tree (behind M)…

…and he saw that his crimson clover ground cover had done it’s job with controlling weeds and nitrogen-fixing roots, we felt everything will be OK. However, we will be in semi-quarantine until we’re sure. Best regards to all who follow this blog and wished us well.  As always, I love to hear from you…

Covid-19 Travel Cañar Book Club

The Wrong Blood, Manuel de Lope, a novel in translation set in Basque country during the 1936 Civil War. Claims it’s about two women but really it’s about the men who circle around them. (I’d give it a 7/10.) Beautiful descriptions of weather in the area of Spain around San Sebastian, where we visited three or so years ago and experienced a magnificent seaside storm.

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free, by Andrew Miller, a historical novel I found riveting and beautifully written, and I carefully paced myself so as not to end it too soon. I’ll be lazy here and lift a description from a review: “follows John Lacroix, a soldier trying to escape his guilt-ridden memories of atrocities carried out by British soldiers in Spain during the Napoleonic wars, as he makes his way to the Hebrides; it also follows, in parallel, the two men–one English, one Spanish–dispatched to find him and hold him accountable for what happened.”  This story is also partly set in a place we’ve visited: Coruña, Spain, where I puzzled over a prominent statue of a British general, John Moore in a seaside park. (I’d give this a 9/10, and is the second book I’ve read by British author Andrew Miller – the first, Pure, set in pre-revolutionary Paris where a young engineer is hired to clear the cemetery of Les Innocents that is polluting the neighborhood. (I’d give it a 6.5/10).

All for now.  I’d love to hear about your Covid-19 favorite books.

 

Goodbye Cañar (?)

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Dear Friends – we are ten days away from trying to leave Cañar for Portland. “Trying” because the trip is a complicated jig-saw puzzle that hasn’t quite come together. We have reservations on United Airlines from Quito to Houston on July 2 (their one flight a week), but the problem is getting from here to Quito. TAME, the national airline, was recently liquidated by President Morena in the face of “la crisis económica” (along with the postal service, the  railway and other public companies, as well as a reducing public sector salaries by 25%).

The other airline serving this area, LATAM (based in Chile), has just declared bankruptcy. While LATAM has this week begun a daily flight from Cuenca to Quito, it’s too late in the day to make our connection to United. So we’ll go the day before and spend the night in an airport hotel to make the flight to Houston, where a 12-hour layover means another night in a hotel. THEN, a flight to Denver, and finally home to Portland on the evening of July 3.

Of course we’re worried about exposure traveling 48 hours through two countries and three states, but we’ll take all the precautions I’ve been reading about, such as upgrading our seats so we don’t sit near bathrooms (too much human traffic). We’ll also try not to go ourselves. In any case, once in Portland we are planning to self quarantine for 14 days.

Update:  we’ve just been informed that we have to show Covid-19 negative test results from a laboratory within 72 hours of flying within the country. Michael went up to town to find the one lab in Cañar that provides tests – at $70 per person!  No wonder the statistics from Ecuador are totally out of whack; no one can afford to be tested.

All things considered, it would be smarter to stay here, but our tenant leaves our Portland house on June 29, Michael has medical appointments, we both have dental appointments, and so on. Also, we simply want to be with our friends and closer to family after seven months in Cañar.These last three months have been special, however – even relaxing. No more trips to Cuenca, no more running around the countryside with projects or climbing the streets into town for meetings. We’ve discovered we have everything but luxury food items here, and local commerce has really picked up with people selling their produce from doorways and driveways.

Michael marvels that he can find beautiful tomatoes on the Paseo de los Cañaris, the little commercial strip near home, and no longer has to wait for Sunday market. And, wonder of wonders – the giant langostinos are back after a three-month hiatus, looking fresh, and sold from a new storefront open to the street for $4.00 per pound. Michael cooks them on skewers in the fireplace.

It has been a delight to have our goddaughter Paiwa with us these three months. She’s 24 years old, in her 5th year of civil engineering at University of Cuenca, and spends up to 12 hours a day in her room with classes, homework and exams, emerging to join us for meals, practice her English, appreciate Michael’s cooking and do the dishes. It’s been like having a young but mature and engaging house guest. When we go to Cuenca to catch our (supposed) flight on July 1, she will return to her rented room near the university, although her classes will not begin again until September or October.

Masks are still mandatory in town, but I notice that folks continue to use them in almost all everyday activities in the streets and cars, except for in the fields or their own houses.

