Stormy weather here and there

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Dear Friends:  Two big headlines in January (when I meant to send out this chronicle): Giant Ice Storm in Portland and Violence in Ecuador.  Ice storm first, as that is easier.

View from our upstairs bathroom, looking south, Big Storm day #1

 On Friday, January 12, fierce winds came out of the Columbia Gorge at hurricane force, bringing down trees and power lines around Portland, and leaving up to 150,000 people without power. Which for many, also meant no heat and no water. Cozy in bed in our 120-year-old, tall wooden house, Michael and I could feel the wind gusts buffeting us through the night. We were fine the next morning, but our friends who live about 500 feet higher on the other side of town caught the brunt of it. They woke up Saturday morning to no electricity, no heat, frozen pipes, and impassable roads. They later counted 63 trees down in their immediate neighborhood. The temperature was in the 20’s with sleet, ice, and snow forecast for the next few days. (OK, you friends in Minneapolis and other northern kingdoms who think this is no big deal, stay with me…)

Looking north, Big Storm day #2

By Saturday afternoon Portland’s mayor had declared a state of emergency, and a few days later the governor would declare a statewide emergency. Temperatures stayed in the mid-teens as warming shelters were opened around town, and soon overflowed. (Portland has a large unhoused population.) The storm continued to blow and icy rain made leaving the house treacherous.  Schools closed, public transportation was paralyzed, and folks were displaced by fallen trees on their houses or burst pipes in their apartments.

On Sunday, the roads were solid ice under a sheet of snow, but our friends were barely able to get out of their neighborhood to come to stay with us, taking 1.5 hours for a 20-minute drive. The sun was out that day, so I went for a walk to buy bagels and brats for our dinner. I grew up in Colorado so it brought back memories of a long walk home from the bus stop when I was six years old.

The next day another storm came in, and roads and sidewalks stayed solid ice. So for five days we were frozen in place. But I have to say we were happy campers. Anne and Ken and Michael took turns cooking, and Zoe walked the dogs, while I took photos and made sketches.

Michael blesses Harrient and Jiggy before their trip home.

Finally, on Thursday, Day #6, when our guests saw their power was on, they packed up and went home only to find their pipes still frozen and the power off again. They checked into a hotel for two nights. After eight days they could finally go home and begin to recover their lives. Others were not so lucky:  Nine people died, two from fallen trees, several of hypothermia, and three others tragically electrocuted when power lines fell on their vehicle; two stepped onto the street and a third tried to help.

Other than one brief Covid period, this is our first winter in Portland in 18 years. I think it’s safe to say we won’t be here this time next year.

*. *. *. *. *. *. *.

On to Ecuador. Many of you have written asking if it’s safe for me to travel there for a planned visit end of February. (I’m going for a small job, a big project, and the scholarship program). No wonder – with news of the assassinations of public officials, “wars” within prisons with unspeakable violence between gangs, the recent escape of the two high-level gang leaders with certain help from security officials, and the invasion of a TV station by a dozen armed thugs that was broadcast live. After that, the 35-year-old president Daniel Naboa, imposed a nationwide state of emergency to last for 60 days.

The answer is yes, I’m going, and I’ll be safe as long as I stay away from the coastal city of Guayaquil and the borders with Peru and Colombia. My friends in Cuenca report that all is calm in the southern highlands. This was a two-week trip planned when Michael’s health crisis in October made it obvious we would have to cancel our usual stay. With a friend from Portland, I will fly directly to Cuenca and stay within the Cuenca/Cañar region before flying back to Portland on March 8.

But the situation is heartbreaking. Ecuador was for so many years a sea of peace in South America, surrounded by countries convulsed with violence – one of the reasons we first moved there in the early 90’s. No longer! Organized crime cartels from Mexico, Colombia, and even the Balkans have stealthily moved in to make Ecuador a major hub for the drug trade. With two permeable borders with Peru and Colombia, a long coast with deep ports, and a dollar economy for easy money laundering, Ecuador has become a major transit point for drugs produced in neighboring countries.

One big critical factor: bananas! Ecuador is the world’s largest exporter of bananas, and drug traffickers have infiltrated the industry to the point that 9.5 metric tons of cocaine were discovered in a container shipment to Spain in 2023, with similar-sized shipments in other European ports. Until now, Ecuador’s government has done little to control what was (in my view) a slow build-up into a tangled, complex infrastructure that even includes submarines at work off the coast. Now the prisons are overflowing and a 35-year-old president just elected in November,  is trying to regain control, along with the military.  As I say, it’s heartbreaking. I hate to see tanks on the streets of Quito.

But to end with good news: Michael’s health has rebounded to the point that we are planning to go to Ecuador for a few months in early 2024. We’ll see how he does in high altitude Cañar (10,000 ft), with hopes that we can return to our usual six-month stay beginning in December.  So stay tuned, dear friends. If all goes well, you can expect an invite to visit us in 2025, when you’ll get to know my friend Pacha in the Sunday market.  

