Dear Friends – One year ago today, December 15, 2019, we left our warm bed at 2020 SE Ash Street in Portland, Oregon for Cañar, Ecuador. Or rather, we took an Uber as far as a funky Ramada Inn near PDX, where we slept a few hours before a van hauled us and all our luggage to the airport. There, Michael was thrilled to be the first person in line at the 3:00 AM check-in at American Airlines. Always his dream to be earliest.
That day, and into the next, as we flew to Phoenix, then to Miami, then to Guayaquil, where we spent the night in another hotel before taking a car to Cañar, marked fifteen years of making the long trip from Portland to Ecuador for a stay of six months. That was last year, when we were still so innocent.
Today, and for the near future, we are staying in Portland. Those who read my last blog will remember our hair-raising trip back from Cañar to Portland on July 4th. We quarantined for two weeks and were fine. Since then, we’ve hunkered down at home through a warm summer and fall, during which we relaxed and distant-socialized under the cherry tree that shades our back yard – our “witness” tree that shaded and sheltered us through many pleasant meals and early evenings.
In those early days we could walk to one of our neighborhood pubs for afternoon drinks, always outside. Some streets were blocked off to allow businesses to continue, like this one on next street over, we called Rainbow Road (still need to work on my perspective)……where there was a piano for anyone to play. These were also the days of Black Lives Matter marches and demonstrations all over Portland and the world. Although we couldn’t be out in the streets, given Covid, we took a lot of walks in the city and enjoyed the wonderful murals that sprung up here and everywhere.
Michael rebuilt our walkway, where the gnarly cherry tree roots had come to the surface.I dismantled my darkroom, after twenty-five years, and we hauled out my equipment to sell on consignment with Blue Moon Camera and Machine.
Here I am waiting in line to say goodbye to my beloved Hasselblad. (I felt OK about it until last week when got the check. Knowing it was now sold and in someone else’s hands made me a little sad.)
But we also had lovely moments, celebrating the harvest moon in a friend’s garden. Even a socially distant lunch in the distant city of Salem.Then the days got shorter, Covid got stronger, the pubs and restaurants closed down, the leaves blazed – then fell, the rains and days too cold to meet outside, and life got a little sadder. But we are lucky, when so many are living in the streets and with poverty, to have a home, economic security, books and music and movies.
Today – December 15, 2020, we are looking forward to the end of this hard year and the new year of 2021. If Michael are I are lucky enough to get the vaccine before April, we plan on going to Cañar for a short visit, maybe three months. Then back to our usual six months in 2022. That sounds so far away, doesn’t it?
Thanks to you all who have contributed to the scholarship fund, and if you didn’t see the Cañari Women’s Education Foundation newsletter I sent earlier this month, you can find it here.
Or make a contribution using the PayPal button below.
May you all stay safe in these difficult times, and many thanks for your continuing support. Please stay in touch. Judy B
We came back from Spain on June 1 to Cañar’s equatorial winter – unrelenting wind and cold and rain with night (and sometimes day) temperatures in the 40s. No heat other than the fireplace, which Michael keeps going all day now.
We’d forgotten that we like to be in Portland by June, but our house was firmly rented until July 1, so here we are. I’d picked up a respiratory virus the last days in Spain and the first couple of weeks here were devoted to following everyone’s home remedies: milk with garlic before bed; tea made of violets; ginger, garlic, honey and rum hot toddy; Hedera helix (ivy leaf) extract expectorant; and so on. But with a virus like this you just have to ride it out…
Meanwhile we fall back into our usual routines. Market on Sundays.