Cautious meeting with Soledad Quinde, teacher in a program the Bend Circle of Giving supports with stipends for women students.

Also, as the restrictions on small stores lift, I see a new mini-industry arise – homemade “hazmat” suits in various colors and sizes on mannequins (and in the streets), along with embroidered and beaded masks (I’m wearing one above in photo). Cañar has many seamstress shops – mostly owned by Cañari women making the beautiful elaborate Cañari skirts and blouses – so it was a no-brainer to switch to what is selling – masks and protective suits.

As for me, I’ve grown “garden proud” during the three-month quarantine, right down to obsessively plucking dandelion heads on the lawn (made up largely of tough African kikuyu grass that needs no watering) and digging up its long tendrils below my flower beds. But It’s been thrilling to see this:Become this:Normally I would not pay such close attention and simply let nature takes its course, but being in the house every day with all these windows to the outside, I couldn’t help but become obsessed with the flowers, the vegetables, hummingbirds, and the grass – which I insisted we have someone cut with the weed whacker every two or three weeks, for heaven’s sake!

Now with our leaving it becomes what I call my Sisyphean garden – I’ll come back in six months to find everything back to beginnings – grass raggedly trimmed by our compadres‘ sheep, flower beds filled with weeds, vegetable garden maybe still producing some of what I’ve planted. It’s the arrangement we’ve had for nearly 15 years – our compadres are responsible only for checking on the property and watering the plants in the patio. I don’t mind at all. I’ll start again with renewed hope and patience, like any good gardener.

By the way – those creatures at the top of this blog are a part of our coat rack in the patio. A collection of paper mache masks that are traditional around Christmas and New Year’s, bought for to make effigies to burn ( you’ll recognize Ugly Betty with the freckles and the guy who looks like Nixon was meant to be Trump).

Anyway, this will be my last chronicle from Cañar for 2020, unless our flights are cancelled, we fail the Covid-19 tests, the U.S. stops all in-bound air traffic, or the sky falls.

But there’s always meatballs!  Scroll down below the book club for Michael’s famous recipe, which he’s making for our first dinner guest Sunday evening.

Cañar Book Club

The Yellow Books, 1887 (oil on canvas) by Vincent van Gogh

Well, I’ll be sorry to miss you all and your wonderful reading suggestions, but I plan to be back for our last meeting of the year in December, when you’ll have lots more to report. So let’s begin…

Sandy in Portland: One I highly recommend is Heavy: An American Memoir, by Kiese Laymon. It is a memoir, though a friend said it should be called a reckoning, and I agree. It is challenging emotionally and really well written. Also I have just started reading Sapiens, A Brief History of Mankind by Yuval Noah Harari and am enjoying it. It overwhelms me, but does go into enough detail that I am learning a lot. Jill LePore’s 785 page tome, These Truths: A History of the United States, took awhile but it helped me deal with the current political situation – turns out Trump isn’t the first!

Bruce in Portland: The Wild Trees by Richard Preston. “Preston’s account of this amazing world, by turns terrifying, moving, and fascinating, is an adventure story told in novelistic detail by a master of nonfiction narrative. The author shares his protagonists’ passion for tall trees, and he mastered the techniques of tall-tree climbing to tell the story in The Wild Trees—the story of the fate of the world’s most splendid forests and of the imperiled biosphere itself.”

Arlene in Toronto: Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Wiener – I galloped through that one — tracing the lives of two sisters from the 1950s to the 2020s through the sexual revolution, the rise of feminism, the Vietnam war etc etc. I am currently reading On Earth We Were Briefly Gorgeous by Vietnamese-American writer Ocean Vuong, but slowly because I find it both beautiful and painful.

Char in Austin The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt, National Book Award and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. “An adventure story about
scholarship that locates the foundations of modern secular, scientific thought in the brilliance and heroism of our intellectual forebears.”
Yup, one for the quarantine.  Nothing but time.  It’s very engrossing.