 

The New Life in Portland

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Dear Friends –  this past Friday was the 14th day of our self-quarantine and the official beginning of our new life in Portland. So many friends wished us well on our three-day “trip from hell” and welcomed us home that I wanted to send an update to say that Michael and I feel great. My raw hands have healed from the hand sanitizer I used repeatedly during the trip, gone is tiredness we both felt from the tension of closing our Cañar house, one long taxi ride, four flights, two hotel stays, one very long layover – and being accosted by a crazy maskless guy in Houston carrying a bible and yelling that we didn’t need masks, just Jesus! (Headline I found in a Kentucky newspaper: “What would Jesus do right now? He would wear a face mask.”)Summer n Portland is glorious, and we love being back in our Buckman neighborhood. Where else can you find great tacos and a “heritage” barbershop sharing sign space and social-distance seating while you wait? As we’re busy getting our Portland affairs in order – dental, medical, taxes, banking, garden, and so on – we’ve made a few local outings to see the gains and losses during the pandemic. Mostly losses, but to start with a gain (at least for Michael): a block over the street closed to traffic and picnic tables are set up to serve a brewery, a pub and a coffee shop (this being Portland). You sit at a color-coded, well-separated and numbered table, make your order on your phone, and a masked server appears. Here’s Michael’s with his first IPA and pulled-pork sandwich in seven months. So happy!

The losses: my favorite used/new clothing store two blocks from our house. The young owner was in tears when I ran into her hauling stuff out the door  – “We didn’t get a Covid-19 small business loan; my four-year old was sent home from preschool for misbehaving and we have a one-year old. I can’t hold on any longer.” It was also a consignment store and I believe I had some credit there I was looking forward to using when I got home. I will really miss Palace.

The yoga studio two blocks in the other direction, where I had been re-introduced to yoga after thirty years. The classes were beyond my level, but I enjoyed putting on my leotards (no yoga pants for me), rolling up my cheap puffy mat (no $70 yoga mat here) and walking over three times a week. I was planning to continue and I’ll miss Love Hive too – although I really hated their name.

We both really miss the thrice-weekly picnic with chamber music concerts at Reed College we’ve been a part of since about 1995 (I as photographer). Seeing re-plays online just ain’t the same, even if we can drink wine and eat ice cream with fresh blueberries while we watch.Novelties: The large silhouette of a black bull that’s become an iconic symbol of Spain has appeared over the fancy French dessert place around the corner, Pix Pâtisserie, now selling its wares through a vending machine at the outside entrance. What people will do for a sugar fix! I had to line up to take the photo of the Pix-o-matic.

What’s new? Hallelujah!  A bookstore/art gallery called Nationale right around the corner from our house in the space where the dental prosthetics lab used to be. Doing some research I see they are not brand new to Portland; they moved to our neighborhood while we were gone and just re-opened. This was all I saw for a few days and I was so curious …

Then...limited stock, and a few cosmetics, but all the titles I saw were all good ones.

OK, on to the hard news: Portland is in it’s 51th day of protests that were sparked by the George Floyd murder. We don’t watch television news but when we hear helicopters we know things have escalated downtown, where protesters have set up camp in a park by the federal courthouse. This past week, Trump and his Homeland Security goons sent in federal  “storm troopers” – fully camouflaged, without identification, using teargas and “munitions,” taking peaceful protestors away in unmarked vans. Uninvited by local police, officials or politicians, and seriously breaking the law. Our friend’s son-in-law lawyer, Athul Acharya, is part of a class-action lawsuit by ACLU against the City of Portland and federal government on behalf of journalists and legal observers who were targeted and attacked by the police while documenting protests in Portland. You can read more about the lawsuit  here.

Oregon’s Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum: “Every American should be repulsed when they see this happening.  If this can happen here in Portland, it can happen anywhere.”

There is much more to say on this issue, but the national and international papers are full of news on Portland. The Guardian here. The New York Times here.

I think this will be my last blog until December, when we hope to return to Cañar. I will miss you all, and miss writing this blog, but we can always be in touch by email at  judyblanken@gmail.com. And Oregon friends, we’re ready to be social if you are! And to everyone –  stay tuned for some great summer reading suggestions below.

SUMMER BOOK CLUB PORTLAND

I’ve been reading like crazy since I got back, with library e- and “real” books available to me again (pick-up by appointment), and recommendations by you, dear friends. I read in my garden hammock during the day, in bed at night, first thing in the morning. So….Nemesis by Philip Roth, a novel published in 2011 but about the July 1944 polio epidemic in Newark, New Jersey. Roth obviously lived through it, as did many of us in the 1950’s before there was a vaccine.  I haven’t read Roth in years, but – for obvious reasons – I felt I was reading about today. Beautiful to reconnect with Roth, a writer I’d read and admired way back and sortof forgot (I had to look up to see if he was still alive). Olive Again by Elizabeth Strout brought us, I think, to the end of Olive’s life. I have loved her irascible self and am sorry to see her go. I think Strout was too, but as a writer is surely eager to move on to other characters. Good Husbandry by Kristin Kimball because I love to read about daily life on a large CSA farm in up-state New York. I read her first book, The Dirty Life, a few years ago and it was good to catch up. But the most amazing book I’ve read lately is Telephone: A Novel by Percival Everett, recommended by a chronicle reader. I dipped into it (while reading other books) and dropped everything until the finish. It’s brilliant, riveting and devastating. How did I not know about this author? He’s written about twenty-five books and I’ve already ordered a second one with the great title: So Much Blue.