Our near neighbor Magdalena, after years of living in a near hovel with several children, is building a mega-migrant house, two-and-a-half stories flush with our property line, as is the practice here. We have tall shrubs and trees that mitigate the view somewhat, but we can only be happy that Magdalena – and it appears new daughters-in-law and babies and maybe a new son-in-law – have a house. Magdalena’s husband has been in the U.S. as long as we’ve been here. We assume. Magdalena is rather fierce with us – guardedly friendly but no exchange of information. Probably because we share a property line – a very delicate business here and we did have a few issues years back when she insisted her property line was “where the rock used to be.” But someone has obviously been sending money and Magdalena has had a pile of bricks waiting for years for this important moment in the lives of migrant families: pay off the debt, send a son or daughter, then begin saving money for a truck or house.
We see these houses everywhere – oversized, mostly badly designed, made of concrete block or brick, but the source of great pride with the family. Then they sit empty for a few years before a For Sale sign goes up. I don’t really understand all of this.`
Then there is my gardening, or my “zen” gardening as I think of it, because no matter how many weeds I pull, how much I prune, plant and plan, when I come back six months later everything has returned to its original state. The kikuyu African grass has invaded the flower beds, the fuchsia bush outside our bedroom window – that I cut back every year before we leave – is as bushy and invasive as ever. The vegetable garden, planted by our compadres who watch the house, is overpopulated with way too much cabbage, onions, cauliflower and lettuces. More than we can ever eat, and they refuse to take the produce to market, insisting it for us. So, a lot goes to waste, but before we leave, I usually do the same – plant vegetables for them (not this year, too cold!)
Another part of our agricultural cycle happens in the back field, where our compadres plant. The corn and beans are done, the field is covered in sticky weeds and two days ago we looked out to see two bulls and two sheep at work, eating all that remains. Such an efficient system! They fertilize while they eat, of course, and once the field is cleared – in a week or two – Jose María and Narcisa will till the field using the same bulls yoked to a wooden plow. And, I suspect, those same sheep will be chomping on the grass around the house while we’re gone.
Finally, this particular June will be memorable because, after 18 months of frustrating paperwork, innumerable trips to Cuenca and Azogues (regional capital) to a horrible building called “Center of Citizen Attention (see above image), several moments of my head-on-desk in front of a government agent – “no es possible…” when I was turned down once again because of an error made 10 years ago at an airport in my passport, or a mistaken date in an office in Quito – I HAVE A NEW VISA! I didn’t cry during the process, which has taken such a chunk out of my time here in 2018 and 2019, though I was tempted at times. When I told the agent this past week that this has been the worst experience of my 15 years living in Ecuador, she didn’t blink. Then, because it had just happened as I was waiting, I said – “And a man just walked by sobbing!” “That’s different,” she said, “he’s from Venezuela,” as though that made a difference. (There has been a huge waves of Venezuelans coming to Ecuador, trying to work and make new lives.)
Anyway, three days ago I had my last interview when I knew I’d cleared all the hurdles. I gave the agent my two passports, old and new. She asked me to go into the waiting room while she processed the visa. I asked if I could observe. No. She called me back in a few minutes, handed my the passports and said, “Your visa is in an email.” I couldn’t believe it. Do I stick it in my passport? I asked. “No, no just carry the paper with you as you leave and come into the country.” Here it is
An interesting update to my last post about the Jewish community in Gerona, Spain from my favorite daily blog, Spitalfields Life. “Built in 1901, the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London is the oldest synagogue in the UK, and it has been continuously in use for over three hundred years, … Its origin lies with Spanish and Portuguese Jews who came to London in the seventeenth century, escaping persecution of the Catholic Church and taking advantage of a greater religious tolerance in this country under Oliver Cromwell’s rule. When war broke out between England and Spain in 1654, Antonio Robles, a wealthy merchant, went to court to prove that he was Jewish rather than Spanish – establishing a legal precedent which permitted Jewish people to live freely in this country for the first time since their expulsion by Edward I in 1290.”