Joanne in Mexico: did I mention A Month in Siena by Hisham Matar? I love his work, both novels and his memoir, The Return. Siena is about art and much more. A beautiful little gem. I just started Sea Monsters by Chloe Aridjis – “Winner of the 2020 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, this intoxicating story of a teenage girl who trades her middle-class upbringing for a quest for meaning in 1980s Mexico is ‘a surreal, captivating tale about the power of a youthful imagination, the lure of teenage transgression, and its inevitable disappointments'”. (And, after a recent trip from Mexico to Portland, she writes: The Night Watchman, by Louise Erdrich – good flight book)

Michael’s Meatballs (with a chance of clouds`)

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • ¾ cup fine breadcrumbs
  • 5-6 good-sized garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 egg
  • Salt to taste
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 3 T chopped Italian parsley
  • ½ cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • ¾ t. fresh-ground nutmeg

In a wide bowl:

  • Beat the egg
  • Put the pork on top of the beaten egg, and with the back of a big spoon spread out the meat in a layer (this makes it easier to add the seasonings and later mix everything).
  • Distribute garlic, salt, pepper, nutmeg, parsley, onion, crumbs as evenly as possible over the ground pork.
  • With your hands or other implement, fold and mix ingredients, incorporating the egg throughout. Let the mixture sit a few minutes to allow the crumbs to gain moisture.
  • Make a small sample meatball and fry it in olive oil until done. Taste for seasoning, especially salt.

Once that is done:

  • With your hands, form the mixture into about 16 meatballs a little smaller than golf balls, and as smooth as possible.
  • Brown all sides in a skillet in olive oil, as evenly as possible.
  • I don’t finish cooking the meatballs in the browning process, but when they have a nice color I remove them from the pan to a plate.
  • Using the drippings in the skillet, add white wine or stock or water (or beer).
  • Bring the stock to a simmer, taste for salt. Now you can add tomato puree or paste, or cream, to make whatever sauce you fancy – and/or thicken with a little flour-and-water mixture carefully stirred in.
  • Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer in skillet for about 20 minutes.

 

 

 

Cañar Update: Day 60+ and Still Quarantined

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Dear Friends – We are at Day 60 (now 62) and counting, with a strict quarantine and curfew still in place in Cañar and in all of Ecuador. Here, even the dogs are sheltering in place. (Couldn’t resist! We pass these guys every time we walk into town. We call them “the rugs.”)

News on the street says this will continue until end of May, with slow opening beginning June 1. A national newspaper says the airport in Guayaquil will open on that date. Good news, though we’ll keep our distance from that city for years to come, I think. But we do have reservations on Delta Airlines from Quito on July 1. We’ve not yet paid for the tickets – as we can’t get to Cuenca with the cash, which the airlines are demanding in place of cards – “en caso de mortalidad” (in case we die) – but as of now we are planning on traveling Cuenca- Quito – Atlanta – Portland on July 1.

On the work front, I’ve been contentedly engaged with two book projects. Last week co-editor Andrew and I sent off the final ms. of the “Ana book” – (Tell Mother I’m in Paradise: Memoir of a Political Prisoner in El Salvador), along with 28 photos and illustrations, to the wonderful editor at University of Alabama Press. The book now goes into the editorial pipeline and will, hopefully, emerge as a Spring 2021 title. It has been a great experience working with Andrew and Wendi. Here’s a photo of Ana that showed up in the Spanish edition that we’d never seen – Ana at about 20 years. This will go into the new book.

The second project on the work front, which came to a halt with the quarantine, is the culmination of years of darkroom printing, scanning and organizing the negatives of a town photographer, Rigoberto Navas (1911-2001). The cultural department at the Municipality of Cañar has committed to printing the book of Navas photos this year, although the reality remains to be seen. But I’ve had fun making a mock-up – cutting and pasting photocopied images into an existing photo book. At least this allows me choose the photos and their sequence, and to show a good facsimile of how the final book will look. 

On the pleasure front, six words: cocktail, sunset, fireplace, drawing, flowers and dinner.

As wine grew scarce (it’s back!) Michael began a new custom of 5:00 PM cocktails: fresh orange juice, rum and fizzy water. This, in the big room with the fire, flowers and Michael, keeps me happy while I try to make a drawing/ watercolor that relates to the day. Sometimes it’s a challenge, sometimes it comes easy. Something it’s as mundane as Michael cooking a chicken…

…as dreamy as where we “would have been” in Spain if all this hadn’t happened. 

or as serious as keeping track of the numbers (until I couldn’t)….

Or as homely as going for a walk, running into a neighbor washing her carrot harvest and bringing home a few for a carrot soup that Michael claims he had never made before, and was absolutely delicious.

Speaking of Michael, he has been stalwart in fixing lunch and dinner for three “cuarentinadas” every day for two months, with another month to go at least. With limited options, we’ve been eating pork in its many iterations. There’s a butcher shop here called Piggi’s where he buys sausage, cutlets and a kind of re-constituted bacon that’s not really bacon. Paiwa and I love it! Plus lots of our garden vegetables (we’re sick of broccoli and cauliflower) and an endless supply of potatoes from our back field that Michael finds way to fix almost every night.  Here he is making gnocchi.