Maggi in Toronto:  Am currently reading Extensions by Myrna Dey.  I thought it was going to be a “lite” mystery (protagonist is an RCMP officer) but it turns out to be a more interesting exploration of the narrator’s great-grandmother, a poor woman in a Welsh mining community in 19th century BC.  Not a literary masterpiece, but a good & interesting summer read.

Sandy P in Portland: Javier Cercas’ Lord of All the Dead, a novel where he tries to come to terms with having had an uncle who died fighting for Franco. Or if you are interested in Israel/Palestine I found Colum McCann’s Apeirogon very compelling. Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains has given me a new way at looking at the Republican/ Libertarian/Koch takeover of our country, i.e. the privatization and cruelty we were experienced long before 1945.

Just finished Telephone by Percival Everett and that should go on your list too! A novel. Quite engaging and well written. Oh dear, these are all kind of heavy. Maybe you want to read cookbooks. I’m loving using Joshua McFadden’s Six Seasons.

CIaire in London: just finished The Mirror and the Light, Hillary Mantel’s last in the Cromwell trilogy and once again am totally blown away. That’s not to say I loved every minute. Until, that is, it got very bogged down about a third of the way through where she seemed to feel the need to tell us everything about those crucial years between Anne Boleyn’s execution and Cromwell’s demise. And I mean EVERYTHING. But I’m so glad I persevered. It gets better and better and – as with Bring Up The Bodies – the last few pages are simply brilliant and utterly devastating. She is a genius and I forgive her the tedious chunk in the middle just for those last couple of chapters.

Maya: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo, which one half of the Booker this year. Loving it. And I loved the Sally Hansen non-fiction Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World. Hansen frames a critique of how being American blinds us to the realities of the rest of the world and particularly the US role in it with her experiences in Turkey and Greece. It puts together many things I’ve known about how this country operates in its own self-interest and screws other countries under cover of self-righteousness better than I’ve ever seen, and very readable.

That’s it, dear readers. Stay in touch and before you know it the Cañar Book Club will be back in session in 2021.

It’s a small world

Dear Friends. I miss you!  I miss writing. I usually only send blogs during the months we are in Cañar or traveling, but this year I’m going to try writing from Portland on ideas that relate to our connected worlds – Cañar/Portland, North/South, immigrant/traveler/ home. The light went on a couple of weeks ago when I was walking to meet a friend not far from where I live when I came across these murals on a commercial building.I immediately recognized the graphic style of Guamán Poma de Ayala,16th-century Peruvian artist whose illustrated chronicle depicted the ill-treatment of his people by the Spanish conquistadores. Below is an example of Poma’s illustrations. The foot plow is still used in Peru and back strap loom weaving is still common in both Peru and Ecuador.

I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. A few years ago, this building was such a wreck that one wall detached and fell down the ravine towards Interstate I-84. Even though repaired, it’s been empty for ages. I went back the next day and was lucky to find the artist, Jahmal Landers who filled me in on what’s happening…

Jahmal was hired by Gabriel’s Bakery to create branding and design for their new space and a coffee shop. Previously a teacher in Portland and in Taiwan, Jahmal works now as an independent creative consultant/art director/ designer. He said he’d come up with the designs working with Gabriel’s owner, Almicar Alvarez, who was inside making bread, so I got to meet him too and hear his story. Almicar immigrated from Peru to Portland in 1979, when he fell in love with a traveler from here. He started out at a small french bakery in Portland, then in 1987 launched his own business named for Gabriel, his new-born son. Thirty-one years later, the family business includes a second son, Sandro and is a Portland institution. (http://gabrielsbakery.com/) Promising to come back once the coffee shop is open in a couple of weeks, I walked around the corner to my favorite tea place, Jasmine Pearl Tea Company, and found this young man. When I mentioned I’d left all my good teas behind in Ecuador he said HE was from Ecuador – his father from Otavalo (an indigenous area in the north), his mother from Portland. (http://thejasminepearl.com/)

So there you are! In one day, in a couple of hours – two connections between two worlds. That was a week or so ago, and I got no further with this blog until yesterday, when Michael and I and our friend Joanne met downtown at the Families Belong Together rally. There, a gathering of many worlds – thousands of us – toddlers, kids, parents, oldsters, workers, politicos, Latinos – everyone came together to peacefully protest Trump’s immigration policies. The crowd was so large we couldn’t even see the stage, but I was able to grab a few photos, beginning with Michael with his Guadalupe shirt alongside a young protester, and a woman with her “The Supremes” t-shirt: Ruth, Elena, Sonia and Sandra, the 5 women supreme court justices.

 

That’s it for now dear friends. I’ll try to write another Portland blog in a couple of weeks and maybe we could even convene a PDX virtual book club. I know I’m certainly overwhelmed with books now I’m back in the land of public libraries. Until then, stay in touch!