The Cañar Book Club
Coming back from Spain, my worst reader’s fears were realized when I saw I was out of books. I had loaded one on my mini-iPad for the trip – my first ever ebook – and I turned back to that source out of desperation. That took me down the rabbit-hole of Amazon’s 1-click buy (click-bait?) and I haven’t stopped ordering books since, and reading at a much faster pace, for some reason (partly, all the bus reading time for visa business). So, graded by stars: The Hand that Held Mine, Maggie O’Farrell (****), West by Cary Davies (***), Educated by Tara Westover (****), The Great Believers, Rebecca Makkai (**), Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout (****), and The Friend by Sigrid Nunez (*). This was getting expensive and I had to stop. It occured to me I could order ebooks from my home library and I put in a couple of titles. Normal People by Sally Rooney – over 500 holds!
So, now I’m back to re-reading “paper” books from my Cañar shelves, The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor, a favorite author, and My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, a prequel to Anything is Possible. Those’ll take me home to Portland, next week, June 30, when I’ll start stockpiling books for next year’s trip to Ecuador.
Meanwhile, some faithful book club members have stayed active through June. Here are their comments.
Irene from Salem sent my all-time favorite title:. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. Author?
Maggi Redmonds from Toronto: The End of Days: A Story of Tolerance, Tyranny and the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain, by Erna Paris,
Patty in Portland: The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez and Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck.
Joanne in Portland read The Great Believers on the plane back from Philly and loved it; also started The Ninth Hour – a bit dark but excellent writing. Before that she read Say Nothing, which was really compelling and she loved Milkman. (Not everyone does.) And like me and hundreds of others, she’s on the list at the library for both of Sally Rooney’s novels.
Mel in Vermont is reading Michael Ondaatje’s Cat’s Table.
My sister Sherry in Santa Fe: reading the best book! The Night Of The Gun by David Carr
Who sent this? I’m sorry to say I lost track, but it goes so beautifully with my previous post and the update above. The Weight of Ink, by Rachel Kadish. This is about descendants of Portuguese Jews who escaped the inquisition by moving to Britain, and how modern-day researchers uncovered this history through 17th century manuscripts found in an English home.
Dear Friends: I love it when things turn out the way you’ve hoped and planned. A couple of years ago, I came across an article published in 1984 by an anthropological linguist from England, Rosaleen Howard, “Dyablu Its Meanings in Cañar Quichua Oral Narrative.”I took note, as published material on Cañar is rare, and when I later came across her book, Dioses y Diablos: tradicion oral de Cañar, Ecuador, (Gods and Devils: Oral Tradition in Cañar, Ecuador) with more than 50 Cañari myths and legends, recorded in Quichua and transcribed into Spanish, I knew I had to find her and invite her back to Cañar. So I began to search by the Internet and email…and searched, and searched. No luck. Finally, about a year ago, my contact at University of Texas gave me Rosaleen’s correct address. Success! She answered immediately, delighted to have been found.
She is Director of the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and Chair of Hispanic Studies – School of Modern Languages, at Newcastle University in the U.K. She wrote that she’s now doing research primarily in Peru and Bolivia but was already planning a trip back to Ecuador. I described the Archivo Cultural de Cañar, and the great importance to the Cañari community to have access to these stories, in live recordings and written text. Could we find a time to work together in Cañar? We began to compare our schedules and plan.
Spoiler alert: she’s here! Barely a day after she arrived last week, she gave her first talk on Cañari myths and music to an audience of bilingual (Kichwa/Spanish) teachers, administrators, students, and one of the original narrators from 1976, Pedro Duy (on her left in photo). Everyone loves that Rosaleen speaks Kichwa. And I was so pleased to present her in the name of the Archivo Cultural de los Cañaris, and just that morning had delivered our new banner with the name in Kichwa.
Rosaleen was in her twenties in the 1970’s when she came to Cañar to do her doctoral research, when this was a dark and dreary place with no electricity in the villages, no roads, no amenities such as potable water. The agrarian reform had barely begun, this was pre-migration, and the people were poor. In our working visits to villages to interview those narrators still alive, she marveled at the changes.