For sweets he’s kept us in a near-constant supply of zesty orange oatmeal cookies, which he devised as an alternative to orange cake that takes longer to bake and uses too much gas. (* Recipe at bottom of this blog). The only kitchen disaster has been our espresso machine is kaput. Michael makes campfire coffee every morning, but it’s not the same. We’re dreaming of finding a new machine in Cuenca once the quarantine lifts, although we’re having a hard time finding a source from the Internet. (Cuenca friends – if you know of a store that has domestic espressos, please let me know.)

And that brings us to…..

The Cañar Book Club

This selection above of “plague books” appeared on a website a couple of weeks. I tracked down the source, then lost it – but credit went to an antiquarian book store with participation of artist.

From our own faithful book club members, some good recommendations.

Patty in Portland: “Enjoyed Minor Characters by Joyce Johnson, Kerouac’s girlfriend who was in the thick of that time with the Beats. The Topeka School by Ben Lerner is worth a read. Tessa Hadley’s Late in the Day the best of the three of her novels I read. She has a dark side which can be pretty funny.”

Maya in Portland: “I’m now on pp 657 of the 1000 page, one-sentence Ducks, Newburryport by Lucy Ellmann, which I’m enjoying greatly. It’s oddly addictive. Essentially about how you live a private life as a woman/mother when you are so aware of all that is wrong globally and locally. Also very funny. Beyond that I found How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibrahim X Kendi to be worth reading. He’s very methodical about analyzing all the different ways people objectify blacks and use that, often unwittingly, to discriminate in one way or another.”

Liz in Toronto: Madeleine Miller’s Circe is great argument for mortality! I read Milkman, found it terrifying but compelling, a tour de force; also recommend Miriam Toews’s Women Talking.”

Joanne in Mexico: “Now reading a wonderful collection of essays by a young Irish writer, Sinéad Gleeson – Constellations.”

Char in Austin: “Just finished Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein, illustrations by Maira Kalman. Published in 1933, this new edition includes Maira’s delightful illustrations. I loved every word of her endless sentences that brought to life Paris at the beginning of the century.”

Sher in Santa Fe: “If you’re looking for a beautiful distraction, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is apropos of our times, as this gentleman is under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow (1922). See how he makes use of his time!!”

Anne in Portland recommends: The Hour of Land by Terry Tempest Williams.

Finally, my turn:  I can’t say enough about the riveting Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by New Yorker writer, Patrick Radden Keefe. As my words fail, I quote from the David Grann review: “Meticulously reported, exquisitely written, and grippingly told, Say Nothing is a work of revelation. Keefe not only peels back, layer by layer, the truth behind one of the most important and mysterious crimes of a terrible conflict; he also excavates the history of the Troubles, and illuminates its repercussions to this day.”

Did I miss anyone?  If so, please remind me, and keep your book news coming, dear readers. Until next time…

* Mike’s Zesty Orange Oatmeal Cookies

Mix dry ingredients thoroughly in one bowl:

  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 heaping tsp of baking powder

In another bowl mix:

  • 1 egg, 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup oil such as safflower or sunflower
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • finely grated rind of two unpeeled oranges with microplane. (If oranges are big, maybe 1.5 grated)

Beat the egg and salt with whisk, add brown sugar, beat again, add oil and beat again. Add grated orange rind and beat (yet again).

Pour the dry ingredients into the egg/sugar/oil/zest mixture, beat thoroughly.

Once everything is moistened, add carefully and mix throughout

  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1/3 cup raisins, well separated

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Carefully glob 12 piles of mixture onto greased cookies sheet, leaving space between each.

In oven, check after about 6 minutes for even baking. Should be done between 10-15 minutes; checking if browning around edges.

(Alternative: instead of grated orange rind, use 1/2 teaspoon each of nutmeg and cinnamon.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cañar Update: Heading into Week Six

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Dear Friends. We are heading into Week Six of total lockdown here in Ecuador and in Cañar. Masks are mandatory, local streets are barricaded and interprovincial traffic strictly controlled by police, with a national curfew from 2:00 PM to 5:00 AM (sirens marking the beginning, reminding me of a school bell – how quickly we become adjusted to sound cues). In Cantón Cañar (the county), Covid-19 cases number only twelve, a very slow rise over three weeks. National rates are, I suspect, carefully controlled and under-reported by the government after some very bad press about the coastal city of Guayaquil. As of today: Ecuador’s “official” figures are 8450 cases with 421 deaths. (In contrast, today’s Guardian reported close to 7,000 deaths in Guayaquil alone, where so many die at home and are not counted.)