Our first visit was to the village of Juncal to speak to Gerónimo Guasco Guamán, one of Rosaleen’s original narrators 43 years ago, and whom I know from my work with the book of Danish anthropologists Niels Fock and Eva Krener, which we published in Spanish as Juncal: Una comunidad indígena del ecuador in 2016. Tayta Gerónimo wrote the introduction that edition. It was a gorgeous day when we took a taxi/truck about 20 kilometers away to a spectacular mountain valley that has changed little, geographically speaking (sheep are still there too).
Since we published Juncal in Spanish, I’ve been working with three bilingual educators to translate it into Kichwa and the day of our visit I took a mock-up of the new version to show Tayta Geronimo and his wife, Rosario María. After the family gathered around for a look…
…Mama Rosario took possession of the book and worked through every page, identifying people and places, including a photo of herself in a distant field. She couldn’t have cared less about the text; it was the images that transported her back almost 50 years. A wonderful moment for me as a photo archivist – I only wish I had recorded her information.
Rosaleen waited patiently to talk to Tayta Gerónimo. Although he can’t hear well, she wanted to play one of his recorded stories, so he held two little speakers to his ears and was delighted to listen to a long story he’d recorded with her in 1976.
Next day we made a visit to the village La Capilla, near Cañar, where we met two original narrators: Pedro Duy and Segundo Avelino. After a tasty lunch of fried trout (it was Good Friday), Rosaleen took out her computer to show photos she’d taken in 1976. Suddenly, Segundo said, “That’s me, joven!” as he pointed to a young man in the back of a truck dressed for a fiesta.
And there he was, as a young man, 43 years ago (back right, with banner across chest, holding hat). Very excited, Segundo said he had to have a copy of the photo, and we sat there for a moment, thinking. Then – this being 2019 – he took his iPhone out of his pocket and made a copy from the computer screen.
That led to reminiscing, which led to the proper moment for Rosaleen to take out her recorder and ask how things have changed since 1976. It was a mostly a sad litany, with some nostalgia: “We’ve lost our language, our traditional clothing, our agricultural practices, our music (Pedro gave up the accordion ten years ago), and so on…
But then we look around at Pedro’s and Laura’s large and comfortable house and enclosed patio. At 71 years, Pedro still works on the mountain with his animals and crops. His daughter, Laura, has just graduated from the University of Cuenca. Segundo mentions his horses and cattle, and shows us his Borsalino cowboy hat (he’d given up the white Cañari hat from the photo). In this particular community it appears there has been a shift from Cañari culture to a mestizo life, but these folks are vital into old age, tending their crops and animals, educating their children, living in good houses, and they are no longer poor.
After, Rosaleen and I took the long way home, walking along unknown roads that dead-ended in steep pathways, to finally reach our house in time for wine, the fire, and Michael’s dinner of BBQ’d pork chops and mashed potatoes, plus salad with homemade pickled beets. Ahhh…
Rosaleen will present her work this week at two universities in the area, then head back to Guayaquil, Quito and Newcastle. But I’m happy to say she’s already planning her next trip back to Cañar. Yupaychani, Rosaleen, and come back soon!
The Cañar Book Club is BACK!
Many of my dear book club members were outraged that we skipped a meeting of the Cañar Book Club in the March blog, and I apologize. One should never be too busy to pass on recommendations of good books. So here they are a month late – and I promise never to miss a meeting again (except for next month, when I’ll be in Spain).
From Claire in London as she was leaving for a holiday: Tangerine by Christine Mangan that was strongly recommended by the cashier at bookstore. And I’ve just started The Capital by Robert Menasse. She adds: “anything by Maggie O’Farrell, my go-to when I can’t think what else to read; I’m going to run out soon.” Judy’s comment: I agree on Maggie O’Farrell. She never disappoints.
And from my great archive collaborators, the Peace Corps guys who served in Cañar in the 1960s. Alan, in New Jersey, recommends: The Sixth Extinction, An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert. And Dan, in Florida: “The Woman in the Window,” a novel by A.J. Finn, Mrs. Sherlock Holmes, a nonfiction work by Grace Humiston, set in early 20th century New York, about the city’s first female detective. Finally, Gringolandia by Matthew Hayes, a Canadian sociology professor who writes about the ex-pat community in Cuenca, Ecuador. “He’s not exactly an Oscar Lewis but some of his interviews with expats are very illuminating.”
From Sandy a reader in Portland of serious books: The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells, These Truths: A History of the United States, Jill Lepore, and Citizen:An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. ” I still find myself reacting to Citizen. Partly because I had to read it multiple times to even come close to understanding it all. I really do think it is one of the best books I have ever read.”
From Pat in Bend, Oregon: Daring to Drive by Manal Al-Sharif: “A Saudi woman who suffered the culture of her country, worked to reform the treatment of women, ended up in prison, and eventually emigrated. Her answers are ambivalent; she loves her country, but her country’s culture brutalizes women.
From Arlene in Toronto: Brother by David Chariandy: “beautiful short novel that won the Toronto Book Award and Rogers Fiction Prize about two brothers of Trinidadian descent growing up in Scarborough.” The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker: “a feminist rewriting of The Iliad from the point of view of the Trojan Women.” (Judy’s note: I love anything by Pat Barker; this one goes on my list.) The Five Invitations: What Death Can Teach Us about Living Fully by Frank Ostaseski, the founder of the Zen Project Hospice in San Francisco. Women Talking by Miriam Toews (See the recent New Yorker profile here: https://bit.ly/2Frwe3a.) And The Redemption of Galen Pike a book of short stories by Carys Davies. “I think her work is spectacular. I roll her sentences around on my tongue as though they were delicious food. Am reading her West: A Novel right now.” (Judy’s note: I don’t know this writer but reading the rave reviews and awards, I certainly plan to bring her with me to Cañar next year.)
From Patty in Portland. “Just finished Becoming and loved it. Michelle’s story is amazing Made me miss the Obama White House even more.”
From my sister Char in Santa Fe: Figuring by Maria Popova. “It will take me all year to read it, but every page is wonderful. I’m also reading The Wife by Meg Wolitzer, which is well written with a sense of extraordinary observation. I like it. Haven’t seen the film.” (Judy’s comment: Glenn Close certainly should have won the Oscar for the film. See if if you haven’t!)
From Nancy In Portland: Pig Boy’s Wicked Bird by Doug
Crandell about life with his sharecropper parents and four siblings
(Derrick, Darren, Dina and Dana) during one particular year in
childhood, 1976. Poe Ballantine (one of my favorite Sun essayists)
wrpte Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere.
Takes place in Nebraska.” Judy’s comment: After this I get to say that
my birthplace (Nebraska) was the ‘howling plains of nowhere.’
Phew! That was a long meeting with lots of good book suggestions. So I’ll keep my part brief by saying my greatest fear has been realized: I’ve run out of books and it’s only April! My last good read was The Company You Keep by Neil Gordon, a writer who died too young after producing two other great books: Sacrifice of Isaac and The Gunrunner’s Daughter. All complicated stories that require a lot of attention, but my favorite was the last as it deals with the underground life of Vietnam War protestors from the famous Weather Underground. A lot of factual info intertwined around fictional characters. A riveting read. After that, my friend Lynn in Cuenca loaned me two Henning Mankell books. An author I’ve loved over the years with the Wallander mystery series, since his lamented death two years ago it appears his publishing machine has gone into overdrive, scouring anything not yet printed. So skip An Event in Autumn (written for a Wallander give-away in Holland many years ago), and After the Fire, a novel without Wallander but with a protagonist I heartily disliked. Desperate, I asked visitors from Portland to bring me, The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry, which I’ve just started and am enjoying getting my feet into the deep dark mud of the Blackwater Estuary in1883 Essex. Stay tuned for final report on that one.
Until then, keep reading and sending your recommendations for the next Cañar Book Club, in June (May club meets in Spain….)