Our home routine is so fixed that I can barely remember life before. For Michael, little has changed – he makes morning coffee (although our little espresso machine just went kaput), works on the puzzles I print each morning (four KenKens; one NYT crossword), fixes lunch and plans dinner. If it’s a cold rainy day – as in the photo above – he builds an early fire. Once or twice a week he trudges up into town to go shopping and I sometimes go with him. Our little stores remain well provisioned, and the last couple of weeks we see a lot more sidewalk and doorway action as farming families set up spontaneous stands to sell their own products.

For me, the early morning routine remains the same – coffee in bed with laptop, an hour or so of email, news, articles and a bowl of home-made granola (*Ana’s recipe at end of post). From there, I move to my studio office or the dining room table if we have an early fire. Several projects keep me busy with full work days. In late afternoon, I take a break in the garden to hack some weeds and check what’s ready to eat (our first of many cauliflower this week). The big difference during lockdown is, of course, that I don’t leave the house for work. Looking back to last year’s daily journal for April, I’m amazed at the constant motion of my days – accompanying a visiting researcher to villages; recording interviews, trips to Cuenca, trips to town and to schools, getting ready for visitors from Cuenca, and visitors from Portland. I can’t believe I will ever lead such a non-stop daily life again. Not sure I want to.

The other member of our little lockdown household is Paiwa, our 24-year-old goddaughter. She’s nearly full-time in her room with her on-line classes in 5th year civil engineering, emerging for lunch and dinner and to wash clothes or the dishes. We’ve developed a nice routine of knowing when to socialize over dinner, when to practice English, and when to eat lunch in companionable silence, each with our device (Michael with crossword). Although we’ve known her and been close since she was about five, we’ve never had this much time with Paiwa, and it has been delightful.

But the most interesting thing these past couple of weeks is what we watched  from our living room windows, as our compadres Jose Maria and Narcisa, and their daughter Sara harvested and planted the back field. First they cleared the potato field of weeds to feed two cows tethered in residence for about a week. Two huge bulls arrived to pull the plow to uncover the potatoes, one section at a time, then stood tethered while the family collected the potatoes by hand. Then they plowed again for a couple of days and planted peas. It was fast and brutally hard work, some days in the rain, and dangerous in handling such large animals. Every day Michael and I ran from window to window, reporting on what we saw. In the end, not a single thing was wasted in that field – “weeds” that were not food for animals turned out to be medicinal plants, while others produced seeds for an additional crop (cilantro, amaranth).The most dangerous moment is when Narcisa and Jose Maria control the bulls and lash on the hand-hewn wooden yoke. The bulls know what’s coming and can resist by trying to gore or charge.

While plowing someone (usually a woman in bright clothes – in this case Sara) walks in front to guide the bulls. Jose Maria puts his weight into the plow – a long wooden eucalyptus pole with metal point lashed on, using a series of sounds to urge the bulls. He carries a stick with short whip.

When the bulls are at rest, tethered at the bottom of the field, they have to be fed and watered once a day. Jose María brings from his own fields a load of dried corn stalks and chops them into four piles for the animals. Watching, I was reminded of the tremendous responsibility of farmers with large animals.

The harvest – enough potatoes for the family for a year, Narcisa tells me, and which they insist on sharing with us. Beautiful reds called super-cholas, which Michael is preparing most days in some form or another.

Finally, another round of plowing on a couple of rainy days, and Narcisa plants peas. They quickly lead the bulls around the house and out the gate and it’s all over for the season.

Perhaps those who enjoyed the week the most were Narcisa’s four lambs, gamboling about the front yard, jumping on the rock wall among the cactus, running up and down the road outside the gate. They are left free because they never stray far from their bleating mothers, tethered up the road in a vacant grassy lot.

And to end with a flash update:  after many back-and-forth emails with our travel agent in Cuenca, we are able to make reservations for our return to Portland on July 1. We fly from Cuenca to Quito (avoiding Guayaquil) and Delta to Atlanta and Portland. When I wrote to thank Teresa and ask how I could get payment to her, the return message puzzled me. I read it over several times, and then to Michael, before we understood:  “the airlines are requiring cash payments “en caso de mortalidad.” In case we die.

We are certainly willing to pay cash, once transportation begins, and we are certainly not going to die. I hope you too are staying well and safe in your homes and looking forward to life after.

C a ñ a r  B o o k  C l u b
“The greatest gift is the passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination.”
– Elizabeth Hardwick

I promise you this was not a plan, but in the last weeks I’ve read Dutch House, by Ann Patchet, The Yellow House by Sarah Bloom and Great House by Nicole Krauss. The first was entertaining, the second was over-long but a good look into life in New Orleans pre-and post-Katrine; the third I’m having a hard time staying with. So to clear my palate of houses I started (on Kindle) The Promise of the Grand Canyon: John Wesley Powell’s Perilous Journey and His Vision for the American West by John Ross.  Why?  I must have read a good mention in my morning perusing. I think it’s probably good history, but bed-time reading requires something livelier, so I’ve started the book Hilary Mantel said she couldn’t put down: Death and Nightingales by Eugene McCabe, and that did the trick. “…an epic story of love, deception, betrayal and revenge, set on a single day in the Irish countryside in 1883.” It’s so gripping I can’t wait for bedtime to keep reading.

OK, this month we have a special guest reviewer, Jennifer from Toronto:
“I read a lot of mysteries and detective stories, most of which are not deserving of the attention of your book club members, but provide me with some relief from the world’s woes. But every month I read 2-3 “good” books. Often I’m disappointed, but I also find some that are beautifully written and engaging and depressing as hell or alienating.
Currently, I have two books on the go: Aria by Nazanine Hozar, following the life of a young girl in Iran from the 1950’s to 70’s; The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christi Lefteri, focused on the lives of Syrians who end up as refugees in the UK. Both  I suspect will be rewarding in the end – by which I mean will be enlightening about the experience of people from parts of the world in continuous upheaval – but are difficult to read in the quiet hour before bedtime! (And I have to confess, before finishing either of these books, I just started The Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich’s new book.)
But I’ve just finished a book of that I wanted to recommend to you: Five Wives by Joan Thomas, a Canadian author who has revisited the story of five American evangelicals who went to Ecuador in the 1950’s, intent on converting the Amazonian Waorani tribe, and who were killed shortly after their first contact.  After the killings, two women stayed on to work with the Waorani (also known by the more derogatory Quichua term “Auca”), a sister of one of the dead and a wife of one of the others.
The author, who appears to be from a family of Canadian evangelicals and heard the story as a child, was inspired to write the book following a New Yorker article in 2012 that traced the connections between the activities of evangelicals in Ecuador and the oil industry, though this is not a major focus in the book.
Instead, the author writes from the perspective of the wives and some of the offspring of the men who were killed. The author says about her process: ‘I use actual names and biographical details, but … the interior lives of the characters and the dynamics of their relationships are entirely of my creation. I read the available biographies and journals of the Operation Auca eleven, and then set those books aside and let the characters walk into my novel with the personalities they had assumed in my imagination. In the missionaries’ memoirs, ‘God’s leading’ explains almost every impulse. I set out to peer behind that, to explore in human terms actions that astonished me.'”

Jennifer adds that Five Wives won the Governor General’s award for fiction last year, equivalent of the National Book Award. I know the background of this story, and look forward to finding the book.

Speaking of missionaries, Michael just finished Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle, by Daniel Everett, which he loved and quoted extensively to me while reading. I look forward to that one.

That’s it for now, dear friends.  Please stay well and stay in touch.

* The recipe for Ana’s granola, which I have been making since visiting Ana Margarita Gasteazoro’s Café Coral in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica circa 1988.  I just made it yesterday.

Ana’s Granola (2020 version)*

Mix in one large bowl

  • 5 cups of coarse-ground oats
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 cups pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 3/4 cups sesame seeds
  • 1 cup almonds or walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Separately, mix and stir (and heat slightly if honey is thick):

  • ½ cup honey
  • ¼ cup oil such as safflower
  • ½ cup orange juice (or the juice of one orange)
  • 2 T fresh grated ginger
  • dash of vanilla extract
  • orange peel cut into thin strips

Mix honey and oil, orange juice and orange peel into oats and seed mixture.

Spread granola on large cookie sheet and bake at 300 degree for 45 minutes. (I usually use a timer and turn granola with spatula every 15 minutes or so to make it uniformly toasty. When it looks uniformly brown on top, it’s done)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.)